THE DANGEROUS LORD DARRINGTON
by Sarah Mallory
WINNER of the RNA's RoNA Rose Award 2012!
Guy Wylder, the Earl of Darrington, has just discovered Beth's secret. They are returning from the cellar and Beth takes Guy to her room to brush the dust from their clothes before going to supper with the family and Miles Radworth, Beth's fiancé..
He handed her the brush again, smiling slightly. The candlelight played on his face, enhancing the smooth planes of his cheeks and accentuating his strong jaw. His black brows shadowed his eyes, making them look grey and hard as granite. Merciless. With a sudden rush of nerves she realised her situation, alone in her bedchamber with a man she had known for less than a week. She swallowed, and said a little croakily, 'We must go down to supper. I – um – I will check the passage is clear for us to go out.' Moving away from him was difficult, as if she had to break an imaginary thread between them, but she forced herself to go to the door. Moments later they were in the corridor.
'I believe Radworth moved up here soon after he first came to see you.' The earl fell into step beside Beth.
'Yes. He has been very attentive.'
'Your sister puts it more romantically. She says it was love at first sight.'
She shot him a suspicious look.
'Do you find that so incredible?'
'Not at all. You are a very beautiful woman.'
Her cheeks flamed.
'I beg your pardon, I was not looking for…for a compliment, my lord!'
'I am merely answering you honestly. There must have been a powerful inducement to make a man leave his estates and settle in the north.'
Still reeling from being called beautiful, Beth was not offended by his remark.
'You are not to think that I was so flattered by his attentions that I have not considered that,' she replied frankly. 'I have made enquiries: he is no fortune hunter. His estate in Somerset is at least equal to Malpass. And he did not press me to a betrothal while we were still grieving for Simon.'
'And why are you marrying him? Do you love him?'
His question caught her off-guard and she replied without thinking.
'No, but – ' her step faltered. She added, trying to speak lightly, 'I must make a life of my own at some time. Grandmama will not live forever and Sophie will undoubtedly marry.'
They were approaching the dining room and through the open door Beth could see that her sister and grandmother were already seated at the table. She stopped.
'My lord, you will say nothing to my grandmother of, of what you have seen…?'
'You have my word on that, Mrs Forrester.'
He shook his head slightly, the tantalising smile glinting in his eyes.
'I will make you no promises of what I may do tomorrow, madam.'
Beth closed her lips. Might he consider it his duty to turn Simon over to the authorities for trial? She was sure Miles would do so, in her mind she could almost hear him telling her that the law must be upheld, that if Simon was innocent then the courts would prove it. But Darrington was not Miles. She would not expect him to help her, but she might be able to persuade him to keep their secret. After all, rumour said he was a womaniser, and now Miles had unearthed some secret from his past that cast doubt upon his integrity. The problem gnawed at her throughout supper. She said very little during the meal, allowing Sophie to chatter away while she watched the earl, trying to read his thoughts.
Miles had said his reputation was tarnished. He was a traitor and a libertine. A small voice inside told her it could not be true, but another, more insistent voice whispered that such a man could be bribed. He had said he did not want her money, but there were other forms of persuasion.
As she toyed with her food a plan began to form in her head. Across the table the earl was relaxed, smiling at something Sophie had said. He glanced across at her, still smiling but she pretended not to notice. Beth pushed her plate away. Her appetite had quite gone, but she had made up her mind on a course of action. It should not be difficult. Dangerous, possibly; certainly abhorrent, but if it would protect Simon, then she would do it.
© Sarah Mallory