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Authors: Susan Sizemore

Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Fiction

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BOOK: On a Long Ago Night
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She
wasn't going anywhere but in to dinner on her father's arm after

the guests had all been greeted. Despite the escape route behind her

she was trapped by the benign gaze of her father beside her, and by

the crowd's awareness of her wretched behavior a few nights

before.

She would do nothing to cause any further comment. She

carried the blood of a famous actress in her veins, so she could act

the perfect hostess and paragon of virtue for a one-night

performance, surely? She wanted the reviews to be spectacular, to

replace everyone's memory of her last poor performance.

Sometimes it seemed that life had become nothing
but

performance, but with nothing else to live for, she was going to do

it well. Even though that performance now consisted of facing this

man she despised. She was nearsighted, but not so blind that she

couldn't tell that the handsome guest's gaze lingered on her a

moment too long before propriety dictated that he move on to pay

his respects to the duke. "I hope we can talk later," he said, and

took the necessary step away from her. She did not let her gaze

follow him as he moved away. She smiled a slight, stiff

acknowledgment at the next person who approached, and said

something appropriate—though she didn't see them and had no idea

what she said. Her thoughts were much too far away for that.

"You can't be separating us!" Derrick protested to the guard. "I

can't go to the Citadel. It's a prison. I've heard what happens to

foreigners there. Who'll take care of me there? Honoria, help me!"

"No one will harm you," she promised, burying her own fear

under a briskly confident facade. Derrick had regaled a drawing

room full of fascinated listeners with tales of wicked corsair

practices on their last evening in Majorca, so she knew how

prisoners languished in the dungeons and cells of the Citadel while

they awaited ransom. Those with no hope of ransom were claimed

as property of the Bey—forced into work gangs, or auctioned off

for the Bey's profit. Derrick had passed over the details of the dire

fates of women prisoners, and Honoria refused to dwell on the

things he had only hinted at. Derrick needed her, and that was all

that mattered.

"Hush, my dear." She ran a hand through his hair. "All will

be well. Let the man help you to stand. I'll help to hold you up."

"He can stand on his own. He is a man, isn't he, fox-hair?"

Honoria had not been aware that the Spaniard had followed

his guards into the crowded hold. She gave up trying to cope with

the feverish Derrick as he flailed ineffectually at the man who was

attempting to help him stand. Indignation boiled out of her at the

Spaniard's callous words. She rounded on the true source of their

troubles, spinning so quickly that her spectacles were knocked

askew.

"Leave him alone!" she demanded of their captor. "Can't you

see he's ill?"

The corsair took a moment to straighten her glasses on her

nose. "He'll live."

She'd been shocked by the effrontery of the gesture, but more

than shock raced through her when he took her arm. Reaction

blinded her to everything but his tactile presence; her universe

spun around and around, and she and he were the only things in

that universe for a moment.

"Honoria!" Derrick called, casting out a lifeline with his

voice. "I need you to care for me!"

"But who will care for you, fox-hair?"

She fought to ignore the Spaniard's sarcasm and concentrate

on the voice that reminded her of duty, of truth, and of pure

unselfish love. She was surprised at how hard it was to drag her

attention from the threatening sensuality of Diego Moresco.

"Coming, my love!" she called, but she could not look away

from the Spaniard. "Take your hands off me, swine!" The words

were spoken with indignation, but no great conviction. Did he hear

it? Did he know how her pulse was racing? Was that amusement

glittering in his honey-colored eyes, along with a banked fire of

temper?

"Hand," he corrected. "And I'm barely touching you."

"
But the point is, you
are
touching me
."

"Perhaps you should get used to being touched."

Honoria bridled with indignation; it hid a shiver of fearful

anticipation. "By you?"

He tilted his head to one side. "By men in general." He gave

a slight shrug. "A slave goes with who she is told."

She tore her arm out of his clasp and faced him with her

hands on her hips. "What are you talking about?" she demanded

angrily. Her knees were shaking and she feared she would sink to

the deck in terror, but she did not show it, would not show it.

Not to this creature who was the dregs of the dregs of the

Mediterranean. "We are to be ransomed. I wrote the letters you

wanted. You'll be paid the price you demanded within a fortnight."

He shrugged again. Suddenly she could read nothing in his

face. His eyes became blank, hard amber. He jerked a thumb at

Derrick and at Huseby, who had come to stand by Honoria's side.

"They go to the Citadel. You are to be sold."

"Help me," Derrick said, lunging away from his guard to

clasp Honoria's hands. "Don't let them take me to the Citadel. You

promised you would help me."

Honoria looked at her hands. They felt as cold and numb in the

stuffy warmth of the hall as they had that horrible moment in

Algiers when she'd been informed of her fate by the faithless, lying

Spanish renegade.

"What are you thinking, my dear?" her father's genial voice

asked, close to her ear, but sounding very far away.

"Just that I really must have these gloves burned, sir," she

replied, in a voice that sounded surprisingly normal.

"They don't look soiled to me."

Of course not—nor would he ever see how soiled his only

child was. He often told her how much she was like her mother,

and a part of him had died with that virtuous, spotless woman. She

feared his learning the truth about the wicked things she'd done

would kill him in fact as well as in spirit. He told her once that he

endured the loss of her mother because she was as much his angel

on earth as her mother was now in heaven. Her father was prone to

ardent sentimentality on this subject. He spoiled and protected her,

and she made it her life's work to do the same for him. She always

did whatever was necessary to protect the ones she loved.

This finally brought the thought that should have been in her

mind from the moment she first saw Derrick Russell's letter. What

the devil was the man doing here? She knew what his letter said,

but why had he written her, really? Had she not learned the hard

way that no man's word was to be taken at face value?

Frantic worry crawled suddenly along her nerves as she

recalled the duke's welcome to Captain Russell when Derrick had

turned from greeting her. It had sounded far too pleasant, as though

he was welcoming back an old friend. She knew her father was

being affable for her sake, because he'd taken it into his head that

languishing over Derrick was the reason for her retirement from the

world. Those who recalled that she had once been courted by

Captain Russell no doubt took note of both her and the Duke's

acknowledgment of him. Well, nothing had passed between them

that would cause any adverse gossip. That was one hurdle over

with; she would deal with Derrick soon enough, and in private.

Now all she had to do was correct the faux pas with Marbury.

Surely he had arrived by now. Though she did not let herself seek

him out among the blurred mass of people, she was somehow

aware that he had entered the room. She concentrated on protocol

and the performance of her life as she made out the approaching

figures of Viscount Brislay and his broad-shouldered, half-Spanish

son.

She'd told herself that she was preparing to kill two birds

with one stone by facing both men at once when she prepared

herself methodically, wholeheartedly, and with a vengeance for the

evening. She'd chosen the armor of sophistication, wearing a rich

blue satin evening gown that showed a bit of shoulder and had

short sleeves and not a speck of lace. The hairdresser had been

forbidden from doing Honoria's hair in any a la mode style, but had

wrestled her thick natural curls into an upswept hairdo. She had not

dressed for fashion, but with style. As she looked in the mirror

when the maids and dressers were done with her, she found herself

wondering what James Marbury would think of this version of the

duke's daughter.

What Derrick Russell thought of her mattered not at all,

which was curious, considering what they'd once been to each

other. Marbury must be more on her mind because she truly did

owe him reparation for insulting him. She owed Derrick nothing.

Well, perhaps a bullet or sword thrust in the heart. What a pity

women weren't allowed to duel.

She'd been thinking about the Spaniard—no, she would not

call him that—for days. Probably to keep her mind off Derrick,

because what other reason could there be? Well, there were nerves,

and guilt. Blast, how she wanted to get this evening over with!

Why didn't the man get over here, make a leg, and let her do a bit

of groveling?

As the frustrated thought sprang to mind, the Honorable

James Marbury strode forward with a swift, brisk assurance, ail

grace and fire. Even if she had not caused such a scandal with him

a few nights before, Honoria believed all eyes would have turned

his way simply because he was in the room. It was not fair that he

could look his fill at her while she was limited to shadows and

outlines, though Lord knew the man was drawn on a large enough

canvas for even her to make out some detail. It was very tempting,

however, to lean close when the big man gracefully took both her

hands in his—and temptation was something she hadn't felt for a

long time.

"Stop that," she said, when his lips brushed across the back of

first one hand and then the other. Her words were spoken barely

aloud and with little conviction. She added with more aplomb, "Or

is that how it is done in Spain?"

"I don't know," he answered, his rich voice a low Arabic purr.

"I never kissed a

duchess in Spain."

There was something in his tone that said he intended to do

more than kiss her gloved hands. The intimation sent a shiver of

anticipation through Honoria that she fought down. His assured,

arrogant attitude did serve to reassure her that she had not imagined

the way he had touched her at the ball, or the sensual way he had

whispered in her ear when their bodies were so close together.

He had spoken to her in Arabic.

Marbury stood very close to her once more when he

straightened, as if he had a right, or even a need, to be near her. He

was so close that she had no trouble making out his boldly drawn

features. Not that she needed any assistance in knowing exactly

what he looked like. How well she recalled that characteristic tilt of

his head, the strong jaw, the heavy arched brows, the wide, full lips

and thick, dark lashes surrounding large, honey-amber eyes. She'd

hoped—all right, pretended—she had been mistaken at the ball.

She had told herself she was deranged, since that made more sense.

But here he was, larger than she remembered, more arrogant. Alive.

Here.

"Diego."

"Please call me James," he said with rote politeness, as he

switched back to lightly accented English. He calmly stepped back

to an appropriate distance for a man and woman together in public.

If he was aware of the attention swirling around them, he gave no

sign. "Though I suppose 'Mr. Marbury' and 'Lady Alexandra' are

the proper forms of address for two people who have such a short

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