To Woo a Widow (The Heart of a Duke Book 10)(5)

By: Christi Caldwell

“You are certain,” Chloe pressed. With her determination she’d make a better matchmaker than their mother and Gabriel combined.

Alas, there would have to be others Chloe maneuvered into marriage. “My husband is dead,” Philippa said with a solemnity that dimmed the mischievous sparkle in her sister’s eye. She managed a smile, grateful as her maid approached with a silver satin dress. Desperate to be free of her sister’s probing stare and words, she set her a task. “Will you see the nursemaid has the girls readied?”

“Of course,” Chloe said. She opened her mouth. Please do not say anything else on my husband. And perhaps, their thoughts had moved in some kind of harmony, for Chloe left.

As soon as the door closed, Philippa’s shoulders sagged. Where she was concerned, her sister saw precisely what Philippa had allowed her to see. Broken-hearted, widowed-too-soon wife. And as her maid helped her change out of her long-worn widow’s weeds, guilt stabbed at her for perpetuating a lie.

Just as Lady Martindale did, the world had expectations of a widow. And Philippa had played her part. Just as she’d done since Calvin drew his last breath. Yes, she’d convinced even her family that she was a woman desperately grieving the loss of her husband. But the truth was, ever since Calvin’s death, she’d never felt more alive. And she certainly wasn’t sad.

Not even a little bit.

Chapter 2

Miles Brookfield, the Marquess of Guilford, preferred riding in Hyde Park during the early morn and this nine o’clock hour belonged to him. There was no nagging mother worrying about her four marriage-aged, unwedded children. There were no marriage-minded young ladies seeking his attentions. There were no headaches or hassles that came from being forced to make insignificant greetings to other lords just for the sake of propriety.

What there was on this particular day was a child in the middle of the path. Peering down the gravel riding trail, Miles drew on the reins of his mount, Whisper, and brought the chestnut to a quick halt. Of all the blasted… How had a child come to be alone in the middle of Hyde Park?

Particularly such a small child. It looked practically a babe to him, but as a bachelor still at almost thirty years of age, the whole details of those tiny persons were really beyond him. Furrowing his brow, Miles skimmed his gaze over the horizon, looking for the attending nursemaid. But for the morning birds taking flight overhead, the landscape remained empty. With a click of his tongue, he nudged his mount into a slight trot. Careful to not startle the child by riding up quickly on her, Miles brought Whisper to a stop and swung his leg over his mount. He swiftly looped the horse’s reins about a nearby elm and started over. “Hello,” he called out as he strode forward.

Kneeling on the side of the riding path, a girl with tight, dark ringlets and dressed in a fine white frock remained with her head bent, while gathering yellow buttercups from the edge of the graveled trail. A small book lay discarded at her side. By the quality of her satin skirts, she belonged to a respectable family. His frown deepened and he glanced around once more. What manner of nursemaid lost her charge? And what in blazes was he to do with a lost child?

Miles stopped beside the girl and she glanced up. “Hullo.” She smiled and returned her attention to the small flowers.

Doffing his hat, he beat it against his leg. Why in blazes could he not have brought Bainbridge with him? In addition to being his only friend in the world, Jasper Waincourt, the Duke of Bainbridge, had the distinction of being a father and he’d certainly know a good deal better how to be with a lost, peculiarly silent girl. He looked around again, hopeful that reinforcements were on the way—surely, someone had to be looking for the child. All he had to do was wait for them to arrive. When no much-needed nursemaid or mama came rushing forward, he dropped awkwardly to his haunches. “Uh—do you have a mother?” he asked and then grimaced. Of course she had a mother. The better question being, was whether that negligent parent or servant were about. “Or, rather, do you have a mother, here?” he amended.

The little girl hummed a discordant tune and tipped her head back and forth in time to her off-tempo song.