Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage

Page 71

Isabella jerked her cup, spilling a line of tea down her skirt. "Warn me of what? Has something happened to Louisa?" She thought of Payne and went cold.
"No, no, she is well." Ainsley said. She took Isabella's cup from her frozen fingers and set it on the table. "This is not about Louisa. Not directly."
Isabella had already read the morning newspapers from the Pall Mall Gazette to Mac's racing news and had seen nothing that might upset her personally. "What then? You have me nervous."
Ainsley took Isabella's hands in hers, her friendly gray eyes filled with concern. "My oldest brother Patrick-you know he is something in the City and knows everything that goes on there, usually before the rest of the world does. He got wind of the news this morning, and knowing we were great friends, he advised me to prepare you."
"Got wind of what? Ainsley, please tell me before I scream."
"I'm sorry; I'm trying to." Ainsley paused, her face drawn in sympathy. "It's your father, Isabella. He's ruined. Completely and utterly ruined. As of this morning, your family has been rendered penniless."
Mac had expected his friends to shun him after he'd embarrassed them over the Salvation Army wager, but typically, his antics had only raised him in their estimation. When he encountered Cauli outside Tattersalls in Knightsbridge that next afternoon, Cauli grabbed Mac's hand and wrung it with enthusiasm.
"You turned the tables on us but good, Mac old man."
Mac rescued his hand. "The Salvation Army was most pleased with your donation, the sergeant told me. She went on in adulation about you for hours. There was talk of putting up a plaque."
Cauli looked horrified. "God save me from being known as a philanthropist. Everyone in London will touch me for money."
"I was joking, Cauli."
Cauli sighed in relief. "Good, good. Very amusing. Ah, there's your brother Cameron. Is this a family reunion?"
Cameron was walking into the arcade with his usual long stride, a big man dressed in a greatcoat to ward off the chill in the October air.
"Cauliflower," Cameron greeted him when he stopped next to them. "Why don't you go find some other vegetables to play with?"
Cauli chortled. "Very good, very good. The fine Mackenzie wit. Well, I'll be off, so you can indulge in family warmth. Tallyho." He lifted his hat and wandered off toward the auction circle.
Cameron gave Cauli's retreating back a speculative look. "It's said he's the most erudite of the Dunstan line. Makes ye worry for the marquisate. I heard you were clashing cymbals over in Whitechapel last night, Mac. I never knew ye were so musical."
Mac shrugged. "A wager. When did you arrive?"
"Late train . I had Jockey Club business." He put his large hand on Mac's shoulder. "I need a word with ye, if ye don't mind."
Mac nodded, and they walked away together, Cam not speaking until they'd reached Mac's coach. Once inside, Cameron told Mac what had reached him from a friend of his in the City.
"Bloody hell," Mac exclaimed in shock. "How the devil did Scranton manage to ruin himself?"
Cam looked somber, the deep scar on his cheekbone shadowed in the closed carriage. "Bad investments, mostly. A railroad line that was never built, an invention of some gadget that never got past the drawing stage. Things of that sort. The last straw was a diamond mine in Africa. The fighting there is preventing anyone from getting to the mine, so he's been told. And it's doubtful there are any diamonds in it at all. Lord Scranton wasn't the cleverest when it came to his investments."
Mac imagined Isabella faced with the news, her worry for her family. "Damn, I knew I should have stayed home this afternoon, but I needed to settle an account. A brief errand, I thought. The bloody idiot."
"Many men trust the wrong advice," Cameron pointed out. "It sounded like a house of cards collapsing. A bottom card got yanked out, and everything else followed."
"Gambling with money meant to keep your wife and daughter in food and clothing is lunacy. I suppose when Scranton's creditors hear, they'll call in all their debts, if they haven't already. Damned bloodsuckers."
"Scranton's been sliding downhill for some time, Mac. Hart told me that years ago. The earl has had to sell off every piece of his estate that isn't entailed, and he's only leasing his house in London."
Mac stared at him. "Hart told you that? Years ago? Why didn't Hart bother to tell me? Why didn't you?"
Cameron shrugged, but Mac could tell that Cameron hadn't liked the decision. "Hart knew you'd feel obligated to let Isabella know, and he thought she didn't need more to worry her. I agree with him about that. Hart thought Scranton might turn around in the end, but the man's been damned unlucky."
"One day, Hart will have to stop deciding things for me."
"That will be an interesting day. I hope I'm there to see it."
The brothers were silent for the rest of the journey to North Audley Street, where Mac leapt out of the coach and hurried inside, followed closely by Cameron. Morton took their hats and coats and pointed to the closed drawing room door, a worried look in his eyes.
Mac shoved open the pocket doors, and Isabella jumped to her feet, her face paper white. Ainsley Douglas, who had been holding Isabella's hand, rose more slowly.

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