The Countess:Madison Sisters 01(7)

By: Lynsay Sands

And the liquor probably didn’t help, Christiana decided as her gaze shifted to the empty glass next to the half-empty bottle of amber liquid on the table beside him. She recognized the carafe, it was very fine, very expensive whiskey that he usual y only opened when celebrating something.

Wondering what on earth he could have to celebrate, Christiana bent to shake his shoulder. “Dicky, you—Oh!” she gasped and leapt back when he suddenly slid from his seat and landed in a heap on the floor. Christiana was about to bend down and rouse him from his stupor when a rustling from the door drew her attention to the fact that Suzette and Lisa had fol owed and now stood in the open door.

Suzette peered at Dicky and then raised her gaze to Christiana and said wryly, “I thought you were just teasing when you said you’d kil him.”

“Very funny,” Christiana muttered, not appreciating her sister’s sense of humor. “He’s drunk. Close the door before one of the servants sees the state he’s in.”

“Does he often drink this early?” Suzette asked, crossing the room to join her as Lisa quickly closed the door.

“Not this early, no,” Christiana admitted. “But he does start earlier than he should and drink more than he should on a regular basis. It’s given me hope that he’l fal down the stairs and make me a widow sooner rather than later,” she added dryly and then grimaced, knowing how bitter and unkind the thought was.

“I think he has,” Lisa said quietly as she joined them around Dicky’s prostrate form. “Made you a widow I mean. I don’t think he’s breathing, Chrissy.”

Christiana glanced doubtful y back to Dicky. He’d slid onto his knees, and slumped forward over them so that his head landed on the rug in front of the fireplace. While it didn’t appear that his back was moving or expanding with the inhalation of breath, it was hard to tel for sure with him crumpled the way he was.

Christiana knelt beside him and with a little help from Suzette managed to lay him out on his back. They then both stared at his chest for a moment. It wasn’t moving. Hardly believing what she was seeing, Christiana leaned forward to rest her ear above his heart. There was no steady thump, no thump at al .

Eyes widening, she sat back on her haunches again and simply stared at the man, finding it hard to believe he was dead. Dicky just wasn’t thoughtful enough to do something so kind.

“He is dead, isn’t he?” Lisa asked.

Christiana glanced to where her youngest sister stil stood by the chair and said uncertainly, “It would seem so.”

“What do you think kil ed him?” Lisa asked with a frown and then suggested, “It was probably his heart. I noticed how flushed he got when Suzette argued with him. He seemed a very passionate man.”

Christiana didn’t comment, instead she let her gaze drift over the man she’d been so eager to be free of and let a sad sigh slip from her lips. She’d thought herself in love with him when they married, but the man she’d loved hadn’t existed, he’d turned into someone entirely different once the ceremony was over. That man had smothered every last drop of her love over this last year with his control ing and critical attitude. Stil , she felt a tinge of grief stir within her. It was probably for the man she’d thought he was and the life she’d hoped for, Christiana acknowledged. Despite everything, she’d stil held on to a drop of hope that something would happen to turn him back into the wonderful Prince Charming he’d been when he’d courted her, and that she could yet have the happy ending she’d expected on their wedding day.

Christiana hadn’t been foolish enough to think there was much hope for that, but there was absolutely no chance for it now. She was a widow . . . and had every intention of staying one. There was no way she would ever entrust herself into another man’s hands again, not in this lifetime. Christiana had learned her lesson wel .

Shoulders straightening resolutely, she said, “I suppose I should have the servants cal a doctor to—”

“No,” Suzette interrupted. “If he’s dead you wil have to go into mourning and cannot give us our debut. We wil be expected to join you in mourning too and wil have absolutely no chance of saving ourselves.”

Christiana recognized the truth in Suzette’s words, but said helplessly, “What can we do? He’s dead.”

As Suzette glowered at the hapless Dicky, Lisa suggested, “Perhaps we could just put him in his bed and tel the servants he is feeling unwel . Even a couple of days may be enough for Suzie to choose someone desperate enough to accept her offer. The moment she settles on someone and heads for Gretna Green you can pretend to discover Dicky dead in his bed.”

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