Authors: Callie Hutton
Tags: #Category, #Historical Romance, #secret pregnancy, #divorced, #marriage mart mayhem, #betrayal, #callie hutton, #husband returned, #annulment, #Regency, #reunion, #blindness
To love, honor, and betray…
It’s been two years since Lady Marion Tunstall lost her husband at sea. Two years of sorrow and grief. Only now has the young, comely widow finally re-entered society. It isn’t until she and her family attend the merriment of a country dance that Lady Marion sees her dead husband, alive and well...and faints dead away.
Lord Tristan Tunstall has no choice but to confess—he is alive, yes, but not a whole man who can be a husband and father. When he offers her a divorce, however, Marion stubbornly refuses. Now she has forced herself back into his life, and into his home and (oh, God forgive his weakness) his bed. He cannot stop himself from wanting her. Loving her. But can he live with the secret she is keeping from him?
The Baron’s Betrayal
a Marriage Mart Mayhem novel
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by Callie Hutton. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
2614 South Timberline Road
Fort Collins, CO 80525
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Scandalous is an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
Edited by Erin Molta
Cover design by Heidi Stryker
Cover art by ShutterStock
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition January 2015
To Carson and Mason, grandsons extraordinaire, who made their appearance while I was busy writing Tristan and Marion’s love story. You make my life complete, little ones.
With a loud gasp, Lady Marion Tunstall slid to the assembly room floor in a heap of cerulean blue muslin. In an attempt to catch her, her sister-in-law, Her Grace, the Duchess of Manchester, fell to her knees alongside her.
“Marion, what is wrong?” She patted Marion’s face and frantically looked around, and sighed with relief as her husband, Drake, Duke of Manchester, hurried toward her, his face pale. “Is she all right?”
Penelope shook her head. “I have no idea. She simply collapsed. I don’t know why.”
Drake’s lips tightened, and he went down on one knee beside his sister. “I certainly do.” He gathered Marion in his arms and mumbled soothing words to her as he shifted her against his chest.
He glanced at his wife and added, “Lord Tunstall just entered the room with another woman on his arm.”
Penelope’s head jerked up and she sucked in a breath, her face growing pale. “Lord Tunstall? You mean Marion’s husband Tristan?”
Drake nodded. “Exactly.”
“I don’t understand. Tristan’s been dead for more than two years.”
“Apparently not,” Drake snapped.
The three people on the floor had begun to attract a crowd of onlookers. The press of people separated and a man, with an older woman snug against his side, hesitantly approached them. His face was pasty white, and he held himself erect with a stiffness reminiscent of a marble statue.
“Is she all right?” The man stared straight ahead, his shaky voice registering shock.
“I don’t wish to speak with you right now, sir. Please excuse me while I see to my sister.” Drake nudged the man and woman out of his way. “I will call upon you in the morning. Please send a note around with your direction.”
Penelope gathered their things and hurried to follow her husband toward the door. Her mother-in-law, the dowager duchess, along with Marion’s three sisters, fell into line as they passed by and then headed to the two awaiting carriages.
Penelope waited as Drake climbed into the carriage with Marion’s still form in his arms. The footman assisted the dowager duchess, worry lines creasing her brows as she focused on her unconscious daughter. The girls, clinging to each other, headed to the second carriage. Penelope accepted the footman’s hand and clambered into the vehicle with Drake and the dowager duchess settling across from them.
Marion’s slack body rested in her brother’s arms as tension radiated from the other occupants. Drake tapped on the ceiling of the carriage, and it sprang forth, jerking as it started up.
After two years of a self-imposed prison in her room while she grieved for her dead husband, Marion had recently begun to resume a normal life. She had set up a shrine to her husband in her room and spent her days reading the poetry she and Tristan had shared during their brief marriage.
Little by little, Penelope had encouraged Marion to take walks in the garden, have meals with the family, and eventually to resume activities outside the home.
Marion shifted in Drake’s arms and moaned, her eyelids fluttering open. “What happened?”
Drake threw his mother a quelling glance as the carriage rumbled over the stone driveway and left the well-lit assembly rooms behind.
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
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.