Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage

Page 50

"She won't be fostered at all. I will adopt her."
Mac stared at her. "Isabella."
"Why shouldn't I? It's hardly Aimee's fault that her father abandoned her and her mother fell dead from an incurable illness. I have money, a large house, time to raise her."
Mac pushed himself up from the balustrade. "Her father is obviously a madman. This fellow, whoever he is, paints pictures and signs my name to them, then sells them through reputable art dealers but never collects the money. Steady Ron saw a man he swore was me placing bets at the races, so he's following us about. Not to mention trying to burn down my house."
"All of which is not Aimee's fault."
"I know that. But what happens when he comes for her? And there you are all alone."
"I can protect her," Isabella said stubbornly.
Mac softened his voice. "Sweetheart, I know you want a child."
She turned on him, face flushing with temper. "Of course I want a child. And no one wants Aimee. Why shouldn't I try to help her?"
"And where will you tell the scandal sheets she came from?"
"Why would I tell them anything? Aimee has red hair like mine. I will claim she's the orphan of a long-lost cousin from America or something."
"My angel, all of London will conclude that she is my illegitimate daughter by an unknown woman," Mac said. "They will think exactly what Hart thought."
"I am long past caring what rubbish the scandal sheets print."
Her voice was haughty, but Mac knew she damn well did care. The journalists had used much of his marriage to Isabella to sell newspapers. For some reason, the general public had been fascinated by the details of how Isabella had redecorated the Mount Street house, what happened at their parties, and the subject of every quarrel she had with Mac, real and imagined. As brother to the second most powerful peer in England and Scotland, Mac had long been used to being observed and written about, but Isabella, whose life had been very private, had felt it keenly.
Mac admitted he'd done nothing to keep the newssheets' attention from them. He'd taken Isabella to gaming hells, had her in his studio while he painted nude models, and traveled with her to Paris where he worked for days without sleep while she shopped and went to parties. The newspapers had loved it.
"But Aimee might care," Mac said. "In time."
Isabella's eyes sparkled with determination. "I will not let that child grow up poor and unwanted. Whoever this man is, he obviously doesn't want Aimee. Mirabelle said she was his model-she thought she was modeling for the great and generous Mac Mackenzie. You were also famous for not betraying your wife-she never would have believed he was you if you and I had still been living together ." She drew a breath. "If I hadn't left you."
"Isabella, for God's sake, Aimee's existence is not your fault."
"I should have stayed, Mac. I should have tried to make it work."
She was trembling, her eyes too bright. She hadn't slept all night, the foolish chit, and now she spouted self-recriminations she didn't mean.
"I drove you mad, my love," Mac said. "Remember? I read the letter you wrote me. About a hundred times, each time hoping it would say something different."
"I know. But I ran away. I was a coward."
"Stop." Mac drew her into his arms. She smelled of sunshine, and he wanted to sink into her and stay there the rest of the day. "I've met cowards, Isabella. You aren't one. Good lord, you married me. That took courage."
"Don't tease me right now," Isabella said into his shoulder. "Please."
Mac stroked her hair, the brilliant red of it shining in the sunlight. "Hush, my love. You may take care of the baby if you want to."
"Thank you."
Mac fell silent, but he didn't like this. Not Isabella's generosity in wanting to help the poor motherless mite, but he feared she wanted to assuage some imagined guilt by doing so. He also worried about what the madman would do once he found out that Isabella had taken Aimee. Mac needed to find the blackguard.
Aimee woke up, saw Isabella, and cooed for her attention. Right now, the child wanted to be held and fed and made safe. There would be time enough later to sort out complicated adult emotions.
Isabella lifted the girl. Aimee started to cry and reached for Mac. Resigned, Mac held out his arms, trying not to like it when she cuddled under his chin and was quiet.
Isabella smiled, her cheeks still wet. "Whether you like it or not, Mac, she's decided you belong to her."
"Which means if you want to look after her, I'll have to stick close by you."
"Until she gets used to me, certainly. In that case, you'd better have Bellamy buy tickets so we may return to London."
"London? What's wrong with Kilmorgan? She has places to run and play here, and the crofters' children to play with."
Isabella gave him one of those looks that informed Mac that he was hopelessly male. "I must make arrangements for nannies and governesses, there are clothes to be sorted out, a nursery to be prepared. A hundred things to do before the Season starts."
Mac bounced Aimee. "She's not ready to make her debut yet, surely. She's too tiny to waltz."
"Don't be silly. My Seasons are always full, and I'll not send my child packing to the country so I don't have to be bothered with her while I'm entertaining guests."

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