When the Marquess of Tannerton rescues a viscountess-on-the-run, he impulsively decides to help her escape to Scotland. She alone knows the risk he takes on her behalf and the danger that pursues them.
It took Marlena a moment to adjust when he left the room. The marquess's essence seemed to linger, as well as the image of him naked. She and Eliza had been too naive to speculate on how the Marquess of Tannerton would look without clothing, but she could now attest that he looked spectacular. Wide shoulders, sculpted chest peppered with dark hair that formed a line directing the eye to his manly parts. She'd only glimpsed them upon first awakening, but now she could not forget the sight, like a Greek statue come to life, warm, friendly and flirtatious.
He might not recognize her as the notorious Vanishing Viscountess, subject of countless Rowlandson prints and sensational newspaper stories, but he did know she'd been a prisoner. He would, of course, have no memory of the very naive and forgettable Miss Parronley from Almack's.
She hugged her knees. As long as he did not recognize her, she was free. And she intended to keep it that way.
She had no idea what piece of shore they'd washed up on, but it must be closer to Scotland than she'd ever dared hope to be again. She longed to be in Scotland again, to lose herself there and never be discovered. A city, perhaps, with so many people, no one would take note of a newcomer. She would go to Edinburgh, a place of poetry and learning. Who would look for the Vanishing Viscountess in Edinburgh? They would think her dead at the bottom of the sea.
She'd once believed she'd be safe in Ireland, in the ruse she and Eliza devised, governess to Eliza's children. Not even Eliza's husband had suspected. Marlena had been safe for three years, until Eliza's brother came to visit. Debtors nipping at his heels, Geoffrey had come to beg his sister for money.
Marlena would have hidden from him, or fled entirely, but Eliza and the children were gravely ill from the fever and she could not bear to leave. Geoffrey discovered her tending to them. He'd recognized her instantly and suddenly he realized he could raise his needed funds by selling the whereabouts of the Vanishing Viscountess.
Geoffrey had long returned to London the day Marlena stood over Eliza's newly dug grave in the parish churchyard, the day the magistrate's men and the Bow Street runner came to arrest her.
She swiped at her eyes. At least we nursed the children back to health, Eliza.
She rose from the bed and wrapped the blanket around her like a toga. The room was tiny and sparse, but clean. There was no mirror, so she tried to look at herself in the window glass, but the sun was too bright. She felt her hair, all tangles and smelling of sea water. It was still damp underneath. She sat back on the bed.
She must look a fright, she thought, working at her tangled locks with her fingers, still vain enough to wish she appeared pretty for the handsome Marquess of Tannerton.
Except for the bruises on his chest, he had looked wonderful after their ordeal--his unshaven face only enhancing his appearance, making him look rakish. She inhaled, her fingers stilling for a moment with the memory of how his naked skin had felt, warm and hard with muscle.
Her whole body filled with heat. It had been a long time since she'd seen a naked man and a long time since a man had held her. She tried to remember if she had ever woken naked in her husband's arms. Perhaps she never had. He usually had fled her bed when he finished with her.
So long ago.
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January 01, 2008
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