To Woo a Widow (The Heart of a Duke Book 10)(7)

By: Christi Caldwell

An interloper on the reunion  , Miles shifted his weight back and forth…when the lady looked up. The panicked terror receded from her gaze, as she blinked up at him. She blinked again. And once more. “Hullo,” she said hurriedly and scrambled to her feet.

Miles sketched a bow. He opened his mouth to speak when the little girl piped in.

“Mama, this is Miles. He picked flowers for you.”

He blinked and followed the ladies’ gazes to the wilting bouquet in his hand. Gifts between a lord and lady were forbidden. Even more so between a gentleman and a married woman.

Color blossomed on the nameless lady’s cheeks. “It is impolite to refer to a gentleman by his given name,” her mother murmured.

“Miles Brookfield, the Marquess of Guilford,” he supplied and turned over the yellow buttercups. Surely improprieties could be forgiven for the benefit of a child’s happiness?

The lady hesitated, darting her wary gaze about. Did she worry about the possible scandal should a passerby observe her receiving an offering from a gentleman?

Her daughter tugged her hand. “Mama, you are being rude. He picked them for you.”

The young woman lifted her eyes once more to his. The soft blue irises momentarily froze him. When he’d been a small boy in the Sussex countryside, so many summer days he’d lay on his back staring up at the vibrant blue skies overhead. Her gaze harkened to summer skies and soft pale waters. “Thank you,” she murmured, jerking him back from that lapse into madness. As she accepted the blooms, their fingers brushed and even through the leather of his gloves, the heat of her naked fingers penetrated the fabric.

Bloody hell. Miles let his arm fall to his side. He’d never been one of those roguish sorts to lust after or bed another man’s wife. He glanced down at her wide-eyed daughter, staring up at him, and he forced a smile. “I cannot fully take credit for the offering, my lady. I had a most excellent tutor.” The child giggled at the praise. “Thank you for the lesson on how to properly gather flowers, my lady,” he said. Faith beamed and a radiant smile spread across her face. She was very much her mother’s daughter. Clearing his throat, he again turned his attention to the midnight-curled mama. “I bid you good day, madam,” he murmured and turned to go.

“Wait.” Her softly spoken request brought him around. She held her palms up. “I did not properly thank you for helping my daughter.”

“There is no need to thank me…” For some inexplicable reason that defied propriety, he needed to know the lady’s identity.

The young woman sank into a flawless curtsy. “Philippa Gage, Countess of Winston,” she murmured.

Lady Winston. He scoured his memory for remembrance of the lady or her husband. With her midnight curls and full lips, he’d recall a woman with a beauty to rival Aphrodite. Yet, he could not drag forth a single memory of seeing the lady in any London Season. Stooping, Miles retrieved the small leather book at the lady’s feet and handed it over to her. Their fingers again brushed and a rush of charged heat went through him. Her breath caught on an audible intake. Did she too feel that warmth? Drawing his hand away, he placed his hat on once more and touched the brim. “It is a pleasure, my lady.” He should leave. But he hesitated, something kept his feet frozen.

Lady Winston held his stare; high-color in her cheeks.

“Come along, Mama,” her daughter urged, giving the lady another tug. That movement propelled the woman into motion and with another perfectly executed curtsy, she turned on her heel and left.

Miles remained standing, staring after them, studying mother and daughter. The lady hovered a hand on Faith’s shoulder and spoke animatedly to the girl. Periodically, the child would nod. Then, the lady shot a glance back and their gazes collided once more.

A surge of awareness raced through him; an unexplainable, forbidden hungering to know more about her. Only when mother and daughter disappeared down a walking trail did it begin to subside. Giving his head a bemused shake, Miles beat a path back toward his mount. For the better part of ten years, his determined mother had been trying to match him off to a respectable young lady. He’d had little urgency to make one of those matches, because, well, there hadn’t really been a pressing need. Of course he would ultimately fulfill his obligations as the marquess, but even if he did not, there was still his younger brother, who’d admirably assume the role should something happen to him. In the time since he’d left university, his friend, the Duke of Bainbridge, had been married twice, suffered the loss of a babe, remarried, and fathered two children. Yet, oddly enough, he’d not given thought of himself as a husband. Or a father…beyond the obligatory end of his role as marquess.