Mad About the Marquess (Highland Brides Book 2)

Mad About the Marquess (Highland Brides Book 2) by Elizabeth Essex Page A

Book: Mad About the Marquess (Highland Brides Book 2) by Elizabeth Essex Read Free Book Online
Authors: Elizabeth Essex
to hold in his large, capable hands. The reverend was attired in his one and only costume, which was what he wore every day—the black suit and white linen collar of the sober clergyman. “We have not seen you at Saint Cuthbert’s for quite some time, my lady. I hope you have not been in ill health? We have been greatly missing your… prayers.”
    Quince suppressed her agitation, as well as her irritation. The reverend may have been young and stodgy, but he possessed the age-old ability to appear to be saying one thing while meaning entirely another. Quince did not go to West Kirk to pray. She had only ventured into Saint Cuthbert’s to slip money—a vast deal of money over the past three years—into the poor box. She had never intended for anyone to know the money came from her. Although she was not particularly religious, she knew her bible well enough to adhere to the admonition to do good by stealth.  
    Unfortunately for her, the good reverend seemed to be annoyingly good at sussing things out—almost as good as Mama, and Strathcairn, for that matter. But she obliged the clergyman’s sense of propriety by speaking in the same way—she was as fluent in double-speak as she was in outright lies. “My apologies, Reverend.” She made her curtsey of respect, and tried not to let her gaze wander past his shoulders into the crowd, where her cavalier was hopefully looking for her. “You must have me confused with another.”
    “Ah, good. Yes.” The tall young vicar twisted his hat in his hands, and lowered his voice, as if he were imparting a strict confidence. “I must admit that I came tonight in the hope of seeking you out, my lady. I cannot help but notice that your visits—for which we are, and always have been supremely grateful—have fallen off of late. I grew worried for your… health.”
    Her health was fine—it was her state of reawakened guilt that was not. By jimble, it had only been a few days since she had decided to cease her pilfering. But to the reverend who, in his defense, had destitute mouths to feed, she supposed it might well have been a year.
    But she was not about to explain that she had traded opportunistic thievery for kisses to a vicar. “I cannot think what you mean, sir.”
    “Ah, I understand.” He glanced around at the costumed crowd. “You wish to remain anonymous. I don’t want you to think we are ungrateful,” he hastened to add in an exaggerated, overly confidential whisper. “It is only that the need is so great at the moment. So many new petitioners every day. We have, it seems, gained a reputation as something of a savior for the dispossessed at Saint Cuthbert’s. And while it is gratifying that our modest successes have helped so many people and families in need, our very success has outstripped our ability to help.”
    Though Quince had over the past three years contributed what felt like a fortune—and a very hard, dangerously earned fortune it was at that—the money she gave wasn’t enough. It was never enough. And on days like today, when the reverend’s pale gray eyes implored her, the small amount she stole felt like it was never going to be enough.  
    “You have been such a great supporter,” he continued in his sermon-like way. “I suppose I’ve come to rely on you, and your generous donations. And I should hate to turn away someone in true need. And there are so many. So very many. So you see why we are especially in need of contributions?”
    She did see. It was why she was able to look herself in the mirror, and sleep at night—doing good for people in desperate need. But it was really just an excuse, the do-gooding.
    Talent sighed at her silence, and throttled his hat within his hands, before he launched one last appeal. “We received three new families, with at least three children each, one with four—thin, peaked looking children—just today.”
    It was Quince’s turn to sigh. The amount she had yet to place into the poor box—the take

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