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Authors: Mary Jo Putney

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BOOK: Shattered Rainbows
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Luckily she did not have a passionate nature. Even at sixteen, when she had thought herself in
love with Colin, her common sense had been firmly in control of her behavior. After marriage taught her that passion was a wicked trap, she had never once been tempted to respond to the men who wanted to coax her into immorality.

She had learned early that her appearance could incite men to behave like
idiots, which was not only embarrassing but potentially dangerous. Twice Colin
had challenged men for distressing his wife. Fortunately the men in question had
given apologies and no duels had resulted, but the incidents had made her
realize that she must find a way to make men behave.

By the age of nineteen, she had learned the trick. A reputation for unswerving virtue was part of her method, coupled with a sisterly manner and a total absence of flirtatiousness. Realizing that they could never be lovers, men either left her alone or became friends and protectors. It had been years since a man had given her real trouble, and Michael was too much a gentleman to change that.

Wanting to hear his deep voice again, she said, "You mentioned that one of your Fallen Angel friends had married. Do the others have wives also?"

"Lucien married this past Christmas- Eve." Michael-smiled fondly. "His wife, Kit, is like a gazelle, all long legs and shy eyes. But she has a mind like a rapier, and the courage of a lioness. I don't know if Rafe will ever marry. I think he prefers his life exactly the way it is."

"What about you?" She was immediately sorry she had spoken. Only the amount of brandy she had consumed could explain why she had asked such a personal question.

Unperturbed, Michael answered, "I was going to spend the spring in London with an eye to surveying the marriage mart, but Napoleon played ducks and drakes with my plans."

"He ruined the plans of many people."

Michael shrugged. "There will be other Seasons."

The thought of Michael seeking a wife among the brightest belles of society gave her a strange twist of regret. She had met Colin shortly before her parents' death, and married him a month after the double funeral, thinking his strength and love would support her in her grief. It had not taken long to realize that his emotions did not run deep, and that she was stronger than he in most ways.

She had no right to complain—but there were times when she longed to have someone to lean on. Instinctively she knew that if she had married a man like Michael, she would have a husband who would share the burdens of life—a man who could support her when she felt too tired to carry on.

Knowing she must not think of such things, she rose and gently deposited the cat in the middle of the warm chair seat. "I'd better go to bed while I can still manage the stairs."

She took a step, then wavered, her head spinning.

Instantly Michael was on his feet steadying her. She leaned against his shoulder until her head cleared. "Sorry," she murmured. "I haven't much of a head for brandy."

He guided her to the stairs with a hand on her elbow. "I'm the one who must apologize for corrupting you with strong drink."

His touch gave her a sudden, sharp memory of what it had felt like when he held her in his arms. How could she remember so clearly now when she had been weeping her eyes out then?

Striving for lightness, she said, "Nonsense. They call me Saint Catherine, you know. I'm quite incorruptible."

He smiled appreciatively, his green eyes alight with amusement. The intimate warmth of his expression almost knocked her from her feet again. With a sinking sensation in her stomach, she realized that she had never been so drawn to a man, not even when she was sixteen and infatuated with Colin.

Thank God that Michael had no improper designs on her. He might admire her looks, but he was one of those honorable men who had no interest in married women. She guessed that when he married, he would also be a faithful husband. His future wife was a lucky woman.

Since she and Michael could never be lovers, she must make him her friend. In the long run, that would be better, for-friendship lasted longer and hurt less than passion.

Yet as he escorted her to her room, she knew that if any man could lead her astray, it would be this one.

 

Chapter 6

 

The next evening Michael decided to dine at home to see how Catherine was faring. He arrived late at the sherry hour.

Anne Mowbry smiled and offered her hand when he entered. "I can't believe it! Every one of our stalwart officers is here tonight. I'd begun to think I had imagined you, Michael."

"I thought I had better put in an appearance before you forgot my existence and gave my room to someone else."

She chuckled, then turned back to Kenneth Wilding. Michael went to Catherine, who was dispensing sherry and looking as calm as always. As he accepted a glass, he asked quietly; "Any ill effects from last night?"

"A headache for my excesses, but no nightmares." She glanced at the coals, burning in the fireplace. "And I can look at flames without going into a flat panic."

"Good."

He was about to move away when she said, "Is the offer of escort still good? Lady Trowbridge is giving a musicale tomorrow, and I'd like to attend. She assured me that the string quartet she has engaged is quite extraordinary."

"It would be my pleasure."

As they set on a time, dinner was announced. The meal passed smoothly. Michael was becoming used to the ache of yearning he felt whenever he was near Catherine. Thank God she saw him only as a friend. If there had been the least hint of reciprocal interest on her part, the situation would be impossible. He would have had to find another billet even if it meant living in a woodshed.

After dinner he had to put in an appearance at two receptions, but he left both as quickly as possible. He needed a solid night's sleep. The previous night had been haunted by painfully vivid thoughts of Catherine. Whenever he closed his eyes, he had seen her candid aqua eyes, smelled the intimate fragrance of rosewater and woman on her satin skin, felt the seductive pressure of her body against his.

Finally he had fallen into a restless sleep, only to dream of making love to her in a world where she was free and they could be together without dishonor. He had woken exhausted and depressed. Why the hell couldn't he become obsessed with a woman who was eligible?

Because he had never done anything the easy way in his life. His friend Lucien had pointed that out upon several occasions.

The house on Rue de la Reine was still, though a scattering of lamps provided dim light. He was about to go upstairs when he heard a man's voice. Thinking it sounded like Kenneth, he turned down the hall that bisected the house. He came to the cross passage and looked left. Then he halted, feeling as if he had been punched in the stomach.

In the shadows at the end of the passage, Colin Melbourne was embracing his wife, his mouth devouring and his hand up her skirt. Catherine was flattened against the wall, invisible except for her dark hair and the pale folds of her gown. As Michael watched, paralyzed, Colin unbuttoned his breeches, then thrust into her. She whimpered with pleasure.

Michael suddenly had trouble drawing enough air into his lungs. No doubt the Melbournes should be envied for having such a passionate relationship after so many years of marriage, but seeing them together nauseated him. Thank God they were so engrossed in each other that neither had noticed his presence.

He was retreating when a female voice giggled. "
Ah, mon capitaine, mon beau Anglais
…"

He stopped dead, then swung around. Colin's forehead was pressed against the wall, revealing his partner's face. The woman was not his wife, but one of the Belgian maids, a dark-haired wench about Catherine's height. Her head was thrown back and her mouth was open, revealing large, irregular teeth.

Michael's sick feeling vanished in a flood of pure rage. How could the filthy bastard betray and humiliate his wife like this, and under her own roof? He deserved to be horsewhipped.

It took all of Michael's control to turn away. Blood throbbing in his temples, he climbed the stairs two at a time. He had intended to go to his room, but there was light under Kenneth's door. He knocked, then walked in without waiting.

His friend looked up from a letter he was writing. "What happened? You look like murder."

"I feel like it." Michael slammed his shako onto the bed, almost breaking the plume. "Colin Melbourne is down in the west hall humping one of the maids. Christ, has the man no decency?"

"Not much," Kenneth said calmly. "I've heard he'll mount anything in skirts. He's usually fairly discreet, but if a
wench is willing, he wouldn't say no, even in his own house."

"How can he?" Michael growled. "How could any man with a wife like Catherine look elsewhere?"

"I wouldn't presume to guess. But why are you so shocked? Society is full of men with the morals of tomcats, and women who are
no better."

Michael stalked across the room, knowing Kenneth was right, but still
outraged. "Does-Catherine-know how her husband behaves?"

"I'd be very surprised if she didn't. She's an intelligent" woman, and she knows the world. In this case, rather better than you do. If you're thinking of-telling her what you. saw, don't. She wouldn't thank you for it."

"I suppose you're right," Michael said reluctantly. "But Catherine deserves better than a womanizing, narrow-minded oaf.-"

"Whatever his failings, Melbourne manages to keep his wife satisfied. It's none of your business if he has a regiment of dollymops, Michael." Kenneth's brows drew together. "Perhaps I should repeat that.
It's none of your business
." 

Michael stared out the window into the night. Again, Kenneth was. right. No
outsider could really understand a marriage, and he had no right to interfere,
even for well-intentioned reasons. God knew, his good intentions had led him to
hell before.

But this time was different
. Was it, or was he merely, demonstrating
his dangerous talent for self-deception? Saint Michael, going off to slay all
the wrong dragons.

Behind him, Kenneth said softly, "She's married, Michael."

"Do you think I'm not aware of that every moment?" he said tightly. He took several deep breaths before turning to his friend. "Don't worry—I'm not going to lay a finger on her, or on him, for that matter. I just wish for her sake that her husband was decent and honorable, like Charles Mowbry."

"Maybe she's the sort of good woman who finds a wicked man irresistible," Kenneth said dryly. "I've never seen a hint that she regrets her choice of husband."

Michael smiled humorlessly. "There's a poker by your fireplace. Do you want to hit me over the head with it, in case I haven't gotten the message yet?"

"I'll refrain, unless I see you going after Melbourne with blood in your eye." Kenneth dipped his pen in the inkstand and absently sketched a tiny weasel in the margin of his letter. "Speaking of which, Melbourne has been amazingly polite to me the last few days."

Michael sank into a chair. "My fault. He irritated me so much that I told him about your noble birth. Sorry."

BOOK: Shattered Rainbows
9.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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