Unclaimed (Turner 2) - Page 22

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But Nigel Parret had found Lady Eugenia before her affections had a chance to alter. He’d spoken to her, and she had told him every detail of her unrequited fancies. She’d outlined her childish plan to win Mark’s affections—mainly this had involved looking radiant in his presence. She’d enumerated the children she planned to have with him once they were married. Mark still winced, thinking of it.

Parret had published her juvenile dreams on the front page of his paper. Mark’s reputation hadn’t suffered—the article had made it painfully clear that Mark had done nothing whatsoever to encourage the girl—but children of that age hardly needed encouragement to dream. There was no way to stop them from wishing for the impossible.

No way, that was, except to expose their aspiration to the ridicule of all London society.

Lady Eugenia had become a laughingstock; Nigel Parret had collected a small fortune selling papers. And Mark had stopped talking to young, impressionable ladies.

Parret stared up at Mark now with a certain speculative hunger. Mark could almost see the next article brewing in those calculating depths. Maybe, this time, he’d analyze Mark’s woodpile. What his column would make of Mrs. Farleigh, Mark didn’t want to know.

“One little interview,” Parret said, in what Mark supposed was intended to be a cajoling tone. “Just a few questions.”

“Not a chance. You are the last person on earth to whom I would grant an exclusive interview.”

Parret nodded as if Mark had not just insulted him, pulled out his notebook and started scribbling.

Mark glanced down uneasily. Parret wrote in a large, round hand—visible even upside down at two paces.

Your correspondent met with Sir Mark in his birthplace of Shepton Mallet. The man wrote with astonishing speed. Upon seeing his dear friend—for so, my readers, I dare to believe Sir Mark thinks of me—Sir Mark greeted me with effusive superlatives.

“I did not!”

“Last person on earth,” Mr. Parret contradicted aloud. “Very superlative indeed.”

He continued writing. He displays his usual good humor and humble nature, disclaiming the compliments I bestowed upon him.

Enough of that game. Anything Mark said would be twisted to feed Parret’s rapacity for gossip. Mark folded his arms and tried to figure out some way to ask Parret to take himself to the devil—in a way that couldn’t be twisted about. Parret looked up at him, his head tilted, as if waiting for Mark’s next comment.

Mark pressed his lips together and tapped his fingers against his elbow.

My kindness in visiting him, however, mostly shocked him speechless. Still he agreed to conduct an exclusive interview with me—one which I now convey to you.

“I agreed to no such thing,” Mark said through gritted teeth.

Parret’s head bobbed as he wrote. “Here I am, speaking with you, no other reporters present. This implies a certain degree of exclusivity.”

Mark shook his head, turned and walked away. Naturally, Parret followed. “Communication,” he said, “is an amazing thing. I can read responses in the turn of your head. The set of your chin. So long as I don’t put quotation marks about your words, and I speak no ill of you, you can’t possibly stop me.”

Mark didn’t respond and lengthened his stride.

Parret trotted beside him, his breathing labored. “I am the only reporter here,” he continued. “No matter what any other enterprising souls may say. And you know, it is I who have investigated some of the cruder reports about you and discredited them as jealous whispers. If it were not for my tireless reporting, that incident last year with Lady Grantham might have taken hold.”

“There was no incident with Lady Grantham,” Mark said. “Everybody knows that. Nobody believes the lies that some people try to spread about me.”

“True,” Parret said. “But, I flatter myself, I have done quite a bit on that count myself. If you knew the number of stories I had heard about you, the number of allegations made without support.” He shook his head. “And that little bit of wordplay I heard the other day…that was not an allegation made without support, was it?”

Mark stopped dead and turned to Parret. “Are you trying to blackmail me into giving in to your demands?”

“No, no!” He paused and rubbed his mustache. “Well, only if it would serve.”

Mark rolled his eyes. “You may put quotation marks about this, if you choose, and place it in your paper—I would rather sell my soul to the devil than have you make another shilling off my reputation.”

“The devil can have your soul. I just wish to maximize my income.”

Mark turned away once more, walking as swiftly as he dared. He could see the churchyard now, and a knot of townspeople collected in front. Maybe if he waved them over, he could…

He could what?

Have them toss Parret out on his ear? Lock him up on trumped-up charges? Either option seemed a fine idea. Almost as good as getting his hands on the man, lifting him bodily by the collar…

Mark shook his head to clear it of the violence of those thoughts. He wasn’t about to lose his temper, his balance. Not to a little puddle of ethics like this man.

“And if you won’t speak to me,” Parret said, “someone else will. I’d love to write about the woman you spoke with—Mrs. Farleigh, was it? It could be like Lady Eugenia all over again.”

A swell of ugly emotion bore down on Mark. It slammed across him, knocking him practically breathless. He felt like a chip of wood, riding raging floodwaters. And before he could think better of it, he turned, abruptly, and tripped Nigel Parret. As the tiny man went sprawling, Mark grabbed his arm and wrenched it around. His other hand twisted in the collar of the man’s greatcoat. He picked the man up bodily.

“Sir Mark!” Parret squeaked, his feet kicking out in midair.

Mark had a mental image of himself slamming the man repeatedly against the stone wall of the tavern. The thought was almost too satisfying— Parret’s nose bleeding, his hands scraped.

Mark took two steps toward the nearest house.

Stop. Stop.

But he didn’t want to. He fumbled for calm. It felt like floundering. His knuckles scraped against the greasy fabric of the man’s collar.

Mark turned to the side and lifted the man skyward. Parret gave a little shriek, one that was all too pleasing to some corner of Mark’s vengeful soul. His feet kicked out. And then Mark let go.

The resulting splash sent a shower of droplets into the air, misting Mark’s face.

In the murky water of the horse trough, Parret sputtered and wiped his face. A horse, tied to a ring nearby, let out a great sighing bluster, as if to say, Oh, please. Not in my water.

“You’re wrong,” Mark said. “I can stop you.”

But there was no sense of righteous victory in these words. Instead, he felt a sick, hollow regret. He’d lost his temper. Again.

That vision—of his slamming Parret’s limp body against the stone wall of the public house—lingered still, an uninvited, unsavory guest. Mark could almost feel the reverberations in his arms, as if the ghost of his awful want had taken up residence.

Parret stared up at him, speechless for once.

It wasn’t the first time Mark had crossed the line between that red, hazy want and violence. It wasn’t the first time he’d regretted it, either.

Mark sighed and shook his head. “Understand, Parret. You are not going to have an exclusive interview with me. Not in reality, nor will you print one in the public imaginings you call articles.”




“Certainly not.” Mark set his hands on his hips.


“And not that.”

“Sir Mark,” Parret pleaded. “I have a daughter. I—I have cultivated your reputation, as carefully as any steward. Have I ever printed anything maligning you? I’ve made my reputation—my career—o

n telling the truth about you. Should we not work together on this?”

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