Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage (25 page)

“Yes, I imagine she would be. Is she all right? Was she badly hurt?”
“He struck her. He’ll pay for that.”
Fellows glanced at the other detective and the sergeant, rose from the desk, took Mac by the shoulder, and more or less shoved him out and along the hall to an empty room. Fellows closed the door and faced Mac.
“Now we can talk plainly. What do you intend to do to this man?”
“Killing him came to mind.”
“Not something to announce at a police station,” Fellows said in a mild voice. “Trust me, I’ll get him—for forgery, fraud, arson, and now assault.”
“I’ll not have Isabella dragged into a witness box at the Old Bailey to describe how a man tried to abduct her. Wouldn’t the journalists love that? She doesn’t need the humiliation.”
“Arson may be enough. If you can prove it.”
“That’s your job, Fellows,” Mac said angrily.
The inspector looked annoyed. “I need evidence, or I’ll not get a conviction. It would have been helpful if you’d caught him in your attics. Or seen him running away down the street after the fire was lit.”
“Damn it, do you have
anything
for me?”
“I have quite a lot, if you’d stop raving and let me speak.”
Mac tried to calm down, but he was too angry, too afraid. The forgery had seemed a good joke—the fake Mac had been able to paint glorious pictures while Mac couldn’t manage a brushstroke. The fire had angered him, because the man had endangered the lives of Mac’s household, innocents in all this.
But this was different. This man, whoever he was, had dragged Isabella into the equation. He could beat on Mac all he wanted, but he’d die for touching Isabella.
“His name is Samson Payne,” Fellows said. “Grew up in Sheffield, came to London to work as a clerk in a solicitor’s office about seven years ago. Never gave any trouble, the solicitor says. Quit about two years ago after saving his pennies, keen to see the Continent. Solicitor hasn’t heard from him since.”
Mac blinked. “You mean you found out who he is? Why the devil haven’t you told me?”
“I know his name. Probably. But I don’t know
where
he is. And as you pointed out, it’s my job to find him and prove he’s been doing these things to you.”
“All right, fair dues. How the deuce did you find out his name?”
Fellows gave him a cold smile. “I’m a detective. I quizzed Crane and his assistant, went door to door until I put together a description of him, then put out an inquiry for information. I received many replies, and finally found that until a few weeks ago he lived in rooms on Great Queen Street, near Lincoln’s Inn Fields. He gave the landlady the name of Samson Payne. More inquiries turned up a gent of the same name who’d worked several years ago for a solicitor in Chancery Lane—stands to reason he’d take rooms again in the area he knew.”
“And how do you know this isn’t someone who simply happened to look like me walking down the Strand at the wrong time?”
Fellows’s smile warmed as he grew enthusiastic about his quarry. “The solicitor had a photograph of him. I showed it to Crane’s assistant, who agreed it was the same man. He resembles you greatly, but not exactly. The solicitor told me that his hair was black, but with a little dye, some theatrical makeup to make his cheeks fuller, and he’d be the spitting image of you.”
Mac felt a chill. “Please don’t tell me he’s really a Mackenzie. That my overly promiscuous father is responsible for this monster.”
“Fear not. I traced him to Sheffield—mother was a baker’s daughter, father was a coachman then retired to run a pub. They’re his parents, all right. They said that little Samson always liked to draw, was quite good at it and begged for art lessons, but they couldn’t afford to give them to him. They’d had a letter from him when he returned to London not long ago, saying he’d learned painting and would remain in London to seek his fortune.”
“And you have no idea where he is now?” Mac asked. “Other than lurking about waiting to accost my wife or set fire to my house?”
“I’m afraid not. Not yet.”
“Or why the devil he’s pretending to be me?”
Fellows shrugged. “He wanted to be an artist. Perhaps he didn’t have the money or connections to sell his work or even be recognized for it. Perhaps one day someone mistook him for you, and he thought he could make some money that way.”
“That explains the forgery and tricking Crane to sell the paintings. Not burning me out of my attics and trying to abduct Isabella.”
Fellows shrugged again. “People can become fixated. Perhaps he is trying to eliminate you so he can take your place.”
“Then why hurt Isabella? She has nothing to do with this—she’d have nothing to do with
me
if I hadn’t chased her to London. She left me, washed her hands of me.”
Fellows looked uncomfortable, as though not wanting to stray into the territory of Mac’s private life. “My sergeant is keeping an eye on the rooms he let, in case he returns, as well as watching the surrounding areas. This is an official inquiry now.”
“I want him, Fellows.”
Fellows nodded, meeting Mac’s gaze with mirrored determination. “We’ll get him. Don’t you worry.”
As soon as Evans stopped clucking around Isabella like a distressed hen and left the bedroom, Isabella was up and at her writing desk. She scribbled a letter to Ainsley, telling her she’d been taken ill suddenly but was recovering. The excuse sounded feeble even as it came out of her pen, but Isabella hardly wanted to distress Louisa with the truth. What Ainsley would make of it, Isabella didn’t know, but she trusted her friend to come up with another plan.
Isabella finished the letter, blotted it, tucked it into an envelope, and set it aside to be posted.
Mac still hadn’t returned, so Isabella went upstairs to check on Aimee. Miss Westlock examined Isabella’s bruised mouth and suggested an herbal poultice, which she then prepared. Isabella admitted that the poultice made her feel better. The swelling had almost completely gone by the time one of the maids brought up tea.
It had been a long time since Isabella had partaken of nursery tea. There was bread and jam, weak tea with sugar and plenty of milk, and a small portion of seedcake. Aimee ate heartily, and Miss Westlock made certain that Isabella ate as well.
Mac still hadn’t returned by eight o’clock, and Isabella, weary, climbed into bed.
She woke hours later to find Mac sliding under the sheets with her, wearing, as was his habit, nothing at all.
She sat up. “What are you doing?”
Mac yawned. “Coming to bed. I’m exhausted.”
“You have a bedroom of your own.”
“Do I? I must have wandered into this one by mistake. Indulge me, my dear, I’m far too tired to get up and move.”
“Then I’ll go.” Isabella was halfway out of bed before Mac’s strong arm hauled her back.
“Far too late to be wandering about the house, love. You’ll disturb the servants, and they deserve their sleep.”
Isabella sank down under the covers, resigned, and Mac lay back and laced his hands behind his head. Isabella had to admit two things—that she was far too comfortable to leave the warm bed, and that Mac lying next to her was a splendid sight.
His broad shoulders stretched across the pillow, his bent arms taking up even more room, a tuft of dark red hair dusting each armpit. A shadow of whiskers the same color lined his jaw, and his eyes gleamed like warm copper from under half-closed lids.
Isabella remembered the night Mac had first brought her home, how she’d sat on the edge of the bed, entranced, while he’d shed his clothes. The engrossing wonder of his body as it emerged, a section at a time, had made her almost forget her own shyness. She’d never seen a man unclothed before, had never seen one anything other than fully dressed, not even her own father. Shirtsleeves were frowned on in Earl Scranton’s house.
And then Isabella had beheld Mac, astonishing and naked. His body had been hard, his need for her apparent. He’d put his hands on his hips and laughed at her, not even embarrassed.
That was when she’d realized, as she sat demurely on his bed wrapped in his borrowed dressing gown, that Mac’s goal since he’d first seen her had been to bring Isabella here, to his bedchamber. It had not been to flirt, or to finagle a dance, or to steal a kiss. Even their hasty marriage had not been his ultimate intent. Mac had wanted all along to bring her to his bedroom, to smile at her while she sat on his bed. The flirting, dancing, kissing, and marrying had simply been the means to get her here.
And, silly girl, Isabella readily succumbed.
Lying next to him now, propped on her elbow so she could study him, Isabella decided that the silly girl had never left her. She was still entranced by Mac’s body.
Mac brushed her bruised lip with gentle fingers. “That looks better.”
“Miss Westlock made me a poultice.”
“The excellent Miss Westlock.” Mac’s touch lingered on her face, but his eyes held anger. “I spent all afternoon and well into the night hunting for the bastard, but he’s made himself scarce.”
Isabella pulled back in alarm. “You went looking for him? Mac, he’s obviously dangerous. Be careful.”

I’m
dangerous, love. I plan to kill him for touching you.”
“And then I’ll watch you hang for murder. Go to the police, and let them hunt him down.”
“I did go to the police. Inspector Fellows knows who the man is and where he’s been, but unfortunately not where he is now. He told me he has men working on it, but so far, Mr. Payne has eluded them.”
“Payne is the doppelganger’s name?”
Mac nodded and told her what he’d learned.
“Do you think he’ll return to his rooms?” she asked when he finished.
“With a great clunking police sergeant leaning against the wall outside? He will be smarter than that.”
“And does Fellows know why Mr. Payne is pretending to be you?”
“The very question I asked.” Mac cradled his head in his hands again and thoughtfully studied the canopy above them. “Only a madman would pretend to be me. I’ve been wishing for three years that I
wasn’t
me.”
“That would be a pity.”
A pity to have Mac be anything but himself, a large Scottish male stretched out in her bed. He took up most of the room, but on the other hand, she couldn’t think of a better bed warmer. Little in her life had been more agreeable than lying against his long body on a winter’s night. His voice would soothe her, as would his touch, which could change from gentle to powerfully seductive in an instant.
She expected Mac to make a quip at her statement, but his eyes held wariness. “Do you truly mean that, love?”
“Of course I do.”
She’d told Mac once that he never did anything by halves. He tended toward extremes, which made him interesting but highly uncomfortable to live with.
The entire Mackenzie family tended toward extremes. Hart with his focus on politics and his rumored dark appetites; Cameron with his fixation on horses; Ian being able to remember every word of a conversation years after it took place yet unable to understand the subtleties of it, let alone participate in it.
If Mac hadn’t been exactly who he was—charming, outrageous, funny, seductive, sensual, and unpredictable—Isabella would never have fallen in love with him. She edged a little closer to him and rested her hand on the warm expanse of his chest.
Mac’s eyes darkened. “Isabella, don’t play with fire.”
Isabella moved closer, leaned down, and kissed him.
Chapter 16
The Marquis of Dunstan showed several pictures in his drawing room on Thursday last, paintings of Venice so vivid that the viewer was certain to hear the splashing of water and the songs of the gondoliers. These exquisite paintings are the work of Lord Mac Mackenzie, although his lordship has retired to the country in Scotland, and it is assumed that he has finished with painting pictures of Venetian canals.
—September 1878
Mac’s heart beat swiftly as he slid his hand behind Isabella’s heavy braid and pulled her into the kiss.
My dearest darling, don’t do this to me.
Her mouth tasted of sweet tea, and her body was wonderfully bare under her prim-looking nightdress. The little ruffle at her throat scratched his chin, and he wormed his fingers in to undo the buttons.
Isabella’s kiss was desperate, her lips parting his, her tongue sweeping into his mouth. The idiot Payne had scared her out of her senses, although Isabella would never admit it. She was strong, his beautiful lady, but she felt things deeply. She was kissing him to seek solace.
Mac wasn’t too proud to give her that solace. He gathered her to him, chilled to think how close he’d come to losing her today. If he hadn’t been following her . . .
But he had, and he’d stopped Payne, and now he had Isabella in his arms. And damned if he would ever let her out of his sight again.

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