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

By: Christi Caldwell

Bitterness twisted in her belly; harsh, ugly and real. “Since I made my Come Out seven years earlier, I have spent the majority of my time in the country,” she said softly. Six of those years where she’d been treated as nothing more than a broodmare her late husband had gotten child after child upon. Children who had never mattered to Calvin. But to Philippa, even with her loathing for her husband, those babes had been precious souls in her pregnancies. She’d journeyed through hell with them, only to emerge solitary at the end of their battle—left with nothing but a husband who was angry for all the wrong reasons. All the well-hidden hatred for her late husband boiled to the surface, scaring her with its power.

Lord Guilford paused and looked down, their gazes meeting. The heated intensity of his green-eyed stare shot through her; eyes that could see into a person’s soul and dig forth all those darkest, most coveted secrets. “That is a shame, my lady,” he said quietly.

And, of course, his words were spoken for politeness sake, but her breath hitched. “Philippa,” she blurted, as he continued walking.

He again halted.

She wet her lips. “My name is Philippa. Given the circumstances of our…meeting, I expect you might call me by my given name.” As soon as the indecent offer left her lips, heat scorched her body, threatening to burn her inside out. Only shameful widows went about offering strangers the use of their Christian names and she would never be one of those wanton creatures.

“Philippa,” he murmured, wrapping those three syllables in his husky baritone and set off another round of fluttering in her belly. He shifted her in his arms, to touch the brim of his elegant black hat. “I am Miles.”

Miles. Strong, commanding, and direct. It suited him perfectly.

Up ahead, her daughter, Faith, paused and looked over her shoulder. She waved excitedly. “Are you all right, Mama?” she called, her voice carrying on a spring breeze.

Her heart pulled at that devotion. Since she was born and Calvin had disdained her because of her gender alone, Philippa had forged a special bond with the tiny human entrusted to her care. She cupped her hands around her mouth in a move her mother would lament and called back. “I am quite all right,” she assured. Faith returned her attention forward.

“She is devoted to you,” the marquess…Miles observed quietly.

Philippa stiffened. After all, one could hardly explain to family, let alone a stranger, that they’d been so since Faith’s birth when the late earl sneered down at the girl babe in her arms. “She is,” she said softly. “She worries after me.”

As soon as the revealing words slipped from her lips, she bit down on the inside of her cheek, wishing to call them back. Alas, they’d been uttered. She held her breath. Mayhap he’d not heard. Mayhap he’d not probe. After all, he was a stranger and gentlemen didn’t truly worry after women. Not enough to ask those probing questions. Certainly not of a stranger.

Miles frowned. “And what does she worry about?” There was a hint of something primal and primitive in that inquiry that sent warmth spiraling to her heart. Even her brothers—Alex had seen her more of a burden he didn’t care to chaperone and Gabriel as a miss to be properly married off to a man who’d never harm her—had never been protective in that sense of her as a woman.

She cleared her throat. She’d already said too much. “She wishes to see me happy.” Except that reassurance only brought his ginger eyebrows dipping lower. “She wishes to see everyone happy,” she hurriedly explained. It was simply the manner of child Faith was, that she asked after and worried after everyone else’s happiness.

Some of the tension left Miles’ shoulders.

At last, they reached the waiting carriage and the marquess effortlessly shifted her inside the conveyance. His broad, powerful frame swallowed up the expansive carriage. He paused, their gazes locked and another shock of energy passed between them. “Philippa,” he said for her ears alone.

And then he ducked out of the carriage. An inexplicable rush of disappointment went through her at the loss and she gave her head a hard shake. Silly thoughts. And she was never, ever, ever silly.