Epilogue for The Blackmailed Bride

Part I

“Where are you going?”

Nick, the Marquess of Huntsford, stopped in his path to the door. And he tried not to cringe at the sleepy sound of his wife’s voice coming from the bed. Leaving her while she was sleeping was hard enough…leaving her while she was staring at him with slumberous and curious eyes was almost impossible.

It was still dark outside, and in an effort not to wake her, he’d only lit a single candle to illuminate the room. Even with the dimness, however, he could see the questioning look on his wife’s face, the confusion that registered there once she noticed that he was fully clothed.

“Wha—” she began.

While Nick knew he should get going because he was already past the point of being acceptably late, Nick found himself walking back to the bed.

“I thought you were asleep,” he said. Once he was close enough to her, Nick leaned down, pressing his lips against hers. When her arms came up and entwined around his neck and she pulled him closer, Nick began to wonder if he’d ever make it out of the house…not that he’d be complaining but the business he had to attend to was, unfortunately, much too important to miss.

When Nick stepped back from the bed, Olivia made a moue of dissatisfaction, which was quickly replaced by a frown.

“Don’t think you can distract me with a mind-numbing kiss,” she accused, sounding just a bit breathless. “I still want to know where it is you think you’re going.”

Nick hated the pretense. Hated the necessary hiding of information. So he tried to deflect by asking, “So, my kiss was mind-numbing?” he said with a grin that he wasn’t sure reached his eyes.

Olivia flounced back on her mound of pillows. “Of course you would fixate on that,” she said with a huff that didn’t sound too angry.

“I think you should go back to sleep love. It’s early yet.”

“I’ll think about it,” she said. “As soon as you tell me why you’re awake and looking ready for a night on the town…” Olivia let the ultimatum dangle in the air.

Nick knew how it looked. They’d only been married for a week, and Nick certainly hadn’t had any plans of sneaking out of their bedchamber in the middle of the night. He could only pray that his wife would trust him enough to accept his evasion and non-answers. If everything went according to plan, she’d know soon enough and then he’d never have to keep secrets from her again.

He didn’t want to answer her. And he certainly wasn’t going to lie to her—even if it would ease her mind. Olivia deserved nothing but honesty, which he would have certainly given her if not for the potential his news had to devastate the tenuous peace she’d found in the last few weeks. So in order to avoid her searching gaze, Nick stared at the drapes on the bed as though they were the most fascinating things in the room.

“Nick,” her voice was a siren’s call to him. And with her voice still husky from sleep and her hair tousled, Nick didn’t think he’d ever seen his wife look so enticing.

So in the next second, fully aware that he had somewhere to be and should even now be on his way there, he stretched out beside her on the bed. Gathering into his arms, Nick felt his own stress and anxiety ebb away as his wife snuggled into him. Olivia tucked her head under his chin, and Nick brushed back the strands of her hair, baring her ear to his lips.

“Go to sleep, love,” he murmured.

His wife looked life she was going to argue with him—which wouldn’t have been any kind of surprise. In fact, Nick knew she must have been exhausted because she had caved so easily. He hadn’t given her any clue as to what he was doing, and his Olivia normally wouldn’t have stood for that kind of mystery. But the little circular rubbing motions he made on her back and his litany of whispered words of love seemed to make her content and drowsy.

It was hard to believe, even after a week of marriage, that they had finally made it to this place that Nick could go to sleep at night knowing that the love of his life would be the first person he saw when he awoke. Gone was the Olivia who seemed terrified of shadows, of things beyond her control. For the first time, Nick saw Olivia’s fire, the courage that he’d known had been there all the time. She was everything he’d expected her to be. And more.

Nick had never thought he could love someone as much as he did his wife.

Which is why he would do anything to protect her. Hide information. Attend clandestine meetings. Anything.

Several long moments passed, and Nick forced his thoughts away from how late he was going to be. He’d paid his informant good money to meet him with the information…good enough money that the informant shouldn’t be deterred by a bit of a delay.

Just when Nick thought that Olivia had finally drifted back to sleep, she rose her head up slightly, turning to look him in the eyes.

“Will you still be here when I wake up?” she asked, her voice still raspy and groggy. The words sounded slurred, and Nick thought it was a struggle for her to keep her eyes open.

Nick didn’t answer for several beats. He leaned forward the mere inches separating them and kissed her again, imbuing the embrace with as much passion as he could allow under the circumstances. If Olivia ended up waking before he returned home, Nick didn’t want there being any doubt in her mind that she was the only woman for him.

“Nick?” she asked once he’d pulled away from her again. “I asked if you were going to be here when I wake up?”

“I’m here now, aren’t I, love?”

She murmured something about that not being an acceptable answer, but Nick could tell by the way her voice trailed off that he wasn’t going to have to respond to that.

Nick waited until Olivia’s breathing evened out into a deep, unbroken rhythm. And once he was thoroughly convinced she’d fallen deeply asleep, he still waited another ten minutes before quietly climbing out of the bed.

By the time I get there, I’ll be nearly an hour late.

Nick had had no other choice. If Olivia had pressed her suspicions, Nick wouldn’t have made it out of the house at all. And as he’d already said, there wasn’t a single thing he wouldn’t do to make sure his wife never had to worry again.

Olivia almost felt guilty.


As soon as she’d felt Nick rise from the bed, the tenuous half-sleep she’d been in snapped, and she was wide awake. But clearly, her husband wasn’t interested in sharing where he was going. Which only served to inflame Olivia’s temper.

As far as she knew, when they’d tied themselves together in marriage, they’d made a commitment to one another. Not to keep secrets. Not to sneak off in the middle of the night without telling the other where he was going.

So, as soon as she heard the click of the bedroom door shutting behind Nick, Olivia waited a few seconds before leaping out of the bed herself. Rushing to the wardrobe, she tried to find the most discrete outfit she owned, and one that she’d be able to put on without the help of a lady’s maid. The last thing she wanted to do was draw attention to herself with the servants. Olivia could almost imagine Mathis’ stern look of disapproval once he realized that she intended to ride out in the middle of the night tracking down her missing husband.

Why are you doing this?

Do you not trust him?

Olivia tried to tamp down the irritating voice of rationality that ceased to shut up even as she pulled the clothes over her head and slipped on her shoes.

Clearly he doesn’t trust me, or else he wouldn’t be sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night.

Nick was a good man. He loved her.

And there were a hundred innocent explanations for what he could be doing. But if that were the case, then why didn’t he tell her?

She couldn’t stop and couldn’t let the worries and fears overtake her. Couldn’t let them paralyze her into not being able to see this through.

The trick now would be to discover where he’d gone.

Olivia had already heard the quiet shutting of the front door. Followed, moments later by the sound of horse hooves against the cobblestone street outside. So since she had absolutely no chance of catching up to him when she had neither a means of saddling the horse by herself—and she certainly wasn’t going to solicit a groom for assistance—nor any other viable means of transportation, Olivia was going to have to pray that she could find some other way to determine where he’d gone.

Olivia felt awful snooping around the chamber. Not so awful that she stopped, of course…even though she knew that every leaf of paper she examined, every pocket of his coats that she checked was somehow a violation of trust.

There was nothing in the bedchamber to indicate where he’d gone. That only left one alternative—Nick’s study. A look at the clock showed that it was just after one in the morning, so the servants should have been abed, and Olivia thought she might actually have a chance of making it to the study without being detected and pressed for an explanation.

Fully dressed—expect for her shoes which she’d taken off and were carrying in her hands so as not to make too much noise—Olivia crept out of the bedroom and down the flight of stairs to her husband’s study.

Pushing open the door, Olivia asked herself for what must have been the hundredth time if what she was doing was the right thing.

You won’t be content until you know. That was true, but again, it didn’t make the impulse, the drive to figure out what was going on any less guilt-inducing.

Just because you want to know where Nick is doesn’t mean you don’t love him, she told herself. And perhaps it was because she did love him so much that she felt the drive to discover the secret. After a week of near bliss, Olivia hadn’t been able to stave off some long-repressed feeling that she was on the precipice of something bad happening. As much as she turned her life over to God and tried to shake off the lingering fears and distrusts, it was difficult. It was something she was having to surrender daily.

And right now, perhaps she wasn’t doing such a good job of it.

Olivia was standing beside his desk when her conscience overwhelmed her. It didn’t matter what Nick was doing. She trusted him implicitly, and if his late-night venture was something she needed to know about, Olivia had no doubt that he would tell her eventually. Feeling lower than she had for quite some time, she turned to leave her husband’s study.

As her eyes made an idle sweep of the room as she turned, however, Olivia’s eyes settled on a scrap of paper tucked underneath some books on the edge of Nick’s desk. She would have stuck to her newly reinforced conviction to leave it alone had it not been for the fact that a woman’s name was visible on the top of the paper.

Reaching out with trembling fingers, Olivia took a hold of the note and brought it close enough to read.

It was indeed a woman’s name.

And an address.

And that night’s date.

Part II

Nick’s eyes had to adjust to the dimly lit tavern. And then his nose had to adjust to the almost overwhelming stench of cheroot smoke that hovered in the building like a thick, impenetrable cloud.

Had Marcus made it yet?

Scanning through the overcrowded room didn’t reveal his best friend and now brother-in-law, the Earl of Westin. It did, however, reveal several of the ladies wandering through the tavern and giving him a look that made him cringe. Fortunately, he was able to hide the expression before one of the women took offense to not only his rejection of their favors but the obvious distaste that registered on his face at just the thought of it.

“Through sight-seeing?” a low voice to his left asked.

Marcus. Nick, while he would never admit it aloud, was relieved to find his friend already waiting for him.

“How long have you been here?” Nick asked, moving to take the seat across from him.

“Longer than you,” Marcus quipped, raising an eyebrow in question.

Nick wasn’t about to go into any particulars of why he was late, not when there were much more pressing matters to attend to in the tavern.

“Have you seen her yet?” Nick asked, his eyes trying to scan the smoky room but coming up empty.

The Earl of Westin shook his head. “Not yet. But she may well have decided to stay as far away from here tonight as possible.”

Nick wouldn’t blame her for that. Likely, Marie wasn’t going to want to be anywhere nearby when Finley made his final appearance in the tavern. “You don’t think she would have warned him, do you?”

“No. Seems like Marie’s not any happier than ninety-nine percent of the people Finley owes money to. A woman scorned and all that…”

Nick shook his head, “Only a fool would expect what Finley seems to be coming here for.”

Marcus’ chuckle was low…but the sound held menace to it as well. “I don’t think we’ve ever had any debate about Finley being a fool—among plenty of other things.”

Nick wasn’t going to argue with that. Finley was a fool for not having left the country after his and Marcus’ little talk with the man. According to Marcus’ sources, Finley had thought to lay low for a while, to wait until enough time had passed for him to ingratiate himself back into at least the outer fringes of society.

What Finley hadn’t understood—at least not clearly enough—was that Nick hadn’t been making a suggestion when he’d proposed that Finley should leave the country. And if Baron Finley hadn’t thought that the two of them would make certain he was never in a position to hurt Olivia again…well, it just went to show that the man was too stupid for his own good.

“There he is,” Marcus whispered. From his vantage point facing the door, he was the first to see the baron make his not-so-grand entrance into the tavern.

Nick swiveled a bit in his seat, not wanting to move too quickly to draw attention to them, but more than curious to see how Finley had fared over the last week of being both homeless and penniless.

Unsurprisingly, not well. The Adonis that used to have droves of ladies flocking to him now looked as though he’d been sleeping in a liquor bottle…after he’d bathed in the contents of one.

“What’s the plan?” Nick asked.

Marcus lifted a shoulder in a half-shrug. “I thought you might have one.”

“Fair enough, I suppose.” He watched as Finley looked around the room, clearly seeing everything through bleary eyes. Anyone around could tell that the baron was so intoxicated, it was a miracle he could stand and walk unaided.

“Do you want to be the one to grab him? Or do I get that honor?” Marcus asked as they watched him walking to the counter, no doubt to ask what room upstairs Marie was in.

“It might take both of us, judging by the way he’s weaving.”

At a nod of Marcus’ head, both he and Nick slid out from their seats. Having to weave their own way through the patrons of the tavern, Nick went one direction and Marcus the other, trying to block the baron in.

Not that he was probably going to be in any position to flee from them.

Marcus made fairly unhindered progress to the counter. Nick on the other hand, had to shoulder and elbow his way past several people in order to get there in time.

By the time they both made it to him, Finley still hadn’t noticed that he was trapped.

The two of them hadn’t discussed who amongst them would take the lead in the confrontation, but Nick figured that as Olivia’s husband, he had the biggest stake in making sure that Finley got the message this time.

“How interesting to see you here,” Nick drawled.

Finley, who was probably one drink away from being passed out against the bar, turned slowly to his left. For a moment, the expression on his face was comical. His eyes widened…his mouth made an “o” of surprise.

“Wh—wh?” he stuttered.

Marcus clapped Finley on the back…much harder than even a hostile greeting would have called for. “Such an unexpected surprise.”

If Finley had looked nauseous before, he looked downright near death’s door now. “I’m just drunk,” he muttered to himself, as though trying to explain away their appearance as alcohol-fueled hallucinations.

Nick nodded. “You certainly are that. But you’re also still in England…I don’t think I have to explain why that’s a problem.”

Finley, who only a week ago had been full of fight and venom, now looked like a man defeated. If it weren’t for the terror the baron had caused his wife, the fact that Nick might have missed out on being married to the most wonderful woman in the world all because of the moron sitting to his right, Nick might have felt sorry for him.

As it was, he was just disgusted.

“You’re planning to correct that…immediately, aren’t you?” Marcus added from the man’s other side.

Finley’s head dropped onto his folded arms. “Marie’s not coming, is she?”

Leave it to Finley to be concerned with the least important thing going on right now. Of course the baron couldn’t know that Nick had paid Marie not to show up. Or that for the exorbitant price, Finley’s current lover had divulged all sorts of pertinent information—such as the fact that the man was still in town and that he’d left word that he would be coming to see her.

“I was getting on a ship tonight,” Finley finally slurred to the two of them. “Just wanted to tie up some loose ends.”

Nick didn’t even want to imagine.

“Wonderful,” Marcus said, forcing Finley to keep whipping his face back and forth between the two of them. “We’ll provide you an escort—just to be certain you don’t lose your way this time,” Marcus said with forced cheerfulness.

But something had grabbed Nick’s attention—some commotion that was brewing by the front door to the tavern.

Why was Olivia standing the door of the tavern? And why was she dressed like a man?


Olivia was beginning to regret her impulsive—perhaps even rash, some might even say foolish—decision to go chasing after Nick. But really? What was she supposed to do when she saw the scrap of paper in his study?

“Yer a scrawny lookin’ boy,” one of the men near the door of the tavern pronounced as she made her way inside.

Knowing that if she spoke, Olivia would ruin any semblance of being anything other than a frightened woman…which was exactly what she was at the moment. So she attempted to give the judgmental man a glare that she hoped conveyed that she didn’t mind scrapping if that were his preference.

Of course, she really did mind scrapping. But wasn’t that the biggest part of being fearsome? Looking like you were fearsome?

She prayed so.

“Yer not lookin’ to cause trouble, are ya now?” the man asked, just when Olivia was prepared to walk away from him as quickly as she could without looking like she was running.

Shaking her head, she made another move to sidle past them, but the man with the yellow teeth and liquor-stench pouring off him, put his hand up against the wall to stop her.

“Don’t think so, lady.”

Olivia stiffened. “What do you mean?” she said, trying her best to sound low and masculine.

“I mean yer a woman.”

Had she really thought a pair of baggy breeches and one of her brother’s shirts from his younger days would have made her indistinguishable? Invisible? Well, it had been the perfect idea at the time. The outfit had been possible to put on by herself, and she had to admit that there was a certain thrilling freedom in not being tied by cumbersome skirts as she walked.

A little disappointed that her ruse hadn’t worked quite as well as she’d planned, Olivia planted her hands on her hips, glaring down at the man. “How could you tell?”

He gave her a look that suggested she was deranged. “Yer wearin’ lady shoes.”

“Oh.” And so she was. It wasn’t as though Nick had a pair of boots small enough to fit her feet, and she hadn’t been lucky enough to find any of Marcus’ from childhood like she had the other clothes. Perhaps she’d been hoping that no one would notice.

“I’m only looking for someone,” Olivia tried to explain. She took a step closer to his arm, thinking that he would move it aside just because it was the gentlemanly thing to do.

She was wrong.

“You havin’ trouble here, Scabby?”

Olivia turned in the direction of the new voice, a man with just about as much charm as the one she’d been conversing with. He ambled in their direction, clearly sizing her up as he did so.

“What did you just call me?” Olivia asked, feeling her face start to burn as her temper flared. “Scrawny” had been bad enough. “Scabby” was going to be more than she could handle for one evening—dressed like an errant youth or not.

“I called ‘im Scabby,” he said, jerking his thumb at Olivia’s jailer.

“That’s my name,” Scabby said with an unconcerned shrug.

Olivia tried not to huff too loudly. “Listen…Scabby, and…whoever you are—”

“Name’s Reginald,” he interrupted.

Of course it is. “All right then. Scabby…and…Reginald. I really don’t want to be a bother. But my husband’s in here somewhere. And somewhere in here is a woman named Marie. Now, I expect both of you to step aside so I can find one or the other of them. Immediately,” she added on in case they thought she wouldn’t mind a delay.

Reginald moved to block the other side of Scabby. “Now, that puts things in a different ‘spective.”

Scabby nodded fiercely. “We don’t go lettin’ the women folk come bargin’ in ‘ere, tearin’ up our tavern cause they can’t keep their mans at home.”

The two gentlemen smirked at one another, then.

And Olivia's anger climbed to a heretofore unreached height.

Motioning with her finger for both of them to move closer, Olivia waited until they were near enough for her to pitch her voice low yet still be heard. “Gentlemen. I’m giving you one more opportunity to move out of my way. After that…” she shrugged and decided that perhaps their imaginations would come up with something direr than hers could.

They only laughed.

So she pulled out the gun she had hidden in the waist of her breeches.

It wasn’t loaded. Olivia wasn’t even sure she knew how to use the stupid thing. But it got the reaction she was looking for.

Scabby and Reginald erupted into chaos.

After calling her a few choice words that should never be said—especially not in the presence of a lady—the two older men made a move to rush her while they simultaneously screamed out, “Gun!”

Olivia was faster, though. But since she was wearing her “lady shoes” that meant that any man who made a mad dash to the front door, of which there were many, ended up trampling all over her feet. And the slippers did little to protect her from the hard soles of boots.

“Ouch,” she muttered, stopping for a brief moment to rub at a particularly stinging toe.

A hand gripped her upper arm.

Her first instinct was to fight. But when she heard a low voice whisper in her ear, Olivia stilled immediately.

“You just wait until I get you home,” Nick muttered.

As angry as he sounded at her, Olivia couldn’t help but melt into his side, reveling in the feeling of being safe regardless of the chaos raging around them.

“I’d still be at home if you were…” she let the observation dangle in the air as he drug her out through a side door.

“So every time I leave the house, you’re going to run around London in…” he paused to take a look at her mismatched ensemble, “whatever it is you’re wearing and threaten to shoot people?”

Resisting his pull was futile, but Olivia wasn’t about to let her husband put words in her mouth. “I never threatened to shoot anyone. In fact, I never even said a word about having a gun.”

Nick had made it to the door at this point, but he paused before twisting it open and pulling her through it. “You have a gun?” he asked incredulously.

“Did you not hear the men yelling about it?” she snapped. Really, for a former spy, he was awfully unaware of his surroundings.

By the time he spoke again, they were outside in a dank alleyway. “I thought you were bluffing.” Her husband looked at her though he’d never seen her before.

“I wasn’t planning to shoot anyone, Nick,” she said, becoming increasingly annoyed. Didn’t he understand that this whole debacle was entirely his fault?

A man jogged up to them, and Olivia almost hid behind her husband until she realized it was Marcus. If it were worth anything, her brother looked just as surprised to see her.


“Clearly you missed the excitement inside. Or missed the cause of it,” Nick said, using his strong arm around her waist to hold her in place.

“Olivia was the one with the gun?” Marcus asked.

She barely resisted stamping her foot. “You can address me directly. I’m standing right here,” she snapped.

“Which I believe is the entirety of the problem,” Nick answered for him.

Marcus looked back and forth between them. And Olivia thought she noticed a quirk of his lips. Perhaps a grin of gratitude that he wasn’t going to have to be the one to clean up her messes anymore?

Apparently, it was exactly that.

Her brother clapped Nick on the back. “You two have a wonderful evening. I’ve got a drunken baron crying his eyes out in my carriage. Fortunately, he’ll be setting sail on a ship for the America’s tonight. But only if I get him there in time.”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather us all go?” Olivia asked a little desperately, thinking that she didn’t much care for the look in Nick’s eyes.

Marcus shook his head and then kissed her on the forehead in farewell. “Nope. I’m sure you two have things to discuss.” He grinned at Nick again. "Just be glad there's not a vase around, my friend."

Her brother was gone in moments.

Nick resumed their path towards the street.

“So, this was all about Finley?” Olivia asked. Hopefully if she kept up a steady stream of conversation, he’d
forget how angry he was at her.

But a curt nod was her only reply.

“You could have saved all of us—even Scabby and Reginald—some trouble if you’d only said that,” she returned, not really expecting an answer.

“You could have saved all of us…even Scabby and Reginald, whoever they are…had you only trusted me.” His voice was tight, almost whip-like with the anger threading through it.

“I do trust you,” Olivia insisted.

Nick stopped walking. And he looked down at her with such conflicting emotions—anger, fear, tenderness, that Olivia felt her heart might beat right out of her chest.

“I’ll never do anything to hurt you,” Nick murmured. And then, because really, was there any spot as romantic as a dank alleyway with a raging bar-brawl happening on the other side of the wall, he lowered his lips to hers.

Olivia drank in his embrace. She clung to his lapels to get closer. And she frowned in protest when he pulled back, pressing one last kiss to the corner of her lips.

“Don’t think this means you’re out of trouble,” he told her with a hint of a laugh in his voice.

Olivia tightened her grip on his coat and pulled him back to her. She kissed him and then retreated as quickly as he had. “Don’t forget I still have the gun.”


Anonymous said...

I'm very intrigued. Please don't keep us waiting for the second part very long :)

Megg said...

Excellent! So glad I get to read more about Nick and Olivia!

Cheryl said...

I LOVE your characters! I'm halfway through "Engaging the Earl" and can't wait to see what happens with Marcus and Emma. Keep up the GREAT work!! :)

Anonymous said...

Is there more to come? I love Nick and Olivia.