To Trust a Rogue (The Heart of a Duke Book 8)(11)

By: Christi Caldwell

Swallowing back the trepidation threatening to choke her, with Marcia’s hand held in her firm grip, she silently followed the young woman up the stairs.

She’d broken a vow she’d taken almost eight years to the day—she’d returned.

Chapter 3

From the edge of the majestic floor-length windows, Eleanor gazed through the gap in the brocade fabric, down into the crowded London streets. A small, sad smile played on her lips, reflected in the crystal windowpane. How very much had changed in eight years. Innocence died. Funds faded. And security became—precarious, making her dependent on that beloved aunt who once took her in for that first, and only, London Season.

Eleanor pressed her forehead to the sun-warmed windowpane and the cold metal of her spectacles bit into her face. Ignoring the biting sting of the wires, she surveyed the people below. Lords and ladies moved arm in arm down the fashionable end of Mayfair. A particular couple snared her notice. For the impeccably attired gentleman with golden curls and the blonde-haired lady on his arm might have been a moment frozen in time eight years earlier…of herself…with another, equally grinning, whispering, young lord.

The massively rounded, panting dog at her side scratched Eleanor’s skirts. Distracted, Eleanor looked down and found the incongruous pair of her aunt’s dogs—two pugs, one black, one fawn—now eying her.

They had been sniffing at her skirts for the better part of the morning. Eleanor sighed. And all because she’d made the mistake of giving one of the mischievous devils a biscuit from her breakfast tray the first morning meal she’d taken here, one week earlier.

That dratted biscuit. She stroked them both atop their silken heads and leaned close. “Now, go.”

They sat, showing her precisely what they thought of her and her orders.

Secretly she’d admit only to herself, she rather loved their devotion.

“They don’t listen well,” her aunt called across the room. As though to accentuate that very point, she pounded the bottom of a silver cane, crafted in the shape of a serpent, upon the hardwood floor, calling them over.

The dogs sniffed again at Eleanor’s skirts. “You settling in, gel?”

“Quite,” she murmured, patting Devil and Satan on their backs. They really were quite atrocious names for such docile, bothersome creatures.

…You could charm the devil himself, Marcus Gray…

Unbidden, Eleanor slid her gaze over to the window and pulled the brocade curtain aside. No, it was not a hope of seeing him that called her notice, but rather the crisp, blue skies and abundant sunshine and—

“And your daughter?”

Eleanor released the edge of the curtain with alacrity. “Also, well, Your Grace. Thank you for asking.”

“Your Grace?” Her aunt settled back in the sofa she occupied and gave an inelegant snort. “Who is this polite, proper gel and what has she done with the spirited, always giggling girl I remember?”

The operative word being girl. “She’s grown up,” Eleanor replied automatically, looking down at her aunt’s loyal dogs. Then, life did that to a person. It jaded you and chipped and cracked away at the innocence you carried, so all that remained was a glimmer of who you had once been.

“I preferred you giggling.”

Eleanor smiled.

“There, that’s better. Now, look at me, gel.” The gruff command brought Eleanor’s gaze to her aunt. “Stop hovering at the edge of the window. You’ve hardly left the corner since you arrived five days ago.”

“Seven,” Eleanor swiftly amended. She’d returned seven days ago without so much as a glimpse or whisper of him beyond the gossip sheets. The muscles of her belly tightened. Gossip columns that happily reported on the gentleman’s roguish pursuits; so much so that she dared wonder if there was, in fact, another Viscount Wessex. Then, the king would not have been in the habit of turning out multiple Viscount Wessexes.

Eleanor stole another glimpse. It was curiosity more than anything else that called her focus back to that cobbled road.

“You counting, gel?”

She whipped her head back around. “Counting?”

“Seven days and not five. Are you unhappy here? I didn’t bring you here to be melancholy and sad.”