To Trust a Rogue (The Heart of a Duke Book 8)(3)

By: Christi Caldwell

“Very well, then I shan’t tell you.” Lizzie grinned.

“What are you two whispering about?”

Brother and sister spoke in unison. “Nothing.”

His mother muttered something under her breath about the woes of being a poor mama to troublesome children. Fighting a grin, Marcus took another swallow of the contents of his glass. As annoyed as he was with her for sharing his marital plans with the whole of the ton, she was a good mother determined to see him happy. As such, it was hard to—

“All children require a bit of guidance on the path to marital bliss,” the viscountess persisted.

Marcus promptly spit out his brew. At his side, Lizzie’s slender frame shook with mirth and servants rushed forward with cloths to clean the mess. “M-marital bliss?” he sputtered. Good god, is that what she would call it?

“Marcus,” his mother scolded. “Oh, do not look at me like that, Marcus. I daresay I prefer you charming to bitter.”

Scolding, she was always scolding. Since he’d been a boy of three pilfering pastries from the kitchen to a man of thirty. “You know it is my expectation that you’ll find a young woman who makes your heart happy.”

He sighed. Even when he’d stated his intentions to wed. No, one could never please a mother. “I will tell you clearly what would make my heart happy,” he mumbled.

His sister snorted and then at their mother’s pointed stare, promptly buried the sound into her palm. Perhaps she would be suitably distracted by mention of Lizzie’s unwed state.

“Must you be so cynical?” the viscountess scolded. Again.

Marcus swallowed back the bitter rejoinder on his lips. He’d not discuss the reasons for his cynicism before his mother, his sister, or anyone. No. No one knew the foolish mistakes of his past and the reasons he’d no intentions of trusting his heart to a headstrong, passionate lady—not again. “I am a rogue,” he said instead, managing his patented half-grin. Yes, he’d been the rogue for so many years. So many that he no longer knew any other way, nor did he care to.

“You are hopeless,” his mother sighed. “Surely you’ve a desire to know even a dash of the love your father and I knew.”

He’d not so shatter her with the truth. The last thing he desired was love. “I’ve a desire to visit my clubs,” he said with a wink.

Lizzie’s lips twitched. “I do wish I had clubs to visit.” She let out a beleaguered sigh. “Alas, there is no escape for an unwed, eighteen-year-old lady.” From behind her wire-rimmed spectacles, a flash of regret lit her eyes.

A twinge of guilt needled him. He didn’t need to read the gossip columns or attend all the ton functions to know his sister’s Come Out had been a rather dismal showing. For her earlier protestations on marriage, he’d wager all his holdings as viscount that his painfully shy in public sister’s viewpoint was a mere façade; a means to protect.

Then, weren’t they all protecting themselves, one way or another?

“They’re all a bunch of foolish arses,” he said quietly. “You’re better off without most of them.”

Lizzie laughed. “Just most of them?”

“All of them,” he replied with an automaticity born of truth.

Swatting his arm, Lizzie gave another roll of her eyes. “Oh, do not look at me. I would far rather be attending your marital prospects.”

“Yes, Marcus,” their mother called out, tapping the table. “Let us do attend your marital prospects.”

He winced. Bloody infernal perfect hearing. She would have impressed a bat with that heightened sense.

“Sorry,” his sister mouthed once more.

He waved off the apology, finished his drink and then set his cup down with a hard thunk. “I am attending my marital duties,” he said matter-of-factly. “I have stated my intentions to wed and do right by the Wessex line. You will have your nursery of little future heirs and spares running about.”

His sister gave him a pointed frown.

“And troublesome sisters to those heirs and spares,” he added with a half-grin.

Lizzie laughed and shook her head. “No wonder you are the charmer throughout.” Then with an implacable look in her eyes, she settled her elbows on the table and leaned forward. “As for Marianne…”