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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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Grace’s last words still
hung on the air, however. For once, Hester was at a loss to know
what to say. She had no inkling that her friend held Morvyn in
distaste. Indeed, she knew the marquis very well, as he was a
particular friend of Porter’s. It was at times like these, she
reflected gloomily, she regretted that
she
was mistress of the house. She
cleared her throat. ‘Tea, my lord? Grace?’

The small break had allowed Grace to collect
herself and she inclined her head. She had almost run from the
room, which would have been an unpardonable lapse of manners. It
would have also put Hester in a sticky spot, especially as Grace
had not told her anything about Justin or his association with
Morvyn. She knew that the marquis and Porter were friends. Besides,
it had been one of those things she had been happy to put out of
her mind. Talking about it only increased her anguish.

But now? Well, now she had
to deal with Morvyn.
What I would really
like to do
, she thought
incredulously,
is run my fingers through
that dark hair and have him kiss me again.

Oh dear God. Clearly, she was mad!

Hester was pouring tea, expression carefully
neutral. Later, Grace knew she would have every little detail out
of her, but now, she was a picture of serene gentility, passing the
teacups and offering sweet morsels of cake, which both Morvyn and
Grace refused.

‘My Lady Pemberton,’ Morvyn began, once
again in that same, patient voice that set her teeth on edge, ‘I am
not sure what your husband told you, but it is clear you believe I
was in some way responsible for his death.’

‘Are you saying you are not?’

‘If Pemberton’s death was something other
than an accident, that was entirely his choice.’

Well there it was. He was denying it. Had
she thought he would do anything else? Grace eyed the marquis with
ill-concealed disgust. ‘He told me a little about your last visit
to him. It was the night before he died.’

‘I know. It was a difficult
conversation.’

‘I am sure it was. It must have been very
hard to accuse a man you had known for years of being a
traitor.’

‘I did nothing of the kind. Justin was not a
traitor, but he was a credulous fool.’

Grace spoke through clenched teeth. ‘How
dare you! He was a good man.’

‘Who trusted the wrong people.’

‘He told me...’ Grace stopped, struggling to
master herself. ‘He told me that you had betrayed him. That his
career – that his life - was in ruins because of the lies you had
put about.’

There was a long silence. Hester had been
looking from one to the other, blue eyes wide.

For a long moment, Morvyn did not move, did
not speak, and his face was devoid of expression. The only
indication that her words had stung was the way his fingers
tightened around the cup he was holding. ‘When I visited your
husband before his death, it was with a view to giving him an
understanding on why he would no longer be used as a king’s envoy,’
he said at last. ‘I advised him that he was making a mistake with
his… career. But he knew that all ready. I tried to help, but he
did not want my help. And yes, he blamed me for bringing him to
ruin.’

‘You lied about him to his peers!’

Morvyn shook his head. He was still
perfectly composed. ‘I have never told a lie about Pemberton. He
elected to lie to himself, but he knew the truth of the matter well
enough.’

Grace stared at him, frustrated.

Not a suicide, but an
accident, or so the coroner had ruled on Justin’s death, but a man
did not go riding a half broken stallion in the middle of a cold
October night dressed only in shirt and breeches if he were in his
right mind and since his last meeting with Morvyn he had
not
been in his right
mind, but had shut himself away in his library, drinking and
brooding and refusing to talk to his wife until the after the
marquis had departed. The night he’d died. She had pleaded with him
to tell her what was amiss and finally he had risen to his feet and
had paced back and forth, half mad with anger. Morvyn, the man he
had always called friend, had come from the Foreign Office to say
that Justin Pemberton must no longer be used by them as an envoy to
France. That he was not to be trusted.

The marquis had carried with him a letter
from Lord Abercrombie saying that he no longer required his
services to King and Country.

Justin had been shattered.

‘Lady Pemberton, I was not the only one who
had doubts about what was taking place on his visits to France. I
was merely the one who brought him the news that his services would
no longer be required.’

‘But he was an envoy for the Prince Regent.
Good heavens, his mother was French. He had family there. Those
ties were perfectly legitimate.’

‘I am aware of that.’

‘Oh, really? Because Justin seemed to
believe that you questioned his loyalty to his country.’ Grace bit
off each word, as if saying them out loud was painful.

‘Not his loyalty. Never that. But he showed
an unfortunate lack of discretion in other matters.’ Morvyn shifted
uncomfortably in his seat, setting his teacup down. Its fragility
had looked completely out of place in those strong, brown hands.
‘Lady Pemberton, I am sorry if I contributed to your husband’s
death. Having listened to you, I acknowledge that might have been
the case, but I can assure you, Justin was never considered to be
assisting Bonaparte...’

‘I should hope not!’

‘Nevertheless, he could no longer work for
the Foreign Office. We considered his position to be
compromised.’

‘He would never have betrayed England.’ She
spoke carefully, keeping her voice low and even.

‘He certainly didn’t mean to,’ Morvyn agreed
dryly. ‘And I certainly never implied that his behavior was
deliberate.’

Grace stared at him, trying to remain
composed. How in the world could Justin have been compromised? It
had to be a lie. Justin had been a diplomat, trusted at the highest
levels by the government, trusted by the Prince Regent himself. He
had travelled to France regularly, using his family contacts to
collect information about Bonaparte’s movements in France and
Sicily. ‘Why are you saying these things,’ she said, almost
wonderingly. ‘Do you really believe them?’ Justin was your
friend.’

‘This is hardly an appropriate conversation
for a lady’s drawing room.’ Morvyn said abruptly. ‘I am sorry if I
have upset you, but such matters are beyond your
understanding.’

‘Because I am a woman?’

‘Exactly that.’

‘Then – as a
woman
– I think I have
every right to hold whatever ridiculous, uninformed opinions I care
to,’ Grace returned icily, ‘and as such, there is no point in
continuing this conversation. Good day, Sir.’

Morvyn stared at Grace and she stared back,
her eyes glittering with a mixture of anger and pain. He had not
handled this at all well, so much was obvious, but she had taken
him aback by going on the attack about Pemberton. Apparently, they
needed to have that conversation, but not here, not now. Besides,
it was damned hard to talk to the woman when her friend was
listening to every word spoken. And what could he say, after all?
Justin Pemberton had been his friend for years and he had not
wished to think ill of him. Unfortunately, when one is presented
with irrefutable proof of, not treason, not that, but of ill
advised behavior that had resulted in the deaths of over one
hundred men, then Morvyn had been forced to intervene.

It could have been so much worse. If
Pemberton’s folly had become known, he would have lived the rest of
his life in disgrace, a social outcast. Morvyn did not know if
Pemberton had killed himself deliberately or if it had been a
fortuitous accident, but it had certainly save his wife a great
deal of scandal.

Not that it helped him now. Grace had no
idea what it was her husband had done and he was reluctant to tell
her and remove her good opinion of a man she had clearly cared
for.

Morvyn wanted to leave this
room, this house, and put it all behind him, but the pull of those
brown eyes was extraordinarily powerful, true north to his compass
point, and of late the lady was always turning him around. Her face
had become familiar in his dreams, stirring him to physical need
that was disturbingly intense.
Why can’t I
simply forget her?
He had never felt a
sense of inadequacy before and yet he had no idea how to manage a
simple conversation with the woman, let alone navigate his way
through a social situation.

It certainly wasn’t going to happen now. She
wanted him to leave. Again.

‘Lady Pemberton...’

The door opened and Marsh entered, intoning.
‘Mr. Bertram Coslowe.’

Morvyn cursed silently, watching the two
women exchange a swift glance. He rose to his feet. He was
obviously not getting anywhere, especially now that Coslowe had
arrived. Once again, he had the impression that something else was
in the wind. He was prepared to wager they had been expecting
Bertram Coslowe to call.

He nodded to Coslowe, who nodded back
cheerfully. ‘Hullo. Imagine bumping into you again.’

‘Quite the coincidence,’ Morvyn agreed.
‘Thank you for your hospitality, Lady Woodward. I will leave you to
your guest.’

‘Oh. Yes, thank you for… for calling my
lord.’ Hester gave a sideways glance at Grace who was, once again,
studiously ignoring Morvyn, her embroidery once more in her
hands.

With a bow to both ladies and a final glance
at Grace, Morvyn departed.

‘Phew! He looked to be in a dudgeon. Did I
bust up the party?’ Bertie demanded. ‘Fellow looked peeved.’

‘No. I think that the marquis was ready to
leave.’ Hester murmured. Before Grace threw him out with her bare
hands. Hester was well and truly in the dark about the conversation
she had just heard. She had no idea what had taken place when
Justin Pemberton had died in what she had assumed was a riding
accident eighteen months before, but apparently, it had been more
than just an unfortunate mishap. Now was hardly the time to discuss
it, however. She flapped a hand towards a chair. ‘Sit down, Bertie
and have some cake.’

‘Decent of you.’ Bertie sat and leaning
forward, he took a plate and several slices of fruitcake. It took a
lot to feed someone as large as Bertie and he found himself hungry
on a regular basis. ‘What did Morvyn want,’ he asked, speaking
around a mouthful.

‘It was a social call. Never mind that now.
I’m so glad you got my note.’

‘Was out at the club. Didn’t get it till I
got back home. Came round as soon as I got it.’ Bertie and other
young men, Hester had noticed, often spoke in this staccato
fashion. He finished the first slice and moved on to the next.

‘Yes.’ His hostess paused, regrouping.
Somehow, the afternoon had become quite crowded, what with one
thing and another. ‘You remember how we were discussing the
Woodward necklace last night?’

‘Not likely to forget it. Mutton-headed
thing that was, putting up the family jewels.’

‘I know that,’ his cousin said crossly,
‘what I don’t know is how I am going to get it back?’

‘Lovington’s holding it, you say? Well, I
suppose I could draw his cork. Man like that is crying out to have
some of his claret spilled. Seems to me he’d cough up the pretties
fast enough.’

This finally distracted Grace from her
introspection. She looked at Bertie with a flicker of amusement.
‘You cannot go and beat the necklace out of him.’

Bertie cocked an eyebrow at her. ‘Why
not?’

‘He would call the Watch on you in all
likelihood and we’d be worse off than we are now. We’re trying to
avoid a scandal, not provoke one.’

Bertie grimaced at this. ‘Aye, but a man
like Lovington don’t display to advantage, just the same. If I had
a talk to him...’

‘I can just imagine
that
conversation,’
Hester said witheringly. ‘You should not misjudge the man. Believe
me, Lovington is not as wet as he seems. No, Bertie. We were
thinking of something a bit more subtle.’

‘Subtle?’ Bertie and subtle were usually
strangers to each other.

‘We were thinking that you might, perhaps,
steal it back?’ Hester and Grace looked at him hopefully.

Not unexpectedly, Bertie didn’t seem to find
this suggestion in the least bit odd. He snared another chunk of
fruitcake and sat back in his chair, where he proceeded to chew
thoughtfully for some moments while his two companions looked on.
Finally, he nodded. ‘I like it.’

Hester sighed. ‘So you will steal it for
me?’

‘Can’t see why not. I do have just one
question though.’

‘What is it?’

‘Why don’t you just tell Woodward? He’d sort
Lovington out fast enough.’

‘But the whole point
is
not
to tell
Porter. He specifically forbade me to play loo after we were
married and if he knew I’d been associating with Lovington he would
be probably have an apoplexy.’

Bertie gave her a look. ‘You’ve been
bird-witted, Hessie, but Woodward’s besotted with you. He’ll
forgive you.’

‘But he would not trust me
again. And do
not
,’ she added, holding up a hand, ‘tell me that he has good
reason. I know that. Let’s just get the necklace back.’

‘Where’s Lovington keep it?’ Bertie leaned
forward and removed the last of the fruitcake. Hester nudged the
seedcake, which had been on the opposite side of the tray, a little
closer.

‘In his library in the drawer of his desk.
The second drawer. I saw him return it there. My necklace is in a
carved wooden box, which is locked.’

BOOK: The Marquis At Midnight
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