To Trust a Rogue (The Heart of a Duke Book 8)

By: Christi Caldwell

Chapter 1

London, England

Spring, 1818

Marcus Gray, the Viscount Wessex, had been betrayed by his mother.

Oh, it was not the first time he’d been so horribly deceived by a woman. It was just the first time that the woman who’d given him life had been guilty of that crime.

Marcus skimmed the front page of The Times, where it appeared the most pressing, important news and gossip members of the ton now woke to this day, pertained to two nonconsecutive dances he’d danced with Lady Marianne Hamilton and what that indicated for his marital state. He glanced up from the page and found his mother at the opposite end of the breakfast table, smiling as she buttered a piece of bread.

“You did state your intentions,” she said, not taking her gaze from that well-buttered piece.

Marcus narrowed his eyes. “To you. I suspected, as such, that information was, at the very least, safe from gossips.”

He caught the eye of his sister Lizzie. She gave him a do-you-really-not-know-our-mother-look?

“Come, Marcus, you are thirty. It is hardly a shock to Society that you are in the market for a wife,” his mother chided.

“I told you,” his sister’s whispered words reached his ears. She popped a bite of sausage into her mouth.

Their mother eyed her flaky bread in a studious manner, gave a pleased nod, and dismissively returned to eating her breakfast. As though she’d not chattered his plans to at last fulfill his obligations to Lady Jersey and, through that indiscretion, to all of Society.

Marcus tossed down the paper and it hit the table with a soft thump. “I assured you I would see to my marital responsibilities in the near future.” Never had he indicated an immediacy to those intentions. “Did you fear I’d change my mind?”

Reaching for her cup of tea, his mother paused mid-movement and then gracefully picked up the delicate porcelain cup. “Yes, yes I did.”

With a growl of annoyance, Marcus grabbed his cup of coffee. His empty cup. A servant rushed over and filled it to the brim with the steaming, black brew.

Interrupting his murmured thanks, his sister leaned over and spoke in hushed tones. “Am I a horribly disloyal sister for being grateful that Mother’s intentions have been securely settled on your marital aspirations?”

“Yes, the worst.” To temper that lie, he leaned over and ruffled the top of her head. He didn’t bother to point out that he didn’t truly have marital aspirations that existed beyond a coldly emotionless bride who’d be content with the title viscountess and a rogue for a husband. Such a woman would fail to rouse grand passions and drive him to a maddening inability to think of any other.

On the heel of that flitted in a face from his past; the first woman to betray him. He tightened his mouth. That particular lady had been anything but dull and polite. Mayhap the title of viscountess had never been enough for that one. Marcus stared within the contents of his cup. Then, all these years later, there was still no knowing. The lady hadn’t felt leaving after those fleeting, but meaningful to him months, merited much of an explanation.

Lizzie smiled. “I am ever so happy that you’ve selected Marianne as your future viscountess.”

Selected Marianne? His mind muddied from thoughts of the past, it took a moment for Lizzie’s words to register. In an unlikely pairing, Lady Marianne Hamilton had attached herself to his marriage-avoidant, wallflower by choice, sister.

Lady Marianne, The Incomparable of the Season, was lush, with sultry smiles, and rumored to be in the market for a wealthy husband. A marriage to that one would be about lust, power, and not the dangerous emotion called love that had nearly destroyed Marcus eight years earlier. Yes, Lady Marianne fit the proverbial bill in terms of his future viscountess. Nonetheless, his palms grew moist at the prospect of forever binding himself to one woman. Even if that fate was inevitable. His mother and sister proceeded to casually indulge in their morning meals while they flippantly discussed his future. He gave a tug at his suddenly too-tight cravat. Lest his sister believe his intentions for her friend were already decided, he pointed out, “I’ve hardly selected Lady Marianne for my future bride.” He’d indicated an interest in the lady, but he’d not selected her. Not yet.