The Secrets of a Scoundrel
The Secrets of a Scoundrel
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Lady Isabel Palmer was crushed when her best friend and fellow adventurer, Marcus, left without even a good-bye. As years passed, tales of his rakish lifestyle reach her, and she buried any feelings she ever had for him. But when Marcus shows up years later in the middle of her father’s hunting party, old feelings and bitterness surface, placing the once close friends constantly at odds.
Marcus Tierney left Essex years ago, hoping to return eventually for Isabel. However, a tarnished reputation put an end to any dreams he might have harbored for a love marriage, keeping him from Isabel and his family estate for far too long. When a visit to the Palmer’s estate becomes necessary, Marcus hopes to find forgiveness but is instead met with disdain by those he once called friends.
As Marcus and Isabel increasingly find themselves together, they begin to realize their previous judgments do not hold true. Is it possible to leave the past behind and forgive each other? Or do their resentments run too deep, destroying all hope for a future of love and happiness?
Intro. Into Chapter One
Intro. Into Chapter One
Mr. Marcus Tierney had never considered himself a coward. That is until today.
He looked up at the gray stone
house and tugged at his collar. It still felt imposing, even all these years later. He raised his hand to the knocker but then dropped it and took a step back. What if Margaret was within? Or even worse, Isabel. Perhaps he could send someone on this errand. Was that not precisely why he had a steward?
He shook his head and retook the steps he had given up. No.
He was being chicken-livered, and he was not a coward. Margaret had married and was living in Dorset, so the chances she was here were slim. In
truth, it was doubtful any of the family was at home. They were likely in London, or was that just hopeful thinking?
The thought of Isabel in London relaxed his shoulders slightly.
He could face Lord Haverly, as awkward as it would be, but Isabel was another story. What would he say to her?
Marcus had heard very little of her over the years. Which was
odd, considering her father and his position in The Lords. But then, he had worked hard not to hear of her, so he really should not be surprised.
He clenched his fists at his side. If he was to run his estate, he needed to get over this . . . this insecurity? Guilt? He did not know exactly what to call it. But whatever it was, it had to end. And now.
Marcus raised his hand and dropped the knocker several times. Straightening to his full height, he thrust out his chin. But that did not feel right.
He clasped his hands behind his back and turned his head slightly
to the side, assuming an air of aloofness. There. That was better. This carefree look was what he was comfortable with. After all, it was the reputation that had preceded him for all these years, earned or not.
His brows knit together, and his lips puckered, his entire body
sagging. If only carefree was the worst of the false characterizations that dogged
The door opened and Jeret, the Palmers’ long-time butler, stared
back at him.
Marcus straightened again, but it was too late. The butler had
already seen him slouched and lacking.
Marcus twisted his head slightly to the side and smiled, trying
to regain a small amount of the composure he had felt before the door opened. It was not much of a smile, but it was what he offered most people. A slight uptick of his lips, one which was difficult to discern if one was not
looking for it. It was all most people deserved. He waited for the butler to acknowledge him.
Jeret stood in the doorway, staring at Marcus. “May I help you, sir?”
Marcus frowned. Did the man really not recognize him, or was he simply being obtuse? It had only been a handful of years since last Marcus was at
Montrose. Prior to that final encounter, he had been at Montrose at least twice
a week for most of his life. It was not as if Marcus was so changed in his appearance as to be a stranger to the butler.
Marcus looked the servant up and down, assessing him. Yes, he was the same old Jeret. The man knew precisely who Marcus was. Still, Marcus withdrew a card from his pocket and handed it over. “I need to speak to Lord
Haverly if he is at home. It is concerning the south pasture.”
Jeret handed the card back to Marcus. “Matters of the estate
should be addressed to Mr. Randolph.” Jeret moved to close the door, but Marcus
quickly reached forward and placed his hand on the wood, keeping it from closing any farther.
“Does that mean the earl is at home? There are other matters I
need to discuss with him, Jeret. Please let him know I am here.” The last part was not entirely true. But if Lord Haverly was at home, Marcus wished to make
him aware of the situation himself. Besides, if he was to mend the trouble between them, he needed to speak to the earl.
The older man narrowed his eyes at Marcus.
Five years, it seemed, was not enough time to erase what had
happened. Marcus should have realized as much, but it had been such a long time ago. And Margaret had married well. Did that not erase the past?
The wind picked up, blowing leaves and dirt around Marcus’s
boots. Winter was not leaving without a fight.
“Jeret, why are you allowing the gentleman to remain outside in
this weather? Do invite him into the warmth while you size him up.”
Marcus’s heart stopped for at least two beats. Or maybe it sped
up? He was uncertain, so focused he was on the voice within.
He sighed and closed his eyes.
She was here, then.
Jeret opened the door wider and motioned Marcus inside the large
entryway. A sense of familiarity swept over him—the house was almost as familiar as Rushdale—even as his heart continued to thump fiercely.
A small gasp sounded as Marcus stepped around Jeret to allow the
door to close behind him.
“Marcus,” Isabel whispered, but the word echoed in the tall
entry, bouncing around the walls over and over. She crossed her arms over her chest, a scowl on her face. “I had not heard you’d returned to Rushdale.”
He cleared his throat. “Good afternoon, Lady Isabel.” Devil take it, but she was handsome. The years had been more than kind to her. He pulled his gaze away; it would not do to be caught staring.
Marcus removed his beaver, turning it over in his hands. How had he thought five years would change anything? Out of habit, he raised his chin and squared his shoulders, standing to his full six-foot height.
Isabel raised a brow, and Marcus shifted to one side. Drat the
woman. When had she learned to unnerve a man so thoroughly?
He cleared his throat. “Yes. As I am sure you are aware, my
father has died, and I am now the master of Rushdale.”
She shifted to one leg—something she had done since she was barely out of leading strings.
Lud. She was not to make this easy for him.
“Yes. But that was nearly two years ago. We had thought perhaps you had decided to let the place.” Was that hope in her voice?
Unable to look at her scowling face any longer, he stared at his
hat, turning it over and over in his hands. “No. But Rushdale was in a better state than some of our other properties. I felt it best to see to the most troubled ones first.”
Why was he explaining himself to her? She was not his mother—thank the heavens—nor was she his wife. And she was certainly not acting the part of a friend. That thought made him swallow. He had not thought of her
in those terms for a long time. “I have righted the course of the other estates and have now come to stay at Rushdale for a time.”
She stared at him for what seemed like several minutes. “Then your stay is not permanent.” It was not a question.
“I have not determined the length of my stay. But as it is my
estate and my home, no one will drive me from it.” His voice hitched up slightly, both in tone and volume. He frowned. That statement was a bunch of
fustian nonsense. She had kept him from it for years.
Her head tilted to the side and her lips flattened into a thin,
white line. She wished to say something but was holding back. It seemed some things had changed.
Izzy had rarely held anything back. Why was she now?
“Why have you come, sir? Or was it simply to intimidate me in my
Marcus grinned. There was the Izzy he knew.
Marcus tightened his grasp on the brim of his beaver. “I had no
such intentions. I came to speak to your father.”
She narrowed her eyes slightly before turning her back to him.
“Very well. Follow me.” She moved down the corridor toward the east parlor. Each nook and cranny brought back memories of cherished times. Marcus would say he felt as if he had come home, were it not for the frosty reception blowing off Isabel.
They entered the parlor, and Marcus stopped in the doorway.
Dozens of people sat about the room playing cards or chatting on the couches and settees. What the devil was going on? Why were so many people here?
“Papa, look who came to visit us. It is our long-lost friend, Mr.
Tierney.” Though her voice held a sing-songy tone, Marcus did not miss the undertone of irritation.
The talking stopped, and all eyes turned to him.
Marcus stiffened, his thumb bouncing on the side of his leg. She had to make a show of this, did she?
“Tierney?” Lord Haverly scowled.
Marcus sighed. It seemed the father was no more inclined to
forgive Marcus than the daughter. The man stood and ambled toward him. When he
was close enough to speak without the whole of the room hearing, he said, “Mr.
Tierney. I thought I told you never to show your face on my property again.”
Marcus swallowed and nodded. “Yes. I recall those instructions as
“Then why are you here?” The man’s voice was deep and scratchy. It had not always been that way. What had caused the change?
Marcus took in a deep breath. “Your sheep have pushed the wall in the south pasture over. Several of them have crossed over into my pastures, as have some of my sheep into yours. I came to make you aware that my groundskeeper and shepherd will cross over onto your property to sort out the animals and repair the wall.”
“My sheep? How do you know it is my sheep that caused the
problem?” Lord Haverly straightened to his full height, the top of his head just barely even with Marcus’s shoulder. “Rushdale sheep have been nothing but trouble for years.”
Yes, I am certain they have been. Marcus clenched his fists at his side. “As the wall fell into the ha-ha on my property, I am left
to assume the wall was pushed from your side.”
Lord Haverly narrowed his eyes. “Your Rushdale sheep must have
taunted my sheep. There can be no other explanation.”
Taunting sheep? Was the man in earnest? Marcus had not heard that Lord Haverly was near Bedlam, but with such an argument, he had to wonder.
Marcus ran a hand along the back of his neck. He should have just sent his steward. Why had he thought coming on this errand on his own would mend anything?