By Mary Balogh

A Masked Deception

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Good morning, my dear," he said. " "Yes, Richard," she replied, thankful that he had turned to the sideboard to fill a plate with food. She found it equally difficult to meet his eyes. " At least she was not forced to lie this morning, she thought with wry humor. " he asked, frowning. "I am afraid it did not take effect," she replied, avoiding the question. "But I shall be fine presently. " Margaret looked up from her coffeecup in surprise. She would not have expected such an offer on any morning, but especially not on this particular morning.

Had the occasion not been such an anxious one, she thought, she would have felt remarkably pleased with herself to be seen walking between two such distinguished-looking masked gentlemen. Meanwhile Jem had maneuvered the plain town carriage into a secluded parking space outside Vaux-hall Gardens and had lowered the steps for her ladyship to alight. He was surprised that Kitty had allowed her mistress to leave without a cloak. The night was warm, but not warm enough for bare arms, he reflected. However, there was no accounting for the whims of the Quality.

She was glad that she had taken the precaution of going to bed. Richard himself had brought her the laudanum and a warm drink of milk. She had claimed that the milk was too hot to drink but had promised to take the medicine as soon as the drink had cooled. He had sat on the edge of the bed, suffocating her with his aura of masculinity. "My poor dear," he had said. " "Yes, Richard," she had replied, "but it is Charlotte I am really concerned about. " "I shall take you there another evening," he had said, smiling gently into her eyes, unaware of the somersaults his expression was causing her stomach and heart to perform.

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