Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage

Page 57

Mac felt a chill. "Please don't tell me he's really a Mackenzie. That my overly promiscuous father is responsible for this monster."
"Fear not. I traced him to Sheffield-mother was a baker's daughter, father was a coachman then retired to run a pub. They're his parents, all right. They said that little Samson always liked to draw, was quite good at it and begged for art lessons, but they couldn't afford to give them to him. They'd had a letter from him when he returned to London not long ago, saying he'd learned painting and would remain in London to seek his fortune."
"And you have no idea where he is now?" Mac asked. "Other than lurking about waiting to accost my wife or set fire to my house?"
"I'm afraid not. Not yet."
"Or why the devil he's pretending to be me?"
Fellows shrugged. "He wanted to be an artist. Perhaps he didn't have the money or connections to sell his work or even be recognized for it. Perhaps one day someone mistook him for you, and he thought he could make some money that way."
"That explains the forgery and tricking Crane to sell the paintings. Not burning me out of my attics and trying to abduct Isabella."
Fellows shrugged again. "People can become fixated. Perhaps he is trying to eliminate you so he can take your place."
"Then why hurt Isabella? She has nothing to do with this-she'd have nothing to do with me if I hadn't chased her to London. She left me, washed her hands of me."
Fellows looked uncomfortable, as though not wanting to stray into the territory of Mac's private life. "My sergeant is keeping an eye on the rooms he let, in case he returns, as well as watching the surrounding areas. This is an official inquiry now."
"I want him, Fellows."
Fellows nodded, meeting Mac's gaze with mirrored determination. "We'll get him. Don't you worry."
As soon as Evans stopped clucking around Isabella like a distressed hen and left the bedroom, Isabella was up and at her writing desk. She scribbled a letter to Ainsley, telling her she'd been taken ill suddenly but was recovering. The excuse sounded feeble even as it came out of her pen, but Isabella hardly wanted to distress Louisa with the truth. What Ainsley would make of it, Isabella didn't know, but she trusted her friend to come up with another plan.
Isabella finished the letter, blotted it, tucked it into an envelope, and set it aside to be posted.
Mac still hadn't returned, so Isabella went upstairs to check on Aimee. Miss Westlock examined Isabella's bruised mouth and suggested an herbal poultice, which she then prepared. Isabella admitted that the poultice made her feel better. The swelling had almost completely gone by the time one of the maids brought up tea.
It had been a long time since Isabella had partaken of nursery tea . There was bread and jam, weak tea with sugar and plenty of milk, and a small portion of seedcake. Aimee ate heartily, and Miss Westlock made certain that Isabella ate as well.
Mac still hadn't returned by eight o'clock, and Isabella, weary, climbed into bed.
She woke hours later to find Mac sliding under the sheets with her, wearing, as was his habit, nothing at all.
She sat up. "What are you doing?"
Mac yawned. "Coming to bed. I'm exhausted."
"You have a bedroom of your own."
"Do I? I must have wandered into this one by mistake. Indulge me, my dear, I'm far too tired to get up and move."
"Then I'll go." Isabella was halfway out of bed before Mac's strong arm hauled her back.
"Far too late to be wandering about the house, love. You'll disturb the servants, and they deserve their sleep."
Isabella sank down under the covers, resigned, and Mac lay back and laced his hands behind his head. Isabella had to admit two things-that she was far too comfortable to leave the warm bed, and that Mac lying next to her was a splendid sight.
His broad shoulders stretched across the pillow, his bent arms taking up even more room, a tuft of dark red hair dusting each armpit. A shadow of whiskers the same color lined his jaw, and his eyes gleamed like warm copper from under half-closed lids.
Isabella remembered the night Mac had first brought her home, how she'd sat on the edge of the bed, entranced, while he'd shed his clothes. The engrossing wonder of his body as it emerged, a section at a time, had made her almost forget her own shyness. She'd never seen a man unclothed before, had never seen one anything other than fully dressed, not even her own father. Shirtsleeves were frowned on in Earl Scranton's house.
And then Isabella had beheld Mac, astonishing and naked. His body had been hard, his need for her apparent. He'd put his hands on his hips and laughed at her, not even embarrassed.
That was when she'd realized, as she sat demurely on his bed wrapped in his borrowed dressing gown, that Mac's goal since he'd first seen her had been to bring Isabella here, to his bedchamber. It had not been to flirt, or to finagle a dance, or to steal a kiss. Even their hasty marriage had not been his ultimate intent. Mac had wanted all along to bring her to his bedroom, to smile at her while she sat on his bed. The flirting, dancing, kissing, and marrying had simply been the means to get her here.
And, silly girl, Isabella readily succumbed.
Lying next to him now, propped on her elbow so she could study him, Isabella decided that the silly girl had never left her. She was still entranced by Mac's body.

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