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Despite these mental reassurances, she felt ill and weepy, and her chest ached badly. The thought of facing Marcus nauseated her. When she finished with her toilette, she looked in the mirror, further distraught to see the faint shadows under her eyes that betrayed her lack of sleep and hours spent crying. It was best she leave the house for a while. This was not home yet, it was very much Marcus’s bastion, and the memories she’d made in her history with the house were not pleasant. She took a deep breath and headed down to the foyer.

Passing through the hall, she looked at the clock and saw it was still early morning. Because of the hour, she was surprised to find Marcus’s family at breakfast. She felt dwarfed as her tall brothers-in-law rose at her entry. They were a pleasant lot, the Ashfords, but at the moment she wished only to be alone to lick her wounds.

“Good morning, Elizabeth,” greeted the lovely Dowager Countess of Westfield.

“Good morning,” she returned with the best smile she could manage.

Elaine Ashford was a beautiful and gracious woman with golden hair the color of fresh butter and eyes of emerald green that became translucent when she smiled. “You are up early this morning.”

Paul grinned. “Is Marcus still abed?” When Elizabeth nodded, he tossed his head back and laughed aloud. “He’s upstairs sleeping off his wedding night, and you are down here dressed flawlessly and ready to go out, unless I miss my guess.”

Elizabeth blushed and smoothed her skirts.

Smiling affectionately, Paul said, “Now we see how our beautiful new sister has led our bachelor brother to the altar. Twice.”

Robert choked on his eggs.

“Paul,” Elaine admonished, her eyes lit with reluctant amusement. “You are embarrassing Elizabeth.”

Shaking her head, Elizabeth was unable to hide her smile. Due to her injury, and the need to hide the knowledge of it, she’d had precious little time to become reacquainted with Marcus’s family. But she knew from her earlier association that they were a light-hearted, mirthful group with a wicked sense of humor, due considerably to Paul’s penchant for good-natured teasing. That he chose to tease her so informally made her feel accepted into their tight circle, and relieved some of the tension that made her shoulders ache.

Although physically of the same height and breadth of shoulder as Marcus, Paul had black hair and warm, chocolate brown eyes. Three years younger than Marcus and equally handsome, Paul could take Society, and its eager debutantes, by storm if he wished, which he didn’t. Instead, he preferred to remain in Westfield. Elizabeth had yet to discern why he chose to isolate himself in the country, but it was a mystery she intended to unravel at some point.

Robert, the youngest, was nearly the spitting image of Marcus with the same rich sable hair and emerald green eyes, which were charmingly enhanced by spectacles. He was an extremely quiet and studious fellow, physically just as tall as his brothers, but much leaner and less muscular due to his bookish nature. Robert was interested in all things scientific and mechanical. He could wax poetic about any number of dull and boring topics, but all of the Ashfords indulged him when he took his nose out of his books and deigned to speak with them. At the present moment, that nose was buried in the newspaper.

Paul stood. “If you will excuse me, ladies. I have an appointment with the tailor this morn. Since I rarely come to Town, I must exploit the opportunity to keep abreast of the latest fashions.” He glanced at Robert, still engrossed in the paper. “Robert. Come along. You require new clothes more than I.”

Robert glanced up, eyes blinking. “For what purpose would I dress in the latest fashions?”

Shaking his head, Paul muttered, “Never met a more handsome chap who could care less about his appearance.” He walked over to Robert’s chair and slid it back easily. “You are coming with me, brother, whether you like it or not.”

With a long suffering sigh and a covetous glance at the newspaper, Robert followed Paul out of the house.

Elizabeth watched the exchange with affectionate amusement, liking both of her new brothers immensely.

Elaine arched her brows as she lifted her teacup. “Don’t let his surliness disturb you overmuch.”


“No, Marcus’s. Marriage is an adjustment, that’s all. I still wish you would consider going away. Allow yourselves to settle in without the pressures you’ll find here in Town.”

“We intend to, once the Parliamentary session is over.” It was the excuse Marcus had suggested they supply. With the journal a hanging weight over her head, they couldn’t afford to leave London. Waiting until the end of the Season seemed the reply least likely to raise suspicion.

“But you are unhappy with this decision, are you not?”

“Why would you say that?”

Offering a sad smile, Elaine said, “You’ve been crying.”

Aghast to have her torment known, Elizabeth took a step back. “A bit tired, but I’m certain a drive in the crisp morning air will cure that.”

“A lovely idea. I’ll join you.” Elaine pushed back from the table.

Stuck in a position where refusal would be rude, Elizabeth released a deep breath and nodded. With a strict warning to the staff to leave the lord of the house undisturbed, Elizabeth and Elaine departed.

As the town coach lurched into motion, Elaine noted, “You have a fair number of outriders to accompany you. I believe you are more heavily guarded than the king.”

“Westfield is a bit overprotective.”

“How like him to be so concerned.”

Elizabeth seized the opportunity to learn more about her husband. “I’ve wondered, is Marcus much like his father?”

“No. Paul is most like the late earl, in appearance and disposition. Robert is a bit of an anomaly, God love him. And Marcus is by far the most charming, but the more reserved of the lot. Always has been difficult to collect his aim until after he’s achieved it. He hides his thoughts well behind that polished façade. I’ve yet to witness him losing his temper, but he has one I’m certain. He is, after all, his father’s son and Westfield was a man of high passion.”

Sighing inwardly, Elizabeth acknowledged the truth in the words spoken to her. Despite hours of physical intimacy, she knew little about the man she’d wed, an exquisite creature who drawled when he spoke and shared few of his thoughts. Only when they were alone did she see the passion in him, both his fury and desire. In her own way, she felt blessed to know those sides of him, when his beloved family did not.

Elaine leaned across the carriage and captured one of Elizabeth’s hands with her own. “I knew the moment I saw you together how perfect you would be for him. Marcus has never appeared so engaged.”

Elizabeth flushed. “I would not have thought you would endorse me after what transpired four years ago.”

“I subscribe to the ‘reason for everything’ school of thought, my dear. Life has always come too easily for Marcus. I’d prefer to think your … delay contributed to his grounding these last few years.”

“You are too kind.”

“You wouldn’t think so if you knew the things I said about you four years ago. When Marcus left the country I was devastated.”

Riddled with guilt, Elizabeth squeezed Elaine’s hand and was touched when her hand was squeezed in return.

“Yet you married him anyway and he has grown much from the man who first offered for you. I hold no ill will toward you, Elizabeth, none at all.”

I wish Marcus felt the same, Elizabeth thought silently, and not a little sadly.

The coach slowed to a halt. Before they had the opportunity to alight from the carriage, the employees of the shops lined the curb to greet them. Having spied the crest emblazoned on the door, they were anxious to assist the new Countess of Westfield and reap the rewards of her husband’s largesse.

The morning passed swiftly, and Elizabeth found a respite from her melancholy with Elaine, appreciating the older woman’s suggestions and advice while relishing the maternal companionship she’d lacked all her life.

Elaine paused in front of a milliner’s window and sighed at a lovely creation displayed in the window.

“You should try it on,” Elizabeth urged.

Elaine blushed and confessed, “I have a fondness for millinery.”

Waving her mother-in-law inside, Elizabeth strolled to the neighboring perfumery, leaving the two outriders who followed her at the door.

Once inside, she stopped before a display of bath oils and removed the stopper from a bottle to sample the fragrance. Disliking the scent, she put it down and picked up another.

“I hear congratulations are in order, Lady Westfield,” rasped a masculine voice behind her.

Startled, she almost dropped the fragile bottle, her stomach tightening in recognition of the unique voice. She spun to face Christopher St. John, her heart racing and eyes wide.

In the light of day, without a mask or wig to hide his features, he was a splendid looking specimen, angelic in appearance with his dark blond hair and vivid blue eyes.

Arrested at first by his exceptional handsomeness, she quickly came to her senses and changed her mind. Fallen angel was a more apt description. The signs of hard living were etched on his countenance. Shadows marred the skin beneath those amazing eyes, betraying a life that had no place for restful slumber.

His lips curved derisively. “Has no one told you it’s not polite to stare?”

“Do you intend to stab me again?” she asked curtly, taking a step back and bumping against the display. “If so, get on with it.”

St. John threw his head back and laughed, drawing the attention of the clerk behind the counter who gazed at him with blatant admiration. “Feisty, aren’t you? I can see why Nigel liked you so well.”

Her eyes widened as the familiar address. “And how would you know how my husband felt?”

“I know a great many things,” he replied arrogantly.

“Ah yes, I forgot.” She was frustrated by his confidence in the face of her fear. “You somehow learned of Hawthorne’s journal and have been threatening me for it ever since.” Elizabeth gripped the bottle of bath oil so tightly her hands ached.

St. John glanced down. “Put the bottle aside before you hurt yourself.”

“Don’t worry about me. It’s you who most stands to be hurt by it.” She hefted the bottle in warning before dropping it carelessly onto the shelf, ignoring the roiling in her stomach. “What do you want?”

St. John stared at her, his face reflecting an odd mixture of emotions. “It took me all morning to lose those lackeys Westfield has hounding me.”

Through the glass front of the store she saw the backs of the two outriders who stood guard. “How did you get in here?”

“Through the rear entrance. It has been extremely difficult to approach you with those damned outriders and Westfield guarding you at all times.”

“That is the point.”

He scowled. “The first time we met, I had only a few moments to speak with you. I couldn’t explain.”

“Explain now.”

“First, you must know I would never hurt you.” His jaw tightened. “I’m attempting to assist you.”

“Why would you wish to do that?” she scoffed. “I am married to a man who would see you hanged if he could.”

“You are my brother’s widow,” he said quietly. “That is all that matters to me.”

“What?” Physically thrown off balance by his statement, Elizabeth reached behind her in an effort to steady herself and instead knocked over several bottles, which crashed to the floor and shattered, filling the room with the cloying scent of flowers and musk.

“You lie!” But the moment she denied it, she knew it was true.

Upon closer examination, the similarities were obvious. Nigel’s hair had been the same dark wheat color and his eyes had been blue although not as brilliant as St. John’s. The nose was the same, the shape of the jaw and chin, the placement of the ears.

“Why would I?” he asked simply.

She examined the pirate in greater detail. His mouth was not the same. Nigel’s had been less wide, the lips thinner, and his skin had been softer, more pampered. Nigel had sported a mustache and Van Dyke. Christopher’s face was clean-shaven. But the differences were minor. Had she known to look, she would have caught the resemblance earlier.


The color drained from her face.

Her lungs sought air, but the restriction of her corset made it difficult to breathe. She felt dizzy and her legs gave way, but St. John caught her to him before she fell. He dipped her over a steely arm, his hand tilting her head back to better open her airway. “Easy,” he soothed in his raspy voice. “Take a breath. Now another.”

“Damn you,” she gasped. “Have you no tact? No sense to know better than to spring such news on me with no warning?”

“Ah, your charm is once again in evidence.” He smiled and looked for a moment very much like Nigel. “Keep breathing as deeply as you can. I have no notion of how you women suffer your corsets.”

The bells above the door chimed merrily.

“The dowager has arrived,” he murmured in warning.

“Elizabeth!” Elaine cried, her voice growing louder as she rushed closer. “Unhand her immediately, sir!”

“I apologize, my lady,” St. John replied with a smile that was charming even from Elizabeth’s underside view. “But I am unable to oblige you. If I release Lady Westfield she will certainly collapse to the floor.”

“Oh,” said the shop girl as she joined the muddle. “Christopher St. John.”

“St. John?” murmured Elaine, trying to place the name.

“’E’s famous,” supplied the girl.

“You mean infamous,” grumbled Elizabeth as she struggled to right herself.