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The Notorious Marriage
By Nicola Cornick
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDecember 1813
When Kit Mostyn stepped through the doors of Almacks Assembly Rooms that night, it was difficult to tell who was the more surprised, the chaperones of the hopeful débutantes assembled there, or Kit himself. Certainly Almacks was not a place where Kit normally sought entertainment, and this evening he had struggled rather incredulously with the compulsion that drove him there. It, or rather she, had so strong a hold on him that he could not resist, and being a man who chose not to struggle against fate, he resolved to meet his with a certain equanimity.
He saw her as soon as he entered the room. Miss Eleanor Trevithick, daughter of the late Viscount Trevithick and younger sister to the current Earl. She was dancing with an elderly roué, Lord Kemble, if Kit did not miss his guess, and just the sight of the two of them together made his temper soar dangerously. As he sought to keep a grip on it he was forced to acknowledge that it mattered little who was partnering Eleanor - the fact that it was someone other than himself was all that counted.
Slender, sweet and impossibly innocent, Eleanor Trevithick was the most demure of débutantes, yet there had been something between them from the beginning, a startling attraction that both she and Kit recognised - and knew they had to ignore. It had caught Kit by surprise, and although they had never spoken of it, he instinctively knew that the strength of the attraction both frightened and fascinated Eleanor. As for himself, he had cynically dismissed his feelings at first - a man of his age and considerable experience with the opposite sex was hardly likely to fall in love with an innocent in her first Season. The feelings she stirred in him could be no more than desire - admittedly strong, undeniably surprising, but no doubt of short duration.
He had been wrong. Kit had wanted Eleanor Trevithick for the whole of the past year, ever since they had shared an illicit dance at her eighteenth birthday ball, and his desire showed no sign of waning. Indeed the reverse was true. He was very close to admitting now that he loved her, but he did not wish to be that honest with himself at the moment. It would only undermine him still further. One could not always have what one wanted, and he could not have Eleanor.
Kit, whose title and position would have made him a more than acceptable suitor for any number of young ladies, was the one man whose addresses could never be welcomed by Eleanor's family. There was a feud between the Trevithick and Mostyn families that went back hundreds of years, and the Dowager Viscountess, Eleanor's mother, would cut him dead whenever she saw him. The fact that his cousin Beth was currently engaged in a dispute with the current Earl of Trevithick over the ownership of part of his estate only made matters worse. Kit had had no intention of being drawn any further into the Mostyn and Trevithick feud. Nor was he hanging out for a wife anyway. At the moment he had other responsibilities.
Even so ...
He approached Eleanor as soon as he was able, cutting out the young Viscount who had thought this set of country dances belonged to him. Kit knew that all eyes were upon them, knew that Lady Trevithick was swelling like a turkey-cock in a temper and that her rout chair looked set fair to break under the weight. He ignored her, ignored the speculative looks of the other chaperones and the envious, spiteful glances of some of the débutantes, and smiled down into Eleanor's eyes.
"Miss Trevithick ... It is a great pleasure to see you tonight."
Eleanor met his gaze listlessly for a brief second. She did not smile. There was none of her usual vivacity in those dark Trevithick eyes. She avoided his gaze, looking over his shoulder to where her mother and Lord Kemble sat huddled at the side of the floor.
"Thank you, my lord."
Kit frowned slightly. It was not that he expected her to show her partiality for him, for Eleanor was far too well-bred to make a display of her feelings in public. He was perceptive enough, however, to see that there was something wrong - something dreadfully wrong. Eleanor's face was pale and pinched, all light quenched. She steadfastly refused to look at him.
Kit tightened his grip on her hands. "Eleanor ..." he said urgently.
She looked up. For a fleeting second, Kit saw all the misery and hopeless longing reflected in her eyes and his heart skipped a beat. Then her lashes came down, veiling her expression.
"I believe you must wish me happy, my lord," she said, softly but clearly. "I am betrothed to Lord Kemble."
"No!" The word was out of his mouth before Kit could help himself. His grip tightened murderously on her hands. He saw her wince, and had to force himself to let her go. "No," he said again, very politely. "That cannot be so."
"I assure you that it is." Eleanor's dark lashes flickered again. "The notice will be in the Morning Post tomorrow. It is all arranged."
"It cannot be."
For a moment her eyes searched his face and this time there was entreaty there. "Why not? It is not as though you can offer me an alternative, my lord!"
They had been speaking in edged whispers until that point, but now Eleanor's voice rose as though she could not control her anguish. She bit her lip, a wave of colour coming into her pale face then receding to leave her even paler.
"I beg your pardon," she said, regaining a faltering control. "I should not have said that."
Kit's heart turned over. He could see the hopelessness beneath her fragile dignity and it touched him deeply. He felt a rush of protective desire, stronger than anything he had ever experienced before.
"If I could help you -"
"Eleanor!" Lord Kemble's unctuous voice cut across his words. "I believe that this next is my waltz."
He bowed to Kit, his hooded gaze watchful. "Your servant, Mostyn. Ain't you going to congratulate me? This little honey-pot is all mine!"
Kit's own bow was so slight as to be barely there. "I pray that you will not take your good fortune for granted, Kemble. Miss Trevithick ..." He smiled at Eleanor. "I must bid you good night."
He watched as Kemble took Eleanor away. The man oozed a self-satisfied lasciviousness that was deeply offensive. The thought of Eleanor's slight figure crushed beneath him, subject to his lusts, was almost too much for Kit to stand. He wanted to call the man out and put a bullet through him. In fact he was not sure if he would bother with the formality of calling him out, just shoot him where he stood. Or he could take Kemble's neck-cloth and use it to strangle him ...
Excerpted from The Notorious Marriage by Nicola Cornick Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.