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The Captain's Christmas Bride

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No! If David was standing over there, by the window, then who was this man who’d just...who she’d just permitted to...

Her stomach froze into a solid block of ice. David’s face contorted with disgust.

‘Cover yourself,’ he said.

The man on top of her twitched the full skirts of his coat over her exposed thigh. Though there was nothing he could do about her leg from knee to toe.

‘If you wouldn’t mind giving us some privacy,’ he drawled in the hatefully cutting way that identified him at once. ‘I can hardly...disengage, with you three standing there staring.’

Marianne gave a little whimper, and sagged at the knees. David put his arm round her shoulder and pulled her face to his chest.

The Nightingale clapped her hands over her mouth.

And Julia clamped her jaw against a wave of nausea. David was standing over there. Which meant she had her legs wrapped round the waist of another man. And not just any man, but the very last man she’d have suspected of being able to act this.

Captain Lord Dunbar. The dour Scotsman who’d arrived uninvited a couple of days ago and had been acting the part of spectre at the feast ever since—skulking on the sidelines and glowering particularly ferociously at anyone who dared look as if they were enjoying themselves too much.


As the three witnesses to her downfall turned to leave, the man she’d just seduced by mistake barked out the single word in a forceful way that only served to confirm his identity. Only a man used to command could make perfect strangers stop in their tracks that way. A man who was used to storming enemy ships and cutting his opponents to ribbons. A man who would have been perfectly at home on the deck of a ship tossed by a howling gale, but who’d looked stifled by the social niceties of a drawing room.

‘You will none of you speak of this,’ he informed them. ‘Not until I have had a chance to speak to the young lady’s father.’

David swelled and quivered with indignation. ‘If you think I would ever stoop to blacken the name of a lady, no matter what her conduct—’ he flicked her another disgusted look that flayed her like a whip ‘—then you are very much mistaken.’

Oh, David. She’d lost him. Irrevocably. She’d never be able to look him in the face again, after this, never mind persuade him that, despite the difference in their stations, she’d make him a good wife.

‘And I could never, never speak of it,’ added Marianne in woeful indignation.

‘I definitely don’t want anyone knowing I had a hand in any of this,’ added the Nightingale.

‘Would it be too much to ask for one of you,’ Captain Dunbar said in the sarcastic way that never failed to set Julia’s teeth on edge, ‘to leave us a lantern?’

Marianne placed hers on the floor. Well, she wasn’t going to need her own, since David was holding her in such a protective embrace. No chance of her tripping over a loose flagstone on the way back to the house.

There was an awkward little interlude after the others had left, during which Captain Dunbar disentangled himself from her and briskly readjusted his clothing. Julia just about managed to swing both legs to the floor though they felt all weak and wobbly.

Oh, heavens! Now she knew just what a spent rocket felt like. Two minutes ago she’d experienced a kind of fire-bursting ecstasy. Now she just felt used and shattered.

* * *

Damn it all to hell and back! Snared by the oldest trick in the book.

By a green girl, which was worse. Lady Julia, if he wasn’t mistaken. The two sycophants, who normally trailed everywhere after her, wouldn’t have cared tuppence what happened to any of the other guests at this house party.

Just to make sure, though, he untied the ribbons holding the elaborately decorated mask over her face. She barely reacted. Just sat there, shoulders hunched, gazing miserably at the floor, in the position she’d adopted after sitting up and smoothing down her skirts with trembling hands.

She looked as broken as the peacock feathers that had snapped off some time during their frenzied coupling.

Hell. He looked at the bedraggled mask dangling from his calloused fingers. Lady Julia had been a virgin. Of course she’d been a virgin. And he’d just treated her as though she was an experienced courtesan.

Though wasn’t that what she’d wanted him to believe? Else why sidle up to him and get him all primed, then run him out here and set the spark to the touch hole?

It was her own fault.

He clenched his jaw, recalling her yelp of discomfort when he’d started exploring her. He had been impatient. Rough. He’d probably torn her then, with his fingers. He’d certainly felt no resistance when he’d entered her. Just a slick glide into the haven he’d sought ever since coming ashore two weeks earlier.

But blast it all—he’d have stopped if he’d sensed she was a virgin.

He would.

She lifted her head and met his furious gaze full on. ‘Aren’t you going to say anything?’

Defiance burned from her eyes—eyes that looked too big, too bright. And luminous with unshed tears.

‘I’d like to say plenty,’ he snarled. ‘But the sad truth is, the only words spoken between us tonight have already said it all. We are going to have to get married.’ There was no other way out. Not for him. His whole future depended on maintaining a spotless reputation. It wouldn’t have mattered so much during the height of the war. An able, hard-working, skilled captain would always have been able to get command of a ship. But now?

And it wasn’t just his own career he had to consider. He couldn’t afford to become one of those officers who were only considered safe at sea. If it got about that he went about debauching unmarried, titled ladies he wouldn’t be welcome anywhere. Which would cast a cloud over Lizzie’s reputation, too. So far, his sister had done really well for herself. Sending her to that exclusive, expensive school had meant she was rubbing shoulders with girls from the best families. She’d even gained an invitation to this Christmas house party because of a connection to one of the Earl of Mountnessing’s nieces.

But if word got out that her brother was a rake, what would that do to Lizzie’s standing in society? To her chances of making a good match?

‘No,’ Lady Julia whispered.

She couldn’t marry this man. She was going to marry David.


‘No...’ she moaned as the truth hit her squarely in her midriff. David would never marry her now. He had such high ideals. He could never marry a girl he’d caught with her legs wrapped round another man’s waist.

No matter how highly he’d esteemed her before.

Alec squared his shoulders, remembering all the promises he’d ever made to his little sister. His promise that no matter how little they saw of each other, he’d always look after her. His promise that she would never go hungry, nor fear being made homeless. But most of all, his promise to be the kind of man on whom she could depend—unlike their scapegrace of a father.

He’d kept his word all these years. And he wasn’t going to break it now. He’d always done whatever necessary to shield Lizzie from the worst excesses of their father. And now he was going to have to do what was necessary to shield her from his own excesses, tonight.

‘Ye cannot say no to me like that as though you have a choice,’ he snarled. ‘D’ye think I want to marry you either? Hell, you’re the last woman alive who would make a suitable wife for a man like me. You’re too young, too foolish, and entirely too untrustworthy to leave alone while I’m away at sea.’

‘How dare you—?’ she began, getting to her feet.

‘Don’t waste those hoity-toity manners of yours on me. We’re not in some drawing room now, where you can get away with looking down your nose at me, just because you think I’m uncouth.’

Though she looked as though she would dearly love to answer back, she restricted herself to a toss of her head, and a disapproving sniff. Because he’d hit the nail on the head. She’d queened over the tea table too many times to be able to refute his accusation. She’d looked down her aristocratic little nose at him when he’d been rude to one of the dozens of simpering misses infesting her father’s house. Though being rude was the only way he’d found of fending them off. If he was polite, they kept on cooing over him. And batting their eyelashes at him. And sighing over his supposed heroic exploits, which they claimed to have heard all about.

And trying to manoeuvre him underneath one of the kissing boughs.

Julia alone had turned her nose up at him. He’d assumed it had been because she was too high in the instep to look twice at an impoverished sea captain, no matter how heroic the newspapers made him out to be. Instead, all the time, she must have been planning a far more effective stratagem than the others.

‘Though what kind of marriage you think we’re going to have when we come from such different worlds I cannot imagine.’ Alec turned from her and ran his fingers through his hair, before turning back on her. ‘You know nothing about me at all. So what on earth possessed you to make a play for me like this? I can only think it some kind of attempt to prove you could triumph where all the others had failed.’

‘You arrogant oaf,’ she hissed. ‘I didn’t make a play for you at all. I detest you.’

‘Then what the hell was all that...fondling about? You cannot deny you got me all primed up before leading me out here.’

‘No, but I didn’t know it was you under that wig!’ She pointed wildly at the heap of horsehair lying on the floor. ‘I thought it was Sir Isaac Newton!’

‘You were attempting to seduce a man who’s been dead two hundred years?’

‘Oh, don’t be so stupid. I mean the man who came to the masquerade disguised as Sir Isaac Newton, of course!’

Of course. That made sense. She wouldn’t have looked so dejected if he had been the man she was trying to compromise.

But, what kind of man came to a Christmas masquerade dressed as Sir Isaac Newton? What did Sir Isaac look like anyway? And then he realised.

‘That man who found us. He was wearing a full-skirted coat like this.’ Though he’d discarded his wig, and tricorne hat—had he ever been wearing one. ‘You mean to tell me he was the one you intended to seduce?’

‘I never intended to seduce him,’ she protested, clenching her fists as she squared up to him. ‘I thought we would just kiss a bit. And then Marianne and Nellie would find us, and because Nellie is an outsider, Father would agree David and I would have to get married.’

‘If kissing was all that had happened, it’s more likely your father would have paid the singer to keep her mouth shut and have taken a horsewhip to that David.’ Actually, he felt like taking a horsewhip to the man himself. The pompous bag of wind had marched out and left her lying in the arms of what any gentleman would have assumed was her seducer. What kind of man abandoned a girl, a sheltered, pampered innocent, just when she needed help the most?

‘He isn’t worthy of you,’ he growled, incensed now that, after the lengths she’d gone to in order to strong-arm him into marriage, all the ungrateful oaf had done was look at her as though she was something nasty he’d stepped in.

‘How dare you say that! Just because his parents have no title, and only modest means, it doesn’t mean he’s a nobody.’

He hadn’t said the man was a nobody. So she must be reacting to arguments she’d heard from someone else about the pompous bladder of wind’s unsuitability.

‘He is the son of a gentleman,’ she carried on, indignantly.

Though her anger was completely misdirected, at least she’d cast off that pitiful, dejected air that made him feel like a clumsy great gowk.

‘And one day, he will be somebody. He’s studying medicine. He’s going to make great discoveries and become famous! So I wouldn’t be throwing myself away on him. And anyway, I love him.’

‘Well, he doesn’t love you.’

‘How can you possibly know anything of the sort? Of course he does.’

‘No, he doesn’t. Or he wouldn’t have looked at you that way.’

‘What way? I mean—naturally, he was very shocked. And...and disappointed.’

‘But not devastated. Any real man who was in love would have attempted to strangle the man who’d got there first, not turn his nose up as if he’d smelled something bad.’

She reeled as if he’d struck her. He firmed his jaw. Better to get her to face facts now, than have her mooning over the man for months. He’d far rather have her angry and spitting fire when he marched her down the aisle, than drooping on the verge of tears.

‘Come on,’ he said, gripping her arm and towing her towards the window. ‘We need to go find your father and make the best of this.’

* * *

‘Wait,’ Julia gasped, struggling ineffectually to shake off his hand. He had to let go of it eventually, to throw up the sash. Once he’d done so, he held his hand out again, imperiously.

Instead of taking it, she backed away. They couldn’t go and tell her father what they’d done! She couldn’t bear his disappointment, on top of her own. Or worse, his disapproval. So far, he’d never subjected her to the chilling antipathy he invariably displayed towards her older half-brothers. She’d been prepared to brave it for David’s sake. But for this man? This stranger? No.

‘Look...’ He sighed. ‘I know I shouted. And, yes, I’m angry, very angry, but I promise, you don’t need to be afraid of me.’

‘I’m not afraid of you.’

‘Then what is the matter? You’ve got to face the facts, woman. You cannot very well pretend this never happened. I ken well it wasn’t with the man you intended, but the end must be the same.’

‘No. No, there must be some other way...’

‘There isn’t. The only way to make this right is to marry.’

‘You think marrying a stranger could ever make anything right?’

‘It will make it the rightest it can be.’ He stepped over the sill, leaned back inside, and hauled her out after him.

She’d already discovered he was too strong to make struggling with him anything but undignified. So, she simply trotted along behind him, though her mind was racing as fast as he was obliging her legs to go.

* * *

Thank goodness she’d stopped trying to resist. There was no time to waste. Alec didn’t trust any of those three to keep their mouths shut. Not for very long, anyway. And he needed to get this mess straightened out before they had a chance to do any damage. The very last thing he needed right now was a rumour going round that would blacken his reputation. He’d had to work twice as hard to gain his present rank, as men with family sponsors greased their way into promotions and fat prizes. He wasn’t going to let this silly girl bring it all crashing down round his ears.

‘Weeping and wailing isn’t going to make this go away,’ he said harshly, when he heard what sounded suspiciously like a stifled sob. Alec clasped his fingers round her wrist a little tighter as a fresh wave of indignation had him lengthening his stride. If it had been Sir Isaac Newton dragging her through this shrubbery to confront her father, she would be cock-a-hoop. No man liked to have a woman think of him as second best. Second best? Not even that. She’d been looking at him as though he was some kind of ogre ever since he’d removed his mask and she’d seen exactly who he was.

‘What...’ she panted ‘...what do you plan to tell my father?’

That brought him to a dead halt. She caught up with him, and stepped in front, barring his path. Though she need not have done. He did need a moment to come up with a story that would satisfy an outraged father, and also prevent their union becoming fodder for scurrilous gossip.

He glared up at the bulk of the immense house Lady Julia’s father owned. Light and laughter spilled from its windows. The laughter of the rich, privileged guests the earl had invited into his home. The kind of people who thrived on gossip and scandal. The kind of gossip that would ring a death knell to his career, as well as Lizzie’s hopes.

‘Listen,’ she said. ‘I don’t care what you say about me. About my part enticing you away from the party and...and all that.’

He lowered his head to look at her.

She lifted her chin and met his eyes squarely, for the very first time.

‘Naturally you are very angry with me. I’m angry with myself,’ she admitted with a shake of her head. ‘But please, please, don’t let that anger spill over to my friends and drag them into our mess. That is, I know you will have to relate how they found us, but you don’t need to make it sound as though they knew anything about it. Or...or helped me, do you?’

It hadn’t occurred to him before. But now he saw that to carry out a deception of this magnitude, she would indeed have had to have accomplices.

‘Nellie—I mean, the Neapolitan Nightingale did lend me her dress and agree to pretend to be me, to throw others off the scent, but she didn’t know the whole of it. She just thought it was a jest, to see if we could fool people into mistaking us for each other. She thought we were going to stand next to each other at the end of the evening, and take off our masks, and everyone would be astonished. I couldn’t bear it if she got into trouble for a...a prank I played on her as much as anyone else. And I’m afraid that if Papa thinks she was in any way responsible, he will throw her out. Probably do things to destroy her career. And it’s all she has.’

Now it was his turn to reel. Up till now, he’d thought she was just another spoiled, petulant society miss. Just like the other empty-headed chits his sister claimed as friends. But that impassioned speech proved she was capable of thinking of others.

It was more than he would have expected of a girl like her. Not that it would do the opera singer any good. Lady Julia’s father wasn’t a fool. He would have seen her aping his daughter’s mannerisms all evening, as well as Julia sashaying around in the opera singer’s revealing gown. It was typical of her sort to act irresponsibly and then be surprised when the underlings they’d dragged into their mess bore the brunt of the repercussions.

‘I agree,’ he said curtly. ‘You should take all the blame.’

She made a little moue of protest. But then, instead of launching into yet another barrage of protests, she lifted her chin.

‘Thank you,’ she said, stunning him. ‘And...and as for Marianne...’ Her whole face creased in concern. ‘She didn’t want any part of it. She told me it was wrong, but I...I took no notice.’

‘Your father won’t hold that against her,’ he grunted. ‘I only met any of you two days ago, but it’s clear even to me that she has no influence over you whatsoever. You do as you please and expect her to trot along at your heels like a spaniel.’

‘I do no such thing! Marianne is my friend!’

‘Oh? I thought she was some sort of poor relation.’

‘She—well, yes, she did come to live with us when her parents died. Because she had nowhere else to go, but I absolutely do not treat her like a spaniel. And she doesn’t behave like one, either.’

He shrugged. ‘It’s of no concern to me. You want to shield both her and the opera singer from blame. That’s commendable, I suppose, if a touch impractical.’

‘Impractical? How?’

‘Never mind how,’ he said, irritated that somehow she’d made him share even a tithe of his thoughts. A good officer never let his subordinates into the workings of his mind. It could lead them to believe he wasn’t totally infallible. ‘Let us just leave it at the point where I agree to leave all the others out of it. Except for the part where they found us in flagrante delicto.’

She lowered her head for an instant, as though discomfited by his brutal reminder of her spectacular fall from grace.

‘Then, what,’ she finally said in a small, almost penitent voice, ‘do you plan to say?’

‘You leave that to me,’ he growled. ‘And just remember, your father isn’t going to be the first hurdle we have to leap tonight. We’re going to have to walk back into that house and start searching for him. With everyone staring at us, and wondering what on earth we’re doing together when so far this week we haven’t been able to say two civil words to each other.’

‘Oh. Well, I’m sure we can go in a side entrance...’

‘If you think we’re going to be able to carry this off with either one of our reputations intact, by skulking about as though we’ve done something to be ashamed of, then you’re even sillier than you look.’

‘Oh! What a nasty thing to say.’

‘But true.’

She opened her mouth to argue. Looked as though she’d been struck by the truth of what he’d said. Shut it with a snap.

‘Very well,’ she conceded. ‘We’ll walk in together, stroll around until we find my father, and then—’

‘And then I will insist on speaking with him in private,’ he broke in, before she could come up with yet another hare-brained scheme.

She glared at him.

‘Fine,’ she snapped, after a brief struggle with herself. ‘Have it your way.’

‘Oh, I will,’ he said smoothly, as she laid her arm on his sleeve and squared her shoulders. ‘From now on, you’re going to find that there are some people you cannot twist round your little finger. No matter how you simper, and smile, and cajole.’

‘And you will find out,’ she snapped back, as they mounted the steps, ‘that there are some women who would rather die than simper and smile and cajole a man. Particularly not a man like you!’

‘Then it appears our married life is going to be a stormy one,’ he replied grimly. ‘We will both be as glad as each other when my business ashore is done, and I can go back to sea.’

She smiled up at him sweetly. Because they’d reached the terrace, where anyone might see them if they happened to glance out of the windows.

‘Oh, I think,’ she said in a caressing tone, ‘that I shall be far more pleased to see the back of you, than you will of me.’

They strolled across the terrace and in through the same door they’d used such a short time before in silence. It was a good job he wasn’t the kind of man who minded having the last word. But then he just couldn’t see the point of engaging in pointless debate with her. Not when they were, basically, in agreement. Neither of them, given the choice, would have chosen the other for a life partner. Hell, he hadn’t planned to marry for years, if at all. His estates were mortgaged. His ancestral home let out to tenants. His sister living with friends she’d met at the exclusive boarding school that had swallowed up practically every penny he’d ever earned. He had nothing to offer a wife. No home, no money that wasn’t spoken for, and few prospects now that Wellington had finally defeated Bonaparte on land, which meant that the war against the French was over.

* * *

‘You could try smiling, too,’ she hissed up at him through a smile so forced it was hurting her teeth. ‘To look at your face, anyone would think some great disaster had just befallen you.’

‘It’s my natural expression,’ he replied. ‘Better get used to it.’

‘I thought we were trying to persuade everyone we hadn’t done something to be ashamed of.’

‘Aye. But that doesn’t mean I need to go about with a fatuous grin on my face.’

‘There’s a world of difference between a fatuous grin and the murderous look you’ve got on your face.’ Though her own smile faltered as she said it. Because she’d seen Papa. ‘And my father has seen us,’ she said, pointing towards the fireplace. ‘Over there.’

He was standing beside one of the ornate marble fireplaces that were a feature of Ness Hall, eyeing them with one of his bushy grey eyebrows raised in reproof. Hardly surprising. Julia’s scandalously low-cut gown was crumpled and stained now, her exposed bosom streaked black with what remained of her attempt to make it look as though she had a mole, her mask gone, her hair straggling round her face. In short, she looked as though she’d just been thoroughly ravished.

Once Papa learned she had just been thoroughly ravished, all hell was going to break loose. If he’d been so adamant he wouldn’t have her throwing herself away on a perfectly respectable man she’d known all her life, he was going to be furious to learn she’d flung herself at a total stranger.

Nevertheless, they made straight for him. Because she had to face him sooner or later. Better to get it over with.

‘I should like to speak to you in private, if I may, sir,’ said Captain Dunbar.

‘I should think,’ said Papa, raking her from head to toe, ‘you do.’ He drained the glass of wine he’d been holding and set it down on the mantelpiece with a snap. ‘My study. Now.’

* * *

Lord Mountnessing turned and made his way out of the reception room. They followed close behind, leaving a trail of avid eyes and speculative whispering in their wake.

Alec scanned the inquisitive faces as people made way for them, searching for one of her particular friends. It would be better if he could palm her off on one of them. This was not an interview Lady Julia needed to attend. Both men were going to have to speak bluntly, and it wasn’t going to be pleasant. No gently born lady should have to go through that kind of scene.

No matter what she’d done.

‘You should make yourself scarce now,’ he murmured into Lady Julia’s ear, when he failed to spot anyone to take care of her. ‘This isn’t going to be pleasant.’

‘You think I’m going to run away and hide while you and my father decide my whole future,’ she hissed back at him. ‘I think not!’

‘But you agreed to let me handle this.” He couldn’t believe she’d changed her mind so quickly.” I’m only trying to spare you unpleasantness. Your father is going to lose his temper when he finds out what we’ve done. He may say things he later regrets. Better for you to face him once he’s had time to cool down, and can speak to you rationally.’

She shot him a suspicious look through narrowed eyes.

‘I can handle my own father. But if you think I’m going to trust you, or meekly do as you say, at a time like this, then you have another think coming!’

‘I might have known,’ he muttered, as the earl opened a door to their left, and went into a book-lined room. ‘He is the one who has spoiled you, isn’t he? The one who has made you think you can have whatever, or whomever, you want for the crooking of your finger?’

‘He has done no such thing,’ she just had time to spit back at him, before the earl reached yet another fabulously intricate fireplace, turned, and took up the very same position he’d adopted in the ballroom. Legs apart, with his back to the writhing Greek demi-gods.


‘I have to beg your pardon, sir,’ replied Alec stiffly, ‘but also to inform you that your daughter and I will be getting married.’

‘Indeed? And what makes you think that I will grant my permission?’

‘We have been indiscreet. And the indiscretion was witnessed.’

The earl’s shrewd eyes flicked over the state of Lady Julia. His lips compressed into a hard line for a second. Then he looked at Alec again.

‘By whom was this indiscretion witnessed?’

Alec couldn’t believe the old man was taking this all so calmly. He’d expected an explosion of wrath. But it seemed that the earl was the type to weigh everything up, and take his vengeance cold. He stood a little straighter.

‘Lady Julia’s companion. I forget her name.’

‘Marianne,’ put in Lady Julia in a woeful, almost penitent voice.

‘And the leading lady,’ he continued, not sure whether to be annoyed by her interruption, or glad she was doing what she could to soften the old man’s heart.

‘I believe she goes under the name of the Nightingale,’ he said, squeezing Lady Julia’s hand hard in the hopes she’d understand he’d rather she didn’t interrupt again.

‘And a young man, by name David.’

Something flared in the old man’s eyes at that.

‘David Kettley?’

Lady Julia nodded her head. Then hung it. She looked the very picture of repentance. If he was her father, he might almost have been taken in by it.

But the old man didn’t look the least bit compassionate.

‘And you, sir, what have you to say for yourself? What do you mean by it, eh?’

‘Oh, please, don’t be cross with him, Papa,’ blurted Lady Julia, before he’d managed to utter a single word of the excuse he’d planned to make. ‘It was all my fault.’

What? She was admitting it? For some reason, though he’d said the very same thing not five minutes ago, hearing her try to take the blame didn’t sit right with him.

‘We are both—’ he put in swiftly before floundering to a halt. He may not have come up with a story to satisfy the heart of a doting father, but he knew the truth wasn’t going to suffice. ‘That is, neither of us—that is—the truth is, sir, that...’

Actually, there could probably be only one excuse he could give that might, eventually, mollify an outraged father.

‘Our feelings for each other overwhelmed us.’

That eyebrow went up again. ‘Your feelings?’

‘Yes, sir. We got carried away.’ Well, that was certainly true. He couldn’t remember ever being so completely entranced by a woman. There had been nothing in his head but her. After all the months of oak and muscle and sinew, the sweetly scented softness of her body had been too alluring to resist. He hadn’t stopped to think. He’d just wanted to drown in the haven she offered. The heaven.

‘And when Lady Julia says it was her fault, she can only mean, of course, in permitting me to take her to a secluded spot when she knew it was not at all the thing. The blame for what happened afterward was entirely mine. As a man, an experienced man, I should not have let things go so far.’

‘And how far, exactly,’ said the old man in that cold, forbidding tone, ‘did things go?’

He felt Lady Julia flinch. He squeezed her hand again.

‘I regret to have to inform you, sir, that your daughter could be with child.’

The earl went very still. Not a single flicker of emotion appeared on his face. But in a voice that could have frozen the Thames, he said, ‘You have, in effect, left me with no choice.’


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