Loving the Marquess(6)

By: Suzanna Medeiros

“I am Louisa Evans, my lord,” she said, pleased that her voice was even. “I believe you have already met my brother, John, and my sister, Catherine.”

He recognized her name and she could see it gave him pause. He recovered right away, but there was no doubt he knew what his family had done to hers.

“We haven’t been formally introduced, but yes, I have had the pleasure.”

She was amazed at how he could keep his manner so calm after being accosted first by a screaming woman, then by a madman with a pistol. Especially since he now knew the identity of the family who had taken him in. Yet there he stood, calmly facing her as though his family hadn’t completely ruined hers.

“I heard about your father’s death and I’d like to extend my condolences.”

She could tell his words were sincere. His own parents had died two years before in a carriage accident and then he’d lost his only brother last year after a mysterious illness. Other than his grandmother, he was now alone. They shared a brief, unexpected moment of silent commiseration.

“I’ll return in a few minutes,” Louisa said before turning to leave.

“There’s no need. I’ll join you downstairs shortly.”

She was about to protest, but when she looked back at him she could see from his expression that he would brook no argument.

* * * * *

She was gone. Nicholas sank onto the bed and cradled his head in his hands. Damn his headache. He’d almost disgraced himself in front of her, but had somehow managed not to sway on his feet.

She’d been right to insist he eat something before leaving. Each headache he endured took more out of him than the last. This one was the worst yet. He’d never lost consciousness before. He had a sudden image of his brother in agony, lying on his deathbed, but pushed it out of his mind. He was still alive and refused to give in to despair. He would enjoy what time remained, be it days, months, or years.

He turned his thoughts, instead, to Louisa Evans and experienced an uncharacteristic twinge of regret. It was bad enough he’d collapsed in her presence, an image he would not allow himself to contemplate, but remembering how he had taken her for a lightskirt was too much. Especially after what his uncle had already done to her family.

He would have to make it up to her. Thank her properly for taking care of him and for being so understanding about his error in judgment. Any other woman would have thrown him out on his ear. He couldn’t imagine why she hadn’t.

From his disjointed memories of the night, he knew she’d worn her fair hair loose about her shoulders. It was up now, but a few tendrils had escaped during their kiss. He remembered the uncertainty in her wide, gray eyes when she’d first entered the room. Those same eyes had darkened with desire when he’d kissed her. The memory of her response caused his body to tighten again.

She was obviously a passionate woman, but he could tell from their kiss that she was also an innocent one. He wouldn’t take advantage of her. His family had already done hers enough harm.

He stood again, more slowly this time, and was relieved to find his moment of weakness had passed. With a bit of luck his strength would hold.

Chapter Three

Louisa made it down the hallway, her legs threatening to give way with each step, before sagging against the wall for support.

Nicholas Manning, the new Marquess of Overlea, was in her house.

The Mannings were responsible for her family’s diminished situation. She remembered it clearly, as though it had just happened. How Henry Manning, the marquess’s uncle, had taken advantage of her father in a weak moment.

She’d been eight when her mother, who hadn’t fully recovered after John’s very difficult birth, died giving birth to Catherine one year later. Their father had shut himself in his bedroom for a whole week following the funeral while a neighbor stayed to look after them. At the end of that week, no longer able to bear the loss of her one remaining parent’s company, Louisa had gone to him. Since he never opened his bedroom door when she knocked, she’d worked up the courage to walk in without knocking. She’d found him asleep in a chair, his beard overgrown, hair unkempt and an empty glass balanced precariously on one knee. She’d woken him, expecting her customary hug. Instead, he’d ordered her to leave the room. She’d left, shocked he had yelled at her. Her father never yelled. Worse, however, was the fact that he had raised his hand as though he’d been about to strike her.

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