The Marquess Tames His Bride

By: Annie Burrows


‘Well, well…what have we here?’

Clare’s heart sank. It was just typical of Lord Rawcliffe to take it into his head to travel through Bedfordshire on the very same day as her. Trust him to stroll in through the back door of the inn where she was changing stages, looking so expensive and elegant, at the very moment she was on her way out to visit the necessary, wearing a coat she’d dyed very inexpertly in the scullery. How did he do it? How was it that whenever she was at her lowest, or caught in some humiliating predicament, he always managed to be there to witness it?

And laugh at her.

‘No, don’t tell me,’ he drawled, taking off his gloves with provokingly deliberate slowness. ‘A missionary visit to the raff and scaff of Biggleswade.’

And this was the way he always spoke to her. Every time their paths crossed, he would mock her beliefs and she would retaliate by denouncing his morals and informing him that just because he had a worldly title higher than most, and was rolling in filthy lucre, it did not give him the right to assume he was better than everyone else.

But today, she had no time for his games. Nor was she in the mood.

‘Don’t be ridiculous’ was therefore all she said, lifting her chin and attempting to dodge past him.

She might have known he wouldn’t permit her to do so. Instead of stepping aside politely, the way any other man would have done, he raised his arm, creating a barrier across the narrow passage, under which she’d have to duck to get past him.

In years past she might have attempted it. But she wasn’t a child any longer. And she’d learned the folly of trying to dodge him when he didn’t wish to be dodged.

‘Will you excuse me?’ she said in her most frigidly polite, grown-up voice.

‘Not until you tell me what you are doing here,’ he said, curving his thin lips into a mocking smile. ‘Preaching sobriety to the parishioners of Watling Minor lost its appeal, has it? Need to spread your gospel farther afield?’

She winced. Why did he always have to make her sound as though she was some sort of religious maniac?

‘Surely you, of all people, must know why I have so much sympathy for the message preached by the Methodists,’ she retorted, reacting the way she invariably did when he addressed her in that sarcastic tone. ‘Not,’ she added hastily, when his smile hardened, presaging an escalation in hostilities, ‘that I am here to preach at anybody for any reason.’

‘Joan,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘You cannot help yourself. Your whole life is one long sermon. You even manage to preach hell and damnation by the very way you look down that sanctimonious little nose of yours at the entire human race.’

She knew she shouldn’t have mentioned his mother’s fatal weakness for alcohol. Not even indirectly. It was the equivalent of poking him in the eye.

But when it came to the Marquess of Rawcliffe, she just couldn’t help herself. He was so infuriating that no matter how sternly she lectured herself about keeping her tongue between her teeth, he only had to half-lower those lazy lids of his over his ice-cold eyes and utter some puerile taunt, and reason flew out of the window.

‘You should know,’ she heard herself saying. ‘Since you look down your own, arrogant, big nose at the whole world and everything in it.’ Blast it. That wasn’t what she’d meant to say. And now she was even thinking in profanities. ‘And how many times do I have to tell you not to call me Joan?’

‘As many times as you like and I shall still do so, since it is what your father should have called you.’

‘No, he shouldn’t.’

‘Yes, he should. Since he named all your brothers after popes, then he should have done the same for you. But then consistency,’ he said with a curl to his upper lip, ‘has never been his strongest suit, has it?’

‘There was no such person as Pope Joan, as you very well know,’ she snapped, falling into the same argument they’d had countless times over the years. ‘She was a myth. And would you please just leave my father out of it for once?’ Did he have no compassion? At all?

‘Absolutely not,’ he said, his eyes hardening to chips of ice. ‘For one thing, I cannot believe even he would approve of you frequenting places of this sort. If he were any longer in a fit state to know where you were or what you were about.’

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