An Excerpt from For Love of the Earl
The English Channel
Sarah shoved her elbow into him, pushing him farther against the wall. So Alec shoved back, sending his wife off the bunk and onto the grimy, disgusting floor of their prison on the ship bound for France. Alec closed his eyes and prayed to every god he knew for patience. His wife was going to come up fighting, and he would not be tempted to fight back. He was a gentleman, an earl, and earls did not box with their wives.
When he opened his eyes and looked at his wife, he felt his patience start a war with his temper.
Sarah looked furious. Her nostrils flared, and her hands fisted, ready to strike. Her lovely golden hair was clumped with seaweed and other unknown sea things, and her once pretty pink dress was covered in saltwater stains. The high lace collar was torn and hung limply down her heaving chest. Alec resolutely moved his gaze away from that heaving chest and up to her face, but then he found his gaze focused on her mouth with its delicious slight overbite.
He had tasted that mouth. But it had been in a fit of near rage and frustration and had been far too brief. He had tasted other parts of his wife as well, but again, it was a stolen taste that he now regretted. He would have apologized for it, but he suspected his wife would hit him. And he really didn’t feel like having a broken nose.
“This is all your fault, you know,” Sarah said, her teeth barely opening long enough to get the words out. Her nostrils flared with greater force.
Alec took a deep breath and sat up, swinging his legs to the side of the bunk. He ran his fingers over his face and through his hair, dislodging his own piece of seaweed. He looked at it before tossing it aside. He watched his feet slide around on the gunk on the floor as the ship rocked its way toward the Continent. The weak light from the lone lantern swinging from the rafters sent shadows dancing around the berth.
What was he going to say to his wife?
It seemed whenever he opened his mouth, she ripped out his tongue only to ram it back down his throat until he choked. So he looked up at her now, her beautiful face so full of hate, loathing really. Loathing him. And he looked at the floor again.
He did not know what to do. After four years, he still did not know how to make his wife believe that she was worth it. Worth everything. Worthy of being the wife of the Earl of Stryden. He just didn’t know what to say or how to say it to her.
Alec Black, the Earl of Stryden, the son of the Duke of Lofton, and brilliant spy for the War Office, could not talk to his wife.
“I know,” he finally whispered.
“If you hadn’t taken off, your family would have been able to protect you. But you packed your things and left!” Sarah yelled now.
Alec raised a finger. “I did not pack. There wasn’t time,” he said and watched the loathing flare in her eyes.
He brought his finger down.
“Do you really wish to argue over semantics right now, my lord?”
Her tone had gone flat and smooth, the loathing searing into a blade of hate that pierced him just above his heart. Alec stopped pushing the gunk into piles on the floor with his boots. One of the piles looked suspiciously like the prime minister, which normally would have made Alec laugh, but laughing wasn’t on his list of things to do just then.
“I know,” he whispered again, this time not raising his head or a finger.
“Now you can’t even look at me?” Sarah fumed.
Alec felt the need to swallow as four years of frustration boiled inside him. Looking at his shoes was not correct. Looking at her was not correct. Looking at her with love in his eyes was definitely not correct. So he raised his head with nothing but coldness in his eyes and looked at his wife.
But he didn’t speak.
He really didn’t feel like speaking again.
He might say something stupid like, I love you, I’ve always loved you, why can’t we act like a real married couple and not like a the-War-Office-made-us-get-married couple, and why can’t we make love all day long and only pause long enough sometime in the dark to eat little cucumber sandwiches with the crusts taken off in bed only to stop halfway through our snack to make love again until dawn when we finally collapse with words of love trailing off our exhausted lips?
Yes, he really shouldn’t say that. His wife would castrate him with her bare hands. He crossed his legs.
“You really don’t have anything to say?” Sarah asked, her voice suddenly, painfully quiet.
Alec shook his head negatively. He was not going to be tricked into saying what he was thinking. He had been thinking the same thing for four years, and it never changed no matter how he voiced his thoughts. How many times had he told Sarah that she was beautiful? That she was smart and witty and kind? And how many times had it not mattered?
Sarah threw her hands up in the air, and a guttural scream of rage tore from her throat. Alec looked back down at his shoes. He watched the shadows’ dance be interrupted as Sarah paced the length of their prison. Five long shuffles of her feet up and five and half long shuffles back down to the door. The ship rolled unexpectedly, and Sarah’s feet slid out from underneath her. Alec looked up too late to see her fall. Her head cracked against the wall of the small berth with a sickening thud. Alec tried to stand and ended up half scrambling across the slippery floor. He fell on his knees beside her, gently picking her up as his heart battered around in his chest.
He brushed her filthy hair out of her dirt-smudged face. Her eyes were closed, but her lips parted and soft words tumbled forth.
“Alec, don’t leave me.”