Griffin Stone:Duke Of Decadence(10)

By: Carole Mortimer

Damn Felicity!

If not for Harker, then Griffin would not have chosen to come back here to Stonehurst Park at all. To the place where he and Felicity had spent the first months of their married life together. He had certainly avoided the place for most of the last six years, and being back here now appeared to be bringing back all the bitter and unhappy memories of his marriage.

But if he had not come back to Stonehurst Park last night then what would have become of Bella?

Would she have perhaps stumbled and fallen in the woods in the dark, and perished without anyone being the wiser?

Would the people who had already treated her so cruelly have recaptured her and returned her to her prison?

For those reasons alone Griffin could not regret now being at Stonehurst Park.

Now if only he could fathom what he had said or done to cause Bella’s current upset.

His brow cleared as a thought occurred to him. ‘I have already asked my housekeeper to send to the nearest town for more suitable gowns and footwear for you to wear.’

‘Suitable gowns and footwear will not make a difference to how I look!’ There was still a fire in her eyes as she looked at him. ‘How could you be so cruel as to—as to taunt me so, when I am already laid low?’

Griffin gave an exasperated shake of his head. ‘I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.’

‘I am talking about this!’ She held up the bareness of her bruised arms. ‘And this!’ She pulled aside the already gaping neckline to reveal her discoloured shoulders. ‘And this!’

‘Enough! No more, Bella,’ Griffin protested as she would have lifted the hem of her gown, hopefully only to show him her abraded calves, but he could not be sure; an overabundance of modesty did not appear to be one of her attributes!

‘Bella.’ He strode slowly towards her, as if he were approaching a skittish horse rather than a beautiful young woman. ‘Bella,’ he repeated huskily as he placed a hand gently beneath her chin and raised her face so that he could look directly into her eyes. ‘Those bruises are only skin deep. They will all fade with time. And they could never hide the beauty beneath.’

Bella blinked. ‘Do you truly mean that or are you just being kind?’

‘I believe we have already established that I am cruel rather than kind.’

‘I thought—I did not know what to think.’ She now looked regretful regarding her previous outburst.

Griffin arched that aristocratic brow. ‘I am not a man who is known for his kindness. But neither am I a deceptive one,’ he added emphatically.

She gave a shake of her head. ‘When I undressed for my bath and saw my reflection in the mirror I could only think that, by giving me such a beautiful name, you must be mocking me for how unsightly I look. I truly believed that you were taunting me.’

‘I would never do such a thing to you, Bella,’ he assured her softly as he drew her into his arms. ‘Never!’

Bella breathed a contented sigh as she lay her head against the firmness of his chest, her arms moving tentatively about the leanness of his waist. He felt so big and strong against her, so solid and sure, like a mountain that would never, could never, be moved.

‘Who could have done this to me?’ She shuddered as she imagined the beatings she must have received.

Griffin’s arms tightened about Bella as he felt her tremble. ‘I do not know.’ Yet!

For he would learn who was responsible for hurting this young woman. Oh, yes, Griffin would find those responsible for her ill treatment. And when he did—

‘Do you think that—?’ She buried her head deeper into his chest. ‘Could it be that I am a married woman and that perhaps my husband might have done this to me?’

That was a possibility Griffin had not even considered in his earlier deliberations!

Perhaps because she had initially appeared so young to him.

Perhaps because she wore no wedding ring on her left hand.

And perhaps he had not thought of it because he had not wished for her to be a married woman?

But he knew better than most the embarrassment of a cuckolded husband, and Griffin’s physical response to Bella was not something he wished, or ever wanted to feel for a woman who was the wife of another man. Not even one who could have treated her so harshly.

Indeed, marriage could be the very worst outcome to Griffin’s enquiries regarding Bella; unless otherwise stated in a marriage settlement, English law still allowed that a woman’s person, and her property, came under her husband’s control upon their marriage. And, if it transpired that Bella was a married woman, then Griffin would be prevented by law from doing anything to protect her from her husband’s cruelty, despite his earlier promise to her.