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Authors: Kate Harper

Tags: #romance, #love, #secrets, #regency

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BOOK: The Marquis At Midnight
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Bertie shrugged. ‘Easy enough. I’ll take the
entire box.’

‘We need to find out when he will be out,’
Grace put in. ‘Evening would surely be the best time. If we
discover which function he will be attending, it would leave the
way clear for Bertie to take the box.’

Hester nibbled at her bottom lip, thinking.
‘Porter is to spend this Friday night at Lord Abercrombie’s house
in Richmond. If we can find where Lovington is going to be, we can
be there too. Just to make sure he stays there until Bertie is
done.’

‘It will be unfortunate if he is having a
quiet night in.’ Grace murmured.

‘Lovington never has a quiet night in. He’ll
be out and about somewhere.’ Hester said with some assurance. ‘We
just have to find out where.’

Deducing his whereabouts on the night was
problematic, of course. Hester went to find the invitations she had
received for various affairs on Friday night. There were only two
of any note; a ball at the Duchess of Linwood’s and a rout at Lady
Sedgwick’s. She studied both for some moments.

‘He’ll go to the ball. Lovington loves a
duchess.’

‘Then it is decided,’ Grace said briskly.
‘We will also go to the ball and make sure he is occupied while
Bertie goes to Lovington’s and takes the box.’

‘But how will he get into the library?’

Bertie waved a hand. He had
demolished every skerrick of food and was sitting back, contented.
‘I shall simply break in, of course. Not that I will have to
break
in. Some of the
servants will stay up for Lovington. I’ll go round the
back.’

Hester eyed him nervously. ‘Don’t get
caught.’

‘Don’t be crack-brained. Of course I won’t.
Rather defeat the purpose if I did, wouldn’t you say?’

Grace rose to her feet. ‘Well, at least we
have a way forward. And now, if you will both excuse me, I am going
to lay down for a time. I have a headache.’

Hester looked up at her friend anxiously.
‘Are you all right? Do you need anything?’

‘Just to rest for a time. I shall be
perfectly all right after a little quiet.’

But in the privacy of her
room, Grace was
not
all right. Morvyn’s words kept running through her head and
she could not help but remember her last conversation with Justin,
before she had left him to his wretched musings. He had flung
himself down in his chair, spent from his prolonged outburst and
she had crouched at his feet, his hands in her own.

‘Please, just tell me what is wrong. I don’t
understand.’

‘I cannot! Please, Grace. I cannot speak of
it. I have been betrayed and it is too much. Too much…’

‘In what way? Please Justin, help me to
understand.’

‘Oh Grace,’ it had been a whisper. ‘Did I
really get it wrong, after all? I just don’t know anymore.’

He would not speak further of what was
troubling him and Grace had left, hoping that some time alone would
help him collect himself. A little sleep, she had assured herself,
and he would be alright again. He had not been to bed since
Morvyn’s visit.

A little sleep and he would be settled
enough to tell her what was really happening.

But that had been the last conversation
she’d had with him.

Crossing to the window, Grace sat in a chair
and looked at the sleeting rain that was falling outside. She hated
the fact that she suddenly had doubts about her husband and she
hated Morvyn for giving her those doubts.

Justin had been a good man and they had had
a very happy marriage.

Right up until that last week when
everything seemed to change. Morvyn had made two visits in a week.
After the first, Justin had become more withdrawn, clearly troubled
by something. She had caught a look on his face and had known that
something was troubling him. Government business, she had assumed.
The conflict with Bonaparte fared well, or not so well, depending
on all manner of things, but he had not talked to her of such
things.

Looking back, Grace wondered what it was
that Morvyn had said to her husband on that first visit. And on
that final one, when Justin’s world seemed to suddenly change.

Suddenly, she was scared.

Because what if the unthinkable were
true?

What if her husband had been a traitor to
his country, after all?

 

Chapter Six

 

 

 

 

All was quiet in the Woodward residence
until the next evening when, once again, the occupants were dining
in. If Porter had been surprised by his wife’s sudden enthusiasm
for quiet nights at home, he was also pleased because it meant he
did not have to escort her to any wearisome event. He had been
spending long nights closeted with lords of the realm, going over
various European strategies and it had been occupying his attention
for too long. He knew that. But the plans he had been drafting were
almost ready to be finalized and then he would be free to spend
more time with his wife.

He looked across at Hester and smiled. She
really was the loveliest creature and he counted himself a lucky
man that he’d managed to capture her interest.

Across the table, Hester returned her
husband’s smile, well contented with the evening. She had missed
spending time with him and was enjoying her newfound happiness in
his company. How delightful it was to remain at home and bask in
togetherness for a change.

Their guest was the only one of the three
that was not easy in her mind. Grace, who was finding herself
increasingly sunk in unwelcome introspection, had been going over
her conversation with Morvyn repeatedly, unable to let it go. The
marquis' visit had undermined her assurance that the past was what
she had thought it to be. That her husband and, consequently, her
marriage, weren't what she thought they had been.

Does it really
matter?
She’d asked herself the question
endlessly. She could just go on the way she had always done, secure
in her certainty that, whatever he was, Justin had essentially been
a good man.

Hester had certainly thought so. She had
made all haste to discover what the conversation in the parlor was
about and, hearing Grace out, had advised her to forget it.

‘Morvyn is a sound man, Porter is always
saying so, but perhaps he had it wrong about Justin. You need to
put it behind you.’

‘Yes, but what if he was right? What if
Justin did something foolish?’

‘Justin is dead,’ Hester had replied gently,
‘and his good reputation is very much alive. Forget about it,
Grace. You will be the happier for it.’

Undoubtedly true, but that small kernel of
uncertainty continued to plague her. Along with the knowledge that
the only way to really know was to ask the one man she did not want
to see again. Morvyn seemed to have all the answers.

The question was could she bring herself to
ask the questions?

And so Grace had been absentmindedly picking
at her steamed turbot over dinner, not really focusing on what was
being said by her host and hostess. She had noticed that Porter was
in a particularly mellow mood and that Hester, once again, was
quite outrageously happy and was glad of it, but her thoughts were
most definitely elsewhere.

‘My love,’ Porter said, smiling across the
table at his wife, ‘I have been thinking.’

Hester smiled back at him. ‘Of what,
dearest?’

‘I have nearly finished this wretched
business that has been keeping me occupied for the past two months.
I think we should celebrate. You’ve been after me for months to
hold a ball. Let’s do it.’

Hester’s face lit up. A ball was a large,
expensive undertaking and Porter had been reluctant to have his
peace disturbed by the week of frantic activity required to make it
happen. Now, Hester saw her opportunity to shine as hostess of a
notable event and her smile was radiant. ‘Really? But that would be
marvelous.’

‘Indeed,’ he chuckled. ‘What about next
Friday? Could you prepare for such an event in that time?’

‘Of course I could. Grace will help me plan
it.’

‘Excellent. I daresay a new dress will be in
order as well.’

‘Most assuredly. Oh Porter, it will be
wonderful. I shall make you proud.’

‘I don’t doubt it,’ Porter pushed back his
chair and rose to his feet. ‘And now, if you will both excuse me, I
have several more hours of work to do. Then I will be free for the
rest of the evening.’ Coming around the table, he dropped a kiss on
his wife’s forehead. ‘You will be stunning, my love,’ he whispered.
‘A new gown, the Woodward necklace, and that hair. Just
delightful.’ And with a final caress he left the two ladies
alone.

Grace met Hester’s eyes as he left the
room.

‘The Woodward necklace,’ Hester breathed.
‘Why did he mention it?’

‘Because it is a ball and the necklace is
famous. I remember last time I came how he waxed lyrical about how
the stones matched your eyes. It’s only natural he should mention
it now.’

‘Oh, dear God. I wish I had not said that I
should like to have a ball.’

‘Do not fret. We will have it back by
then.’

‘But what if we do not?’ Hester returned
anxiously, her happiness evaporating as it was confronted with the
reality of her situation.

‘We will,’ Grace said reassuringly. ‘Bertie
will have it tomorrow night. Stop worrying.’

‘I pray he does not fail!’

‘Have you considered what Lovington will do
when he finds the necklace gone?’

Hester shrugged. ‘What can he do?’

‘He came by it legitimately. He could
probably do quite a lot. The question is, will he?’

Hester sighed. ‘I need to clear my debt with
him. I need those IOUs back again.’

‘I can manage a hundred guineas,’ Grace said
thoughtfully, ‘but that is still rather short of the mark.’

‘Oh Grace, I could not take your money.’

‘Oh yes you could,’ Grace retorted. ‘Better
mine than Lovington’s. As for the rest…’ she paused, chewing her
bottom lip, ‘Well, we will simply have to find it. I have a
sapphire set that I inherited from a ghastly aunt. It is quite the
most hideous thing I’ve ever seen, but I could probably get quite a
deal of money for it. Do you have any expensive trinkets – not
family heirlooms, I beg of you – that you could sell?’

Hester thought about it for a moment. ‘My
grandmother’s garnets. I do not wear them because they are so
outdated. I was going to have them reset at some stage, but I
daresay they would fetch quite a lot as they are.’

‘Well, there you are then,’ Grace said
cheerfully. ‘We might just be able to find three hundred guineas
between us. Did you agree on a figure for the necklace?’

‘A hundred more,’ Hester admitted
miserably.

‘We will find it,’ Grace said firmly, ‘and
then you can say goodbye to Lord Lovington once and for all.’

As Grace had hoped, this had the desired
effect and Hester brightened. ‘You really are the best of friends
to me you know.’

‘Don’t get mawkish on me,’ Grace advised
cheerfully. ‘I’ve known you since you were ten and if such an old
friendship is of no value, then what is the use of it? You know
perfectly well that you would help me out if the situation were
reversed.’

‘You
would never have been this foolish.’

‘Oh, I don’t know,’ Grace said wryly, ‘I’m
sure I could be remarkably foolish, if I just put my mind to
it.’

She had reason to remember those words the
next day when, whilst walking along Bond Street, she spied the
Marquis of Morvyn a little way ahead. The weather, in one of its
capricious spring turnarounds, had decided to put on a display of
feeble sunlight and Grace had taken the opportunity to go out for
fresh air and shopping. When she saw the marquis she hesitated for
a moment, but encountering him in the street seemed somehow less
daunting than trying to engineer something at a social event. Less
intimate. With her maid in tow, Grace hurried forward.

‘My Lord Morvyn.’

Morvyn turned, surprised. As well he might
be, considering their last meeting. ‘Lady Pemberton,’ he gave her a
bow, ‘good morning.’

‘Good morning, my lord.’ As
usual, he cut a fine figure. His tailor knew how to make the most
of an excellent pair of shoulders and fine, strong legs, although
the outfit was without so much as a fob. Not for Morvyn, the
trappings of fanciful fashion. Grace made herself focus on the
reason for her unprecedented greeting, doing her best to ignore her
pattering heartbeat. How did this man manage to make her so aware
of him as a… Well, as a
man
? Despite the fact that she knew
it was an unfortunate trick of nature, she could not quash that
flutter of attraction that she experienced every time she set eyes
on him. Of course, it didn’t help that he had kissed her.
She
knew
how his
lips felt against her own and the memory continued to haunt
her.
Just get on with it, Grace!
‘I am sorry to disturb you, but I was wondering if
you could call on me at some time. I would very much like to
discuss something with you.’

Morvyn looked at her, gray eyes searching,
but he merely bowed. ‘Of course. If it suits, I can call on you
later this afternoon?’

‘I would appreciate it,’ Grace said then,
because she felt as awkward as a schoolroom miss. ‘I… I have some
shopping to do so I will let you go.’

He bowed again. ‘Until this afternoon, Lady
Pemberton.’

Turning, Grace walked away with as much
dignity as she could muster, but her heart continued to beat far
too fast and it took her some minutes before her composure was
fully restored.

I just want to ask him the
truth about Justin
, she told herself
firmly.

BOOK: The Marquis At Midnight
2.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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