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The Marquess of Bradbury is a man used to taking what he wants. So when he loses his reputation, the life he has always known, and his fiancee, he is determined to win them all back, starting with the kid napping of his betrothed. But his men bungle the abduction, and instead of the haughty, aristocratic Arabella, they take her beautiful cousin, Elise. Here's what happens when the Marquess discovers the wrong woman in his castle, although he'll soon learn that she is the right one.
Maxim lifted the latch and pushed the door open.
"Arabella? Where are you?"
Elise had pressed herself against the wall behind the door and had been well-prepared to launch an attack upon this foolish mortal who had dared enter her chamber. She had frozen when the warm and vi brant voice stirred memories of a darkened stairway at Bradbury Hall, and she stepped from hiding, lowering the small hearthside stool she had intended to smote the visitor with. Though the man was now dressed in the manner of a wealthy lord and the beard was gone, there was no mistaking the handsome rogue.
"What the deuce . . . ?" A sharp frown quickly creased his brow as his eyes came upon her. "What are you doing here?" "'Twas you!" The sapphire-blue eyes fairly flashed with sparks of indignation." 'Twas you who bade them take me! And all the while I thought . . . aarrgh!"
In the next instant the stool was hauled back and swung with all the impetus of her outraged fury behind it. Maxim jerked back to avoid the clumsy weapon, and though he stared in utter amazement at the seething girl, the stool came around again with the same dire intent. The need to disarm the maid seemed of vital importance to his contin ued goodhealth, and he reached up, plucking it easily from her grasp.
"Where is Arabella?" he demanded sharply. His eyes swept quickly to every corner of the chamber, but the one he sought was nowhere to be seen.
"Arabella, is it?" Elise snarled the question venomously. So! He had bade his men to fetch Arabella, and they had caught her instead. Her fair lips curled with contempt as she continued. "No doubt Arabella is wherever a good wife should be found . . . at her husband's side . . . most assuredly in England."
"In England?" The door of Maxim's understanding burst wide, ig niting the fires of his rage. He recalled this vixen all too well. When he would have rushed to Arabella's side to soften the shock of her abduction with an explanation, the meeting with this wench and her recognition of him had necessitated a change in plans. Now she was here, where his former betrothed should have been, a fact which he was certain the girl was somehow responsible for, whether by design or misfortune. "Why are you here?"
With a flippant shrug Elise flung a hand toward the door. "Ask your men. They were the ones who took me."
"They were instructed to bring Arabella here," he informed her brusquely. "What are you doing here instead?"
"You dim-witted buffoon!" Elise railed back. "Can you not hear me? If you would have the answer to that question, seek out your henchmen! That simple pair of dolts were waiting for me in Arabella's chambers. The next thing I knew I was being carried off!"
"I'll throttle them with my bare hands!" Maxim ground out. Spinning on a heel, he stormed from the room, flinging the door wide. His voice thundered ahead of him as he leapt down the stairs three at a time. "Fitch! Spence! Dammit, where are you?"
The two had left the hall and were about the same distance from the front portal when his shout halted them. Scrambling back, they hit the opening at the same time, somehow managing to wedge themselves into the narrow space. A cacophony of loud curses and clamor arose from the entrapped pair before they managed to extricate themselves. Gasping for breath, they hastened back to the Marquess who had paused in the middle of the hall. With fists braced firmly on his waist, he fixed them with a dark, ominous scowl that fairly sundered their feeble attempts to smile. His voice began as a low thundering rumble. "Do you know what you've done?"
The pair stumbled back as the last words were blared at them, and they looked at each other in was confusion. The soft whisper of foot steps compelled them to lift their worried gazes to the girl who slowly descended the stone stairs. The smile that curled her lips was one of sublime pleasure, as if she anticipated what was forthcoming. What venom had they stirred in the maid' s heart that she should countenance their comeuppance?
The two glanced between his lordship and the girl and were quick to note the absence of the blissful smiles of lovers reunited. The Marquess was genuinely enraged, there was no doubt. Those green orbs fairly burned with rage, while the muscles twitched tensely in his lean cheeks.
Glancing over his shoulder at the girl, Maxim made a request in a tightly controlled tone. "Would you be so kind, madam, as to tell us who you are."
Elise continued her leisurely descent with all the aloof dignity of a great queen. "I am Elise Madselle Radborne." Her voice, though soft, was given resonance by the echoing chamber. "Sole descendant of Sir Ramsey Radborne, only niece of Edward Stamford, and first cousin to his daughter, Arabella."