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Берроуз Энни

The Marquess Tames His Bride

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‘Well, this is all very romantic, I’m sure,’ said Lady Harriet tartly, eyeing the way Clare had just practically swooned on to the nearest chair just because Lord Rawcliffe had kissed her hand. ‘But I need to tell you what happened to Archie. Because I cannot believe even you could indulge in some sort of elopement, or abduction, or whatever this is—’ she waved her hand indiscriminately between them both ‘—if you knew.’

‘Knew what?’ Lord Rawcliffe dropped her hand and turned his head to fix Lady Harriet with one of his chillier looks. ‘What has happened to Archie?’

‘He...oh, dear, there is no easy way to break it to you. I’m so sorry, Zeus,’ she said, going over to him and laying one hand on his arm. ‘He’s...he’s dead.’

Zeus? Why was she addressing him by that name? Last time she’d thought it was some fashionable sort of oath she’d uttered.

He flinched and drew back a step, effectively shaking Lady Harriet’s hand from his arm.

‘Dead?’ He was looking at Lady Harriet as though she’d been personally responsible for it. If he’d looked at her that way, Clare thought she would be begging his forgiveness, even if she was completely innocent. Of anything.

‘How? When?’

‘He...he drowned.’

Lord Rawcliffe went white.

‘I’m so sorry.’ Lady Harriet clasped her hands together at her waist. ‘It was only a day or so after you went to—’ she darted a glance in Clare’s direction ‘—to Thetford Forest.’

‘He’s been dead all this time.’ Lord Rawcliffe stood as though rooted to the spot. ‘While I have been pursuing a woman who doesn’t exist...’ His hand curled into a fist.

‘We tried to reach you, but nobody could find you...’

He flinched. ‘The one time I abandon my responsibilities and travel incognito, everything goes to hell in a handcart.’

Clare had never seen him look so utterly devastated. Her heart went out to him.

‘I’m sure there was nothing you could have done,’ Clare began.

His head whipped in her direction, his pain so intense she could almost feel it like a physical blow.

‘That is your considered opinion,’ he snarled, ‘is it?’

‘Well,’ she said, determined not to quail just because he was lashing out at her. It was what people did when they were grieving. She’d had enough experience visiting the recently bereaved to know that it was best to just absorb their hurt, rather than react as though they were angry with her, personally. ‘There was certainly nothing you could have done to prevent Father dying. When it is time for someone go...

‘Archie was not an old man. He was young. And talented, dammit. He had a brilliant future ahead of him. And I should not have let him out of my sight. He wasn’t equipped to deal with the likes of—’ He broke off, his jaw working.

‘Death always comes as a shock, no matter what age the person was. And those left behind often feel guilty, but...’

‘But nothing! I am guilty. I might as well have—’ He stopped short again, this time with a shudder of what looked like self-loathing.

Lady Harriet stepped forward. ‘Jack and Atlas reacted in pretty much the same way when they heard, Zeus. They both feel responsible, too. But, the thing is, none of us could have foreseen—’ She was the one to stop mid-sentence this time, with the addition of a guilty glance in Clare’s direction that made her feel as though she was the one who ought to go to the kitchen and give them the privacy to speak to each other freely.

‘Would you like me to leave you alone? I can see you are both terribly upset and—’

‘No!’ Lord Rawcliffe seized her hand as she made for the door. ‘No. It is...’ He looked down at her hand with a touch of bewilderment. Then he let it go. As he did so, she could see him pulling himself together. ‘I am the one who should go,’ he said in a voice that was far more like the Lord Rawcliffe she knew. Cool. Slightly disdainful.

‘Do you happen to know,’ he said, turning to Lady Harriet, ‘where I might find Ulysses and Atlas?’

The transformation was astonishing. He sounded as though he was merely asking the time of day. If she hadn’t seen how upset he really was, she would never have guessed it from his demeanour now.

Lady Harriet glanced at the clock on the mantelshelf. ‘Probably at Jack’s town house. Atlas has moved in there with him for now.’

He gave one brief nod. ‘More discreet. Using the excuse that he is acting as groomsman?’

Clare was becoming increasingly bewildered by the rapid-fire questions and answers, but decided that to interrupt and demand an explanation, when both of them were so upset, would be highly insensitive.

‘Yes,’ said Lady Harriet.

‘Then that is where I shall go. Clare,’ he said, turning to her, though it didn’t look as though he was really seeing her. ‘Clare, I will bid you goodnight. I have much to attend to, as you can probably gather.’ Even so, he had collected himself enough to remember his manners. ‘I shall call tomorrow.’

‘Very well. And, oh—’ she took his hand and pressed it ‘—I am so sorry for your loss. And that I expressed my condolences so clumsily.’ No wonder he was always accusing her of being sanctimonious and preachy. Instead of just offering him the sympathy he’d so clearly needed, she’d, well, preached at him.

He blinked. ‘Another apology? My goodness,’ he said in the sarcastic tone with which he usually addressed her.

‘At this rate you will make a decent wife in merely a decade or so.’

He lifted her hand to his lips. Bestowed a brief kiss upon it, then set it firmly aside. Effectively dismissing her.

‘We shall be married the day after tomorrow.’

‘Oh,’ said Lady Harriet. ‘But that is the day I am to marry Jack. He will want you to be there.’

‘And I shall be,’ he said over his shoulder as he made for the door. ‘We will make it a double wedding.’

‘Oh, how lovely,’ cried Lady Harriet.

The look he gave her could have curdled milk. ‘Efficient, rather. Since you will have already booked the church, the minister and ordered the wedding breakfast. And the guests at both events would have been more or less the same. It will save me, and my own bride, no end of bother.’

‘Oh,’ cried Lady Harriet again as he left the room, closing the door behind him. Only this time she didn’t look at all pleased. ‘What a beast! Oh, I do beg your pardon,’ she said, looking contrite. ‘I know you are going to marry him, but—’

‘No need to apologise,’ said Clare. ‘That was a beastly thing for him to say.’ And just typical of him.

‘Yes, but,’ said Lady Harriet, coming over to the chair where she sat, ‘it will be rather lovely having a double wedding. What with Jack and Zeus being so close.’


‘I mean to say Lord Rawcliffe, of course. Only I have got used to calling him that because that is how Jack always refers to him. It started when they were at school together. Since he acted as though he was above most mere mortals.’

‘Oh, I see.’ And she did. Especially after this little scene. She could just see him looking down his nose at the other boys, setting them all at a distance, to disguise his hurt and bewilderment at his banishment. His father had put the word out that he’d sent him to school to learn how ordinary people thought and behaved, so that he would be a better judge of men when he came into the title. Though local gossip had it that he’d really done it to get him away from his mother’s influence. Anyway, whichever it had been, he would have hated all the speculation about his sudden banishment. Was that when he’d started erecting defences behind which to hide? Because that was what he did, she perceived. He’d just done it before her very eyes. Pulled a cold, aloof demeanour round him like some kind of armour.

She didn’t know why she hadn’t understood it sooner. Because he hadn’t been icy or aloof before he’d gone away to school. He’d even played with her brothers, occasionally. The vicar’s sons and the young viscount, who was one day going to be a marquess, had fought King John’s men with toy bows and arrows through the woods, swum together in the lake in Kelsham Park, flicked paper pellets across the aisle at each other in church and traded jokes in basic Latin and Greek.

While she had watched them wistfully, wishing they’d let her join in. Until her mother had died and she no longer had the leisure to trail after them. After that, she’d pretended she didn’t care that she was stuck indoors, running the house while they carried on exactly as they’d always done. Acted as though she was too high-minded to even wish to descend to their level.

No wonder Lord Rawcliffe had started to tease her about her puritanical attitude. She taken on the airs of an early Christian martyr.

While he...he’d hidden his own hurts and resentments behind a shield of icy sarcasm.

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