To Trust a Rogue (The Heart of a Duke Book 8)(7)

By: Christi Caldwell

Some of the tension ebbed from Crawford’s shoulders. “I understand congratulations are in order.” The ghost of a smile played on the other man’s lips.

Marcus looked at him quizzically. What was he on about?

“The Times, and your,” he winged an eyebrow up, “intentions toward a particular lady.”

Of course the ton would remark upon his declarative interest in the ladies. “Bugger off,” Marcus complained. “Two dances hardly constitute an offer of marriage.” Rather, it constituted a desire to possibly pursue more with a lady. He proceeded to pour his snifter full and then took a sip.

“Ah, so it is merely gossip then,” Crawford said, his tone more matter-of-fact, always the coolly analytical of their unlikely pair.

“It is certainly gossip,” Marcus said with droll humor, taking another swallow. It just wasn’t necessarily untrue gossip.

Crawford reclined in his chair and continued to study Marcus in that assessing manner. Unable to meet his friend’s probing stare, he absently skimmed his gaze over the club. “Daisy wished me to inquire as to whether the gossip is true.” Ah, Daisy, the consummate romantic. Was every blasted body in the whole of England a romantic spirit? Even Crawford, now?

Marcus chuckled at the other man’s bluntness. Then, when one was a duke just a step shy of royalty, there really was no need to prevaricate. He gave his head a despairing shake. “I’ve no immediate plans.” He smiled wryly. “Despite my mother’s best machinations.” After all, with a lifelong friendship and a bond built on unimaginable tragedy—the murder of their best friend—he at least owed Crawford that truth.

Crawford studied him across the table in that very ducal manner so that all he was missing was the monocle, and then he gave a slow nod. “My wife wants your assurance that you’ll settle for nothing other than a love-match.

And Marcus, once more, promptly choked. By God, between his mother and his best friend’s words this day, they were going to drown him. He lifted his glass in salute. “Assure our girl of the flowers that I am grateful for her concern.” Marcus gave his shoulders a roll. “When I do wed, however, it will be for the same reason every young nobleman inevitably marries.” Or will it be when I’ve finally let go of the past? He gave his drink another slow swirl. “I’ll wed a proper lady,” like Lady Marianne. “And produce the requisite heir and a spare, and then the Wessex line is secure, while I’m free to carry on as all the other peers present.”

Silence met his response and he looked up to find Crawford’s pitying stare on him. Marcus’ neck heated and his fingers twitched with the urge to tug at his cravat. When Crawford at last spoke, he did so in hushed tones. “Surely you want more than that?”

“No,” he said with an automaticity born of truth. “I surely do not.” He flexed one of his hands. “I’m quite content just as I am.” Marcus downed the contents of his glass. No, he’d tried love once before and the experience was as palatable as a plate of rancid kippers. “Though I applaud you and Daisy for finding that very special sentiment.”

Alas, after Eleanor’s deception, he’d never been able to fully erase the bitter tinge in his words when speaking of love and romance, and any other foolish sentiment that schemer had ultimately killed.

Marcus skimmed his gaze over the crowd. Several affirmed bachelors tipped their heads in a conciliatory manner. No doubt, they saw another member of their respected club prepared to willingly fall. He sighed. Except after years of visiting scandalous clubs and carrying on with paramours, courtesans, and widows, he was quite…tired of it all. Oh, he’d never admit as much. To do so would hopelessly ruin his name as rogue. But it had begun to feel as if he moved through life with a dull tedium, with a restlessness that dogged him.

Not that he expected a wife to cure him of that boredom. But that woman would serve a perfunctory purpose that went with his title.

Crawford’s frown deepened and he shifted. No doubt his desire to make sense of Marcus’ reasoning was born of years and years of being a duke beholden to no one. His friend’s chair groaned in protest as he settled his arms on the table and leaned forward. “I do not doubt you will find a woman who will value you as you deserve.” A woman like Lady Marianne who valued his fortune and title. How very empty such an existence would be and yet far better than this hell Eleanor Carlyle had left him in. Crawford cleared his throat. “A woman who will also help you…forget…” Forget.