Roguishly Matched – Marie Higgins

Leicestershire, England To err is human, to forgive divine, Alexander Pope once said. But for Adeline, the man who had erred against her had started a whirlwind of tragic mistakes, pulling her deeper and deeper into misery. Although she wanted to forgive, now was not the time, and she couldn’t see it in her future. Righting the wrong was the only way for her to finally leave the horrid past behind her so that she could get on with her life. Adeline Talbot, Marchioness of Kentwood, bounced on the seat of the coach as the driver took her to Hanover Hall in Leicestershire. Today was Lord William Dorsey’s wedding, a function that Adeline had not been invited to attend. It made little difference. She wasn’t going to the manor to see Lord William, anyway. It was his older brother, the Earl of Hanover that she planned to ruin. Shaking her head, she shifted on the seat and peered out the window. Perhaps ruin wasn’t the correct word. After all, she would never be able to ruin Collin Dorsey’s life since he was a titled lord with a powerful family standing behind him. However, she could make Collin a laughingstock in front of his friends, and all the maidens attending the wedding in hopes of becoming the lord’s wife. Adeline figured she was doing those women a service by making certain their hearts did not get broken, and their lives ruined. She lightly tapped her fingers on the window of the coach, wishing everything could be over by now.

Being anxious like this was wearing on her nerves. For a little over a year now, she’d been planning today’s event with great anticipation. It would happen the way she wanted, because it was time that something right happened in her life. She’d march into that wedding party, make herself known, and everyone would hear what she had to say about the so-called nobleman. Then, after seeing Collin’s shocked and very humiliated expression, she would leave quickly and not look back. And she would not feel guilty. Collin Dorsey was the first and only man she’d ever met who had gone out of his way to charm her. He hadn’t judged or found her wanting because of her family’s impoverished circumstances. It was impossible for her not to be affected by his actions. Indeed, he had made it very easy for her to surrender her heart to him.

He’d also inherited her deceased husband’s title. She clenched her teeth as her stomach rolled. This was yet another ideal reason to make him upset with her. Just because he held the title of Marquess of Kentwood now, didn’t mean he had to take over the small manor where she had taken up residence, and she was going to convince him one way or another to live elsewhere. As the rocking motion of her traveling coach slowed, she concentrated on the landscape from the window as Hanover Hall grew nearer. Her stomach twisted and she willed the uncomfortable feelings to stop. Doubts snuck into her mind, but she pushed them aside. I am doing the right thing! Grumbling, Adeline shook her head. She must believe this was the only way to right a wrong. Never in her life had she been so determined to make another person miserable.

She’d never had a mean bone in her body. But then, she’d never before had something like this happen to her, either. The coach came to a full stop and she took in a deep breath, repeating in her mind that she could do this. She’d worn one of her favorite gowns that she’d purchased after she’d married Lloyd Talbot but never had the chance to wear since he’d died two days later when he and his drinking friends were in a boat that capsized – killing only her husband. She ran her palm over the blue and silver satin material. This particular style of gown was all the rage in Paris, so the seamstress had told her. The seamstress had mentioned that women were wearing gowns with fuller sleeves and lower waistlines. Adeline actually liked the full sleeves, and the lower waistline made her look slimmer. The footman opened the door to the coach and helped her down. She squared her shoulders and walked away from the vehicle with her head held high – like a true Marchioness, even though she’d never truly felt like one.

She scanned the crowded yard. No one she recognized, thank goodness. But it didn’t matter. She wouldn’t let anyone stop her from the scene she was about to make. Then she saw him. Collin Dorsey stood with his back toward her, but she’d recognize the tall, broad-shouldered man with the sandy-blond hair anywhere. Standing in their little circle was an older man and three young ladies. The women stared up at the tall, broad-shouldered marquess, with dreams in their eyes. Adeline would make certain she squashed their hopes. The newly appointed Marquess of Kentwood was not the marrying kind.

The rogue was far from being a true gentleman. Memories she’d wanted to keep hidden tried to resurface. She mustn’t remember how he’d made her heart skip with excitement when he smiled at her, or how he’d weakened her knees just from his passionate kisses. Instead, she’d recall how much she hated him for allowing his friend to take his place at the cottage when she’d thought she was meeting Collin. She walked through the wedding crowd to where Collin would easily notice her. People glanced her way as she headed toward Collin, but her focus was only on him. Finally, his head turned toward her. For a second, his gaze swept briefly over her, but when he finally studied her face, his eyes widened. She wasn’t prepared for the excitement that flashed across his expression, but she wouldn’t let that sway her determination. He mumbled something to those around him, his stare locked on her face as he moved her way.

They both stopped as they reached each other. His gaze roamed all over her face as if he was trying to memorize her. She remembered him doing that a few times before when they’d been together. Her heartbeat quickened and she clenched her jaw, praying she could do everything she had planned. “Addie,” he whispered the nickname he’d given her, almost in reverence. “What… are you doing here?” The ice she’d purposely built around her heart began to melt. No! She couldn’t allow him get to her again. She swallowed hard before clearing her throat. “I couldn’t go another day without seeing you. So much has been on my mind since we last talked, and I needed to tell you my feelings before any more time goes by.

” Confusion creased his forehead and he looked behind her briefly. “You’ve been thinking of me?” Slowly, she breathed, trying to gain control again. “I don’t know how to answer that.” “Why not?” “Because I have been thinking of you, but not the way you probably think.” He hitched a breath. “But… you have thought of me.” She tried to breathe calmly, even though her heart raced. Seeing the sparkle in his hazel eyes wasn’t a good thing. “How could I not? You are the one who inherited my dead husband’s title.” The light that had been in his eyes dimmed.

“Addie, believe me when I say I’m truly sorry for your loss.” He paused briefly. “What… happened, if you don’t mind me asking?” She frowned. “You don’t know?” “The first I’d heard of this was a couple of weeks ago.” Slowly, she shook her head. “He’s been dead for a year now. He died two days after we were married.” Collin gasped and lifted his hand to his lips. His rapid blinking made her wonder if he was trying to hold back tears. And yet, the expression that flitted across his face showed he was vastly relieved but felt guilty about it.

Still, she couldn’t allow that to sway her from her goal. “Forgive me,” he said in a whisper, “but can you tell me how… how did he die?” “He and a few of his cronies went out on a boat that capsized. My intoxicated husband was the only one who drowned.” Adeline didn’t dare mention that strumpets had been on the boat with those men. Knowing her husband had been unfaithful so soon after they exchanged vows was quite humiliating. “I’m… so sorry.” She arched an eyebrow. “You are?” “Of course. He had been my very good friend. I’m sure you were devastated.

” She rolled her eyes. “For your information, my lord, I was not devastated. If you recall, our marriage was one that neither Lord Kentwood nor I had wanted.” Collin frowned. “Yes, I do recall that.” His hand dropped to his side and he squared his shoulders. “So tell me, what are you doing here at my brother’s wedding? Did you want to discuss the manors and which one you’ll get?” As she fought away the feelings of doubt about her reactions, she focused on all the pain and agony she’d experienced since meeting him. Tears stung her eyes, but she would not shed them. Collin Dorsey wasn’t worth the effort. Not any longer.

“That’s not why I’m here.” She took a reassuring breath. “I sought you out today to tell you how much I despise you.” His eyes widened once again. “Pardon me?” “Because of what happened just more than a year ago… you ruined my life.” His brows drew together. “Ruined your life? How do you figure that when Lloyd was the one who—” “Because,” she quickly interrupted him, “you had done nothing to stop it – or even prevent it from happening.” Collin sighed heavily and pushed his fingers through his wavy hair. “I fear, you’re not making any sense. How could I have possibly stopped it?” Anger grew inside of her and she fisted her hands.

“Because,” she said through tight lips, “you had not come to the cottage like you told me you would.” “The cottage?” He shook his head. Adeline had had enough of this guessing game. Before he said something to soften her heart, it was time to make others see him for the fool she knew him to be. She released a very loud agitated sigh. “You ruined my family, because of your roguish actions,” she shouted. “You ruined… my life!” Gradually, the wedding crowd became quiet, which was exactly what she’d wanted. Collin stood frozen and his face had lost a little color. His Adam’s apple jumped in his throat. “Adeline—” “I’m Lady Kentwood to you!” Collin grasped her arm, but she yanked it away and stepped back.

“I think,” he said calmly, “that we should take this conversation somewhere that’s more private instead of airing our grievances in public.” “Private?” she shrieked. “So that you can ruin my reputation even more?” He gave her a stern look. “Lady Kentwood, I really must insist—” “You can insist all you’d like, for the good it will do. But I will never willingly go into a private room with you ever again.” Malice darkened Collin’s hazel eyes. She never thought she’d witness such anger in his expression, but it was worth every second. Victory was within reach. “Lady Kentwood,” he grumbled for her ears only, “you are making a spectacle of yourself. If I didn’t know you better, I would think that you’ve been drinking from your late husband’s liquor cabinet.

” She gave him an evil grin and shook her head. “No,” she said softly, “I have never touched the stuff, and I never will. This outrage you see is all me.” Silence stretched between her and Collin, but moments later, two men joined them. One of the men resembled Collin, but his hair was a dark brown. Each man grasped one of her elbows. “I do not know who you are,” the man who looked like Collin said in a gruff voice, “but you were not invited to my wedding, and so my cousin and I are going to escort you back to your coach.” Adeline looked back at Collin, showing him through her glare just how much she loathed him. She didn’t take her eyes off him even as the two men led her away from the wedding guests. Finally, when they reached her coach, she pulled away from the men.

She moved her attention to the bridegroom. “I beg your forgiveness for ruining your party, but it was your brother whom I wanted to embarrass, not you.” The man lifted his chin. “Lady Kentwood, I think you are the one who has been embarrassed the most here today.” She shook her head, trying to keep her heart from breaking all over again. It was over now, so why didn’t she feel better? “No, it was the new Marquess of Kentwood. But I will have the last laugh, I assure you.” With unshed tears stinging her eyes, she turned and climbed into her coach. When she sat on the seat, she sighed with relief as her body trembled. She’d waited for a whole year to get that off her chest.

So why then, did she feel like her world was crumbling around her all over again?

.

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