Read an Excerpt
The Baron's Betrayal
A Marriage Mart Mayhem Novel
By Callie Hutton, Erin Molta
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Callie Hutton
All rights reserved.
Lord Tunstall hung his head as he felt Drake brush by him with enough force to know he carried Marion in his arms. Marion. His wife. His lifelong love.
He ran stiff fingers though his hair as the silence surrounding him ended with a sharp abruptness when the front door closed. Shocked mumbling reached his ears, the tension in the room palpable. His heart pounded in his chest, almost choking him with its fierceness.
"Come, Tristan. It is perhaps best if we leave."
He stiffened under her touch. Rage swept through him that she would do this to him. That she would allow him to come to this assembly, fully aware that his wife would be here. For surely, this was no accident. Mrs. Gibbons was much too clever. She'd known exactly what she had done.
His jaw worked. "I agree. There is much I need to say to you, and this is not the place."
He and Mrs. Gibbons moved slowly through the crowd, fighting their way past clusters of angry voices. The Duke of Manchester and his family were well-liked in Donridge Heath. The distress he'd caused them would be the subject of conversations for many weeks to come.
Tristan attempted to un-jumble his thoughts and rein in his swirling emotions. Drake's words as he'd snarled at him kept repeating over and over in his mind. I will call upon you in the morning.
Anger warred with sorrow at the shock he must have caused Marion, and the devastating hurt that would soon follow.
Mrs. Gibbons asked the footman for their carriage to be brought around. His rage was so deep, he couldn't even speak. After a few minutes he felt the cool air on his face as the footman opened the door. They made their way down the stairs and he climbed into the carriage. Once the door closed, he tapped on the ceiling of the conveyance with his cane and settled back.
The scent of Mrs. Gibbons's perfume filled the air, wafting toward him. Familiar and safe. Until now. He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the soft leather seat.
"I fear I have made a terrible mistake." Her quiet voice, usually one of comfort, provided no contentment now.
"I would prefer to speak about this once we return home." His anger was too strong, his pain too raw, to deal with it now.
Tristan shifted as the carriage came to a halt in front of the house he had let when they'd left London two weeks ago. The house he was led to believe was in a small obscure village miles from Donridge Heath.
"Good evening, my lord." The butler, Mason, opened the coach door, and helped them both out. Taking his butler's arm, and still stiff with anger, they proceeded into the house.
"I wish to speak with you in the library, Lorelei." The silence during the ride home had loosened Tristan's tongue. Now he needed to lash out at the woman who had just caused pain to the woman he loved.
Mason relieved them of their coats, hats, and gloves, and Tristan and Lorelei headed down the corridor to the library.
Tristan made his way to the sideboard and poured a brandy. He used his cane to walk to the chair comfortably away from the fireplace and settled in. After taking a gulp of the liquid, he spoke. "Now you will explain to me why you led me to believe we were traveling to a village on the other side of England, and I find myself at an assembly hall in Donridge Heath."
Lorelei took in a deep breath. "I'm sorry for my subterfuge."
"Madam, I did not ask for your apology. I want to know why you did what you did and what you hoped to accomplish."
"When I first saw you in the hospital two years ago, you were a pleasant, cheerful man, despite your injury. I have hated watching you turn into an angry, bitter one."
"I was also unable to recall who I was, if memory serves. Perhaps that was the reason for the change in my demeanor."
"Yes. No doubt that is true."
When he remained silent, she continued. "My crusade to find my dear Everard would have left me crippled with pain if it were not for knowing you. It was bad enough to learn he had been injured in the Siege of Badajoz and sent to St. George's hospital in Lisbon. But to find him so near death when I arrived was an agony only a mother knows.
"That my son had been able to spend his last weeks with you eased the sorrow in my heart. You were such a good friend to him, helping to nurse him even with your own injuries." He closed his eyes at the memory, the sound of her ruffling through her reticule, most likely searching for her handkerchief, failed to move him as it once had. His misery was too raw to comfort her.
"Although you were reluctant to accept the inheritance my Everard left you, it was not necessary to invite me to stay with you as a companion. That thoughtfulness on your part gave me a reason to continue living. The last thing I ever wanted to do was bring you more pain."
It had been a great surprise when Tristan discovered Everard Gibbons had left his substantial estate to him. When he tried to decline in favor of Lorelei, she refused to accept it since she had been left quite a bit from her three deceased husbands.
And since Tristan had needed a source of income to remain hidden from view, he had reluctantly accepted the gift.
"I have yet to hear an explanation as to why you told me we were retiring elsewhere when we, in fact, are in Donridge Heath."
"Shortly after you regained your memory you told me you had a wife whom you did not intend to contact. However, I always thought you would change your mind."
"Why would you think that?"
"I thought so because you are a warm, loving man. You speak of your Marion as if she were the center of your world."
His jaw tightened in anger. "She was. At one time. But she deserves more than me. As it was no concern of yours, it was my decision to make, to leave her with the assumption that I had died at sea. After a while, she would meet someone else and lead a full, happy life."
"Do you not think she had the right to decide that for herself? Did you not hear the commotion when she spotted you across that ballroom?"
"That was a cruel trick, Lorelei. The poor girl could have died of a heart seizure."
"I agree. I did not handle it the best way I could have. Please forgive me."
Tristan lowered his glass to the table alongside him and pinched the bridge of his nose with his index finger and thumb. "I wish you to leave me now. What's done is done, and I expect when her brother, Manchester, calls on me tomorrow, the conversation will not be a pleasant one."
"As you wish." She moved to where he sat and kissed him lightly on the top of his head. Something she had done every night almost since they'd met.
After the door latch sounded, Tristan let loose with a roar of agony and threw his drink against the wall. The sound of glass shattering broke the silence of the empty room.
* * *
The next morning Tristan stood by the library window and brooded at his upcoming meeting with Marion's brother. There was no doubt in his mind that the man would not waste any time in confronting him.
All his plans at keeping himself and Marion apart had exploded as brutally and painfully as his ship. Now he faced the dilemma he had expected to avoid.
He closed his eyes as anger swept through him about how Marion must have suffered when she'd been told he had died in the explosion. And then to see him arrive last night with Lorelei on his arm two years later would have devastated her.
Nothing that he could ever face in the future would compare to how he felt at this moment.
"My lord, the Duke of Manchester has arrived." Lost in thought, the butler's voice wrenched his mind back to the room and the presence of Drake. The door softly closed, leaving the two men alone.
Tristan remained where he was and steeled himself for the meeting. "Good morning, Your Grace."
He took a deep breath. "How does Marion fare this morning?"
"She was sleeping when I left her. My mother gave her a draught last evening so she would settle down." His voice grew closer as he moved farther into the room.
"Good." Tristan gave one curt nod.
"Good?" The anger in the man's voice made Tristan flinch. "That is all you can say? You allow my sister to believe you have been dead these past two years, suffering unbearable grief, and all this time you've been cavorting with another woman?"
Tristan drew himself up. "Mrs. Gibbons and I are not cavorting."
His patience apparently gone, Drake snarled, "Dammit, turn around and look at me when I talk to you."
Leaning on his cane, Tristan turned and gazed in his direction.
"What do you have to say for yourself, man?"
Tristan clutched the cane in his hands as he studied the floor.
"I see you hanging onto that cane. I take it you have a permanent injury?"
"You might say that."
After a few moments of silence, when the only sound in the room was the ticking of the grandfather clock in the corner, Drake said, "Be warned, I'm running out of patience, Tunstall. You have been missing, and presumed dead, for more than two years. My sister spent most of that time locked in her room, mourning the man she loved and who she thought had loved her as well."
Tristan raised his head, gazing in Drake's direction. "I did love Marion. I still do love her. More than life."
"Do you think I am a candidate for Bedlam? No man who loves his wife disappears for two years with never a word."
"You don't know what you're talking about."
"Then enlighten me. But in the meantime, may we sit? I assume this is going to be a long conversation."
Tristan rubbed the back of his neck and nodded. He extended the cane and, waving it back and forth, made his way past the furniture to the settee, where he took a seat.
The stunned silence in the room captured the tension between the two men.
"My God, you're blind," Drake whispered.CHAPTER 2
"As always, you are most observant, Your Grace." Tristan cast Drake a slight smile and crossed one booted foot over his ankle. Never had he hated his blindness more than last evening when his precious Marion had been right there in front of him. The longing to look at her and take her in his arms had been so strong, it had left him weak-kneed. Had she changed? Was she still as lovely as he remembered?
Manchester mentioned she'd locked herself away in mourning. His stomach knotted at the vision of his love weeping for him. Until now he'd been able to keep those images at bay. But now they hit him full force, stinging his useless eyes with tears, which would surely further unman himself in front of her brother.
"I would appreciate more information, Tunstall." Drake prodded in the softest voice he'd used since he entered the room.
"As you wish." He leaned his head back, gathering his thoughts. "My ship came upon a battle between a Portuguese merchant and sea pirates. After we had been engaged in the clash for more than three hours, both my vessel and the pirate ship blew up, tossing me into the ocean.
"I was told the force of the explosion knocked me unconscious. One of the merchant sailors pulled me from the sea, along with others from my crew. We sailed to Lisbon where I was dispatched to a hospital."
He sat forward, resting his forearms on his knees. "When I awoke I had no memory of who I was. I was also without sight."
"So more than two years later you only just now regained your memory?" Drake grunted.
Tristan leaned back, shaking his head. "No. I regained my memory after only a few months." Once again, the feelings of anguish and horror swept over him, much as they had when he'd realized he had a beautiful wife who most likely assumed him dead. The melancholy he'd sunk into had lasted for weeks.
The only thing that had helped to keep his sanity at the time was his resolve to remain "dead" to his wife so she could one day marry a whole man and be happy. At that point, Lorelei Gibbons had already entered his life, and he'd hung onto her like a lifeline. She had spent hours talking to him, encouraging him, until he'd told her about Marion. Then she had badgered him endlessly to contact his wife.
"Did you not think to notify Marion of your whereabouts? Did the fact that you had a wife waiting for you completely slip your mind? Or was that part of your memory loss?"
Tristan's jaw tightened. "You have no idea how much I wanted to contact her. How much I wanted her with me. But the unselfish part of me prevailed, and I realized she was much better off thinking me dead so she could find happiness with someone else."
"And the fact that she would be inadvertently committing bigamy if she married again did not disturb you?"
"I planned to remain dead to her. After seven years she could declare me legally so, and could remarry."
Drake shook his head before he realized Tristan could not see him. "No. That is not correct. She might have been able to declare you dead with the courts, but you were, in fact, not deceased, so she would have committed bigamy. Any children born of that marriage would be bastards once your perfidy was discovered."
"I did not plan to ever have her know."
"We see how well that strategy worked."
Tristan stiffened. "Mrs. Gibbons stepped beyond herself."
"Ah, yes. Let us discuss Mrs. Gibbons, who I assume was the woman with you last evening?"
"That's right." Tristan shifted in his seat. "I met her when I was a patient in the hospital in Lisbon. Her son, Everard Gibbons, fought under Wellington, and had been injured in the Siege of Badajoz. After being notified of his injury, she traveled to Lisbon, but he died shortly after she arrived.
"I had been friends with Gibbons. We spent his last hours together. In her misery, she turned to me, and I became like a son to her."
"There is absolutely nothing romantic between Mrs. Gibbons and myself. She is a friend and companion. In fact, it was her inclination to lie to me about where we were staying. Lorelei told me we were in some obscure village miles from everywhere. I had no idea we were in Donridge Heath and that Marion and her family were close by."
"So you intended to stay in England and never be discovered for the remainder of your life? How realistic was that?"
Tristan shrugged. "Had we actually gone to a place remote enough, it might have worked."
"It does make one wonder if you had planned all along to reveal yourself to Marion."
"No." Tristan's voice rose. "I never wanted to hurt her that way. Despite what you think of me, and what I have done, I love her. Very, very much. My heart aches each day we're apart, but I refuse to saddle her with a blind man for the rest of her life."
"Don't you think that should be her decision?" Drake's voice had lowered to a dangerous pitch.
Tristan remained silent. No, it could not be her decision, because Marion would never spurn him. She was much too honorable. Giving her no choice was the best way.
"What are your plans now that Marion has discovered your duplicity?"
"I have given it some thought." Tristan paused. "I intend to free her."
"Is that right? And just how the devil will you do that?"
Tristan swallowed, horrified at the words he was about to speak. "I will allow her to divorce me."
Drake snorted. "That is an even worse idea than trying to stay hidden. Divorce is impossible."
"Perhaps not." He raised his chin. "I will have my solicitor research it."
"A divorce will bring shame and disgrace to my sister. I strongly advise you to rethink that avenue, Tunstall," Drake snapped.
"I just want her to have a full life, and it will not happen if she stays married to me."
After the big clock in the corner marked the passage of several minutes of strained silence, Drake's chair creaked as he stood. Once again Tristan was amazed at how his other senses had learned to compensate for his loss of sight.
"I will leave you now. You've given me quite a bit to think about and discuss with my sister."
"Mason will show you out."
"Thank you." Drake's footsteps padded across the floor. "One more thing."
Tristan gazed in the direction of his brother-in-law's voice. "Yes."
"Do not try to leave Donridge Heath until I've spoken with Marion. If she wishes to see you — and I expect she will — I will not tolerate her being distraught once more by your disappearance."
Excerpted from The Baron's Betrayal by Callie Hutton, Erin Molta. Copyright © 2015 Callie Hutton. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.