The Wicked Wife(Blackhaven Brides Book 9)

By: Mary Lancaster

Blackhaven Brides Book 9



Chapter One




Frances, Countess of Torridon, woke to discover her husband sitting on the edge of her bed. Her heart fluttered. She had almost forgotten how darkly handsome he was, how the smoke-grey of his hard eyes could ignite with lust.

She smiled. “What are you doing here?”

“Admiring the beauty of my sleeping wife.” He leaned down to her and at the first touch of his lips, desire flared, hot and wonderful. She reached up and touched his cheek, but he lifted his head after a mere moment.

“Your son still sleeps,” she said huskily.

He took her hand and kissed it, just a little too hard for civility. “I know. I have picked the wrong morning to depart.”

“Depart?” She sat up. “Where are you going?”

“Just over to Ardnacraig, but I’ll need to start now. I’ll be back tomorrow afternoon.”

“I’ll come with you,” she said brightly. Suddenly, she craved company more than anything in the world. Well, it wasn’t really so sudden. The longing had been growing for weeks. Besides, she wanted to be with her husband. And to escape her mother-in-law for a day and a night seemed like bliss.

“I wish you could,” he said ruefully. “But I have to leave now to get there by three as I promised. And we can’t take Jamie.”

“I don’t see why not, and I can be ready in five minutes.”

He smiled. “No, you can’t. Besides, one of us should keep my mother company or she won’t feel welcome.”

She isn’t.

Torridon released her hand and stood. The decision had been made before he entered the room and would not be altered.

“She’s your mother,” Frances snapped. “You stay and keep her company. Jamie and I shall visit Ardnacraig.”

His smile became a little fixed. He did not like to quarrel with her. “If you feel competent to discuss the boundary drainage and related matters—”

“Of course I do,” she interrupted. “I was born on an estate not so unlike this one. I knew as much about running it as my brother, before it was decreed my poor feminine brain could only handle subjects like dresses, balls, and babies.”

“Frances—”

Encouraged by the gentleness of his tone, she said passionately, “I don’t want to go without you, Alan. I want to go with you, and truthfully, there is no reason why I should not. I have had a baby, not a sickness, and neither of us are weak or ailing, whatever your mother says.”

“Frances, she does know about these things,” he replied in the familiar tone of patience she so hated. “She has had a few children of her own.”

“But I am not her,” Frances said, jumping out of bed. She caught his wrist as he would have walked away. “And Jamie is not any of her babies who died so sadly.”

But she had lost him. She had never really had him. She saw that quite clearly in his cold, impatient eyes. “If you will not be guided by my mother, then please respect my wishes. Please stay here and look after my house, my mother, and my son. Those things are not nothing to me.”

“Or to me!” She twined her fingers through his, stepped closer to him, desperate to make him understand. “Alan, I just want to be your wife again, not your burden or your nursery maid.”

As soon as the words spilled out, she knew they were the wrong ones. But she could not take them back. His eyes almost froze over like the loch in winter.

Gently, yet deliberately, he disentangled their hands and stepped back. “I have given you no cause to imagine such things,” he said coldly. “I have given you everything.”

“Have you, Alan?” she whispered. “Have you really?”

He stared at her, his eyes unreadable, although she could have sworn that at last some storm raged beneath the ice. “What would you like now? Diamonds? Silk? A new carriage? Just speak to MacDonald and he will arrange it.”

If he had slapped her it would have hurt less. Was that what he truly thought of her? After more than a year of marriage? That she was just some discontented, grasping female? The blood drained from her face so fast she had to seize the bedpost to steady herself.

He didn’t notice, for he was already striding to the door. “Goodbye, Frances. I shall see you tomorrow afternoon.”