To Trust a Rogue (The Heart of a Duke Book 8)(6)

By: Christi Caldwell

Marcus brought his horse to a stop outside the hallowed walls of White’s. He quickly dismounted and tossed the reins to a waiting servant. As he strode up the handful of steps, the door was thrown open and he stepped inside. Lifting his head in greeting to the patrons who called out, Marcus hurried to his table. A servant immediately rushed over with a bottle of brandy and a snifter. With murmured thanks, Marcus waved him off and proceeded to pour his glass to the brim. He took a long swallow and swirled the contents of his drink.

Today was very nearly the anniversary of their first meeting. Is that why Eleanor Carlyle owned his thoughts this day?

His lips pulled in a grimace. What a pathetic moment of one’s life to commemorate year after year. In a world in which he’d come to appreciate, expect, and demonstrate order, the nonsensical habit of marking the day he’d met Miss Eleanor Carlyle was perhaps the antithesis of everything he valued in terms of order. Their meeting, in the real scheme of life, had been nothing more than a mere two months…just sixty days, one-thousand four-hundred and forty hours. When a gentleman was approaching his thirty-first year, why, the span of time he’d known Eleanor was insignificant. Yet, there was no explaining the heart.

“With that scowl, are you sure you are desiring company?”

He stiffened and glanced up at his closest, only living friend in the world. Auric, the Duke of Crawford, stood impeccably cool and perfectly ducal, as he’d been since the day their friend, Lionel, had met his end. Marcus jerked his chin to the opposite chair.

Wordlessly, Crawford slid into the vacant seat, waving off the bottle Marcus held out as an offering. “No,” he declined. Instead, he sat there and drummed his fingertips on the immaculate, smooth surface of the mahogany table. “A bit early for brandy.”

“Is it?” Marcus took a sip to demonstrate his thoughts on Auric’s opinion on drinking spirits in the morning. To stem the argument on the other man’s proper lips, he used the best diversionary topic at hand. “How is Daisy?” Formerly Lady Daisy Meadows, now Duchess of Crawford, the young lady was also the only sister to their now dead friend, Lionel.

Just like that, the hard, austere lines of the other man’s usually unflappable face softened, demonstrating a warmth he’d never imagined Crawford capable of. “She is well,” he said quietly. He glanced about as though ascertaining their business was their own and then looked to Marcus. “She is expecting.”

Marcus stared blankly at him. “Expecting what?”

A dull flush marred Crawford’s cheeks. “A child. We will be retiring for the country within the next fortnight.”

Another child? The couples’ first babe, a girl, Lionella, was just one. Despite himself, a vicious envy cloyed at Marcus’ insides; it ripped at him like a thousand rusty blades twisting inside. For, if life had proceeded along a different path, even now he’d be a father to some, no doubt, precocious child. And if he were honest to himself in this instance, with Crawford’s revelation laid out before him, Marcus could acknowledge—he wanted to be a father. Not the aloof, distant noblemen who turned a son’s care over to stern nursemaids and tutors, but rather the manner of sire his own father had been. A man who personally taught Marcus how to ride and shoot. A man who’d bloody senseless anyone who dared hurt his children and who loved them fiercely.

Crawford stared expectantly at him and Marcus cleared his throat. “Congratulations.” He forced a smile. “I am happy for the both of you.” He toasted Crawford with his glass.

His friend trained a familiar ducal frown on Marcus’ nearly empty snifter.

Likely, his friend saw the same indolent, bored lord as the rest of Society, more interested in spirits and cards than in the happiness of his friend. In truth, Marcus would slice off his smallest fingers to have a family of his own and, through them, a purpose in the efforts he put into running his estates. Oh, he’d never begrudge Crawford and Daisy their deserved joy. With the heartache of loss they’d known in Daisy’s brother, no people were more deserving of happiness. Marcus passed his glass back and forth between his hands, eying the still unfinished amber contents within the snifter.

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