To Woo a Widow (The Heart of a Duke Book 10)(2)

By: Christi Caldwell

At a mere five years past twenty, Philippa was decidedly not old, nor gray, and most definitely not plump. Nay, she hardly fit with Lady Martindale’s societal expectations of a widow. Her gaze snagged on the black widow’s weeds she still wore that hung on her too-slender frame. The midnight taffeta was assuredly the most visible indication that she was, in fact, a widow.

The door opened and she spun around, her skirts snapping at her ankles. Her younger sister, Chloe, hovered at the entrance, gripping the edge of the oak panel. “Hello,” Chloe’s hesitant greeting carried over to her. “Hello.” Yes, because when a young lady found herself widowed, with two young children no less, and moved back into her former residence, no one knew what to do, or how to be, or what to say. Not even her usually loquacious and spirited sister—the very same sister who now stood half-concealed behind the door.

Long ago, Philippa had learned to be suspicious of her sister’s unexpected appearances. A schemer and meddler, Chloe’s motives always portended more. Secretly, Philippa, as the daughter who’d only ever been proper, enjoyed trying to determine just what Chloe was up to. She motioned Chloe in.

With that invitation, Chloe rushed inside and closed the door behind her. “I would like to take you shopping,” she said without preamble.

That is why she was here? How very peculiarly un-Chloe-like…and more than a bit disappointing for it. “I do not require anything.” And she didn’t. While Calvin had provided nothing in the way of a loving union      , his expert handling of his estates and finances had seen her well cared for in his death. Plus, her dowry had reverted back to her. No, there was hardly a shortage of wealth. And most importantly, with his death, Calvin had given Philippa her freedom. Never again would she worry after being nothing more than a nobleman’s property to get his precious heir upon. Now, she could allow her daughters a life free from their late father’s constant recriminations. She could now offer her daughters the opportunity to find happiness in the world around them.

“It is not my intent to tell you how long to grieve,” Chloe continued. Philippa sighed. So this is what brought Chloe ’round. “But it is time to step outdoors again.”

Of course, it was inevitable. The expectation that Philippa would rejoin the living—or rather living, as they saw it. Not how she might view things, in this new reality. Annoyance needled in her belly. “I do go outdoors.” To give her fingers something to do, Philippa grabbed her embroidery frame and sailed over to her bed. Feeling her sister’s gaze on her, she sank onto the edge of the mattress and looked up.

Chloe’s eyes were rounded saucers in her face. Was it a surprise that ever-obedient Philippa would ever dare to do something as outrageous as challenge another’s opinions? “This is not about going into Jane’s gardens. It is about finding your smile.”

Philippa wrinkled her nose. Chloe spoke as though there was something wrong in choosing to spend the better part of her days in the gardens with her daughters for company. “I smile,” she said softly. Every day her daughters, Violet and Faith, brought her more joy than she knew a heart was capable of.

Chloe gave her a meaningful look. “Surely you do not wish to remain closeted away?”

Actually, she did. Very much so. Knowing that admission would only result in further probing, Philippa did as she so often did—she remained silent. It was far easier than letting Chloe, or anyone, into the world she kept hidden—the world where she had suffered through the misery of a cruel marriage. What would revealing the truth about her marriage bring other than pain to the family she loved, a family who’d already known too much pain at the abusive, late marquess’ hands? “I am quite content with my situation. Furthermore,” she said, stiffening her spine. “It is perfectly reasonable for a widow to be out of Society for a year.”

“Oh, Philippa,” her sister murmured once more. Oh, Philippa. A wholly useless expression that conveyed nothing and everything at the same time.

“I do not want your pity,” she said tightly.

“You misunderstand, Philippa. I am sorry for your pain.”

Philippa stiffened. I am sorry. Or my deepest regrets. Those were the other familiar words given since her husband’s passing. Wanting to protect her family from the truth of the pain she’d lived with, Philippa had not let anyone into her world. Not Mother. Not Alex. Not Chloe. Certainly not her brother, Gabriel, the Marquess of Waverly, who’d introduced Philippa to her husband. On most days, she was torn between hating her brother for coordinating that union       and herself for allowing him to. After all, it was ultimately she who’d agreed to the match with Calvin.