Mally : Signet Regency Romance (9781101568057)

BOOK: Mally : Signet Regency Romance (9781101568057)
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SIGNET REGENCY ROMANCE

Mally

Sandra Heath

 

 

INTERMIX BOOKS, NEW YORK

THE
BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

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Penguin China, B7 Jaiming Center, 27 East Third Ring Road North, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100020, China

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have control over and does not have any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

MALLY

An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Signet Books edition / August 1980

InterMix eBook edition / November 2012

Copyright © 1980 by Sandra Heath.

Excerpt from
The Unwilling Heiress
copyright © 1981 by Sandra Heath.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

ISBN: 978-1-101-56805-7

INTERMIX

InterMix Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

INTERMIX and the “IM” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Chapter 1

The London streets were quiet in the October dawn. A thin mist clung to the ground, drifting between the trees in the square, and ghostly seagulls moved on the wet grass as a solitary carriage came slowly past the silent houses. The wheels rattled on the cobbles and the team moved at little more than a snail's pace.

Mally's head lolled on Chris's shoulder, the gentle motion of the carriage soothing her almost to the edge of sleep. Suddenly and without warning the carriage lurched to a standstill, the team rearing and plunging. Mally was brought to frightened awareness in a moment, her heart thundering as she heard the coachman's loud shout. The gray dawn was suddenly menacing, where a moment before it had been drowsy, and she clutched Chris's arm, her fingers digging through the costly black velvet.

He opened the door, leaning out. “What is it?”

“A man hiding in the trees, Sir Christopher,” shouted the footman as he jumped down from the back of the carriage to come to the door. As he finished speaking, the ensuing silence was broken by the sound of running footsteps, dwindling away into the emptiness around them. The team was quiet now that the danger had gone.

Chris nodded at the footman. “Don't drive on just yet.”

“Sir Christopher.” The man bowed and pushed the door to.

Mally closed her eyes, leaning weakly back against the rich upholstery, and Chris turned to her, smoothing away a stray curl which rested against her cheek. “It's all right now, sweetheart, he's gone.”

“I thought— Oh, Chris, for a moment I thought about Mrs. Harmon's murder!”

“That was in Llanglyn, not here in London.”

“I cannot help it, Chris. I'd known her for so long and she was Mother's closest friend—a more sweet and gentle old lady you could not wish to meet.”

“Tell me about it then, perhaps it will help.”

She smiled at him. “It's merely my far-too-active-and-vivid imagination, I realize that, but I've had several letters from Mother. They're unhappy, frightened letters which have worried me so much that, like her, I'm jumping at every shadow. It happened about a month ago, I suppose. Someone broke into Mrs. Harmon's house in Llanglyn, brutally murdered her in her bed, and stole her jewelry—she was very rich, you know. A bit eccentric too, living alone in a small house in Breconshire when she could have afforded something as grand as your ancestral home. But she was a dear, and I loved her as if she were my aunt. To think that anyone could so cruelly murder her—” She stared at the cold, pale square, and it seemed for a moment that she could still hear those fleeing footsteps.

Chris kissed her cheek. “Don't think about it anymore.”

“I cannot help it, for they haven't caught the murderer yet.”

“And you think the fellow who just fled is the murderer all the way from Llanglyn?” His voice was warm with fond humor as he smiled at her.

“Don't laugh.”

“My sweet love, I have kept you up far too late and you are tired. Anyway, be logical—what have you got hidden away which is valuable enough to lure such a fiend? Mm?”

“Nothing to compare with Mrs. Harmon's diamonds, I suppose.”

“Well then, end of conversation, I fancy, eh? And on to more pleasant things. I enjoyed myself tonight. When old Dansford throws an evening it takes me fully a week to recover! An oyster feast on the eve of St. Denys indeed! Still, it's as good a reason as any to make merry, I suppose.” He leaned to tap the grille with his ivory-handled cane and the coach lurched on its way around the square.

Mally took a long breath. She must take Chris's advice and stop being foolish about the murder.
A pox on Mother for writing such hysterical letters
— She smiled. “Mr. Dansford keeps an almanac of reasons for each day of the year. And anyway, what's all this
fully a week to recover? You?
Sir Christopher Carlyon, you look fit to dance a good few measures yet,
and
consume even more maraschino.”

“I intended enjoying myself on our first appearance in society since you accepted me, and enjoy myself I damned well did! How Dansford managed to assemble so many fashionable souls out of season amazes me.”

“You make them sound like strawberries. Anyway, they came to cast their eyes over me, the woman who has finally trapped the Carlyon fortune in marriage—well, almost marriage, anyway. I shall never go to see a fair-ground monstrosity again, for now I know how they feel. One more raised lorgnette and I would have screamed!” The menace was slipping away slowly, and the uneasy rushing of her heart was gradually becoming calmer. The trees were just trees again—

“You enjoyed each close inspection, and don't pretend you didn't.” He ran his fingers over her dark curls. “As I did myself. I paraded my triumph in grand style.”

“I'm
not a great catch, Chris. Now, if you had chosen Annabel—”

“I didn't want Annabel, earl's daughter or not. I've wanted you since the first time I saw you. And I
mean
the first time.”

“I know,” she whispered, slipping her fingers over his.

“You've taken some winning.” He pulled her into his arms and kissed her.

He smiled. “I think Annabel could have kicked you for looking so magnificent tonight.”

“And
I
could have kicked
you!”

“Me? Why?”

“For being so unreasonably cool and abrupt with her. You had little cause to be quite so unpleasant, for she loves you a great deal still.”

“Which is why I did it. I have now made it perfectly clear to her, haven't I?”

“Oh, perfectly. And unkindly.”

“Are you going to be a nag, Marigold St. Aubrey? Because if you are, perhaps I should rush back to Annabel and grovel at her feet—”

She laughed. “I am not a nag, and I know full well how to be a perfect and loving wife.” Even as the words were uttered she knew she had made a mistake. She felt him stiffen, and his smile faded as he removed his arm from her shoulders. The dawn, for a second time, was an unhappy place—

“We are almost there,” he said curtly, “at Vimiero House.”

“You don't have to say it like that.”

“Don't I? You amaze me with your apparent unawareness of how your behavior can hurt. It's two years since Daniel died—
two years
—and yet only last week you caused the name of the house to be changed. I need no reminding that you were his wife, do I? Damn it all, he was my closest friend, but there are times now when I despise even the mention of his name!”

“That is a terrible thing to say.”

“I will gladly say it again.”

She twisted the strings of her reticule. Always, always it ended like this— “Chris, I didn't mean to hurt you.”

“You never do, but still it happens time and time again. How do you really imagine I feel about this business of the house, eh? Well?” His soft brown eyes rested on her face.

She stared at the fine features which drew half the beauties in England like pins to a magnet. “Chris—”

“You aren't going to answer me, are you?”

“Is it so very reprehensible to carry out Daniel's last wish?”

“Reprehensible? No. Thoughtless. Pointless. Those words seem better suited to the occasion.”

She bit back the anger he was rousing. “Daniel was proud of his part in the victory at Vimiero, and until his diary was sent to me a week or so ago I had no idea how much it meant to him. Chris, it took him nearly two months to die of his wounds, and the very last thing he ever wrote before he grew too weak was a scribbled line about changing the name of the house. You may call it thoughtless and pointless if you so desire—that is your privilege—but to me it is important.”

“Oh, God, Mally, you're
still
his wife, aren't you? You're not my fiancée at all.” He took her hands tightly. “I love you and have done since he first introduced his new bride to me that night eleven years ago, but for all that I've managed to achieve with you since his death, he might as well be still alive.”

She drew her hands away. “I cannot and will not forget him.”

“Have you even tried?”

“That was spiteful and childish!”

He ran his fingers through his light brown hair. “Childish? If wanting the love of the woman I am to marry is childish, then so be it.”

She was shaking as she sat stiffly beside him, and the tears were very close as she slipped her hand into his, her ring catching in the lace spilling from beneath his cuff. “Chris,” she whispered, “I'm sorry—”

His fingers tightened over hers immediately. “You could have confided in me about the house, couldn't you? Time and time again you keep me out of things, when you should share more. Silly things, like the business of Mrs. Harmon's murder. I had no idea it had upset you so much, you locked me out even from that.”

“It seemed so foolish, to let something which happened the other side of the country frighten me so much. And as to the name of the house, I did not think it mattered.”

“Oh, yes you did. You
knew
it mattered. But, as always, you put Daniel St. Aubrey first. No, don't snatch your hand away again, for these things should be aired between us.” He gently touched her face. “I love you very dearly, Mally, and I need you to love me.”

“I do, you must know that I do. But I cannot behave as if Daniel never existed. I am twenty-eight years old now and for most of my life I knew him, we even grew up together in the same house in Llanglyn. It's impossible for me never to mention him.”

The carriage came to a standstill at last, outside her house, and it seemed to Mally that the mist deliberately swirled to reveal the new name.
Vimiero.
But it was 1810 now, not 1808. And there was Chris Carlyon. Not Daniel.

He raised her hand to his lips. “My love makes me unreasonable. Forgive me.”

“I should have told you about the diary, I know that I should. I never mean to hurt you.”

“And I never mean to be the original bear.” He smiled.

She returned the smile. “I still feel foolish for telling you about the murder like that. It was more the behavior of a fifteen-year-old than a full-grown woman.” She looked at the swirling mist, and tendrils of that earlier fear began to creep over her again, making her shiver in spite of her determination.

Chris tapped the grille again and the footman jumped down to open the door. “If I don't get you back to the nest, I shall run the risk of old Lucy taking a broom to my fashionable hide.”

The cold air swept over them as he helped her down. The chandeliers in the vestibule threw jewel colors through the stained glass beside the doors. He wrapped her shawl around her as they climbed the steps to stand by the front doors, and they were both aware of the coachman staring so pointedly at his team and of the seemingly blind footman.

“Until tomorrow then, Mally,” he whispered, kissing her hand.

“Don't you mean today?”

“Until later then.”

The butler opened the doors and the light flooded out, making Chris's black velvet coat and lace-trimmed evening shirt look startling in the sudden glare. She stood by the doors as he returned to the carriage.

The perfectly matched roans pulled the heavy coach away into the mist, disturbing the restless seagulls so that they rose in a clamor from the grass. Their screams swung around the silent houses and somewhere close by a dog began to bark. Mally's eyes went immediately in the direction of that last sound, searching the shadows by the trees. But there was nothing there—

Digby closed the doors firmly on the cold autumn. “I trust that you had an enjoyable time, madam,” he said as he removed her shawl.

“Yes, thank you, Digby.”

“Mrs. Berrisford is here, madam.”

She stared, her heart sinking. “My mother? All the way from Breconshire without so much as a note to tell me she was coming? Is something wrong?”

“Well, madam, I would hazard a guess that she is worried about something, but more than that I cannot say.”

“It's probably her nerves since poor Mrs. Harmon was murdered. Is my sister with her?” The words sounded lame as she tried not to show how disturbed she felt.

“No, madam, Miss Maria did not come.”

She smiled. “No, Maria's nerves are as steady as a rock. Did you put Mother in the Green Room?”

“Yes, madam. Lucy informs me that she believes her to be sleeping now.”

“Believes?”

“Mrs. Berrisford has locked herself in, madam.”

“Then—then I will not disturb her. Good night, Digby.”

“Good night, madam.”

She crossed the polished tiles of the hall and wearily climbed the curving staircase. She paused by the oil lamp in its silver-gilt holder, looking across the stairwell at Daniel's prized collection of Stubbs's paintings. They were surely not valuable enough— Taking a long, cross breath, she continued up the stairs. At the first landing she halted again, looking back down at the paintings which Daniel had collected so painstakingly. Was Chris right?
Did
she still put Daniel first—even now? Slowly, and with a heavy heart, she went on up toward the second floor, and as she reached her own rooms she heard the clock of St. Blaise's strike four o'clock.

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