Kathryn pulled the embroidered case off a fluffy down pillow. She would use it to carry the food she had been hiding for the last three days. She would have to take one of the gowns Lady Beckford had loaned her, along with a pair of kid slippers, and one of her borrowed night rails, but there was no help for it. She wished she had money to pay for the clothes, or at least a few coins to help with her journey, but she refused to take anything more from the marquess, the only person who had been kind to her in nearly a year.
She would find work along the road, she vowed, enough to make her way. With a heavy heart, Kathryn walked to the gilt armoire to change into the simplest of her borrowed gowns for the trip, but a knock at the door interrupted her. When she crossed to the door and opened it, the long-nosed butler, Reeves, stood in the candle-lit hallway.
“Lord Litchfield requests your presence in his study.”
A shiver of unease rippled through her. “It’s getting rather late. Are you certain he wants–”
“He wishes to see you. That is all he said.”
She nodded, shoving down her fears. “Tell him I’ll be down in a moment.”
The butler didn’t move. “He instructed me to wait.”
Dread moved through her. There was something implacable in the tall butler’s stance, something that warned her of Litchfield’s mood. Sweet God, he couldn’t have discovered the lie she had told. His messenger wasn’t due back for at least another day. Perhaps it was something else, she told herself, something simple, like making plans for an outing on the morrow. She prayed it was so with all her heart.
Kathryn descended the stairs with no little trepidation, her heart pattering, her palms beginning to sweat. When she walked into the study, the marquess stood at the window, his back turned toward her, his long legs braced slightly apart. She couldn’t miss the rigid set of those wide shoulders. He waited until the butler shut the door, the sound like the closing of a coffin lid behind her, then he turned, his dark eyes glittering with unmistakable anger as they came to rest on her face.
“Who are you?” There was such soft menace in his voice Kathryn unconsciously stepped backward. She wanted to turn and run, wanted to flee as fast as her slim legs would carry her. She wanted to be somewhere–anywhere–but there in the Marquess of Litchfield’s study. She moistened her lips but couldn’t seem to make them move. Litchfield’s thunderous expression darkened even more.
“You let me send my footman on a wild goose chase halfway across the country. You lied to me. You accepted my aunt’s kindness and took advantage of my generosity. Now I want to know exactly who you are and why you are here.”
She did run then, bolted toward the door, jerked it open and fled like a deer down the hall. Litchfield caught her before she could reach the entry, catching her around the waist, spinning her toward him, and slamming her hard up against his chest.
“You’re not going anywhere,” he said in those soft, dark tones that were far more terrifying than if he had shouted. “Not until you tell me the truth.”
She could feel the ridges of muscle beneath his white lawn shirt, feel the hardness of his thighs pressing against her, and her body began to tremble. Tears burned the backs of her eyes but she blinked them away. She stared into the hard lines of his face. “I’m sorry I lied to you. I was leaving tonight. By morning, I would have been gone. Dear God, I never wanted to lie- especially to someone who has helped me. I didn’t want to deceive you. I had no other choice!”
His mouth curved up in a ruthless half smile. “You’ve a choice now,” he said. He released his hold, but kept a tight grip on her arm, dragging her back down the hall and toward his study. “You can tell me the truth, or I can turn you over to the authorities. That is your choice, Miss Gray.”
She struggled for a moment, tried to wrench free, but his hold was implacable. He didn’t release her until she was back insidethe room and the door firmly closed. He cranked the key, locking them both inside, then he turned to face her.
“All right, Miss Gray–make your choice. The truth? Or the authorities?” He folded his arms across his chest, making him look even taller and more imposing than he did before. “Rest assured, Miss Gray, I am not bluffing. And I shall know in an instant should you spin another false tale.”
Kathryn stared into those hard determined features and a wave of defeat washed over her. “Oh, God.” She sank down on the brown leather sofa in front of where he stood, and against her will, her eyes filled with tears. “Can’t you just let me go? In time I can earn enough money to repay you for the food I’ve eaten. I don’t have any clothes, but surely you could find something old that–”
“Listen to me,” the marquess said more gently. “Whatever you have done, I cannot believe it is as bad as all of this. If you have stolen something, if you have hurt someone–just tell me and I will find a way to help.” She only shook her head.
“I want the truth, Kathryn. Tell me what it is you have done.”
Kathryn shot to her feet, her hands clenched into shaking fists.
“I’ve done nothing! Nothing–do you hear!” The marquess’s jaw went hard. “Then why are you running away!”
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