The Countess Confessions

The Countess Confessions by Jillian Hunter Page B

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Authors: Jillian Hunter
stupid enough to believe their lies. Not a single person at the party except those two troublemakers could remember seeing you and even then they would not give me a straight answer.”
    “I spent most of my time in the garden,” she said, her gaze flickering to her Scottish protector. Dear God, what was he going to do? Didn’t he realize that anything he said would only make it worse for her? Maybe he wasn’t concerned about her at all. Maybe he needed to make sure she never divulged his secrets.
    “I did spend most of my time in the garden,” she said again to her father. “I came back home when I heard you were looking for me. I—”
    “I demand to know the man’s name and whereabouts.” He raised his fist to her face. “So help me God, I will beat the truth out of you if you make me. Everyone at the party must be laughing at what a fool I looked, searching for—”
    “My name is Damien Boscastle, the Earl of Shalcross, and I am standing in your shadow. Your daughter was with me this evening. I take full responsibility for our actions. I led her astray.”
    “What?” Emily whispered, shaking her head in disbelief, moving forward without thought to what she was doing. Damien Boscastle? Who in heaven’s name was this man? An earl? She hadn’t believed her maid’s prattle.
    The unfamiliar voice either failed to penetrate her father’s rage or further stoked it. In a blur she watched her father’s hand descend, and Damien intercept the blow with his forearm. Her father stumbled back into Michael, who steadied him before stepping forward to act as a shield between the earl and the baron. Emily wouldn’t want to stand between them at this moment.
    “What
are
you doing here?” Michael asked Damien in bewilderment.
    Damien straightened, scrutinizing Emily again before he answered. “The ranting from this house is more than enough to draw the attention of any neighbor passing by. I’d have thought that this would be a night for discretion. It is not necessary to broadcast one’s private difficulties, is it?”
    Emily swallowed hard, avoiding his hard gaze. There lived only one neighbor who, perhaps if he were taking an evening walk, might have overheard the baron’s outburst. That was unlikely. The servants had learned long ago to stay in their quarters when the master had been drinking. And it might be undesirable to attract notice to an unpleasantness at home, but no one had asked for his intervention as far as Emily knew.
    Her father seemed to have calmed considerably. Perhaps at last he had made sense of what the earl had said.
    “My lord,” he said, his manner deferential. “You will understand my distress. I was under the impression that my daughter had stayed home, and naturally I would not have allowed her to go without a reliable escort. Perhaps she even told me and I forgot.”
    “I understand,” Damien said, when it was clear he didn’t have the clue what the baron meant.
    “I have known that my daughter would be the death of me since the day she started to walk.”
    Damien’s eyes darkened. “I think I understand,” he said again.
    “She changed the color of my hair overnight,” the baron said.
    “I can see that happening, too,” Damien murmured.
    “I do not believe I properly caught your name. Forgive me. And did you or did you not offer her a marriage proposal?”
    Emily shivered in the moment of silence that followed her father’s bluntly asked question. An earl. A request for Emily’s hand. A single indiscretion could be overlooked when accompanied by a proposal from a nobleman. But this was his opportunity to back out of his impulsive offer. Her father would rage, yes, and then he would pass out on the sofa. In the morning everyone in the house would hide in their respective places. The baron would not be certain what had happened during the night.
    But he was alert enough now. He coughed lightly, prompting the earl to respond.
    Damien shrugged with a detached air that

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