To Woo a Widow (The Heart of a Duke Book 10)(8)

By: Christi Caldwell

Thrusting aside thoughts of the young woman and her daughter, Miles reached the spot where his horse lazily munched on the grass and released his reins. Climbing astride, he nudged Whisper around and guided him in the opposite direction. Finding a lost child and her hauntingly beautiful mother was certainly enough excitement for the—

A sharp cry rang out. Heart hammering, Miles jerked on the reins. Wheeling his mount around once more, he set out after the nearby call of distress.

Chapter 3

Philippa was sensible. She’d long been practical and proper and demure. It was those traits that had snared the notice of her late husband and led to a predictable courtship and subsequent marriage.

Yes, she was hardly the manner of woman to note a towering, ginger-haired gentleman with exquisitely sculpted features. And certainly not the manner of woman who allowed herself to steal a glance back for a final glimpse of said gentleman’s perfect figure. Except, he had rescued her wandering daughter…and picked flowers with her, and surely a gentleman such as that warranted a lingering look.

Such intrigue was dubiously rewarded. She glanced back and promptly stumbled. With a gasp, she fell sideways, coming down hard on her hip. Her daughter’s soft cry cut across her distracted musings of Lord Guilford. “Mama!”

What in blazes had she stepped in? Philippa looked to her foot, partially dangling inside a rabbit hole. Bloody rabbit hole. The fairytale book she’d brought to read to her daughters lay mockingly beside it. She really should have been attending where she was walking.

“Oh, Mama. You arrre hurt.” Worry stretched out that syllable.

As she removed her foot from the hole, pain radiated from her ankle and she moved it in a slow, experimental circle. “Not at all,” she assured. Seated on her buttocks, with her skirts rucked about her ankles, she managed a smile. It was nothing other than her pride now smarting. It was fitting that she was now so inelegantly sprawled in the trail after being so gauche and clumsy in staring after a gentleman who’d been kind to Faith. Philippa made to stand, when Cynthia’s sharp cry cut across the horizon.

The young nursemaid rushed over, shifting Violet in her arms. “Oh, my lady,” she cried, with a fervor more suited to a carriage accident than a little stumble in the park.

She sighed. Then, she’d always been weak, pathetic Philippa, doing exactly as people wished to keep everyone happy. Doted on by all. “I assure you, I am fine,” she murmured and once more made to stand, when thundering hooves sounded in the distance.

They looked as one. Philippa’s heart did a funny leap. He’d returned.

The Marquess of Guilford brought his mount to a stop. In one fluid movement, he dismounted, tethered his towering horse to a nearby oak, and strode toward their quartet. He dropped to a knee beside Philippa. “Are you hurt, my lady?” he asked, in a mellifluous baritone that caused her heart to speed up another beat.

Unable to drag forth words, Philippa shook her head and then glanced at her ankles. She gasped and rushed to cover her exposed lower legs.

“My mama is hurt,” Faith said, when Philippa failed to respond.

The marquess shifted his gaze from her feet and she braced for his questioning. Instead, he moved his attention to the little informant. “Is she, my lady?” he asked in gentle tones.

“Oh, yes. She stepped in a rabbit hole because she was not looking where she was going.”

As her daughter proceeded to chatter like a magpie, Philippa cocked her head. Never in the course of her life had a gentleman taken the time to speak to her as a woman, let alone a small girl. Her own father, God rot his soul, had been a dark devil who’d beat his daughters with the same frequency he’d beaten his sons. As a woman, her elder brothers had taken little interest in her future or her happiness, beyond the proper, formal match coordinated by her eldest brother. And yet, here was this man…a stranger, speaking to her child as though she were an equal, when gentlemen tended to not see a child, and most especially not a female one.

“Isn’t that right, Mama?”

Blinking wildly, Philippa looked from her daughter to the nursemaid cradling Violet, and then to the marquess. Each stared at her, expecting something. Her mind raced. Just as Philippa was not the manner of woman to not attend where she was walking or to stare after a gentleman, neither was she the one who woolgathered while others spoke. She attended conversations. She worried her lower lip. Or she did. Normally. Not now. And when possessed of an absolute lack of idea on how to respond, she opted for the very safe, “It is.”