| For Love Alone |
By Shirlee Busbee
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The elegant rooms were packed with gaily dressed ladies and gentlemen, the sound of their laughter and chatter almost overpowering. From the size of the glittering crowd, it appeared that Lord and Lady Denning's at home was going to receive the highest accolade possible from the members of the ton. It was indeed a dreadful squeeze.
Having found a small, quiet alcove in which to observe the activities, Viscount Harrington viewed the swirling mass with a jaundiced eye. To think that this was the height of ambition: to be packed into overheated rooms like raw recruits in the hold of a ship on their way to dreaded India; to see and be seen and to waste one's time prattling complete nonsense to vaguely familiar acquaintances, before departing and hurrying to the next social engagement. He shook his head. It was madness. Dashed if he wouldn't rather face a charge of Napoléon's finest cavalry than be subjected to another night like tonight.
So why was he here? Because I have to find myself a bloody wife! Ives thought irritably, as he stared out at the shifting crowd of women in their expensive high-waisted gowns of pastel silks and spangled gauze. The gentlemen were also garbed in the height of fashion; pristine white cravats, formfitting coats, embroidered waistcoats and black knee breeches.
It was almost incomprehensible to him that he found himself in this position. Less than fifteen months ago, he had been a carefree bachelor, marriage the farthest thought from his mind. He had a position that he enjoyeda major in the King's Cavalryand with the war against Napoléon still raging, there was every possibility of rapid advancement. He had certainly never expected to find himself inheriting his uncle's title and fortune and being placed in the position of needing to beget an heir.
A shaft of pain went through him. Could it have been just fourteen months ago that he had learned of the tragedy that had overtaken the Harrington family? Fourteen months ago that he had found himself devastated by the news that his father, uncle and two cousins had drowned when his uncle's yacht had gone down in a sudden squall? In one fell swoop, Ives had found himself the sole male survivor of the branch of the family which bore the proud Harrington name. Aunt Barbara's two sons, John and Charles, bore her husband's name, so that left them out. Clearly it was his duty, he thought morosely, to find a wife and replenish the Harrington blood. He owed it to his dead father and uncle and cousins to make certain that the proud name of Harrington continuedto ensure that there was a twelfth Viscount Harrington to inherit.
He sighed. I really would prefer to be fighting Bony, he mused unhappily. Complex battle maneuvers he understood. Women were something else again entirely. Not that there had been no women in his life. There had been quite a few. But he'd had only one use for them. And certainly there had never been any gently reared virgins among them! His women had known what they were doing, why they were in his bed, and what he expected from them. He grimaced. It sounded bloody cold when he thought of it that way. But it hadn't been. He had also known what he was doing, having learned long ago that there was much pleasure to be gained from giving pleasure, even if he was paying for the woman's favors.
Ives glanced around the room. He wondered how some of the young ladies parading here tonight would react if he made a straightforward proposition: Marry me, give me an heir, and I shall see to it that you never want for anything again. You shall be a viscountess, live in a fine home, and have a tidy fortune at your dainty fingertips. Once you have given me my son, we shan't have to bother with each other very much. We shall live separately and what you do with your life will be your businessprovided you are discreet and do not besmirch my name. So? Is it a bargain?
He scowled as he realized that what he proposed was not a great deal different than most of the marriages contracted in the ton. And he admitted sourly that he did not want a marriage like the one that had befallen his father. He definitely didn't want his wife running away with another man and leaving him with two sons to raise. Bloody hell, no!
A soft giggle interrupted his unpleasant thoughts, and his gaze fell upon a young lady, not more than eighteen, who had been angling for several minutes for his attention. The bleak expression on his bold-featured face and the dark emotion roiling in his devil green eyes made her blanch and scurry away. Viscount or not, she suddenly wanted nothing to do with him.
Ives was amused by her reaction, and a singularly attractive smile transformed his features. That it had often been compared to a brigand's smile did not detract from its impact. He knew that he was not unhandsome, but he would freely admit that his nose was too large, his cheekbones too prominent, and his mouth too wide for true male beauty. But as several women had told him, there was something about him....Whatever it was, when he flashed that smile, women respondedas did the young lady he had just sent into flight. She glanced back, and, seeing the change in his expression, her step slowed, and she dimpled and demurely lowered her eyes.
Ives nearly laughed aloud. Little minx. His thick black hair, coupled with heavily browed green eyes, skin far darker than was fashionable and a body of a Greek athlete had served him well with the opposite sex. The fact that he now came with a title and a fortune only made him that much more desirable. He grimaced, suddenly feeling rather vain.
"Charming though little Felice Alden may be, she is far too young for a dangerous rogue like you, my dear fellow," drawled a familiar voice. "I beg you, for her sake, do not raise her hopes."
Looking at the speaker who strolled up to stand beside him, Ives grinned. "Percival! What the devil are you doing here? I thought you never attended this sort of boring affair."
Percival Forrest, a willowy fop just a few years younger than Ives, made a face. "M'father's sister. She came up to town for a few weeks and I was not quick enough to escape her clutches when she came to call. Insisted that I escort her here tonight." A sly smile crossed his sharp, attractive features. "No need to ask why you are here. How is the bride-hunting coming along?"
Ives shrugged. "Let us just say that the announcement of my nuptials is not in imminent danger of appearing in the Times." He jerked his head in the direction of the young damsel, who was still hovering in the vicinity. "And if the Alden chit is a sample of the majority of the prospects to bear my name, I fear that it will be a very long time before an announcement does appear."
The two men exchanged an amused glance. Percival had been a lieutenant under Ives's command until nearly five years ago, when he had unexpectedly inherited a comfortable fortune from his great-uncle and had sold out and returned to England. Ives had been sorry to see him go but pleased for his friend's good fortune. They had known each other all their livesthe Forrest estate lay near the Harrington family home, and they had been particular friends in the cavalry. Having grown up with him, Ives knew that beneath Percival's foppish exterior lay a fearless heart and a clever mind.
Ives had always enjoyed himself in Percival's company, and, upon his return to England last year, Percival had been one of the first people to call upon him. Their shared military background made a further bond between them. Unlike Ives, who would have preferred to bury himself in the country, Percival had taken to the ton like a duck to water. Since his arrival in London a month ago, Ives had relied increasingly on Percival's wickedly piercing insight into the antics of the ton to help him in his reluctant search for a wife.
They talked for a few minutes about a horse they had both liked at Tattersall's but that neither had decided to bid upon. From there the conversation drifted onto the exciting news that had arrived in London only days ago of Lord Cochrae's destruction of the French fleet at Aix. From that victory, it was an easy jump to Sir Arthur Wellesley's recent arrival in Portugal.
For the first time that evening, Ives was thoroughly enjoying himself. He was deeply immersed in conversation with Percival, when somethinga laugh?caught his attention.
Like a tiger scenting prey, his head lifted. The crowd before him parted suddenly, and there she was.
Gripping Percival's arm, he demanded, "Who is she?"
Percival, in the midst of discussing a complicated military maneuver, looked nonplussed for a second. When his gaze followed Ives's, he groaned.
"Oh, absolutely not! Of all the women here tonight, she arouses your interest?"
When Ives remained unmoved, his gaze fixed intently on the scintillating creature at the center of a circle of admiring males, Percival sighed. "Oh, very well, if you must know. She is Sophy, Lady Marlowe, the Marquise Marlowe to be exact."
Ives was stunned by the sensation of dismay that filled him. "She is married?"
Percival sighed again. "No. Widowed."
Ives's face brightened, and, with renewed intensity, his eyes wandered over her. She was like a butterfly. A lovely, golden butterfly. From the crown of her golden curls to the tantalizing glimpse of her golden slippers beneath the hem of her golden gown. Her bare shoulders even gleamed like palest gold in the light from the many crystal candelabra gracing the high ceiling of the large room. And when she laughed...when she laughed, Ives was aware of an odd thrill going through him. She was, he thought dazedly, absolutely the most exquisite creature he had ever seen in his life. Tall and slender, she looked as if the slightest puff of wind would send her drifting away, and yet there was an air of strength about her. The profile turned his way was utterly enchanting.
"Introduce me," he commanded.
"Dash it all, Ives! Did you not hear a word I just said? She is a widowa widow with a nasty past, believe me."
Ives glanced at his friend. "What do you mean?"
Percival grimaced. "Do you even know who Simon Marlowe was?"
"I seem to recall my father mentioning his name once when I was home on leave, but no, I do not know him."
"Which is just as well! He was by all accounts a nasty piece of work. Not a gentleman, despite his titleand certainly not a man any self-respecting family would wish one of their daughters to marry."
Ives frowned. "Are you saying that her family is not a respectable one?"
"Not exactly. Her father's family is exemplary." Percival looked uncomfortable. "It is her mother's family..." He cleared his throat and fumbled for words.
He had Ives's full attention now. "What about her mother's family?"
Knowing from long experience that Ives was not going to give up until all his questions were answered to his satisfaction, Percival muttered, "Damme, I had hoped your paths would not cross and that..." He took a deep breath, and blurted out, "Her mother was Jane Scoville."
Ives stiffened as a new, dangerous element added to the intensity of his gaze which was still fastened on Lady Marlowe's profile. "The same Jane Scoville that charmed my brother, Robert?" he asked in a deadly tone.
"The same," Percival admitted uneasily. "Now do you see why she is absolutely the last woman you would be interested in? And the identity of her mother is aside from the fact that there are rumors that Lady Marlowe murdered her husband."
A silence fell between the two men, Ives hardly hearing Percival's last sentence. Jane Scoville, he thought, his hands unconsciously clenching into fists. The heartless, silly jade who had beguiled Robert, until he had been mad with love for her. So besotted that he could not accept the news of her engagement to the Earl of Grayson. So very mad, so despondent, that on the day she had married the Earl, he had hanged himself in the main stables at Harrington Chase. Ives had just turned ten years old at the time, but it was as if it had all happened yesterday. He had adored his brother, twelve years his senior, and he had been the one to find Robert's body.
"And how is dear Jane these days?" Ives asked grimly. "I must pay her a call if she is in town."
"She's dead, Ives. She died several years ago." Percival looked thoughtful. "You could, I suppose, defile her grave if you think it would make you feel better."
A reluctant laugh was dragged from Ives, and he relaxed slightly. "No, I'll not stoop to that." He jerked his head in Lady Marlowe's direction. "But I might be tempted to extract a little revenge from her daughter."
Percival shook his head vehemently. "Did you not hear what I said about her? She murdered her husband. She is not a lady, I, for one, would care to trifle with."
"I thought you said it was only rumors."
Percival looked annoyed. "So you were listening to me, after all! The official verdict is that he died in a fall down the stairs, but I was there that nightand I think she killed him." When Ives cocked an inquiring brow, Percival added, "I fell in with Marlowe's crowd when I first returned, which is how I know so much about his reputation. I do not want to make excuses for myself, but I had just come home after years of fighting in the wars and had seen and done things that were undoubtedly the substance of the most terrifying nightmares imaginable. Suddenly I had a great deal of time and money at my disposal. Marlowe and his friends were just the sort of wild and randy fellows to appeal to someone like me let loose in London, looking for adventure. It took me a while to realize that there is a great difference between wildness and wickedness. Marlowe was a downright nasty fellow, his friends not much better." Percival took a deep breath. "I am not proud of my actions that first year or two when I returned to England...but that is all behind me now."
"If the official verdict is accidental death, why do you still think she killed him?" Ives asked idly.
"Marlowe was drinking heavily that night, but I know that he was not that foxed. And, there had been a terrible argument between them only minutes before he fell to his death. It was well-known amongst us that he had been denied his wife's bed. He complained bitterly about it when in his cups. And it was equally well-known that his wife despised him and his friends."
"And that is the basis of your belief that she killed him?" Ives's incredulity was obvious.
"Of course that is not all!" Percival replied testily. "Not only had they just had an ugly row, but she had shot at him."
Ives's brow rose. "And naturally all this occurred in your presence?"
"No, it did not! But we all heard the shot, and Sir Arthur Bellingham and Lord Scoville" At Ives's expression, Percival looked uncomfortable, and muttered unhappily, "Yes, Jane's brother was part of the same crowd. He and Bellingham, being Marlowe's closest friends, went to see what was amiss. Marlowe himself told them that his wife had just shot at him. Scoville wandered back and told the rest of us. He was quite proud of his niece's marksmanship. And that was not a half hour before Marlowe's body was found."
"She shot him?" Ives asked, more intrigued than scandalized.
"Yesthe bullet hole was in the shoulder of the jacket he was wearing when he died. Naturally the officials investigating his death wanted to know how it came to be there, and Lady Marlowe was quite open about it when they questioned her. She admitted that she had shot at him and she made no attempt to hide the fact that she utterly despised her husband. She was not a grieving widow."
"If her husband was the blackguard you claim him to have been, perhaps he deserved to be shot."
"Are you defending her?" Percival demanded, the expression in his blue eyes clearly aghast.
Ives smiled and shook his head. "No. I am just saying that there might have been a good reason for her to have taken a shot at the departed Marlowe."
"Well, that may be," Percival replied, slightly ruffled by Ives's reaction to Lady Marlowe's sins, "but surely you see why she is not a woman that you would care to know more intimately."
At that moment, almost as if she sensed that she was the topic of the conversation taking place in the small alcove, Lady Marlowe glanced in their direction. As her clear, golden stare moved curiously over him, Ives felt as if he had been struck by a thunderbolt. Every nerve in his body tingled as their gazes met and held.
She was exquisite. Her features had been fashioned by a master hand, the tip-tilted nose, the high brow and delicately sculpted mouth blending perfectly with the determined little chin and stubborn jaw. No simpering damsel here, he decided, as he stared boldly back at her. Not with that jaw and chin. Yes, he could believe that she had shot at her husband. Might even have murdered him, if Percival was to be believed. And she was Jane's daughter.
His reasons for being in London, for being here tonight instantly vanished. He was after something else at the moment. Something that had waited a long time. Something that had eaten at him and fashioned him into the man he had become. Even after all these years, the hunger for revenge for Robert's suicide was not dead in his breast. It did not matter that she was merely the daughter of the woman who had caused the death of his brother. What suddenly mattered was that Jane was beyond his reach...but her daughter was not.
And if her past was anything to go by, she was not going to be the type of weak, innocent creature who might cause him guilt for what had just occurred to him. He was, he admitted unashamedly, going to thoroughly enjoy wreaking vengeance on the already infamous Lady Marlowe.
His fierce gaze never dropping from hers, Ives touched Percival's arm once more. "Introduce us," he said again, the note in his voice making Percival glance sharply at him.
"Oh, no," Percival said, "I am not going to be a part of seeing you make a fool of yourself. Find somebody else to help you make a cake of yourself."
Ives's eyes dropped to him. And he smiled, a smile that made Percival distinctly uneasy. "I have no intention of making Lady Marlowe my bride. But I suddenly have a yearning to meet this remarkable young woman...dear Jane's daughter."
Percival jerked and stared at him appalled. "You mean to punish her for what Jane did?" When Ives's dark head dipped arrogantly in assent, Percival said, "That is the most ridiculously idiotic idea you have had in a very long time. I hold no fondness for her or her mother, but she is not responsible for what happened to Robert."
Ives sent him a bland look. "Indeed not," he agreed, "but there is an interesting passage in the Bible, something about ?the sins of the fathers being visited upon the children'or in this case, the sins of the mother. Now are you going to introduce me to her, or must I find someone else to do it?"
"Oh, damn and blast! I knew I never should have allowed Aunt Margaret to bully me into coming here. Come along then, if you are determined to make a fool of yourself." Percival shook a finger at Ives. "Just do not blame me for what happens."
Sophy was enjoying herself, or enjoying herself as much as she did at any of these gatherings. She had not wanted to come tonight, but Marcus, unexpectedly in the throes of his first calf love, had begged her to accompany him so that his attendance at such a stuffy event would not be so obvious. She smiled. At nineteen, Marcus had grown up into an extremely handsome and personable youth. His title and fortune only added to his appeal, and Sophy was just a little concerned about his current infatuation. She wanted to assure herself that the young lady was suitable. Not that she cared about fortune or breeding. What Sophy worried about was that the young lady's affections were for Marcusnot his title and wealth.
This was Sophy's first trip to London since her husband had died and she had gone to live with Marcus and Phoebe at Gatewood, the Grayson family estate in Cornwall. In the years since Marlowe's death, they had lived very quietly in the country, as much because it was their choice as the fact that their uncle continued to make inroads into the family's wealth. Despite the enormity of the Grayson fortune, funds had not been flowing with any regularity or generosity.
Fortunately, Sophy's monies were hers to command, and she had seen to it that they all three lived comfortably at Gatewood. A season in London was an expensive proposition, and she had not wanted to spend much-needed gold on something so frivolous when there was still so much to be done at Gatewood. But this year, Lord Scoville had experienced a particularly good run of luck. Prompted as much by Sophy's increasingly angry demands for what was due her siblings, as by a sudden prickle of conscience, Baron Scoville had handed over a lavish amount of money for their use.
Marcus, restless and eager to see London, was determined to gain some "town bronze" and join his friends in the city. He had begged that they come to London. Phoebe, only weeks away from turning fifteen, had unexpectedly added her entreaties. Her big golden brown eyes full of pleading, she had breathed, "Oh, please, Sophy. Do let us go! I would ever so much like to go to Hookham's Lending Library and Hatchard's bookstore. My friend, Amanda, says that they have a simply vast selection of books."
"Books!" Marcus had exclaimed with great disgust. "I swear, Phoebe, all you care about is books. I want to go to Weston's to buy some really fashionable garments. And to Manton's to shoot. And Tattersall's, to look at horses. And"
"Yes, yes, I understand," Sophy had interrupted with a twinkle in her eyes. "You wish to make a dash." She smiled lovingly at Phoebe's young face. "And you wish to bury your nose in as many books as you can find. Very well, if you both want to go, we shall!"
"And you, Sophy? What will you do while we are in London?" asked Phoebe.
"I shall go to the British Museum and perhaps Westminster Abbey," Sophy stated calmly. The look Marcus and Phoebe exchanged made her laugh aloud.
The decision made, it did not take the siblings very long to set their plans in motion. They had arrived in London in March and had been settling very nicely into the Grayson town house on Berkeley Square. Marcus had already paid several visits to Weston's for his new wardrobe; Phoebe had been transported with delight over the number of books to be found at Hatchard's; and Sophy had found the British Museum positively fascinating. There were, of course, other entertainments that they had attended, either together or separately, and all three were feeling rather pleased with this first sojourn in London.
Despite her preference for quieter entertainment, Sophy had attended a few routs and balls during the past weeks and, to her astonishment, had thoroughly enjoyed herself. It was true that her path occasionally crossed that of her uncle and that there had been stiff, uncomfortable exchanges between them. There had also been unavoidable meetings with several of her late husband's friends, and the rumors about her part in Simon's death continued to be whispered about behind her back now and then. But all in all, she thought the trip to London had been a success; the ton had readily accepted them, and, though there were still a few raised eyebrows, most people had been surprisingly kind.
Edward's presence and the meetings with Simon's more disreputable friends were, at present, the only blights on her horizon. And since an "at home" was not the kind of entertainment which would normally appeal to Edward or Simon's other friends, she was fairly confident of enjoying the fifteen minutes allotted for this sort of entertainment without meeting any of them.
The circle of gentlemen presently surrounding her was mainly comprised of her brother and his friends. Two of them, Thomas Sutcliff and William Jarrett, she knew rather wellthey lived in the vicinity of Gatewood and had grown up with Marcus. Since her return to Cornwall, she had become very used to them constantly being underfoot. At twenty-two, Thomas was the eldest and the acknowledged leader of the trio. Since this was his third London Season, he considered himself quite the man about town. Andrew, a year younger than Thomas, was affable and too easygoing for his own good. They were basically nice young men, and Sophy did not worry about Marcus when he was in their company.
Her gaze fell on another member of the group around her, and a faint ripple of unease dimmed her smile. Sir Alfred Caldwell was a new acquaintance of Marcus's, and Sophy could not say that she cared for him. At thirty-five, with a decided air of dissipation about him, he was much older than Marcus and his friends, and she worried that Sir Alfred's reasons for attaching himself to a green youth like her brother might not bode well for Marcus. Telling herself that she was being overly protective, she promptly put her concerns away. Thomas and William would keep Marcus from falling too deeply under Caldwell's influence.
There was one other member of the group surrounding Sophy, and she was not certain how she felt about him. One of Simon's more respectable acquaintances, Richard, Lord Coleman, had come to call at the Grayson town house within days of their arrival in London. He had been extremely polite and had proved himself to be very helpful. It had been Lord Coleman who had advised Sophy where to hire the extra servants they needed; Lord Coleman who had gone with Marcus to his first sale at Tattersalls; Lord Coleman who arranged a delightful outing at Astley's Royal Amphitheatre for the entire family; and it was Lord Coleman who frequently accompanied Sophy about town. He had never acted anything but polite and proper, yet Sophy could not forget that he had been part of Simon's cortege and that he had been at the house the night Simon had died.
She did not know why he had attached himself to her side, but she suspected that, like her first husband, he had reached an age where the production of an heir was beginning to prey upon his mind. He had not yet reached forty, but she guessed he was not very far from that age, and she rather thought that he was angling for a wife.
A distinctly cynical smile curved her mouth. No doubt he thought that having been married to one roué she might be agreeable to marrying another. Her fingers unconsciously tightened around her gold-spangled fan. She would die before she married again! And certainly never to a man of Coleman's stripe or one whose only use for her was that of broodmare! If she ever married again, and she sincerely doubted that she ever would, it would be for love alone.
Suddenly, she felt that she was being watched. When they had first arrived in London, there had been a lot of stares and whispers when she entered a room, but most of that had died away by now. This felt different. She felt almost as if she were the object of some large predator's assessment.
Casually, she looked around, her gaze locking almost instantaneously with that of a tall, hard-faced gentleman standing in the small alcove to her left. A jolt of something she could not define flashed through her as their eyes remained fixed on each other. Fear? Excitement? Anticipation? Or dread?
She could not look away from him, the impact of his bold stare so overwhelming that she simply stood there helpless, unaware of anything happening around her. It was only when his gaze dropped to the man standing next to him that she was able to jerk her eyes away and became aware of Marcus laughing at something Andrew had said.
Shaken, she forced a smile and tried to pretend the odd moment had never happened. It was only by the greatest effort that she kept herself from looking again in the stranger's vicinity.
"Oh, I say," Lord Coleman murmured from where he stood at her side, "here comes Percival Forrest. Did not expect to see him at this sort of affair."
"Who is that big, bruising-looking fellow with him?" asked Caldwell. "I do not believe that I have met him before."
Percival advanced upon them before Caldwell's question could be answered and, bowing gracefully before Sophy, said, "Lady Marlowe, how delightful to see you again. How have you been?"
Sophy made some reply, unbearably aware of the tall, intimidating stranger at Percival's side.
"Lady Marlowe, allow me to introduce my friend Viscount Harrington," Percival went on smoothly. "Like you, this is his first London Season."
Coolly acknowledging Lord Harrington, Sophy thought her heart would literally stop when her eyes plunged once again into the depths of his devil green stare. He smiled at her, a smile that made her heart kick into a mad gallop, and she did not know if that smile was the most exciting thing she had ever seen or the most terrifying.
Excerpted from For Love Alone , by Shirlee Busbee . Copyright (c) 2000 by Shirlee Busbee . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top