To Woo a Widow (The Heart of a Duke Book 10)

By: Christi Caldwell

Chapter 1

London, England

Late Spring 1818

“Everyone knows fairytales include a charming prince, an always smiling, hopeful princess, and a joyous happily ever after. This story is very much the same…”

A soft sigh interrupted Philippa, Lady Winston’s reading. Seated in the nursery, with one daughter balanced on her lap and the other at her feet, Philippa glanced up from the small leather book.

On the lips of her five-year-old daughter, Faith, hovered a dreamy smile. “What happens next?” The girl, stretched out on her belly, kicked her legs up behind her.

Knowing the tale inside out, Philippa closed the book and spoke in soft tones, careful to position her lips so that her daughter could see them. “This princess, however, was unlike any of the other princesses…”

Her daughter rounded her eyes. “Can she not hear out of one ear like me, Mama?” Philippa’s heart pulled. “Or is she a widow like you?”

Philippa jerked and the book tumbled to the floor where it landed with a soft thump. Where she had always been guarded in her thoughts and emotions, there was an unrestrained honesty to Faith that, as a mother, she found both pride and awe in. On some occasions, many of them to be precise, Philippa found herself disconcerted by her daughter’s stream of questionings.

Faith quickly retrieved the volume and waved it about. “Can a widow be a princess in a book?” she continued on a rush. “Because Grandmother was whispering to Lady Martindale and Lady Martindale said that widows were old, gray, plump, and never married.” She brightened a bit. “I know because I read their lips. They said you might marry because you weren’t those things.”

Faith’s words held Philippa motionless. The unspoken, but clear dream that Philippa would again one day marry. To speak the truth was unthinkable. It would shatter her daughter’s innocence and, having had her own dreams destroyed by life early on, she would never be that person.

Her other daughter, one-year-old Violet, babbled happily while Philippa desperately fought through years of pain and bitterness to give her daughters every fanciful, hopeful word young girls were deserving of.

“Mama?” The hushed worry in that inquiry snapped Philippa to the moment.

“Mama. Mama. Mama.” Violet bounced up and down, clapping her hands.

And Philippa did what any protective mama would do. “I expect any woman, regardless of age, can be a princess,” she lied. Time had proven that the very tales she read to her daughters, the same ones she herself had devoured as a child, were as real as magical mirrors and talking animals.

“Do widows marry again?”

Philippa snuggled Violet. “Some do.” The foolish ones. The desperate ones. And after marriage to Calvin, she was no longer a naïve fool. With the funds he’d left her, she certainly was not desperate.

“And what of you?” Faith surged upright and layered her palms atop Philippa’s knees. “Will you have a happily ever after?”

Coward that she’d always been, Philippa looked to the nursemaid, who took her unspoken cue. Rushing over, the pretty young woman held her arms out for Violet. Philippa kissed the baby’s plump cheek and handed her youngest daughter to Miss Cynthia. “I already have my happily ever after,” Philippa said softly, ruffling the top of Faith’s dark curls. “I have you and Violet and I will never need anyone more.”

Instead of her child’s comfort in that assurance, Faith frowned. “But you must have a prince. All princesses need princes. Unless it is because you are a widow?” She scrunched up her mouth. “Except you are not one of those old ones like Grandmother said. So surely you might marry.”

Philippa had been married. She’d rather dance through the fiery flames of hell than make another wedding march. Forcing a smile for Faith’s benefit, Philippa dropped another kiss atop her head. “It’s time to see to your lessons.”

With her daughter’s groans of protest trailing behind her, Philippa hurriedly took her leave of the nursery. Once outside and free of the quizzing, her shoulders sagged. Each time she read those fanciful tales of love and dreams coming true, the questions came all the more.