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Tugging on his discarded breeches, he whispered, “Hold that thought for a moment, love.” He grabbed his small sword, which rested conveniently against a nearby chair, and withdrew the blade from its scabbard. Elizabeth’s head came up from the pillow. With a finger to his lips, he warned her to silence, and then padded across the room on bare feet. Marcus took a deep breath before cracking open the door that led to the sitting room.

Through the tiny space between the door jamb he could see across to Elizabeth’s chamber. From the gap beneath her door, candlelight was clearly visible. Once again, his instincts had stood him in good stead. Someone was in there. Marcus rolled his shoulders and slipped out of his bedroom. St. John hadn’t given up. He’d come back, as Marcus had suspected he would.

He’d wanted to position a guard in the sitting room, but Elizabeth had been horrified that someone would be so close while they made love. She’d been adamant and, doubting his restraint, he’d acceded. Now he could only shake his head at his fascination for his wife, which overruled every other consideration. Moving rapidly, he reached the door and tested the knob. It was locked. Cursing himself, he returned to his room for the key.

Elizabeth was slipping on her dressing gown.

Marcus shook head and scowled. Stay here, he mouthed.

What is it? she replied.

For his answer he held up the key, and then he returned to the sitting room. Immediately he noted the light under her door was gone. Hindered by darkness, it took him a moment to reach it. The chill breeze that flowed from the gap over his bare feet betrayed the open window on the other side. He was not fool enough to enter an unlighted room. Stepping out to the dimly lit hallway, Marcus grabbed the taper from the alcove and lit the candelabra on the console.

When he turned about, he saw the hallway door to Elizabeth’s room was ajar. He kicked it open with his foot, candelabra in one hand, small sword in the other. The drapes were spread wide, allowing the pale light of the moon to cast shadows. The sheers fluttered in the soft evening breeze, a ghostly presence that made his fists clench tight. High as they were on the second floor, he doubted anyone would make the effort to enter or exit from that venue. Which meant they were either still in the room, or had slipped down the hallway while he’d gone for the key.


All was quiet, but still his nerves sizzled with awareness.

“My lord?” murmured a deep voice behind him. “What is amiss?”

Marcus turned, and faced one of the guards. Behind him stood Elizabeth, who worried her bottom lip with her teeth. For a moment, his throat clenched tight at the thought of her traversing the unsafe galleries. But there was naught else she could have done and once again his heart swelled with admiration. She was a practical woman, and a brave one. He took a moment to collect himself and then answered, “Someone was trespassing in her ladyship’s room. Wait with her until I can be certain the intruder is gone.”

The guard gave a quick nod, and Marcus made a thorough sweep. The room was empty, but the sense of unease remained with him. “Wake the other guards,” he ordered as he returned to the hall. “Search the vacant rooms and exits. Discover how he gained entry. And from this night on, I want one of you to stay in my sitting room.”

Passing the candelabra to the grim-faced guard, Marcus caught Elizabeth’s elbow and led her back to the bedroom.

“It’s time to come out of hiding, Marcus.”


“You know I must.” She stopped abruptly to face him.

His jaw tightened, and he shook his head. “It’s too dangerous.”

“What else can we do? Look at the risk to your family, to your home.”

Marcus took her face in his hands. “You are my family, my home.”

“Please don’t be obstinate.”

“You ask too much, Elizabeth.”

“I ask for freedom.” Her eyes glittered up at him. “I weary of this. We make no progress with this endless waiting. We must take the initiative and force his hand. End this.”

He opened his mouth, and she placed her fingers over his lips. “Don’t argue further. I understand your position. Just consider it. That’s all I ask of you.”

Knowing she was correct did not ease his torment and when they returned to the bed he held her too closely, needing her physical proximity to warm the icy fear that tightened his chest.

“Please don’t worry,” she whispered, her soft lips moving against the skin of his chest just before she drifted back to sleep. “I trust you.”

He held her close, loving her for believing in him enough to propose such peril. She’d once said she would never trust him, and he had believed that without question. To discover he’d reached her so deeply was a soothing balm to the festering wounds that were healing with every day that passed.

But he had nothing but contempt for himself, unable to understand how she could display such unwavering faith when he continued to fail her at every turn.

For Elizabeth, the three days following the incident in her room were fraught with tension. Marcus withdrew to his study, where he worked tirelessly to find all vulnerabilities in his defense of her. The nights were worse. Because of the guard positioned on the other side of the bedroom door, she could not relax enough to enjoy lovemaking and Marcus refused to take her when she was so reluctant.

“I hate to see you so glum, dear Beth,” Paul said one afternoon, as she gathered together the meal plans scattered across the dining table.

“I am not glum.”

He arched a brow. “Are you bored then? I wouldn’t blame you. You have been penned up for days.”

Wrinkling her nose, she almost confessed how she missed Marcus, but that would not have been appropriate so she simply shook her head.

“Would you like to go to the village?” he asked.

“No. Thank you.” Marcus wouldn’t allow her out of the manse, but that was not her only consideration. Luncheon would be served shortly and that seemed to be the only time lately when she had a few moments of his charming discourse. She told herself it was silly to miss him when they were so physically close, but she could not change how she felt, and quite surprisingly, would not want to. She’d once dreaded needing him so much. It was now a bond she relished.

“Are you certain?” Paul pressed.

Waving him off with a reassuring smile, Elizabeth moved out to the foyer. A few moments more and then she could call Marcus away. Her step lightened as she thought of her husband and the smile he would bestow upon her when she called his name from the study doorway. Lost in the thought, she missed seeing the arm that reached out and snatched her into the space beneath the left side curving staircase. Her meal plans, which she’d been carrying to the kitchen to discuss with the cook, scattered across the marble floor.

Her startled protest was cut off by a passionate kiss, her husband’s large body crowding her to the wall. Her hands, lifted to push her attacker away, slipped around his neck and held him close.

“Sweet wife,” he breathed, his lips pressed to hers.

Her heart racing at the sudden fright, she gasped to catch her breath. “Wh-what are you about?”

“I need you.” He nibbled at her throat. “It’s been three damned days.”

Eyes closed, she breathed him in. The warmth of his skin, the obviously aroused length of his frame, the large hands that moved feverishly over her curves …

“Why can you not remain naked?” he complained. “Too much material separates my touch from you.”

Elizabeth noted their surroundings. The sunlight from the rear lawn poured in from the French doors displaying their ardor to any hapless passerby. Only from the foyer were they hidden from view. “You must stop.”

“I cannot.”

She gave a breathless laugh, so enamored with his attentions she wished she were naked as well. Her blood thrummed in her veins, her body softening and relaxing into his. “What are you doing?”

“Making up for my lack.” Marcus pulled away only slightly, his hands occupied, one at her waist, the other fighting uselessly to feel her breast through her corset.

“We’ll be seen,” she cautioned.

“You cannot dissuade me.” He licked her lips.

“You cannot mean to ravish me here.”

“Can I not?” He tugged at her silk bodice and the threads popped in protest. “I’m nigh desperate.”

“Marcus.” She swatted his hands away.

“I want you.” The look in his eyes gave proof to that statement.

“Now?” She bit her lower lip, pleased that he had no control over his desire. “I don’t understand your mood. Can you not wait?”

He shook his head and the simple denial filled her heart with joy.

“I want you, too,” she confessed.

His grip tightened and the scorching heat of his gaze made her blush. “I never thought you would, not truly.” His voice lowered. “But you do, don’t you?”

Nodding, Elizabeth pressed her lips to his chin. “I ache for you. I’ve missed you so much.”

“I have been here.” He drew her as close as her skirts would allow.

“I’m selfish, Marcus. I want the entirety of your attention.”

“You have it.” His smile was wicked. “Now, would you like the rest of me as well? We can slip away, find somewhere private.”

“Can I bind you? Tie you down? Keep you to myself for hours, days?”

Marcus drew back with widened eyes. “Are you serious?” He couldn’t hide the sensual interest that deepened the curve of his smile.

The image in her mind made her wet. “Oh yes.”

“You have five minutes with which to find a bed and disrobe. Any longer and I will cut that dress from you with my blade.”

“You wouldn’t,” she protested, laughing. “I adore this gown.”

“Four and three-quarters.”

Elizabeth turned and fled. “Don’t forget to collect my papers,” she called over her shoulder.

Lifting her hem, she hurried up the stairs. Halfway to the top, she saw the butler emerge from the upper floor gallery. He descended to meet her.

“My lady, the post has arrived.”

She reached for the missive on the silver salver, recognizing the familiar Langston crest stamped in the wax. “Thank you.”

Breaking the seal, Elizabeth scanned the brief contents, and then reread them.

“Margaret has had the baby early,” she cried. “A boy!”

“Two minutes,” Marcus drawled, his deep voice coming from just below her.

She stilled instantly. “Did you hear? I must go to them.”

“Come here, Lady Westfield.” His purr was ominous as he ascended the staircase with predatory grace. “You wanted my attention. I vow, you have it. Your nephew will have to wait.”

Elizabeth laughed aloud. “You will have to catch me first,” she challenged as she flew up the stairs. She gained the landing and ran down the hallway, the precious letter in one hand and her skirts held in the other. Marcus was fast on her heels.

Elaine watched the antics from the lower parlor doorway. She spoke to Paul who stood next to her. “I have never seen him so happy. Marriage has done wonders for him.”

“So it has,” he agreed.

She looked up with an affectionate smile. “You, dear son, are next.”

Chapter 22

Because of the need for secrecy, it was after midnight when the hired hackney arrived at Chesterfield Hall. Exiting the carriage at the rear of the mansion, Elizabeth and Marcus then entered through the delivery door.

“Is this level of prudence truly necessary?” Elizabeth complained as she shivered in the chill night air.

Marcus tossed his cloak over hers and wrapped his arms around her, sharing his warmth. “I refuse to take chances with your life. You are too precious to me.”

They made their way up to Elizabeth’s former room by way of the servants’ staircase. “How precious am I?” she asked softly, preceding him down the hallway.


Closing the door behind them, Marcus removed both cloaks from her shoulders before turning her to face him. He lowered his head, his eyes staring deeply into hers. His kiss was soft and generous, his lips clinging with obvious affection.

“Do you love me, Marcus?”

She had promised herself never to ask him how he felt about her. He showed her in a hundred different ways every day how much she meant to him. But somehow the need to hear the words could not be denied.

His mouth smiled against hers. “Do you even have to ask?”

Elizabeth pulled back to search his face. “Would it pain you so greatly to say it?”

His mouth parted to speak just as a soft rap came at the door. “Come in,” he called out, unable to hide his relief.

William poked his tousled blond head inside. “Lady Barclay heard you arrive. She would like Elizabeth to meet her nephew now. You will have to wait until morning, Westfield.”

“Of course I’ll come now.” Elizabeth stood on tiptoe and waited until Marcus lowered his lips to hers. “I am not finished with this conversation, my lord.”

He nuzzled his nose against hers. “I await your pleasure, Lady Westfield.”

As Elizabeth left the room, William stayed behind.

Marcus regarded his brother-in-law carefully, noting the dark shadows under his eyes. “You look exhausted.”

“The future Earl of Langston has a voracious appetite and Lady Barclay has refused a wet nurse. I attempted to dissuade her, but to no avail. She stands firm.”

“Congratulations.” Marcus extended his hand and William clasped it firmly. “You are a most fortunate man.”

William ran his hands through his hair. “You should not have returned to London.”

“I agree, but like your wife, Elizabeth could not be discouraged. Unfortunately, she has reached the point where she’s willing to make herself a target to bring the situation to a head.” Marcus sighed. “The woman shows a deplorable lack of fear.”