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Authors: Emma Wildes

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BOOK: Ruined by Moonlight
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“Rather like spending the night in the same bed as the infamous Lord Andrews. That takes
to new heights.”

“Perhaps, but nothing happened.”

Well, not
. He’d wanted her and that was
, and he wanted her now and that was even more significant. It wasn’t just her beauty either, which was unusual enough to give him pause. Yes, she was desirable, but she also reminded him intellectually of the independent ladies he favored normally, not an ingénue.

She murmured, “No, nothing has happened.”

. The word hung there like a presence in the room.

Maybe he would have said more but she lifted her hand then to brush a lock of hair away from her cheek. That simple motion emphasized the fullness of her breasts under the material of her robe, and he allowed his gaze—and his mind—to wander just a fraction.

Indisputably, she was already ruined if anyone discovered their mutual captivity.

Of course someone would. That was the intent of it all.

There were quite a few ways to make love and leave the woman a virgin.

And he’d considered all of them this afternoon.

Chapter 7

The London Times: Society Section, July 19, 1816

Has the raven flown away, taking a little bird with him?

en set aside the newspaper and contemplated his cup of coffee. He’d forgotten to add cream, he noticed absently, reaching for the small silver pitcher and pouring in a dash, and stirring the already cooling beverage in abstraction. Whitbridge had, as predicted, been unable to keep the disappearance of his daughter a secret. Perhaps if Andrews hadn’t also suddenly gone missing it would have been possible, but Ben had known if they didn’t discover Lady Elena’s whereabouts quickly, word would leak out no matter how discreet they were about the search.

For a second time he scanned Altamont’s prompt note, his trainer’s script surprisingly neat. Yes, trainers did exercise the strings early, but this was swifter than he’d expected.

Prescott scoffed at the idea his lordship would carry off Whitbridge’s daughter. More to come soon if further information possible.

More to come soon?
What the devil did that mean? In the early-morning sunlight he leaned back in his chair and contemplated rakehells and innocent maidens. As far as he could tell the two had no connection whatsoever, or else the rakehell lost his status and was forced to marry the no-longer-so-innocent maiden.…Either way they both were removed from their familiar footing in society.

“Good morning, my lord.”

Glancing up, he saw his wife gracefully enter the room, her demeanor composed as if what happened before she’d exited his bedroom the other evening never occurred. This morning she wore a lemon-colored gown of some frothy material that set off her lustrous dark hair, and when a young footman hurried forward to pull out her chair, she gifted the man with an entrancing smile.

It irritated Ben for no obvious reason. She was always gracious with the servants and he expected no less of someone who was charming and good tempered by nature—
With the exception of when she is banning me from her bed,
he thought caustically. Perhaps that was the source of his angst.

“You don’t normally read the society section,” Alicia observed, coming over to give him a most chaste—disappointingly so—kiss on the cheek as he’d risen at her entrance, the faint waft of her perfume instantly distracting. Had he not known better, he could have sworn the affectionate gesture was merely to peer at what he’d been reading.

“How do you know?” he asked with equanimity. “Quite often we breakfast apart.”

Almost the moment he said it he regretted it, for it
gave her an opportunity to expound on how little time they spent together, but Alicia merely went to sit down opposite on the other side of the table, poured coffee from a silver pot into her porcelain cup, added two lumps of sugar, and pursed her soft, very tempting mouth. “I often peruse the paper later, and if one is observant she can tell the parts that have been folded and read from the crisp lines of the other sections. I know what interests you.”

He was apparently married to a detective. Ben considered his answer, decided that neutrality was a cowardly course of action, but usually a prudent one, and reached for his cup. “Lord Whitbridge is family. I saw his name and it caught my eye.”

The absolute truth.

“And Elena is missing.” Alicia nodded, her smooth brow furrowing. “Yes, I heard. Everyone is talking about it. At first I thought it was just another ridiculous rumor, but it sounds like it could actually be true. Is that why Uncle Thomas wished to see you?”

All the gossip didn’t bode well, but since word was obviously out if it appeared in the
, even if the reference didn’t have Elena’s name maybe they could use that to their advantage. He was more interested in
the rumor was spreading than the fact it was going about so quickly. He avoided answering Alicia’s direct question and instead asked one himself. “Tell me, how did you hear it?”

His lovely wife paused in taking a sip from her cup and gazed at him. “My sister told me. We are both close to Elena, and Harriet is naturally very worried, as am I.”

“Did she also mention Lord Andrews?”

“No. Why would she?”

She was going to hear it sooner or later so he might as well tell her. It was right there in the paper. “He seems to also be mysteriously absent.”

“The viscount? And Elena? Surely you can’t be serious?”

Ben shrugged. “She’s a very beautiful young woman and Andrews has a penchant for lovely females. It makes sense to me. Tell me, did Harriet mention the source of her information?”

His wife’s spoon clattered onto her saucer. “My cousin did
run off with Lord Andrews.”

“How do you know?”

Emphatically Alicia said, “She wouldn’t. For that matter,
wouldn’t. In case you have not been paying attention, he has a rather legendary aversion to the idea of marriage. Besides, I’ve not heard even one whisper of a connection between the two of them. How ridiculous.”

he wanted to point out,
have been kept before.
Instead he asked again, “Where did Harriet hear of your cousin’s disappearance?”

“I…I don’t know. She didn’t say.” Alicia’s fine brows drew together as she looked at him in open consternation.

He could, of course, ask her to inquire, but that was more obvious than he’d prefer. He trusted Alicia to the extent that if he specifically asked her to not say anything, she wouldn’t. Then again, he would have to explain why he was interested.

Perhaps even have to mention that he’d once been a spy in the war, although, to be truthful, his time had been spent mostly in London, making sure the War Office ran as it should. Spy wasn’t quite right. Investigator sounded better.

Either way that revelation was hardly necessary and not something he wanted her to know. He was used to being secretive and old habits were difficult to break.

“You must admit it is an unusual situation. I have to wonder if the source of the information might know more about what has happened to Lady Elena, and since your uncle is a friend I am naturally concerned,” he said smoothly. Claiming Whitbridge as a friend was actually stretching the truth, but in his experience the truth was an elastic entity when it needed to be.

“I’ve always thought you rather didn’t care for him all that much,” his wife said with unsettling insight.

“If we weren’t friends why did he come to confide in me about his missing daughter?” Before she could comment he added, “While concern is only natural on our part, I am sure there is a logical explanation for the situation.”

“I hope so,” she said quietly, sitting across from him in her—he couldn’t help but notice—very flattering summer gown. The soft material draped her breasts and the color

And when the hell he had started to notice if a woman looked particularly fetching in a certain shade?

It was clear he’d lost his mind, but she’d pushed him into it.

It wasn’t all that difficult to summon a smile and ask in a very husbandly fashion, “What are your plans for this day?”

If her dazzling smile was the reward for such a plebeian question, he decided a moment later, perhaps he should ask it more often. Obviously he’d done something right, but, honestly, he wasn’t sure what. He’d only made polite conversation at the breakfast table.

However, it occurred to him that he rarely inquired as to her activities, assuming, perhaps erroneously, that it demonstrated he was not a controlling husband dictating her every move. She said softly, “I am glad you asked.”

Perhaps he’d just made progress toward…well, a goal he’d never considered difficult to achieve before recent events. Her bed had been open until the baffling ultimatum.

“I am supposed to go to a rather dull luncheon,” his wife informed him. “I thought about sending my regrets in a last-minute cancellation, but we are supposed to attend that soiree tonight so it might seem rude to skip one and attend the other.”

“Soiree?” He picked up his coffee.

“We accepted, remember? The Heatheringtons?”

He didn’t, actually. It must have showed, for she gazed at him in open reproof. “Benjamin, your secretary said you approved the invitation. I was very pleased, for rarely do we attend events together.”

“You and I didn’t discuss it that I recall,” he muttered defensively.

“Absolutely true.” She took a genteel sip from her cup.

Why she was looking at him triumphantly wasn’t exactly a mystery. He’d fallen into the trap much too easily. “I meant…” he trailed off. Actually he’d meant what he’d just said: he never addressed their plans with her. The invitations she wished to accept were given to his secretary and he sorted through them when he had the time, usually refusing the majority. Ben cleared his throat. “I don’t recall committing to the affair, but if you say so, I must have. What time do you wish to leave?”

“Not too early. We can dine together beforehand. That would be lovely.”

The amazing thing was his beautiful wife looked as if she really thought it
be lovely. He wasn’t nearly as confident. Not because he eschewed her company, but because he wasn’t quite so sure he could live up to the ideal she had of what marriage represented.

This damned test of his ability to be a good husband was irritating, but the potential reward…

He was thinking a great deal about that, which he guessed was exactly what she wanted from him. “Fine,” he said neutrally, rising and dropping his napkin. “I’ll be back in time to change for the evening. Please excuse me.”

Perhaps it isn’t a garden stroll,
he thought grimly as he left the room, but it was a concession, for he disliked society events for the most part. He had a full day already with his solicitors, and, on top of all that, he was supposed to find the elusive Lady Elena and return her to her family, all while keeping the gossip to a minimum.

Easier said than done, but most of life was that way. As he asked for his horse to be brought around, he wondered what else could happen to confound his existence.

The looming scandal was the talk of the

There was no doubt about it. Despite Ben’s reassurances that there was a good explanation for Elena’s unexplained absence, Alicia’s cousin’s disappearance was causing quite a sensation.

Alicia lifted her cup of tea and tried to appear serene when inside she was quite cold and troubled. It had been a shock to hear Elena was missing yesterday, and then an even greater one to realize that the notorious Lord Andrews also appeared to have vanished at the same time. Gossip had it the viscount left town without a word to
anyone and none of his staff or family had the slightest idea where he might have gone.

“…is said to be keeping her,” Lady Dorchester said in a smug tone, “though I have never given credence to the rumor.”

Lady Dorchester had given credence to every other rumor she’d ever heard, so Alicia gritted her teeth, though the urge to defend Elena almost overwhelmed her. Unfortunately, as puzzled as she was by her cousin’s sudden absence she really couldn’t think of much to say, but it was impossible to stay completely quiet. “Whom to be keeping whom?” she asked, her voice cool. “I assume we’ve had a turn in subject, for surely we are not still talking about Elena.”

“Oh, dear.” Lady Dorchester waved a careless hand. “No, of course not. We are talking about”—her voice lowered theatrically—“that foreign countess Andrews favored.”

The change in status from ingénue to married lady meant she was allowed to hear such scandalous insinuations, but it was all still disconcerting to her.
carried a connotation that was wickedly suggestive, but, then again, they were talking about Randolph Raine.

—Elena would not be involved with the handsome young viscount and not mention a word.

Alicia was half inclined to ask Ben to look into it. She didn’t know what it was he actually did during the war but had a vague idea he gathered information. That might be useful now. Maybe he could help with this…this growing awkwardness.

“Well”—Evelyn Borroughs waved her fork—“it isn’t like Andrews has not done this sort of thing before.”

“He has?” Adele Rockfort scoffed. “When? He most certainly has never run off with a lady of good family, Evie.”

Alicia would have backed up that statement but it wasn’t necessary. A dainty woman with snow-white hair who was a contemporary of her grandmother observed, “No matter that Andrews is a very charming rogue—he isn’t a fool. If he wished to marry the girl he would have, but this is an unnecessary scandalbroth.”

That was no doubt accurate. Though Alicia didn’t know his lordship well, the truth was, any eligible young woman knew his interests did not lie with the unmarried misses of the
, and the mutual absence of Elena and the viscount did not make sense.

BOOK: Ruined by Moonlight
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