Margaret McPhee

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Chapter Two

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Mistress to the Marquis


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Chapter Two

Razeby stood by the window of his study in his townhouse in Leicester Square, observing all of normality go on in the street outside. A carriage rolled by, the Earl of Misbourne’s crest painted upon its door. A coal cart rattled slowly out of the nearby mews, its load lessened following its delivery. Two gentlemen upon horseback had pulled over by the gardens to greet each other. Servants hurried along the pavements on errands for their masters. A nursery nurse was taking a baby for a walk in a child’s pushchair. He turned away from the window at that last sight.

The brandy decanter was sitting on his desk. Heavyweight crystal engraved with the Razeby coat of arms and motto - The Name of Razeby Shall Prevail - was a taunting irony. Regardless of the earliness of the hour he lifted the decanter, filled one of the matching engraved glasses, and took a sip.
The heat of the brandy hit the back of his throat, the smooth warmth tracing all the way down to his stomach. He took a deep breath and set the glass down upon the letter that lay open upon his desk.

A bead of the rich tawny liquid trickled down from the glass’s rim, slipping slowly, inexorably, down the stem to the base, where it finally crept upon the paper beneath to blur the inky words his cousin Atholl had written there – Atholl, who had defied all advice to buy a commission in the cavalry and taken himself off to fight against Napoleon. Yet another reminder. Everywhere Razeby looked there were reminders.

There was not a sound within the house. Only the slow steady tick of the tall clock in the corner, marking how quickly time was slipping away. He had left it so late, almost too late. He could leave it no longer.

He thought of Alice, his Alice, with her beautiful dark blue eyes and her passion and her warmth of heart and spirit, of how much she had been looking forward to the fireworks tonight. He thought of Alice and all that had been between them these past months, and felt an ache in his chest. His eyes strayed to the long, slim brown-velvet box that lay beside his pen holder. Just a momentary pause, as he steeled himself to task. Then he slipped the box into the pocket of his tailcoat.

Razeby downed the remaining brandy in one go but it did not settle the sourness in his stomach or dread in his stomach.

The night sky was a canopy of clear midnight-blue velvet sewn with a smattering of diamonds that twinkled and glittered. The moon was a thin crescent hanging high in their midst. Although the winter had passed, the spring night air was cold, turning Alice and Razeby’s breaths to smoke as they climbed from the little boat and walked hand in hand across the grass to Vauxhall Gardens.

Alice wrapped the cloak around her more tightly and felt Razeby’s arm pull her closer.

‘You are cold.’

‘Only a little.’ She smiled up at him. And he stared down into at her face with a curiously tender expression, as if he were branding her image upon his memory never to be forgotten. ‘Why so serious? Hmm?’ she asked, still smiling and cupped his beard-scraped cheek.

He moved his lips to kiss the palm of her hand. ‘It has been an unpleasant day.’

‘Then we’d better make sure we enjoy tonight.’

‘Every last precious minute.’ The words were so softly murmured she had to strain to catch it. Then he seemed to shake off his megrims, and, taking her hand in his, led her to watch a host of entertainers: jugglers and knife throwers, dancers and musicians. A hurdy-gurdy man with a little monkey upon his shoulder, its tiny furry body all dressed up smart in a fine coat and matching hat, was drawing quite the crowd. They could smell the food from the banqueting tables beyond, but the night seemed too chill for the wafer-thin cold ham and champagne that was being served to the guests.

‘I’m glad we ate at home,’ she said.

‘Me, too.’ Razeby pulled a bottle of champagne from his pocket. ‘No glasses. I am afraid we will have to slum it. Even if it is the best bottle from your cellar.’

‘Your cellar,’ she said and laughed, as he timed the popping of the cork to merge with the explosion of the fireworks in the sky.

The froth exploded over the top of the bottle, cascading down the bottle’s neck as Razeby offered it to her.

Alice took a swig from the bottle and spluttered at the furious fizz of bubbles.

Razeby’s swig gave not the slightest hint of choking.

And then she leaned back against his chest as his arms wrapped around her waist, and together they looked up and watched the magnificent explosion of coloured lights and flashes fill the sky. All around them the crowd was ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ with amazement and appreciation at the spectacle. She could smell the sulphurous stench of the fireworks and catch the drift of the scent of smoke from the braziers not so very far away.

Razeby leaned down to kiss her and he tasted of the green grass and of strawberries and champagne, and of Razeby and all that was wonderful in life. They watched the fireworks and they drank the champagne and they kissed, not caring who saw them, because it was dark and because this was the slightly
risqué Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, and because it would have been too much to keep their lips from one another. As the fireworks began to wane Razeby took her hand, not even waiting until they had finished in full, and led her back towards the boats so that they would not have to wait in the crush that would follow.

Within their bedchamber at Hart Street the glow of the firelight burnished the dark blonde of her hair a red-gold. He reached out and caught a vibrant strand that had loosed from her pins, running it between his fingers before tucking it behind her ear. His thumb stroked against the softness of her cheek. She closed her eyes and angled her face into his hand for the breath of a moment before stepping away beyond his reach.

He shrugged off the midnight-blue tailcoat he was wearing, throwing it to land on a nearby armchair. But as he did so the slim brown-velvet box fell from the pocket to land upon the rug beneath their feet.

Alice smiled when she saw it. ‘You bought me another gift. What did I tell you the other day?’ she demanded.

He picked up the box, kept his eyes on it and did not rise to her teasing.

‘Honestly, Razeby, you shouldn’t have.’

He gave a small tight smile and passed the brown-velvet box to her.

‘I’m mystified as to what it can be.’ She stared at the jeweller’s box, stroked her fingers stroked against its velvet, hesitating for a moment before finally opening the lid. The radiance of the diamond bracelet, lying within on its cream velvet cushion, caught the firelight to glitter and sparkle and illuminate the room around them.

She gave a soft gasp. ‘Oh, Razeby! It’s beautiful!’ She pressed a kiss to his cheek. ‘It must have cost you a fortune!’

‘You are worth every penny, and more.’

‘I love it.’ Her hands came to caress his face, her eyes scanning his. ‘Thank you.’

His heart squeezed tight.

Slowly she touched her lips to his.

‘Alice,’ he murmured and, pulling her into his arms, he kissed her.

He kissed her and he could not stop. He kissed her and lost himself in her, as ever he did. She made him forget everything else, all of his responsibility that weighed upon his shoulders, all of the darkness that was coming. Her eyes were filled with a passion and need that matched his own.

‘Make love to me, Razeby.’

He could not deny her. He could not deny himself, or all he felt for her.

He undressed her in silence, their eyes clinging together all the while, and laid her down gently on the bed. He never took his eyes from hers even while he stripped off his waistcoat and shirt and cravat. Nor while he unfastened the fall of his breeches and freed himself from his drawers.

He took her tenderly, with reverence, with meaning, all of which seemed to make the force between them only stronger and rawer. Claiming her as his own, gifting her all he could, so neither of them would ever forget. And she rose to meet him. He opened himself to her entirely, gave all, held nothing back. And in Alice’s reply he felt her do the same, this woman for whom he would pluck both the sun and moon from the sky and give them to her if he could.

Their bodies had been made to be together. To merge. To be as one. She was his complement, and he hers. Together they found another place distinct from the world. But the loving between them tonight took them further than he had ever known. It was poignant, special, a bonding between them like no other. As if she touched a part of him he had not known existed. They clung together, strove together, looking into one another’s eyes, as their bodies reached a new nirvana, and together stepped over the edge to tumble into a shared climax the force of which made them capture each other’s merging cries. And afterwards, he could feel her heart and his beat in time, as they lay entwined together watching the flicker of the firelight dance upon each other’s naked skin.

Her fingers gently caressed the muscle at the top of his arm.

‘Alice...’ he said, and there was a terrible pressing tightness in his chest.

‘Did you get the tickets for tomorrow night’s show?’

‘I have the tickets.’

‘Well that’s a relief.’ She smiled but Razeby could not reciprocate. ‘We’ll have a grand time. Ellen says the horses are amazing. That a body wouldn’t believe they could be trained to do such tricks.’

He closed his eyes, took a breath, forced himself to say the words aloud before he could not. ‘I cannot accompany you to the show tomorrow night.’

‘I thought you said you had the tickets.’

‘I do, but there is...another occasion...which I am obliged to attend.’

‘What occasion?’

The small silence hissed loud

‘A ball at Almack’s.’

‘Almack’s is not usually one of your haunts.’ She gave a little laugh. ‘All those debutantes and fierce matrons intent on landing eligible husbands for their daughters. Is Devlin finally on the hunt for a bride?’

‘I am not going with Devlin, but with Linwood.’ Viscount Linwood, who almost six months ago had married Alice’s best friend and London’s most celebrated actress, Venetia Fox.

And he felt the withdrawal of her body and saw in her face that she realised the truth even before he said the words he did not want to say, ‘We need to talk, Alice. There is something I have to tell you.’

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