|The Games We Play
by Fanta C ©
was split into 8 parts. Jump to any of the segments from here:
the past three years she hadn't needed to worry about a chance meeting with
him, because business in India had kept him away for as long. But now that
he had returned, he was certain to make trouble for her.
Her stomach roiled at the thought of her parents having to bear the shame of her tragic mistake. Oh, she really felt sick and her head was pounding with a massive migraine.
Marcus looked away, ashamed to know what was really meant by that wink Montgomery had sent to Bella. Her father had told him a week ago that he had arranged a betrothal between the Earl and Bella. Apparently the Earl assumed that Isabella knew and was trying to let her know that he planned to continue with his rogue ways during their marriage. Fortunately Bella didn't realize the real reason the Earl was dancing with Emma. He looked at her, noticing the faraway look that entered her eyes, as if she was lost in thought. It took him three times to get through to her.
"Bella!" he finally cried the third time, causing several people to turn from their conversations to stare at them momentarily.
She snapped out of her reverie and apologized to Marcus asking him to continue with what he had been saying.
"I wouldn't worry too much about the Earl ensnaring your sister in one of his deadly webs. It has been rumored in White's of late that the Earl is betrothed."
Isabella's shock couldn't have been more apparent. "To whom is Lord Montgomery betrothed?"
"I'm not sure, Bella. The rumors weren't specific. They ranged everywhere from old widow Cavandish to. . ." he hesitated, knowing that she would be outraged at being part of such a rumor.
"To whom, Marcus?"
"To you, Bella."
Shock and humiliation poured through her, chilling her heart. Who would even think that her and Nicholas Montgomery could be engaged. They had only come together twice, at the Attherton's masquerade ball and his home, and know one knew of what had occurred between them. "Why would I be included in such a rumor?" she whispered, horrified that people might think her betrothed to such a rake, whose exploits and conquests were legendary, a legend of which she was a part of.
"I don't know, Bella," Marcus lied, wishing he could tell her. As if in atonement for his guilt, he wrapped his arms around her and led her from the ballroom.
From where he was dancing with Emma Bennet, Nicholas glowered at Marcus Hartford. Isabella Bennet was his betrothed, yet she walked out of the ballroom with Hartford's arms around her. They weren't even married yet, and already she was conducting herself scandalously. How dare she!
"Lady Emma, why is it that your sister, Isabella, has not yet married? Her debut was almost five years ago, if I'm not mistaken."
"You are not mistaken, my lord. She did debut five years ago. As for why she hasn't married, she has only had one man offer for her."
"Lord Langton," she said simply.
He almost sputtered when she said that name. Langton was one of the poorest and unattractive men in good society. Why would Isabella only attract an offer from him? "Why didn't your sister attract more offers?"
"You have seen her, Lord Montgomery. She is not exactly the most beautiful woman, although she was pretty until she was fifteen. She is also very independent and that frightened many of the men of the ton. She may have a sizable dowry, but any girl who carries a knife in the garter on her left leg is someone that not many men would be willing to offer for, no matter how much money she has. She even caused an outrageous scandal her first season when she pulled the knife on Langton. He tried to accost her in the gardens at our home after she turned down his offer of marriage. Suffice it to say that she had the knife pressed to his throat when our father, mother, and several of their friends who had been visiting, came upon them. After that she was treated as a leper by all men except Marcus. He would never abandon her."
He had known of the knife when he had taken her innocence. Why hadn't she used the knife when they had come together at the Attherton's Ball, or at his home? She could have stopped him from taking her, stopped him from making love to her but she hadn't. He couldn't even begin to figure her out.
The mention of Hartford rubbed Nicholas the wrong way. "What are she and Hartford to each other?" he finally asked tersely.
"Why, Izzy and Marcus have been best friends since Izzy was eight years old and went to Cornwall for the first time. He had immediately taken to her because, in his words, "she had spunk and spirit."
"Are they lovers?"
Emma glared at him, angry that he would think her sister a fallen woman. "No they are not lovers, Lord Montgomery. They are good friends and that is all." she ground out through clenched teeth. "If you will excuse me, I have no desire to be quizzed any longer." She spun around and left him standing in the middle of the ballroom, the only one without a dance partner.
"Head out of London, Johnny," Marcus called to his carriage driver as he helped Bella into the carriage.
"Where are we going, Marcus?" she asked curiously.
"I have a surprise for you. Something to lift your spirits."
"A large glass of brandy would accomplish that. You don't happen to have some do you?"
"Even if I did, Bella, I wouldn't give you any. If you were plied with drink, I may be tempted to take advantage of you," he said, reaching over, grabbing her waist, and pulling her onto his lap. He tickled her stomach and she burst into laughter, her whole body shaking.
"Scandalous, Marcus. I am not some tavern wench available for your pleasure when you wish it."
"No, but you could be if you would let yourself," he joked, planting a soft, sweet kiss on her lips.
She smiled and extricated herself from his grasp, moving back to her seat across from him. "Sometimes, I wish that I hadn't met you when I was so young. If I had met you when I debuted I would have set my cap for you, and not given up until we were married. But there was a reason for our meeting when we did. Our friendship filled something in both our lives and I don't know where I would be without it."
The carriage slowly pulled to a stop when Marcus yelled to Johnny. They alighted from the carriage and walked into an open field of flowers and trees. "Marcus, it's been ages since we've been here."
"I thought you might like to see it again." He walked over to the tree closest to them and searched the trunk for something he knew he would find carved into the bark. He found it on the far side of the tree: Isabella Bennet (Bella) and Marcus Hartford Best Friends Forever
"I remember when you carved this," she said coming to stand beside him. It was the Season I debuted. I remember how protective of me you were when there was no need to be. We came out here after one of the many balls that I had accepted invitations to and you carved this. You were so worried that I was going to have so many suitors that all my time would be taken and you would be pushed out of my life."
"It was a pretty silly notion wasn't it. I knew you better than that. You are too loyal by far, to ever push anyone you love out of your life." He grabbed her hand, led her into the middle of the field and pulled her down onto the ground. They laid back and stared up at the shining white stars in the velvety black sky. The moon rose full and proud, its luminescent moonbeams streaking down toward Earth. They stayed there for almost an hour, not saying anything, just enjoying the comfortable silence of nature surrounding them.
The carriage rumbled slowly up the drive to Bella's house. It was ablaze with lights and Isabella groaned when she remembered that the Archibalds had been coming to visit tonight. She didn't want to go inside but she didn't have any other choice. The driver opened the door and Marcus stepped out first, then reached up his hand to help her descend.
"Wait here for me Johnny," he instructed his driver.
"I hope that I don't have to sit with my parents and entertain the Archibalds. I'm not feeling up to it tonight."
"If you wish, I'll make your excuses, while you sneak up to your room."
"Would you Marcus? I would so appreciate it."
"I will, but you'll owe me another favor," he said, grinning broadly.
The Bennet's butler, Franklin, opened the door without them even having to knock. "Good evening, miss. Lord Hartford. Your parents are awaiting your arrival in the parlor. You have company."
"So much for sneaking upstairs. Looks like I still only owe you one favor."
They walked arm in arm to the main parlor. When Franklin opened the door she spotted her parents immediately. They were sitting next to each other on a loveseat in the far corner of the room, next to the fireplace.
"Franklin said that my presence was requested," she said softly, hesitant to enter the room and sit down. Finally she did so, but she would not release Marcus' arm.
"How nice of you to finally grace us with your presence, Isabella, since it is a known fact that you left the Rutherford's ball over an hour ago," her father, Malcom Bennet, snapped. He was about to continue when her mother placed a restraining hand on his shoulder.
"Dear, where have you been all this time?" Genevive Bennet asked.
"I was not feeling great, so Marcus and I went to do something we hadn't done since we were children. We went to just outside London and climbed trees and laid in the grass, counting the stars in the heavens." Bella glanced around. "Where are the Archibalds?"
Her father made a noise of disgust but remained silent. "They left early. We have heard reports that you and Marcus are not conducting yourselves in the way people with your breeding should. And what is this business of walking out of one of the most important social affairs of the Season with you arms around my daughter, Lord Hartford. We have already once, in your long-standing friendship with my daughter, had to quash rumors about you and Isabella. We have no desire to do so again."
"I am sorry, Lady Bennet, but Bella was upset so I ushered her out of the soiree as quickly as I possibly could."
Malcom Bennet spoke up again. "We have finally seen to it that someone take over the responsibility of controlling your impulses, Isabella. I have arranged a betrothal between you and Lord Nicholas Montgomery, the Earl of Ryding." The doors of the parlor opened and in he strolled, his gold flecked, evergreen eyes hooded, his lips pressed into a firm, thin line.
"I believe the two of you are acquainted," Genevive said.
"We met at the Attherton's masquerade ball. Though it was only for a small period of time, I derived a great deal of pleasure from out meeting," Nicholas said, moving to stand near her, knowing that she would full well understand the meaning behind his statement. Her father did not comprehend the meaning of his words, but her mother, a smart, wise woman, understood the full impact of his words and the stiffening of her daughter's back confirmed it. So this was the man who had coaxed her rebellious daughter into his bed.
Genevive would have never thought that any man would attract Bella's attention. But this one did and she even bedded him her first season. Her daughter wouldn't let any man take her innocence unless she was, at least a little bit enamored of him. But, not only had he taken her innocence, he had gotten her with child. And if she wasn't mistaken, he didn't know that he had fathered a babe.
Bella thought that by betrothing her to Nicholas Montgomery her father was punishing her for being independent. That wasn't the truth. They just want to see her taken care of properly. She couldn't live all her days in her parents home, a spinster that nobody would invite to their events.
One day she might even come to thank them for setting her up with the Earl. Genevive laughed silently over the thought, knowing her daughter far too well. Isabella, if she came to love the Earl, would never thank them. That would be conceding that they had been right and she would never do that. Her thoughts were lost when Isabella's next words penetrated her brain.
"A meeting I wish had never occurred," Isabella muttered quietly, but not so softly that the Earl and other occupants of the room couldn't hear her words.
"Bella!" her mother gasped.
"Don't fret, Lady Bennet. She has stated a fact that many a person would agree with her about. There are many people who wish they had never set eyes on me."
Bella looked away, her thoughts a big puddle in her brain. For once she couldn't think of something to say, some way to get out of this betrothal that her family had arranged. She clutched Marcus' hand in hers and the gesture made Nicholas want to rip Hartford limb from limb. She had just found out she was to be his wife, and she clasps the hand of another man.
She jumped up suddenly, startling Nicholas into moving back. She had to get out of this wretched betrothal. "I am sorry that you wasted your time, my lord, but I refuse your offer. I do not wish to marry you. So I bid you farewell. Goodnight mother, father. Marcus, would you care to go riding with me tomorrow?
"I would be pleased to accompany you, Bella. Until then." He leaned forward, kissing her cheek boldly, taking note of the flash of anger that swept across Montgomery's face, before strolling out of the room and out of the townhouse.
Bella turned and curtsied politely to Nicholas before turning and heading for the stairs to her room. Inside the parlor, Malcom and Genevive sat, staring in shock at the doors that closed behind Isabella. They finally gathered their composure and Malcom began to make apologies for Isabella's audacious behavior. "I beg your pardon, Lord Montgomery for Isabella's atrocious attitude. I assure you that she is really a sweet girl. She just doesn't take well to having restrictions imposed on her."
"Mr. Bennet, I highly doubt that your daughter is the sweet, docile woman that you would have me believe her to be." Malcom opened his mouth to respond but was cut off by the Earl's next words. "I knew that she was independent, but I had no clue as to exactly how independent she was. Obviously she will fight me to the very ends of this Earth until the vows are spoken, but the deal has been struck and I wish for an heir to my estate. Your daughter can provide me with one. Other than that I have no use for her. But since the bargain has already been struck, and I am a man of my word, the engagement stands. On one condition, of course."
"And what condition would that be, sir?" Malcom asked warily.
"On the condition that your daughter accompany me to Briarwood where she will be taught how to control her impulses and learn how to run my manor according to my wishes. She will stay there until the marriage, which will take place in the chapel on my grounds. You will be allowed to attended, but no one else. Not even Marcus Hartford."
At that Genevive rose to face him. "You must let Marcus attend the wedding. Isabella will die if he isn't allowed to."
"Then we'll just have to take that chance won't we," he said coldly. "Make sure she has her things ready to leave two days hence. My carriage will be here to take her to Briarwood exactly at noon."
"Who will help her see to the preparations that must be made for the wedding?"
"I will have a seamstress from here in London travel to my estate, where she will reside until the preparations are finished. The night grows late, so if you will excuse me I wish to retire to my townhouse. Have her ready to travel in two days." He said nothing more before turning and walking out the door.
"Have we made the right decision?" Genevive asked, coming up to her husband and wrapping her arms around his waist.
"What other choice do we have? We can't control her anymore, Genevive. She acts like she's twelve years old and not twenty two. This marriage will ensure that she isn't able to participate in those childish games anymore. And it will limit the influence Marcus has on her. They have done nothing but cause scandals for our family since they met. Remember when she was sixteen and he was twenty two and they decided to liven up a ball by releasing frogs throughout the room. Or when they were thought to be lovers. That scandal nearly ruined her for good society."
"I know. I just can't help but wonder if we should have betrothed her to Marcus. At least then we would know for sure that she would be happy."
"We just have to hope that she'll learn to live with the marriage and find some happiness in motherhood, even if she can't come to love the Earl."
"I wonder how any person could come to love a man that cold."
was split into 8 parts. Jump to any of the segments from here:
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