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The Scarred Earl

The Scarred Earl
The Scarred Earl Elizabeth Beacon CAUGHT IN A MIDNIGHT TRYST! Can a reclusive and distrustful lord, scarred by betrayal and raised without love, learn to trust a pampered society beauty who seems to have the whole world at her elegantly shod feet? When Alexander Forthin, Earl of Calvercombe, clashes with Persephone Seaborne it seems not…But a series of mysterious disappearances links their two families, forcing the embittered soldier and the toast of St James into an unlikely alliance – one that starts the gossips’ tongues wagging… Especially after they are caught in a secret midnight tryst! ‘You are possibly the loveliest woman I ever beheld and any man can dream of until he drives himself nigh mad with longing.’ There was something very serious in his steady look that made Persephone’s heart thump heavily and then race on. ‘Did you do that when you were held and tortured, Alex?’ she asked painfully, somehow unable to halt the question on her lips. ‘Not then,’ he said, with a shake of his head that spoke of honesty and regret. ‘Don’t forget you were a very cross little schoolgirl when I left for the army, Persephone. I dreamt of someone very like you are now—a someone who could reach inside my tortured heart and join her clean, bright soul to my bitter one. I was getting ready to dream of you and only you every night from the moment I finally did lay eyes on you as a grown-up goddess. I’ve got so into the way of it now that I don’t think even your displeasure will stop me.’ ‘Maybe I don’t want to stop you,’ she murmured, and suddenly found it impossible to meet his gaze full-on without a host of huge possibilities humming between them like warm lightning. About the Author ELIZABETH BEACON lives in the beautiful English West Country, and is finally putting her insatiable curiosity about the past to good use. Over the years Elizabeth has worked in her family’s horticultural business, become a mature student, qualified as an English teacher, worked as a secretary and, briefly, tried to be a civil servant. She is now happily ensconced behind her computer, when not trying to exhaust her bouncy rescue dog with as many walks as the Inexhaustible Lurcher can finagle. Elizabeth can’t bring herself to call researching the wonderfully diverse, scandalous Regency period and creating charismatic heroes and feisty heroines work, and she is waiting for someone to find out how much fun she is having and tell her to stop it. Previous novels by the same author: AN INNOCENT COURTESAN HOUSEMAID HEIRESS A LESS THAN PERFECT LADY CAPTAIN LANGTHORNE’S PROPOSAL REBELLIOUS RAKE, INNOCENT GOVERNESS THE RAKE OF HOLLOWHURST CASTLE ONE FINAL SEASON (part of Courtship & Candlelight) A MOST UNLADYLIKE ADVENTURE GOVERNESS UNDER THE MISTLETOE (part of Candlelit Christmas Kisses) THE DUCHESS HUNT THE SCARRED EARL features characters you will have met in THE DUCHESS HUNT Did you know that some of these novels are also available as eBooks?Visit www.millsandboon.co.uk AUTHOR NOTE I fell for the scarred and reclusive Earl of Calvercombe the moment he walked into THE DUCHESS HUNT, the first book in my Seaborne trilogy, one dark night. He seemed an ideal hero for a spirited Seaborne lady, and I hope you enjoy Alex and Persephone’s story whether you read the first book in the series or not. Rich Seaborne’s story is coming soon, and I hope his family forgive him for all the trouble he’s caused them! The Scarred Earl Elizabeth Beacon www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk) I would like to dedicate this book to my lovely editors past and present: Maddie West, Lucy Gilmour and Megan Haslam—without their hard work, humour and patience all my books would be very much poorer. Chapter One ‘Your turn next then,’ the Dowager Duchess of Dettingham told her eldest granddaughter with a smug nod at the posy of late China rosebuds the bride had thrown into Persephone Seaborne’s hands before driving off with her besotted bridegroom. Suddenly Persephone wouldn’t have been surprised to look down and find it made up of thistles and stinging nettles instead of cosseted late blooms, and almost dropped the lovely thing in the dust. Jessica’s purposefully accurate throw showed what a schemer her best friend had become since she had fallen in love with Jack Seaborne, Duke of Dettingham, and she wondered at herself for catching it more by reflex than desire to be the next one to marry as tradition demanded. Wondering who her grandmother expected her to marry this time, she coolly returned the Dowager’s gimlet-eyed stare and silently fumed about matchmakers of all ages and abilities. ‘Please don’t plague the girl about such things on my daughter’s special day, your Grace,’ Lady Pendle, mother of the bride, intervened. Her youngest daughter had just married Persephone’s cousin Jack, Duke of Dettingham, yet she found time to rescue Persephone from her domineering relative, and she was truly grateful. ‘Anyway, I think Miss Brittles and Sir John will walk up the aisle long before I do. I see all the classic signs of mutual enchantment,’ Persephone mused aloud. She marvelled that a couple so very different from Jessica and Jack could wear the same smitten look whenever they set eyes on each other as the happy couple had been modelling for weeks. Sir John and his lady love seemed to manage to find their mark remarkably often among the large group of aristocrats and friends invited to the wedding of the year, let alone the Season, as well. Realising too late she’d placed them in the Duchess’s sights by doing her thinking out loud, she sincerely wished she’d held her tongue in the terrible old lady’s presence. ‘Hah, that pair are far too old to go about smelling of April and May in such a ridiculous fashion,’ the Dowager snapped with a fierce frown in their direction. Miss Brittles took an involuntary step backwards and Sir John Coulter glowered back with compounded interest. Sensing more interesting prey than her stubborn granddaughter, the Dowager forgot her reluctant companions, so Persephone and Lady Pendle cravenly slipped into the crowd of guests milling about the famous gardens and made good their escape. ‘Sir John seems very well equipped to fight his own battles,’ Lady Pendle muttered sheepishly. ‘And I’m sure Miss Brittles thinks him even more wonderful than usual for defending her from the dragon Duchess,’ Persephone replied. ‘So it’s probably not really chicken-hearted of us to leave her Grace having fun in her own peculiar manner,’ Lady Pendle agreed as she led Persephone to where her second-youngest daughter was standing with her doting husband, holding their baby son in her arms and taking in the finer nuances of a happy family occasion with her usual good-humoured intelligence. ‘Never mind, Persephone dear, her Grace can’t endure the countryside for more than a day or so and must be pining for the noise and stink of the city by now. Although making her grandchildren squirm is one of her favourite occupations, you do all seem to share a stubborn habit of going your own way. I can’t imagine anything more exasperating for the poor, dear Duchess than being saddled with such deeply ungrateful descendants as this latest generation of Seabornes, can you, my love?’ Rowena, Lady Tremayne, observed wickedly as she passed his son and heir to Sir Linstock instead of his hovering nurse, who seemed constantly surprised the child’s parents were unwilling to leave him to her until he was old enough to be seen and not heard. If that day ever came in the lively Tremayne household, which Persephone doubted. The dashing Baronet took his child from his lady with a rueful smile and a shrug that admitted the wild reputation he’d once worked so hard to earn was ruined, first by his uniquely fascinating wife and now the robust little son upon whom he clearly doted. There was a look of quiet contentment in his dark eyes Persephone had never thought she would see and Sir Linstock gently rocked his son as if he’d been practising to become a loving father for years. He had enjoyed a wild career as one of the worst rakes in London until he met Rowena’s laughing blue eyes one night in Mayfair and fell flat at her daintily shod feet like any awed boy fresh up from the country. ‘I expect the Duchess will shortly decide she’s not being treated with the reverence she deserves and demand to be taken home at a breakneck pace she would find deplorable in anyone else,’ he observed laconically. ‘Her coachman is probably supervising the harnessing of his team as we speak, in anticipation of his call to duty.’ Persephone laughed, but, as she chatted easily with the wider Pendle family and enjoyed their witty but never vicious byplay, she wondered why the idea of even so close a marriage as Rowena’s with her Sir Linstock left her shivering. She was nearly two and twenty now and should make a creditable alliance, if only to stop her mother worrying about at least one of her children. Yet she hadn’t met one gentleman she could endure being tied to for life during three successful Seasons in town. Another shiver ran through her at the thought of meeting her imaginary groom in their nuptial chamber on their wedding night to trust him with so much of her true self. It was her parents’ fault, she decided, picturing her father and mother together and knowing how desperately hard Lady Henry’s life had become without her beloved husband to share it with. Like swans, Seabornes seemed fated to pair for life, with the notable exception of her grandfather. That famously raffish gentleman married for money and kept a succession of exotically lovely mistresses once the heir and a spare had filled the Ashburton nurseries with their robust cries. Persephone often wondered if her husband’s careless infidelity was the reason for Grandmama Dettingham’s famous irritability, even so many years after his death. Despite his ramshackle example, the idea of marrying for less than love made Persephone shudder with distaste. She knew the intimacy of the marriage bed would never beckon her unless she was passionately in love, yet couldn’t imagine actually being so. She would probably become the family quiz, but even that would be better than submitting to a husband she might grow to hate, just for the sake of children and an assured place in the world as a wife. To avoid the uncomfortable jar of fear and denial in her heart at the very thought of such a husband, she watched as groups of chattering guests drifted on to the South Terrace, with its spectacular views of the distant Welsh hills one side and the rolling Herefordshire countryside the other. The vast Seaborne and Pendle clans had settled into casual groups and couples, along with Jack’s friends and neighbours, and looked happy and relaxed as they exchanged news and enjoyed good company. Sir Linstock was probably right about the Dowager deploring such simple pleasures and the fact that the company didn’t hang on her every word as they clearly should. Persephone met Rowena Tremayne’s laughing gaze for a rueful moment when an expected stir came from the Dowager’s direction. A goodly part of the Pendle clan and Lady Henry Seaborne’s own family moved to surround her ladyship in a protective huddle while she did duty as Jack’s hostess once again to bid her exacting mother-in-law farewell. When the Dowager finally departed, with as much stir as she could whip up to reassure herself of her importance, Persephone returned to the terrace with the rest of her family. The shock of a chilling shiver ran through her and made her want to hide in the crowd from malicious eyes that felt as if they watched her every move. She refused to cower like a coward inside the house, even if the warning instinct raising goose-bumps along her bare arms on this hot August day happened to be right. Trying to look as if she wasn’t inspecting the crowd for a source of this odd sense of unease, she drifted about the terrace, greeting friends and acquaintances, and even forgot portents of evil as she met the infinitely complex gaze of Alexander Forthin, Earl of Calvercombe, and found him far more disturbing. Now here was a man who would never love anyone but himself, she decided tetchily. Even if she disliked him more than any other male she had ever laid eyes on, fairness made her acknowledge he wasn’t the one provoking this warning sense of danger she’d struggled with all afternoon, as if she were being sized up for her coffin by some ruthless but invisible enemy. Alex Forthin always provoked a very particular unease in her and it certainly wasn’t this shivering sense of impending evil that had been nagging at the edges of her mind all afternoon. So that was fairness out of the way and it was hard to maintain impartiality about him when the Earl constantly irritated her without any effort at all. My Lord Calvercombe would certainly be declared a deliciously brooding romantic hero by the flightier elements of the ton, if only they set eyes on him more often. Such breathless young ladies would be taken faint with delicious frissons of panic and desire on beholding his flawed male beauty, but it would take more than a few battle scars and a cynical smile to make the wretched man her beau ideal. Yet she had to admit there was more to him than a wry smile and an intriguingly marred and still very handsome face. He had an ancient title, a suitably mysterious past, a vigorous masculine body that looked fit and hard with sleek muscle and that air of cool command. He somehow defied his own kind to see only the fine scarring over one side of his face and the one damaged, deep blue eye he wouldn’t cover to make the world feel better when it looked at Alex Forthin. She was a fair woman, Persephone told herself, as she wondered why he always made her itch to be an unfair and petty one instead. The man would make a model hero—or villain—for one of the Gothic novels her contemporaries loved to lose themselves in with shivering delight. He would be revolted by the idea of fictional vices or virtues inflicted on him when he had plenty of his own, so just as well she wasn’t a susceptible young girl. Persephone almost smiled at the idea, but stopped herself in the nick of time, horrified he might think she was casting lures in his direction when nothing was further from her mind. Little wonder she was suffering imaginary horrors today with spectres like him drifting about her head, she decided, with a quick frown, and avoided his sharp blue gaze with as much dignity as she could manage. She flitted to the other side of the terrace and did her duty by the cream of local society and half the nobility of the land still milling about Jack’s immaculately tended lawns. As most of them were curious about the reclusive Earl of Calvercombe, there seemed to be no getting away from him today even with as much distance as possible between them. It said much for Lord Calvercombe’s love of solitude that he’d escaped the combined attention of gentry and nobility as long as he had. She was surprised he’d risked encountering so many of them today to stand as Jack’s groomsman and tried to tell herself it was unfair to blame him for standing in the place where her elder brother Richard should be. If Rich hadn’t sauntered out of their lives three years ago, without a single word to reassure them he was still alive from that day to this, Jack would have accepted nobody else but the cousin who had been close as a brother to him. They had raked and larked about Oxford and London until both of them grew bored, after which Rich went off on his adventures and Jack had had to learn the burdens and privileges of being a great landlord and aristocrat, and bear them with style. Persephone might admire the reclusive Earl for doing his duty by an old friend when her brother failed to turn up and do so, but that didn’t mean she was attracted to the wretched man, or even had to like him. Luckily she had more sense than to want a lone wolf focusing his formidable attention on her and shot him an exasperated glare to prove it. How unfortunate that he was looking her way and raised a quizzical eyebrow, as if there was no point blaming him for her wayward thoughts. Turning her back on the annoying creature to prove he meant nothing, she went back to charming Jack’s guests. Their conversation might have revolved round Richard Seaborne’s odd disappearance, if the occasion hadn’t been Jack’s wedding and she hadn’t been Rich’s sister. Few guests dared ask where he could have got off to, but the question was in many eyes—from sharply curious to genuinely sympathetic. Despite his absence, Lady Henry Seaborne had organised this joyful celebration so flawlessly that everyone who came to be charmed by the happy couple seemed content and even Grandmama had enjoyed herself in her own peculiar fashion. Persephone’s eyes threatened to tear up if she gave herself time to think how deeply her beloved father would have enjoyed it all. When Jack’s father broke his neck shortly after his Duchess died in childbed with her stillborn daughter, her own parents had moved to Ashburton New Place to help sixteen-year-old Jack grieve, and then enjoy his minority with as few cares as possible resting on his young shoulders. To her shame, Persephone recalled being acutely jealous and sulking about the changes in her own life and the new burdens on her father and mother as Jack’s guardians. She wondered if her brother Richard had felt the change even more acutely, at fifteen years of age, to her eight. No, she refused to think any more about the significant gaps in their ranks while there was so much still to be done, so she wove through the crowd as if she hadn’t a care in the world and smiled and laughed until her face ached. At last the company began to disperse to rest before dinner, or return home if they lived nearby, and Persephone was able to escape. Once she was out of sight of the house and terrace she gave a heartfelt sigh of relief and sped towards her favourite sanctuary. She was delighted for Jack and his new Duchess and exasperated with herself for feeling acutely uneasy on such a joyful day, but that didn’t stop worry nagging at her like a sore tooth. Even on this brilliantly sunny late-summer day there was the whisper of autumn in the air and she could almost scent something dangerous trying to blow in on the dusty south-west breeze along with it. She shivered despite the heat of a sunny August afternoon and felt everything was changing around her. Instinct was warning her again that an undefined evil was nipping at the safe world the Seabornes built here and it would damage them ruthlessly to achieve its purpose. At least she managed to wave Jack and his new Duchess off with only a laughing injunction not to enjoy their tour of the English Lakes so much they forgot to come home before Christmas. Despite his eagerness to get his bride to himself at long last, Jack would never have gone if he thought aught was amiss here, so Persephone met his gaze with unclouded serenity and ordered him to go before Jessica left without him. Anyway, there was nothing tangible to worry him with, no convenient enemy to focus her unease upon. Better if there had been, she concluded, as a tall figure blocked the entrance to her sanctuary. She needed a distraction from Jack’s groomsman, she thought, as she watched Lord Calvercombe pause, eye her with mocking irony, and come on. Anyone would think he had the right to plague her with unwanted advice and the sceptical looks he kept especially for her. She wondered why the lone wolf Earl of Calvercombe couldn’t leave her to enjoy some solitude for once. Apparently oblivious, he sauntered towards her as if he owned Ashburton as well as an astonishing variety of old-fashioned houses inherited from his ancestors. Persephone wouldn’t put it past him to exaggerate their ramshackle state to scare off visitors or eager young ladies intent on becoming his Countess. But he had come out of seclusion to support Jack, which shot down her belief that he was the most selfish man she’d ever come across. She hoped he would leave her to it, but he loped fluidly towards her as if he had no idea he wasn’t as welcome as the flowers in spring. He was the second most irritating man she knew, after her brother Richard, she decided crossly. And hadn’t it been stupid of her to hope Rich would hear of Jack’s wedding to Jessica Pendle and find a way to attend it? Somehow her brother would be here today, her imagination had assured her earnestly before it all began, but Jack and Jessica had been blissfully wed in Ashburton Church earlier today and no heavily disguised stranger had crept in while everyone else was distracted, only to watch furtively and leave before any noted he was there but her. Chapter Two Drat, hadn’t she promised herself she wouldn’t think about her stubborn, wild and absent brother any more today? Persephone made herself breathe deeply and balled her hands into fists as she tried to blot out that widest of gaps in the Seaborne ranks on Jack’s wedding day. Idiot, she chastised herself, as she felt it more acutely as soon as it was forbidden and glared at the nearest available distraction—Alexander Forthin, Lord Calvercombe—to give her thoughts a new turn. Just her luck, Persephone concluded with disgust when the wretch returned her hostile glare with raised eyebrows and a cool stare, as if she was being fractious and difficult and unwelcoming, which of course she was. It seemed to her he could see as well with his damaged eye as he did with the one still as clear and piercing as a watchful predator’s. His injured eye was clouded by that streak of opacity, almost as fine as the faint lines scarring that side of his face, but however much, or little, he saw with it, insolence and hauteur glared out of that blue orb as notably as from the other. Of course the man would never explain what he saw and didn’t see, but he certainly hadn’t got those injuries in battle. Chance didn’t inflict such fine cuts day after day on a man too strong to cave and say what he’d been tortured to tell, she decided, with sneaking admiration for the dogged courage it must have cost him to hold out against the wicked torture his face revealed. ‘Well, Miss Seaborne?’ he asked at last, as if she must know what he meant by his satirical question and the hint of a cynical smile on his lips by sheer instinct. ‘How could I be otherwise on such a happy day, your lordship?’ ‘Quite easily, I imagine. You will have to concede precedence to Jack’s wife from now on and your mother tells me she is intent on returning to your old home as soon as they get back from their bride trip. However comfortable it is, Seaborne House can hardly rival the freedom and luxury you must have enjoyed here as Jack’s cousin and honorary sister.’ With any other man she might take his statement as a mild expression of sympathy, but this was the rude and insufferable Lord Calvercombe, so there was no point hankering after such consideration from him. ‘I dare say I’ll amuse myself perfectly well, despite the drawbacks,’ she said coolly, determined not to tell him what she thought of his barbed comments and superior smile and give him even more of an advantage. ‘You must remember I am still the eldest daughter of the house, which gives me endless chances to preen on being granddaughter, niece and cousin to various Dukes of Dettingham.’ ‘Which will help salve your sad drop in consequence, I suppose,’ he said as if consoling a sixty-year-old spinster. Persephone remembered why she found this man so annoying—he even outdid Jack, Rich and her second brother Marcus all rolled into one irritating being—and she itched to take him down a peg or ten. ‘You really have no idea how much,’ she drawled as if she really was a bored society beauty. ‘In a few weeks the Little Season will be on us and I can blithely skip off to town and leave others to open up a house that’s been unlived in, if not unloved, these ten years and more while I selfishly enjoy the social whirl as I deserve to.’ ‘Being too frivolous to worry yourself over hiring suitable staff, supervising any redecoration and reupholstering found necessary, and any general interfering that will entail? Please don’t mistake me for a flat, Miss Seaborne. You will jump at such a golden opportunity to impose your iron will on your world, social whirl or no.’ ‘Not as high as I might at the chance of reordering yours,’ she snapped, and if he had any illusion she meant for the better, he was more naive than he looked. ‘I have no desire to find the mouldering splendours of my ancient state rooms in the dungeons or on the nearest handy midden, so you’ll certainly never be asked to spruce up any of my houses.’ ‘Why on earth would I want to?’ she asked with as much disgust as she could fit into so few words. ‘You tell me, my dear,’ he replied, and suddenly he was too close for comfort and even more impossible to ignore. ‘I suppose I might want to murder you in your bed.’ ‘I sleep so lightly not even a sleek little hunting cat like you could slip into my bedroom without my knowing. You would be in far more danger than I if you ever tried it, Miss Seaborne, and it wouldn’t be murder I had on my mind.’ All she had intended was to make him see she disliked him, but he’d turned her words on her. She shivered with apprehension and something more disturbing as his softly muttered threat seemed to fill the air between them with false promise. ‘If I were such a discerning animal, I doubt I would look to you for comfort by night, or any other time of day, Lord Calvercombe. Cats of any sort are too wise and independent to need aught from such as you,’ she managed to say, as if the idea of purring under his stroking hand didn’t send a dart of something hot and uncomfortable shivering through her, as if her body had plans for Alex Forthin the rest of her didn’t want to know about. He smiled blandly at her defensive words and she cursed the man for seeing too much, whatever he could physically see or not see. More civilised men would realise she wanted to be alone when they found her in this quiet garden. A true gentleman would turn and leave at first sight of her staring at the statue of her namesake at the heart of a garden intended to glorify spring and its goddess. As the garden was long past its best and waiting for next spring’s abundance to be astonishingly lovely again, why would he come in here if he didn’t want to speak to her? Yet now he was here, he infuriated her with his aloofness and looked as if he preferred her room to her company. ‘I wouldn’t believe anything you heard about me until you know me better than you do now, Miss Seaborne,’ he warned silkily. ‘Why on earth would I gather gossip about you?’ ‘I can think of one very earthy reason,’ he said softly and suddenly there was a different danger in the air from the one that had frightened her earlier. ‘Then think again. I wouldn’t tangle with a bitter and disillusioned man like you if you came gilded and anointed by the gods,’ she told him militantly. ‘I wonder if your namesake argued with Hades before he bore her off to join his dark world?’ he mused with a nod at the artfully carved Persephone nearby. It felt as if he was drily discussing classical mythology with a tutor at Oxford or Cambridge, except she was sure he’d never looked at one of them with lust in his fathomless deep-blue eyes. There was a spark of something more dangerous than mere need lurking in them to disrupt her peace of mind as well, and she struggled to free herself of a spell she was sure he hadn’t wrought deliberately, since he seemed to dislike her almost as bitterly as she did him. ‘Persephone’s mother raged after her daughter to wrest her from her dark lord and his underworld,’ she managed to argue, despite a fast-beating heart and this odd feeling of being cut off from the real world in here, with him. She ought to turn and walk away, of course, but the reckless Seaborne spirit had got into her along with her fidgets, so she stood her ground and met look for look. Trying not to acknowledge a terrible heat had sprung to life deep inside her and was making her a stranger to herself; she reminded herself he was a stranger and would remain one if she had any sense. ‘Only for half the year, remember?’ he argued. ‘Do you think she was content above ground and missing her lover until winter came back and she could join him? I suspect she couldn’t wait to lie in his arms again while the earth rested and she could escape the constant pleas and botheration of mere mortals.’ ‘It’s just a myth, a neat story to entertain simple people and explain away the seasons without need for deep thought,’ she replied in a breathy voice so different from her usual tone that she scolded herself for being a fool and letting him unnerve her. ‘Persephone was a fertility goddess, Miss Seaborne. Her cult wove deep into the fabric of ancient Greek life and held her responsible for far more than a little extra daylight and the wearing of lighter clothing for a few months.’ ‘I understood that Greece, being a Mediterranean land, enjoyed little change in climate between summer and winter, Lord Calvercombe,’ she said in as unemotional a tone as she could manage. He was so close it seemed almost a crime not to touch his scarred face and explore the smooth firmness of the unmarred side. He seemed to be two facets of man: one smooth and bronzed and as perfect as man could be, the other battle-scarred, cynical and deeply marked by the terror and evil he must have met. Intriguing to find out how a young Apollo like Lieutenant Forthin had become bitterly reclusive Lord Calvercombe and if much of one remained in the other, despite his hardened exterior. Also incredibly dangerous to her peace of mind—she had enough to worry about without him fascinating and infuriating her by turns. ‘Tell the men of the mountains there’s no winter there when they battle feet of snow, Miss Seaborne, and all their kin and cattle crowd in the house for warmth and travellers and luckier souls stay by the sea to seek what warmth there is. Winter exists everywhere, Persephone, even if sometimes it lives only in the souls of men.’ ‘How do you know?’ she had to ask softly, sensing the real Alexander Forthin beneath all the armour and scepticism and wanting to know him better. ‘I’ve seen it,’ he said, seeming continents away, lost in a bleak place where men carved their hatred of others on the faces of their captured enemies, either to extract their secrets, or for the twisted pleasure of torture itself. Her fingers itched to soothe those silvery, healed scars of his and assure him he wasn’t at the mercy of merciless men any longer. He seemed to remember where he was and who he was talking to, and stepped away as though he could read her mind and her thoughts burned him. ‘You have a way of extracting secrets that could be a potent asset, Miss Persephone Seaborne,’ he accused, as if she had broken his solitude and peace after a hectic day, not the other way about. ‘It might indeed, if I wanted to know them in the first place,’ she said as icily as she could. ‘Touché, my dear,’ he said with a rueful smile that almost disarmed her. ‘Go away, Lord Calvercombe,’ she ordered coldly. ‘If only I could, Miss Seaborne,’ he said regretfully, ‘but something evil this way comes, to paraphrase those witches in Macbeth you probably know all about, given your erudite education. I can’t let it harm you whilst Jack is otherwise engaged.’ ‘Why not?’ she said childishly. Though she was acutely disturbed to know he felt as if a dark blight was eating at the edges of Jack and Jessica’s glowing happiness as well, she was unwilling to acknowledge she and this apology for an Earl might have more in common than either of them desired. ‘I’ve seen what a man’s worst enemy is capable of, more often than I care to recall in India. Do you think you’re immune to the evil we humans do each other purely because you’re lovely, rich and well born? You could only cling to that belief for seconds after stepping on to a battlefield, unless you really are as impervious to the lives of mortals as yon stone depiction of your namesake,’ he told her, as if she were the unreasonable one and he temperate as a May morning. ‘No, I’m not so arrogant, whatever poor opinion you may have cobbled together from second-hand gossip and supposition. Nevertheless, I have a brother out in this wide and weary world somewhere and I fear deeply for him, Lord Calvercombe, despite my selfish, shallow and hard-hearted nature. If facing whatever threatens Rich is the only way to find out what happened to him, and why he either can’t or won’t come home, then I will face it. I certainly don’t need your help to do so.’ ‘Then you really are a fool,’ he said harshly, and she couldn’t resist giving a shrug, as if his opinion didn’t matter. ‘Not fool enough to put faith in a man who sneaks about in the dark to meet his old friend as if he doesn’t trust him. Jack would welcome you joyfully if you came up his drive in rags with not a penny to your name.’ He had the grace to blush as she spoke of the hurt her cousin had felt when Lord Calvercombe didn’t trust his generosity of spirit to face him by daylight. She recalled the June night when Alex Forthin met the Duke of Dettingham at midnight and they found more in the dark than either had bargained for. Independent of each other, she and Jessica had stalked them in brilliant moonlight. Whilst Jess had met her match in the enchanted depths of the wilderness walk in full midsummer bloom on the way back that night, Persephone came away from her first sight of the man she remembered from Rich and Jack’s schooldays as fabulously handsome, if arrogant, with a vague sense of disappointment. He probably would have annoyed her even if she weren’t already furious that he could think any Seaborne would turn from his scars in disgust. ‘I was misinformed,’ he defended himself, but this wasn’t the time to find endearing his gruff reluctance to admit he was wrong. ‘The Duchess told me I was unfit to be seen by light of day.’ ‘Jessica said that? No, she would never spout such rubbish, any more than she could revile you for a hurt that was none of your fault.’ ‘That’s debatable,’ he said ruefully. Then, catching sight of her renewed fury at his dismissal of Jessica’s generosity of heart, as well as her extra sensitivity to society’s uneasy reaction to her own damaged leg, he held up his hand to stop her tirade. ‘I mean it’s a moot point that this was not my fault—’ he flicked an impatient finger at his damaged face and eye ‘—if I’d obeyed orders and not been an arrogant young idiot, I would never have been captured in the first place. Perhaps life would then have been very different for me if I’d done as I was bid, Miss Seaborne, but you leap keenly to the defence of relatives or friends others dare to criticise, do you not?’ he asked almost as if it were the first admirable quality he’d found in her and common justice made him admit it. ‘It was Jack’s grandmother, not his new wife, who informed me I should not bother him or the ladies of the house party he was hosting with my repulsive countenance. I can see for myself Jack and his Jessica will be likely targets for every enterprising beggar in the Marches, once word gets out how good and benevolent both are. Hopefully Jack’s to-hell-with-you manner will disguise it well enough for them to keep a few guineas in their coffers to feed their family when it comes along.’ ‘I think it might manage that,’ she couldn’t help responding with a rueful smile at the idea of the fabulous wealth of the Seabornes being dissipated by her shrewd, if sometimes soft-hearted, cousin. ‘And can’t you see for yourself that’s just the sort of thing everyone expects the Dowager Duchess to say? If you haven’t realised by now that’s half the reason she goes on saying such things, then you’re a bigger fool than I thought you to be that night.’ ‘She’s your grandmother,’ he replied as if that explained a great deal. ‘We all have our crosses to bear,’ she said lightly. She refused to see any of herself in the famously rude old lady, who had terrorised her husband and both her sons and their wives as Duchess in power, until her husband died, annoying her more in death than he had in life. The Dowager Duchess had retired to the mansion in Hanover Square and a lofty house near Bath she had inherited from her nabob father, rather than yield precedence in her former domain to a mere daughter-in-law, or endure living in Ashburton Dower House for the rest of her days. Since she had decamped for her own houses, the Dowager refused to discuss events at Ashburton, or Dettingham House in Grosvenor Square, much to her sons’ relief. Or at least she had until Jack was rumoured to have done away with Persephone’s brother Richard. Then the Duchess had decreed it was high time Jack wed and put that silly story down as the fairy tale it was by siring direct heirs to replace Rich in the succession. Persephone wondered if it annoyed her haughty grandmama that Jack then went about it in his own unique fashion and fell head over heels in love with Jessica Pendle. She surprised herself with the conclusion the Dowager was almost smug about that very outcome, as if she’d planned it all along, and learnt to distrust the wily old tyrant more than ever. ‘At least you are blessed with a close family,’ Lord Calvercombe interrupted her reverie and the uncomfortable notion her grandmother was omnipotent after all. ‘Sometimes that’s more a curse than a blessing,’ she said, trying not to feel sympathy for a man who was as alone as a powerful aristocrat could ever be. ‘I could certainly curse your brother up hill and down dale at times.’ ‘If only you would find him safe and well while you did it, I might join you.’ ‘Yet from what you said just now, you would put yourself in danger for him if there was any prospect you might find him by doing so, or did I mistake you?’ ‘Yes, I would, but even when he makes me wish I was strong enough to shake him until his teeth rattled, I still love him. Richard is my big brother after all, Lord Calvercombe, and can’t help being annoying at the best of times.’ ‘It doesn’t mean you have to love him for it, Miss Seaborne. I can’t recall any love ever existing to be lost between myself and my own half-brother, or between my father and his elder brother for that matter. Rivalry over an empty thing like a title, especially when the estates that goes with it are in the condition mine were after they all finished quarrelling over them, apparently transcends brotherly love so far as we Forthins are concerned.’ ‘Being raised in such a nest of rivals, I suppose it is little wonder you don’t understand how deeply we Seabornes feel about each other, my lord. Your example proves how very lucky we are to do so, I suppose.’ ‘Or that you are better and more generous people than we are.’ ‘Far be it from me to suggest it,’ she said innocently, then wondered why there was a flash of some powerful emotion in his eyes, as if he had an impulse to do something very foolish indeed. ‘Perhaps it’s because my cousin Annabelle wasn’t born a Forthin that I loved her so much,’ he said almost as if he was reasoning something out loud, rather than confiding in her. ‘And why I must find her, or at least know what happened to her, while I was too far away to help. She is the only child of my cousin Alicia and her nautical husband, Captain de Morbaraye, and she came to live at Penbryn once she was considered in need of an education, while they carried on sailing the seven seas.’ ‘Penbryn was your father’s house?’ She was interested because his precious Annabelle disappeared at the same time as her brother Richard. This discovery had provoked his midnight visit to Ashburton—and there was nothing personal about her memories of that night, she excused herself. She wasn’t intrigued by this complex and contrary man; she only needed to know Rich was alive and well, and if his search helped prove it then all well and good. ‘Penbryn was my mother’s home,’ he replied with a puzzled shake of his head and a distant look in his eyes as if trying to recall her. ‘It was probably only because she was heiress of Penbryn Castle that my father married her in the first place, since my uncle didn’t have a Welsh castle and it must have annoyed him to know his younger brother would live there with his second wife. You can probably only imagine how my brother hated me for inheriting the castle when he was the eldest son. In his own opinion, as well as that of the law, he should have had everything, although he had no blood ties to my late grandfather, the Earl of Tregaron, whatsoever.’ ‘If the castle is yours, why did you join the army and leave it for India?’ ‘Have we not discussed the fact I’m a fool already, Miss Seaborne?’ he asked with a wry smile that set her heart skipping all over again when it made him look boyish and almost lovable. It should not be allowed. She could cope with him bitterly furious at life; could easily endure arrogant and aloof Lord Calvercombe with little more than an irrepressible flutter of girlish excitement; but the complex man underneath made her long for all sorts of things the Earl would never countenance. ‘My grandfather tied up my inheritance until I attained the age of five and twenty,’ he went on. ‘Since my legal guardian was to administer the trust and my brother became that guardian when my father died, I could not endure seeing him play ducks and drakes with my inheritance whilst I waited impatiently for that day. I decided I’d better put a few thousand miles between us, before I gave in to the urge to strangle him before he did more damage.’ ‘How could the other trustees sit back and let him ruin your future?’ ‘It was easier than arguing or taking him to law,’ he said ruefully. ‘Cowards,’ she muttered furiously and surprised some intense feeling in his eyes, before he clamped down on it and it was gone. Chapter Three Lord Calvercombe shrugged dismissively. ‘My brother is dead, Miss Seaborne. The law is quite strict in its refusal to prosecute dead men.’ ‘At least he didn’t inherit the estates that go with your title,’ she said consolingly, but from his moue of distaste that wasn’t much of a blessing. ‘There was little my predecessors hadn’t already done to impoverish them. If not for the revenues from my grandfather’s estates that even my brother Farrant couldn’t quite dissipate during his five years of trusteeship, I would be in hock to every moneylender in Greek Street to pay the wages on my new estate, let alone redeem the mortgages.’ ‘How profligate of your predecessors,’ she said and wondered at so much wealth and power being so spectacularly wasted. ‘That’s what happens when jealousy and pride come before love or duty. One branch of my family litigated against another, solely for the joy of a good argument so far as I can tell. The Seabornes have a more pragmatic approach to inheritance they would have done well to share.’ ‘How odd that the first male heir born in the Duke’s bed becomes Duke in turn, God willing.’ ‘So it would seem, Miss Seaborne.’ ‘Your mother must have been furious at being caught in the midst of their quarrels and petty rivalry.’ ‘My sainted mama ran off to Naples with a poet about a year after I was born and died of typhus fever in Rome a few years after that. I doubt she cared one way or the other what became of me. She clearly couldn’t abide my father, yet she left me in his so-called care when she ran off with her lover.’ He said it with such matter-of-fact composure Persephone might have wept for the lonely child he’d once been, if that child hadn’t grown into the latest Earl of Calvercombe, who clearly didn’t want or need anyone’s tears. ‘Who have you got left to argue with now then, my lord?’ ‘That’s the beauty of it—apart from one childless and ancient great-uncle who refuses to have anything to do with me, or anyone else so far as I can tell, I am the last of my line. Apparently we Forthins have litigated one another into oblivion.’ ‘I suppose there’s plenty of time to remedy that situation,’ she said, wondering why the idea of him setting up his nursery as soon as some poor innocent girl would marry him made her shiver in the enclosed warmth of her namesake’s garden on a hot, late-August afternoon. ‘No, we’ve run our race,’ he said, his expression closed and even a little bleak. All sorts of unsuitable questions raced to spill off her tongue and he must have sensed them teetering there outrageously in an unmaidenly rush she somehow managed to contain. His austere expression gave way to the mocking grin she was beginning to loathe and any compassion she felt for the lonely man vanished like mist in the sun. ‘My captors made the mistake of saving that particular form of torture as their ultimate threat, but ran out of time or chance to carry it out, Miss Seaborne. You can restrain your unladylike imagination on that front at least.’ ‘I have no idea what you mean,’ she said distantly. ‘Oh, come now, my dear. I prefer your open curiosity to the soulless propriety of most of your kind. Don’t disappoint me by becoming as mealy-mouthed as any other well-born single lady I would go well out of my way to avoid.’ ‘If you shun such correct young women, I’d best polish up a suitably outraged expression and work harder on my simper.’ ‘At least then I wouldn’t have to worry about you getting in the way while I search for my ward and your brother, even if it would be a crime against nature to meddle with your more strident character. I can’t imagine such a properly nurtured female squawking and swooning and disapproving her way about the countryside without an entire army of villains knowing she was on her way, so if you could arrange to become one as soon as may be I shall be enormously relieved.’ Tempted to flounce away and let him believe whatever he chose about her whilst she conducted her own investigation into Rich’s disappearance, she was held back by the frustrating certainty that a lady on her own would never get far with such a quest. She was too hedged about with constraints not to need a man of power on her side to forge through or round any obstacles thrown in their way. ‘Whatever your opinion of me, I’ll not rest until I know where my brother is and what has made him conceal himself so completely from those of us who love him, Lord Calvercombe. Despite all Richard has done to put his family off the notion of owning up to him, let alone loving him, we stubbornly insist on doing so,’ she told him with as much icy dignity as she could muster. If not for the habit he had of watching her with cynical incredulity—as if he were about to have her stalked and captured to be displayed as a public curiosity—she might have turned and walked away, but as it was she didn’t trust him not to go straight to her mother and warn her that her daughter was intent on seeking out her errant eldest son, if only to get Persephone out of his way and carry on searching for Rich and his precious cousin Annabelle unopposed. ‘At least I now know I read you right in the first place,’ he muttered with a formidable frown to tell her he’d hoped he was wrong, for once in his life. ‘I’m a Seaborne—what else did you expect?’ she said scornfully. ‘Some common sense and a smidgeon of ladylike self-restraint to make you more endurable?’ he asked as if he already knew that was too much to ask. ‘That would be your mistake, my lord, not mine.’ ‘So I see, but would you truly risk your unfortunate mother losing yet another of her offspring in such a reckless fashion, Miss Seaborne? I dare say she’d miss you as much as she does her eldest son, even if I can’t currently fathom any reason why she should find your absence aught but a blessing,’ he replied, as if only his talent for merciless words kept him from physically shaking her. ‘It’s because she’s our mother and a darling, something you clearly wouldn’t understand,’ she declared, informing her conscience it wasn’t a low blow if it got her out of here with her dignity intact. She would not lose the blazing Seaborne temper she had inherited in spades from her passionate and often restless sire and make this infuriating idiot happy that he’d bested her in an argument. She didn’t need his admiration or approval, but letting him brush her off as a feminine irrelevance was not an option she could allow, either. ‘No, I wouldn’t,’ he admitted. ‘Although I do have an imagination,’ he went on, ‘even if it’s a quality you clearly lack. Being cursed with such a questionable gift, it tells me you could end up as alone and beleaguered as Rich Seaborne if you carry on pursuing this mystery. You risk losing everything you have, Miss Seaborne—your health, your safety and even your sanity—if you try to pick up their trail where I left off, and that’s a risk too far for a gently bred female.’ ‘How would you know?’ she demanded, stung by the assumption he knew better than she did what was good for her. ‘You can really ask such a question of a former soldier like me? How naive are you in this ridiculous quest to outsmart your brother and the enemy he and Annabelle must be hiding from? Rape and slavery are weapons of war, Miss Seaborne. Pray that you never have to watch the sack of a conquered city or face the wrath of a triumphant enemy.’ He fell silent as appalling images flicked through his head in a kaleidoscope of horror she could only imagine. Persephone hesitated between keeping out of whatever battles might be coming, as he wanted, and following her instincts to find her brother and help him come home at long last. At times she knew he was in trouble almost as if she were there with him, while at others his fate was obscure as a brick wall. No, even if it meant losing some elusive something she should never want and couldn’t have with this man, she still had to find Rich. She shook her head sadly and met his eyes with something she feared was very close to an apology in them. ‘Would you give up trying to find your cousin Annabelle if someone warned you it could be dangerous and tried to make you stop?’ she asked. ‘No, but I’m a man and a former soldier. If you have it in you to look beyond the end of your own nose, imagine what a bitter enemy might do to the lovely young sister of a man he’s set out to break and overcome. Rich Seaborne has enemies who would love to hold a trump card like his sister in their hands, so why not show some crumbs of common sense and stay here while I track them both down for you?’ ‘You must do as you please, my lord,’ she made herself say as distantly as she could manage when he was so close that every sense seemed on edge. Apparently he expected her to behave like some passive maiden in a story, waiting for the prince to slay her dragons and retrieve her when he wasn’t busy. She told herself this hollow feeling she was fighting wasn’t caused by the disappointment that he could misread her so radically, or want her to be so different from the real Persephone Seaborne under her fine lady gloss. ‘While you do exactly the same?’ he asked as if he’d like to shake her. ‘I must,’ she said quietly. ‘From where I stand, you absolutely must not.’ ‘Ah, but you’ve got your feet firmly planted in those trusty male Hessians of yours, haven’t you, Lord Calvercombe? Standing in them, I doubt I’d see how anyone could go their own way without your interference, either.’ ‘Nonsense,’ he said gruffly, with a look that told her he knew she was right, under all that temper and frustration, and it only made things worse. Something inside her shifted, almost softened, and since that would cause all sorts of chaos if she let it, she refused to consider the notion they might do better together than they would apart. ‘How is it that men always accuse us women of speaking rubbish whenever we’re in danger of winning an argument?’ she mused, doing her best to guard her inner thoughts and fears from him with a superior smile. ‘I don’t know,’ he said after what looked like a mighty struggle. ‘Could it be because you talk such illogical claptrap we can’t help but be driven half mad? Maybe it’s because when a woman risks having to admit a man could be right, she deploys every weapon she can lay hands on to avoid doing so?’ ‘What a very odd opinion you do have of my sex, my lord,’ she said sweetly, deciding that since she wasn’t going to find peace today, perhaps she ought to leave him to his instead. ‘I’ll admit I find many ladies empty-headed and silly, but that’s mostly the fault of unequal upbringing and low expectations. In your case it can only be wilful stupidity though, since your family seems to expect a great deal of both its male and female members. Your little sisters behave themselves with grace and intelligence, after all, so I can hardly blame your parents for your own lack of manners, can I?’ ‘Penelope and Helen are good, dear girls, my lord. You’ll not succeed in driving a wedge between us by praising them and slighting me. You clearly never had a brother or sister you would walk to the end of the world for if you had to, so I can only feel sorry for you for that lack,’ she said, hoping he would see steady purpose in her eyes when they met his, rather than a fear they were both up against a force hellbent on making sure his family never set eyes on Rich again this side of the grave. ‘It won’t do Rich a mite of good if you sacrifice your peace of mind, personal safety and reputation and achieve nothing. Can you imagine how he would feel if he knew you were pitting your wits against the enemy he disappeared in order to avoid?’ he asked, running his hands through his hair, making it curl wildly. He turned away from her to stride up and down the path as if it were the only way to stop himself laying hands on her and physically shaking her this time. ‘It may surprise you, but, yes, I can see that,’ she told him quietly. ‘And it makes no difference? You’re bound and determined to go your own way, whatever the cost to the rest of us might be.’ ‘It will cost you nothing, my lord. You clearly don’t like me and will not care a snap of your fingers what happens to me.’ Somehow that stopped him in his wolf-like pacing and he turned to glare back at her as if she’d accused him of some terrible crime. ‘I might not like you, woman, but that doesn’t mean I can’t worry about you—donkey stubborn and as wilful as a three-month-old puppy as you clearly are. You need someone by who isn’t blinded by charm and physical perfection to the heart of a vixen that lies underneath it all.’ ‘I could be just like you, then,’ she said unsympathetically, trying to fight a ridiculous feeling inside her that something astonishingly promising had just fallen empty at her feet like a deflated hot air balloon. ‘Hah!’ he raged on, resuming his pacing again, except now it was more of a wild-cat lope than a wolfish fury as he worked himself up about her shortcomings instead of Rich’s plight. ‘We’re not in the least alike, you and I, not in the least similar in any way,’ he accused as he kicked a skewed edging tile, then had to pretend it didn’t hurt as it proved to be a lot more fixed in place than it looked. ‘Well,’ she said sarcastically and folded her arms to stop herself going up to him and holding on to halt his frustrated activity, ‘we certainly have a foul temper in common, if nothing else.’ ‘I’ve enough to make me foul tempered; you could infuriate a whole regiment without even pausing for breath.’ ‘No, I couldn’t,’ she argued for the sake of arguing as much as to prove a point now. ‘Even I can’t shout loudly enough to make that many bone-headed, born-stupid, stubborn-as-rock men hear me all at once.’ ‘Ah, but they’d hush long enough to listen to the likes of you, Persephone,’ he told her, as if saying her name softly like that ought to cancel out his unflattering opinion of her up until now. ‘Why?’ she demanded, uncrossing her arms so she could fist her hands and pretend he was wrong. ‘Because you’re as lovely as half-a-dozen goddesses put together,’ he told her with a wry grin that acknowledged it was a silly thing to say and almost made her long to melt into the sort of weak-kneed female he obviously admired. ‘With a dozen fists to hit you with and as many feet to kick you, I think I could support being that lovely,’ she said and tried not to laugh at the very idea of it. ‘You’d fall over,’ he informed her solemnly. Oh, the temptation of him as he stood there, suddenly as light-hearted and heart-breakingly handsome as Mother Nature had intended him to be. ‘True, but at least I’d do it happily, knowing you were sure to be hurting far more than I was,’ she said, determined not to be charmed into a quieter, more accepting frame of mind. ‘I bet you were a devilish little girl, ready to lash out at anyone who told you not to do something merely because you were born a girl,’ he said reflectively. If he but knew it, he was in danger of succeeding by using his acute mind to read her true character where all his raging and charming and unreasonableness had failed to persuade her. Mainly because he was right, she told herself. His knowing all her frustrations at being born a girl in a world dominated by men, when every time they met they quarrelled and struck sparks off each other, felt oddly disarming. ‘Please don’t think me so changed I won’t do it again, Lord Calvercombe,’ she told him rather half-heartedly. ‘Yet it would have been such a shame if you had been born one of us unsatisfactory males instead of a goddess-like female, Miss Seaborne, for then I would be denied the sheer pleasure of looking at you,’ he told her as if it were no more than passing the time of day. ‘I’m not a cold collection of limbs and good enough features to be gawped at like yonder statue, my lord. I am a human being with all the faults and failures and hopes and dreams we earthly creatures are subject to.’ ‘But it doesn’t hurt the rest of us fallible beings that you’re a sheer pleasure to look upon, Miss Persephone Seaborne,’ he informed her quietly and strode dangerously close again, to look down at her as if he’d find out all the secrets of her inner soul she’d managed to bury deep inside. ‘And if I was to be as rude and bold as you are, I’d have to admit you’re no hardship to behold yourself, Alexander Forthin,’ she countered, meeting his disconcerting gaze as if it were normal for a lady to compliment a gentleman. For a moment he looked shocked, then almost flattered, before his insecurity about his scarred face and marred eye surfaced and he merely looked offended—as if she were mocking him for being less handsome, at least in his own eyes, than he’d been once upon a time. ‘I do remember you from before, you know,’ she said softly and, as he appeared to want to step back, she took a step nearer so she could meet his eyes to show him she meant what she said. ‘You were handsome and arrogant and proud as sin back then, when Rich and Jack left Eton for Oxford and you got your commission and a scarlet coat to dazzle schoolgirls like me out of the few wits I had left me. To my mind you’re a great deal better looking now than you were back then and considerably less vain.’ ‘Then you’re still dazzled?’ he asked as if that was all that mattered to him in her shaming admission that she’d once cherished a fiery and fearsome crush for him, even though she’d only set eyes on him once or twice when she was supposed to be minding her lessons. ‘I’m no longer a schoolgirl who can be easily enchanted by a devil-may-care manner and a pair of knowing blue eyes, Lord Calvercombe,’ she claimed primly, but inside she wasn’t quite so sure. ‘If you first set eyes on me when I was still a boy straight out of school, I doubt they were as knowing as either of us thought at the time,’ he admitted and disarmed her all over again. ‘Whatever you knew, it was a lot more than I did,’ she admitted. Since he was about the same age as Jack and therefore eight or so years older than herself, that was a safe enough bet at least. ‘Not that you would ever have admitted it.’ ‘No, not then,’ she acknowledged. ‘Or now,’ he said flatly, and since she’d dug that trap for herself, she supposed she couldn’t blame him for using it. ‘Nine or ten years have gone past since we first set eyes on each other and I’ve learnt a lot in the meantime, Lord Calvercombe.’ ‘Then you’re prepared to rashly lay claim to having become a woman of the world since then, are you, Persephone? I suppose you are an experienced female with three, maybe even four Seasons at your back by now and still no husband to make them into a triumph,’ he observed, and she wasn’t going to admit the cutting edge of that conclusion, coming from him instead of her few known and familiar enemies among the ton as it did. She knew he was using temper to set her at a distance, but it hurt her far more acutely than it should. He’d slyly trailed the outrageous possibility she might have become worldlier than a respectable young lady should be, as well as reminding her the world might one day mock her looks and birth and comfortable marriage portion if she refused to wed. He deserved to have his face slapped before she flounced away, but she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. ‘Only three Seasons actually, my lord, and that really doesn’t mean I’m either desperate for a lover or considered to be at my last prayers quite yet. I happen to be very particular about the man I might one day decide to marry.’ ‘After you’ve had your pick of the bachelors to flirt and test and measure against some impossible ideal of perfection, I suppose? Please don’t tell me how he must be, let me guess. The poor man will have to be rich if he’s to afford you,’ he said as if about to count off on his fingers all the things she must demand in a husband, when all she really wanted was to love passionately and be loved in return one day or not wed at all. ‘Then there’s all that ducal blood flowing proud in your veins to measure up to. I doubt some ancient old noble will do for such a lovely and fastidious young lady as you, either, so he must be smoothly god-like and haughty as a Roman senator with all except his lady. He’d better be a fine horseman, or strive to become one, since you’re reputed to possess a fine seat and a good eye for a horse that he’d do well to match. All in all, the man must be a paragon, don’t you think? Little wonder it’s taking you so long to select the poor fellow; such a pattern card of perfection can exist only once in a generation.’ ‘Even more of a wonder if he actually exists at all. What right have you to think you know me so well that all my most private thoughts are an open book to you, Lord Calvercombe? I’d sooner stay a maid all my life than go about the business of finding a husband in such a cynical and chilly fashion and, if that’s the best you can let yourself think of me, I’ll thank you to avoid me in future for our mutual comfort.’ ‘It would certainly help mine,’ she thought she heard him murmur as if she made him acutely uneasy somehow by breathing the same air as him. ‘Consider it done,’ she declared airily and would have strolled away from him as if nothing about him interested her, if he’d let her. ‘If only I could,’ he rasped as he grasped her arm and his touch burned through her like wildfire and froze her in her tracks. ‘Take your hands off me,’ she hissed with all the passion she could muster, since the very air seemed to hum with a warning that he was now far too close. ‘Gladly, if only I could believe you will dutifully return to your mother’s side and leave me to find Richard Seaborne and my ward.’ ‘Do you think Mama would want me to do that if there’s a chance we can find Rich and have him back here in his true home once more? Or do you assume she doesn’t miss him every minute of every day? I suppose you see the serene face she shows the world and imagine Lady Henry Seaborne either doesn’t feel deeply, or knows very little of the world beyond the safe boundaries of the Seaborne estates. My mother longs desperately for Rich every moment of every day he’s away, Lord Calvercombe, as she would for any of her children should they disappear. My big brother is her first child, the one she and my father made in the heat of first love and he will always be special to her. And, no, before you imply it, I’m not jealous of the strong bond that exists between them.’ ‘You really do have a low opinion of me, don’t you?’ he asked with a look that seemed to hint he was hurt by such a harsh summary of his possible thoughts. ‘I merely reflect what I see in your eyes when you look at me, my lord.’ ‘Then you see something I didn’t put there,’ he responded rather bitterly, as if that blurred line of scarring troubled him far more than his arrogant manner and to-the-devil-with-you glare allowed for. ‘Can you blame me when you’ve done nothing but snap at me since we first met again by moonlight that first farcical night you came to Ashburton?’ He looked down at her as if he’d almost forgotten she was there that night and didn’t relish the reminder. ‘You’re certainly a thorn in my flesh, Miss Seaborne, but I don’t suppose you mind if I consider you irritating and prickly, since you have done nothing but abuse and rebuke me from that moment to this.’ ‘Of course I have—you manhandled me like a sack of potatoes.’ ‘And that still rankles with you? What a veritable goddess you are, Miss Seaborne, to expect reverent awe from the opposite sex at all times of the day and night, however ungoddess-like your own behaviour might be at the time.’ ‘Enough, my lord, I’ve had more than enough of your illogical arguments and irrational prejudice against my sex. I’m going to find my family now and no doubt I shall see you at dinner, whether I wish to do so or not,’ she said ungraciously and, tugging her arm from his slackened grasp, marched off like an offended queen. Chapter Four ‘Well, that certainly told me,’ Alex Forthin muttered ruefully. Of course he recalled coming here one moonlit night in June to vent his wrath on Jack Seaborne, because Jack’s errant cousin had spirited Cousin Annabelle away so effectively. Back then he’d been so full of wild plans to avenge himself on Richard Seaborne and rescue his vulnerable young cousin that it had never occurred to him that she had wanted to disappear and Rich, gallant fool that he was, insisted on going, too. Now he knew it was an idea born of pain and suffering in a war that brought little glory to either side—a ridiculous scheme he’d thought up to try to redeem the aching darkness in his own soul. He had needed Annabelle’s gift for loving the unlovable too much to consider why she had gone and what looking for her might stir up, but facing Jack across that would-be Grecian temple down by the lake had jarred him into reality somehow. Jack was so completely his old complex and sometimes arrogant self that Alex realised he was the one who had changed into someone he didn’t want to know. He’d let the fanatics who had tortured him to the edge of madness cloud his thoughts and colour his actions. His cousin’s absence had taken any gloss there might have been off a homecoming only a few old servants were left to rejoice in, but he should have realised Rich wouldn’t run off with an innocent like Annabelle. Clearly there had been a pressing reason for them to disappear and it remained urgent enough to keep them away three years on. How could he have wasted so much time suspecting his friends when he could have been looking for real enemies all along? His cousin Annabelle had an independent spirit, as well as a truly loving nature and sunny optimism she must have got from the other side of the family. She would never have stayed with Rich for so long unless she truly wanted to and there was the crux of another conundrum. If Rich knew how Alex lusted after Persephone, he might suspect him of wanting to avenge himself on Rich through her for carrying off his own innocent young cousin. Truth to tell, he would hide at Penbryn himself and try to forget the beautiful virago existed if he could, but he must stay here and risk what little peace of mind he had to make sure she didn’t risk her lovely neck on some harebrained scheme to track down the missing pair. At least being armed against a vain hope she would come of her own accord would guard him against wanting her so badly he’d risk asking her to go with him. He was a fool like all the other idiots who desired the unobtainable Miss Seaborne and pined for only a sight of her across a crowded room. After today she would avoid him like a noxious disease, which might keep her safe and dutifully by Lady Henry Seaborne’s side for the next few weeks, while Jack was away and Alex was busy searching the length and breadth of Britain for Belle and Richard without their enemies noticing he was doing it. Something told him Miss Seaborne was more likely to dash off on some reckless adventure—giving him three people to rescue instead of only two—if he didn’t fool her into playing the docile young lady somehow. He shuddered at what trouble she might bring on herself if he didn’t divert her and decided he couldn’t ride off into tomorrow’s sunrise without a backward glance at the Seaborne lair and all those supposedly safe inside it. Wondering how to keep an eye on a single lady whilst she decided which way to jump into the lion’s den, he paced the quiet garden. Only once did he catch himself wondering how such a sanctuary could be created at his Welsh home for a lady of his to roam, so that she might stay and make Penbryn Castle and his other rundown homes less spartan. Deuce take it, he wasn’t going to have a lady. Even before he set foot on home soil again, he’d decided the Forthin name would die with him. It was a cursed line—a supposed family where hate and greed and jealousy stood in for the love, generosity and solidarity that seemed to bind the Seaborne clan together. Belle would inherit everything he had to leave. And when he found he’d become Lord Calvercombe, it seemed the final joke of fate to come home and find his cousin gone and no clue to her whereabouts. So any hope he still had for the future was wiped out. He didn’t dare let himself think her truly lost—the one hope of redemption for his whole rotten clan. So he had to find her, rather than succumb to the ridiculous hope that he might build a life on shaky foundations with some spoilt society lady and see it crash round his ears when she laughed in his marred face. ‘Wherever have you been, Per?’ Miss Helen Seaborne demanded a little too loudly as Persephone did her best to slip into the dwindling crowd as if she’d never been away. Silently cursing little sisters and their over-eager tongues, Persephone shrugged with would-be carelessness. ‘I went for a walk in the gardens to clear my head, sister dear. Since it’s been a long and exciting day, I needed a little peace to gather my senses. You dare to call me Per again and I’ll retaliate in kind, Hel,’ she added in a fierce aside meant for her sister’s ears only. ‘Neither of you will do any such thing,’ Lady Henry informed her daughters with a look neither of them quite managed to meet. ‘This is still Jack and Jessica’s special day and I won’t have you two arguing like fishwives just because they can’t hear you at the moment.’ ‘They can’t hear anyone but each other when they’re together nowadays,’ Penelope Seaborne put in with obvious disgust at such mutually obsessed lovers. ‘Which is exactly how it should be when two people love each other as deeply as those two clearly do,’ her mother said with an understanding smile at her youngest daughter’s moue of distaste. ‘One day you will understand, my love,’ she said and laughed when Penelope gave a disgusted shudder and fervently declared, ‘Never!’ ‘Well, I think they’re very lucky and I wish I might love any man half as much as Jess does our cousin, even if I can’t quite understand why anyone should,’ fifteen-year-old Helen declared, halfway between the romance of being almost grown up and the brutal frankness of nine-year-old Penelope. ‘What, love a man, or love Jack specifically?’ Persephone asked, reluctantly intrigued by the workings of her little sisters’ minds and the changes maturity was threatening before she felt prepared for any of them to move on. ‘Jack, of course. He’s all very well and I know he’s a Duke and fabulously rich and not particularly ugly, but he’s only Jack when all’s said and done.’ ‘True,’ Persephone agreed seriously enough, ‘but Jessica has known him for ever and still thinks he put the stars in the sky, so I suppose love must be blind.’ ‘Wait until you’re in love, my dearest, then you can tell me how it feels to trust a man to do so for you,’ their mother advised, too seriously for Persephone. A moment later she wondered why his lordship the Earl of Calvercombe had chosen to emerge from the spring garden at the worst moment possible and felt her mother’s eyes on her when she refused to meet his gaze or Lady Henry Seaborne’s. ‘I doubt I shall ever love a man so completely,’ Persephone argued as she squirmed at the very notion of ever loving such an aloof and cynical one. ‘I don’t think a woman can sensibly consider herself immune to such folly until she’s cold in her grave, my love,’ Lady Henry objected mildly enough, but her eyes dwelt thoughtfully on Lord Calvercombe while she did so. The shock of seeing her wise, sensible and almost cynical best friend tumble fathoms deep under Jack’s rakish spell had been bad enough, Persephone decided, but he’d made bad worse by stumbling so totally into love with Jess it sometimes seemed as if he could scarcely string two sensible words together for enchantment. The whole mad business had shaken Persephone’s confidence in her own cool judgement and well-guarded heart. If Jack and Jessica could fall so comprehensively in love with each other, nobody was safe from the malady. Well, almost nobody. She really couldn’t imagine the Dowager Duchess of Dettingham falling in love, even in her salad days. The unlikelihood of her grandmother considering the world well lost for love made Persephone smile ruefully, then curse her abstraction when she realised she was beaming idiotically at the Earl of Calvercombe as if he were the light of her life. Berating herself for a fool, she frowned fiercely at him, then felt a prickle of what must be fear run up her spine when he seemed to read her confused thoughts and flashed a crooked smile of understanding at her. He was far too dangerous to exchange perceptive glances with and she told herself to look away when there was any danger of him looking back at her from now on. The chambermaids of all the inns from here to London who’d been gifted one of Lord Calvercombe’s devil-as-angel smiles must spend their working days yearning for him to come by and lavish another on them. She told herself she was made of far stronger stuff and tried not to wonder if his lordship currently kept a mistress to charm and seduce and puzzle. No point wondering how it felt for the unfortunate female to have such intense masculine attention concentrated solely on her. He was such a self-contained puzzle of a man the poor woman was probably left to yearn and yawn the days away until he felt the need of her so strongly he would lavish all his passion and attention on her once more, for as long as she could hold his restless attention. Then he would be off back to his splendid isolation until next time. Glad she would never need to charm, caress and fawn on a man to know there would be food on the table or clothes to render her decent, she shot the object of her half-furious speculations what she hoped was a coldly quelling look. On the hill above Ashburton New Place the observer snapped his telescope back into its case and let his fist tighten into betraying fury. He was alone up here, after all, and could afford to reveal his feelings for once. The original baron who built Ashbow Castle on this patch of high ground would despise the Seabornes as fools for letting themselves be overlooked like this, but the watcher knew it was a deliberate statement of power. The Tudor pirate who had made his fortune at sea under Good Queen Bess’s flag, if not exactly at her direct order, sited his new mansion on the side of the valley precisely because nobody dared challenge him at the heart of his ill-gotten estates. The whole breed of Seabornes were so arrogant they considered themselves beyond the reach of their enemies, but he was here to prove them wrong. Up here on the defensible ground others had fought over for generations before the Seabornes claimed it he seemed face to face with failure. A vantage point was useless when the enemy wouldn’t emerge from hiding to give battle. He longed for the lawless days when a rival lord and his army could camp up here while they destroyed the arrogant Seabornes to every last man. Taking a deep breath to steady himself, to fight off a reckless, cleansing fury at the thought of all he wanted being ripped away from him, he slunk back into the cover of the trees. Forcing himself to watch the nauseating spectacle of the Seabornes joyously en fête for so long had all been for nothing, he concluded bitterly. Richard Seaborne had stayed away from his cousin’s nuptials and outfoxed him once again. Overcoming the need to lash out at something to relieve his frustration, he forced a mask of calm on to his face and strolled along as if he hadn’t a care in the world. Experience had taught him that the man who looked as if he didn’t care if he was seen or not was less noticeable than the one slinking along furtively with a guilty look. It was time to take the fight to the enemy, he decided as he went. Three years waiting for Richard Seaborne to show his hand was more than enough patience for any man. Time to see how the elusive devil felt when everything he valued was under threat and an enemy held his fate in the palm of his hand. Later that day Mr Marcus Seaborne was expecting to be on his way to heaven in the arms of his mistress, keen to shake the dust of Ashburton off his feet and get to that lovely armful as fast as a good horse would take him. He was three and twenty, vigorous, healthy and generally held to be a handsome, if currently rather unsteady, young gentleman with the world at his feet. He was almost as happy as he knew the bridegroom would be on this fine August evening, as he rode away from Ashburton with a picture of the beauty he was intending to bed tonight in his head. His frivolous and sweetly rounded Clarice was no Jessica Pendle, of course. There was only one Jess, and if not for the fact she had grown up with him and he saw her as another sister, he might feel a twinge of jealousy for all she and his Cousin Jack had tonight. As it was, he blessed them both and whistled softly between his teeth as he rode towards his current love with the certainty he had plenty of time to find one to last for ever, when he was creeping up on thirty like poor Jack and called upon to take life seriously. He wasn’t as intense about anything as his brother Rich either and growing up with the ducal succession at two removes hadn’t felt like a hardship to him, but he still felt smug about the fact Jack clearly couldn’t keep his eyes, or his hands, off his new wife. Soon there would be a pack of little Seabornes crowding the Ashburton nurseries and when he got to that solemn age himself there would be no need to search for his Mrs Seaborne with the driven urgency Jack had been pushed into earlier this summer. Marcus was free—not as free as he would be if Rich had stayed home and done his duty as well, he recalled with a frown, but free enough. With luck, Rich would come back now Jack was wed and would take his own responsibilities off his little brother’s shoulders. None of them seemed to matter when lovely Clarice, with her inviting smile and tightly luscious curves, was waiting for him in the nearest town she considered remotely civilised. He dwelt on happy memories of her dancer’s body and the eager glow in her sloe-dark eyes when she slanted one of her come-and-get-me looks his way, and felt so on fire with desire he tightened his knees and urged his grey into a smooth canter and then a downright gallop. At this time of year daylight lingered long enough in the sky to get a lover to his lady before pitch dark, he decided with a cocky grin, as he calculated how much riding he had to do before sunset finally thickened into darkness. ‘Givage, wherever are you off to in such a mighty hurry?’ Persephone asked the morning after Jack’s wedding when she saw the usually dignified steward close to running towards her towards the main staircase. ‘Let me pass, Miss Persephone, I must speak with Lady Henry.’ ‘My mother is very tired after the wedding and hasn’t left her bedchamber,’ she informed him briskly, refusing to step aside so he could hurry upstairs and worry her mother with some crisis Persephone could deal with just as well. ‘Then I really don’t know what to do,’ Givage said despairingly and Persephone’s heart began to thump with fear as she took in the white line about the man’s mouth and the look of despair in his eyes. ‘About what precisely?’ she asked abruptly. ‘This,’ he replied, holding out what should have been a jaunty beaver hat. She stifled a horrified gasp as she took in the battered state of her second brother’s favourite headgear. It looked disturbingly as if someone had taken a cudgel to it whilst it was still on his head, or perhaps he’d taken a headlong tumble off his horse. That was a thought she hastily decided to ignore, since she doubted even her brother’s hard head could survive such a bruising fall without desperate injuries. ‘Where did you find it?’ ‘Well, it was under the Three Sisters’ Oak first thing this morning. Joe Brandt brought it to me, since he didn’t know if her ladyship was aware Mr Marcus had left Ashburton after dinner last night and didn’t want to make bad worse, so to speak.’ ‘Did he indeed?’ Persephone asked disapprovingly, having a very good idea why her brother would sneak off when the company were occupied with discussing the wedding and the business of everyday life Marcus always did his best to avoid. ‘Mr Marcus asked the stable boy who saddled his horse to keep the news of his departure to himself as long as he could.’ ‘I dare say he would have done,’ she said absently, wondering if the opera dancer she suspected he had waiting for him nearby had any idea where he was now. ‘Joe said the hat was placed on the ground with this underneath it, Miss Persephone. Not even Mr Marcus would do such a thing as a prank,’ Givage said and delved in his waistcoat pocket to produce a heavy signet ring for her inspection. Persephone looked at the distinctive stone with a fantastic sea creature resting on the waves engraved into its surface and gasped. Halfway between affectation and joke, with its pun on a sea-borne monster, it was her late father’s signet ring. Richard had reluctantly slipped it on his own finger after Lord Henry Seaborne’s funeral and that was the last time she had seen him or her father’s ring. Knowing a fine manor house and large estate were now his, Rich had ridden away from them all that day as if pursued by devils. Intent on going his own way as usual, Persephone reflected bitterly now, and had succeeded so well this was the first sign of him she’d seen from that day to this. ‘Please don’t tell my mother,’ she asked, her gaze hard on her old friend as she silently pleaded not to add to Lady Henry’s burdens. ‘How can I not?’ the ageing steward asked. ‘It will break her,’ Persephone said bleakly. ‘She’s borne enough since my father died and Richard went missing. She must not know that both her sons could be in danger until we’re certain this isn’t a mare’s nest.’ ‘We can’t pretend nothing has occurred, Miss Persephone. Not when he could be in the power of some shameless rogue.’ ‘Let me think about it properly before we make any over-hasty decisions,’ Persephone insisted and held out her hand for the hat and ring, her gaze steady on her old friend’s until he gave a faint shrug and passed both into her keeping. She sighed in what should have been relief, but felt the heavy burden of what could be both her brothers’ safety on her shoulders. ‘Please speak to Joe and the stable lad, Givage. I’m sure you told them to be silent until you had spoken to Mama, but they must stay so until we know for certain what’s to do.’ ‘I’ll do it, Miss Perry, but we can’t sit and do nothing about this for very long,’ he cautioned, slipping back into that childhood nickname. ‘We won’t have to, but someone clearly wants us to panic and I intend to plan our response rationally, if only to spite him.’ ‘Please don’t delay until there’s no hope of us finding a trace of Master Marcus though, will you, Miss Perry?’ ‘I hope I have more Seaborne blood in my veins than that, Givage,’ she said and let her steady gaze hold his so he would see how serious she was. Her instincts had been proved right, Persephone reflected without satisfaction as she resorted to Jack’s bookroom to prowl, as he was on his way to the Lakes with his new Duchess. If only she’d raised the alarm yesterday, this calamity might have been prevented. Impatient with herself for dwelling on yesterday, which couldn’t be altered, she felt panic threaten after all. Perhaps the magistrates should be informed and their constables, maybe even the Bow Street Runners, set on the trail of Marcus and his abductor? She shuddered at the idea of whoever had left her father’s ring and Marcus’s hat for them find. It spoke of a cold and calculating mind to leave objects the family would know were removed against their owners’ will and imply a threat she couldn’t let herself explore completely just now. ‘What else can you tell me?’ she asked those objects. She set them on Jack’s desk to puzzle over and stopped pacing at last, still with the long skirts of her riding dress draped over her arm to free her feet for action. Chapter Five ‘What’s to do?’ an irritated male voice demanded before she could say anything else to a pair of inanimate objects and seem even more of a fool. ‘What the devil are you doing in here?’ she asked, glaring at Alexander Forthin for interrupting her thoughts at such a crucial time. ‘I was invited, remember?’ he replied brusquely and she recalled that Jack had given his groomsman the run of his own apartments for the duration of his stay a little too late. Jack wouldn’t need them himself after the wedding, so he had invited Lord Calvercombe to use them and pretend he was alone in his Welsh eyrie, if that made him more resigned to leaving it. She knew her cousin was sensitive to his friend’s desire to avoid the eyes of the curious whenever possible. Jack didn’t usually pander to the foibles of his acquaintance, but she grudgingly accepted that his lordship’s aversion to being stared at or pitied went deeper than a mere whim. ‘So you were,’ she agreed absently and wished he would go away so she could think without him looming over her like some battle-scarred Roman general. ‘Are you going to tell me what’s happened?’ he demanded as if he’d taken on Jack’s authority along with his private rooms. ‘Why do you think anything has?’ she challenged irritably. ‘How could I not? First Jack’s head groom’s son rode hell for leather to the steward’s house, then his steward ran into the house on some urgent business that couldn’t wait,’ he replied, refusing to pretend it wasn’t his business as a more accommodating guest might. ‘Well, I’m busy,’ she excused her ill manners brusquely. She didn’t have time or inclination to tread on eggshells round her cousin’s most prickly and disturbing guest this morning, she decided impatiently, squashing an impulse to confide the whole terrifying story. He raised his eyebrows at her bunched skirts and the riding boots revealed in what she supposed was an unladylike fashion. But she refused to let her long skirts drop and risk tangling her feet in them just to reassure him she was a proper young lady. ‘If you’re going to pace Jack’s bookroom and wring your hands, I suggest you change out of your habit before you trip,’ he said as if she were a slow-top. ‘And I suggest you play the gentleman for once and leave,’ she snapped. ‘Not until you’ve told me what’s to do,’ he said, leaning on Jack’s desk as if he had all day set aside. ‘It’s none of your business. And why should you care? You thought Jack was involved in abducting your precious cousin when you came here so furtively in June, didn’t you? I really don’t care what you think of the rest of us, my lord, but Jack is far too honourable to kidnap or imprison any lady against her will.’ ‘A little brutal and lacking finesse, but it’s a fair question, I suppose,’ he allowed as if talking to himself. ‘Thank you. So what is the answer?’ ‘My family is caught up with yours, somehow, and I know I was mistaken,’ he conceded gruffly. ‘I’m sure Jack would be deeply gratified to hear it.’ ‘He already has heard it, and a lot more gracious about forgiving me he was, too. So are you finally going to tell me what’s to do, Miss Seaborne? Time is clearly a-wasting and you must be keeping some sort of crisis from your mother, since nobody is rushing about in response to Brandt’s news and Givage’s urgent mission to consult whoever is in charge in Jack’s absence.’ ‘Good of you to remind me,’ she said impatiently, so wanting to pace again she wondered about punching him in his stonewall of a chest, since he wouldn’t get out of the way and leave her be, but decided she would end up hurting only herself. ‘So what’s occurred, then? If you knew what to do about whatever it is, you would be out and busy doing it by now.’ ‘How do you know I’m not? One wrong step could ruin everything,’ she added, feeling the weight of her dilemma lie heavy on her shoulders once again. ‘Tell me?’ he urged softly, offering her his strength and experience of dealing with impossible situations and allowing her to glimpse the real man behind the façade of cynical indifference for once. He was sure to snatch the whole business out of her hands if she did as he asked and confided the whole sorry tale though, wasn’t he? Wondering if that wouldn’t be a very good thing, she reminded herself he had his own very strong motives in all this. He might chase after Rich and his cousin rather than helping to find Marcus if she revealed the whole story, but Givage or Joe Brandt would soon tell him about Rich’s ring if she left that bit out. He was a warrior, even if he sometimes looked as if he hated himself for it; it was his job to take on impossible odds and win. ‘Why on earth would I do that?’ she said to gain more time to think. ‘Because I have been a reconnaissance officer and will find out anyway. It will be much simpler if you save us both time and tell me the truth to start with.’ ‘It’s not only my story.’ ‘Ah, so your family are tangled up in some new escapade, are they?’ he asked cynically. And that was exactly why she hadn’t tumbled this affair into his lap and gone off to lie to her mother while he dealt with it. Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/elizabeth-beacon/the-scarred-earl/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. Безопасно оплатить книгу можно банковской картой Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, со счета мобильного телефона, с платежного терминала, в салоне МТС или Связной, через PayPal, WebMoney, Яндекс.Деньги, QIWI Кошелек, бонусными картами или другим удобным Вам способом.
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