Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage

Page 55

"Mac," she said in exasperation, then the man turned.
Not Mac. Isabella whirled and took two steps before he caught her by the waist and pulled her off her feet. He clapped a hand over her mouth as she opened it to scream.
"Isabella," he said, hot spittle touching her ear. "My darling, never leave me again."
Chapter 15
Lady I-M-surprised London by hosting a soiree at her new abode in North Audley Street, for the express purpose of introducing Miss Sarah Connelly, a mezzo-soprano lately come from Ireland, to those of discerning tastes in London. So many responded to this coveted invitation that the modest house was quite bursting at the seams.
-March 1878
Isabella bit and fought and kicked, but the man didn't let her go. He dragged her down the path and through an opening in the tall hedges, cutting her off from the world.
This was madness. She was in the middle of a park, in the middle of London, in the middle of the afternoon, but this isolated copse could have been deep in the countryside.
She heard church clocks striking four. Ainsley and Louisa would be arriving at the appointed spot. But what would they find? No Isabella. She'd not had the presence of mind to drop a handkerchief or a brooch as every adventurous heroine should. Ainsley might assume that Isabella had been delayed, or worse, had changed her mind. What Louisa would think, Isabella couldn't imagine.
The man swung her to him. Isabella clawed at his face, and he struck her. She tasted blood.
"Don't fight me, my Isabella. We belong together."
He might look like Mac, this tall man with Mac's coloring, but he sounded nothing like him. Instead of Mac's velvet baritone, his voice was scratchy and thin.
Isabella heard a shout, and without warning, the man let her go. She stumbled and fell, shrubbery scratching her as she went down. Booted feet pounded on the path, and then hands pulled her up again.
She fought blindly until she heard a breathless "Isabella."
Isabella cried out and threw her arms around the real Mac, clinging to him in relief.
Mac pried her from him and examined her face, his eyes bright with rage. "Bloody hell. I'll kill him."
Isabella was too out of breath, too terrified, and too angry to argue. She held on to Mac, absorbing his warmth, his strength, the safety of having him here.
"That was him, wasn't it?" she heard him ask. "My doppelganger?"
She nodded. "He looked so like you from the back."
"And from the front?"
"Like you, and yet not." Mac smelled so good, like male and the scent of outdoors. "No one who knew you well would mistake you after the first moment."
"God damn him. Forging paintings and burning down my house is one thing . Touching my wife is unforgivable."
Isabella closed her eyes. Her heart pounded with fear, not only for herself but at the thought of Mac chasing after a madman. All she wanted to do was relax into the circle of Mac's warmth and go home.
"Stay with me."
Mac held her so close she could feel the agitated beating of his heart, feel his hot, quick breath. "I will, sweetheart. I will."
The strains of clocks chiming the quarter hour made her lift her head. "Louisa," she said miserably.
Mac took her arm and towed her back through the bushes and down the path to the spot where Isabella was to have met Louisa. No one was there. Across the park, Isabella saw Ainsley and the tall form of Louisa walking away arm in arm. Other people strolled near them, and they were too far away for Isabella to call out without drawing attention.
"Louisa," Isabella whispered.
Mac put his arm around her. "I'm sorry, love. Write to Mrs. Douglas and set up another meeting. In a safer place this time."
Isabella kept her gaze on Louisa, her little sister now so tall, so regal, so elegant in her autumn-colored frock. Louisa never looked back but walked away with Ainsley, her proud head high.
Not until Isabella was tucked up in the armchair facing a roaring fire with a hot water bottle on her knees did Isabella ask Mac the obvious question.
"How did you come to be at hand for my rescue?"
Isabella looked so pale, so shaken, that Mac's rage wouldn't rest. Today the man, whoever he was, had induced his own death sentence.
"Mac," Isabella prompted.
Mac answered absently, "I was following you, of course."
"Were you? Why?"
"You meeting your sister in an out-of-the-way corner of the park shouldn't worry me? It did. Apparently with good cause."
Isabella took a cup of steaming tea from Evans. "I am grateful for the rescue, of course, but that does not mean I'm happy with you for spying on me."
"Spying? Nothing so dramatic, love. What I truly feared was that your father would find out what you and Ainsley were up to and sail in to stop you. Or that you might attract the attention of a footpad who saw a golden opportunity to gain your jewelry. I never dreamed my nemesis would be lurking in the bushes, waiting to snatch you."
Isabella shivered, and Mac damned the man again.
The sight of Isabella stained with mud and blood on the ground had awoken something primitive in him. Even now the bruise at the corner of her mouth filled him with fury.
Mac held in his anger as he leaned down to kiss her. He caressed Isabella's face, taking care not to touch the bruise. "Will you be all right here for a time? I need to go out."

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