To Woo a Widow (The Heart of a Duke Book 10)(4)

By: Christi Caldwell

Oh, Saints on Sunday. This is why Chloe was here. Not because she was attempting to thrust her into Polite Society or matchmake her with another gentleman. Her stomach muscles clenched reflexively. Now it made sense.

Philippa’s sister leaned close and dropped her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “I recommend you visit the park, and…” She gestured to her elder sister’s black taffeta skirts. “If you wish to silence Mother on another matter, I’d at least don gray.” With a wink, Chloe hopped to her feet and rang for Philippa’s maid.

Philippa had never been so grateful for her younger sister’s loyalty. How much braver and stronger Chloe had always been. She’d long been a master at sidestepping their mother’s plans for her. Where I’ve long stayed indoors, afraid to embrace life. “Thank you,” she said softly and set down her embroidery frame.

A moment later, the door opened and Philippa’s maid, Ella, stepped inside.

Chloe gave a wave of her hand. “Do not give it another thought.” She swept to the front of the room and then with her hand on the door handle, paused. “What you must give another thought to, are Mother’s intentions for you.”

Philippa balled her hands into the fabric of her skirt. As a girl, she’d never been a match for her mother and Gabriel’s goals for her. They saw in her a young debutante who could make an advantageous match with a respectable, honorable gentleman. She bit her lip hard. That is all he’d ever been to her family—respectable, honorable Calvin. And secretly, in a shameful way that would have shocked all, she’d resented that not a single member of her family had seen Calvin for the monster he’d been. Yes, the Edgerton patriarch had been a merciless devil who’d beat his children. But there were other forms of cruelty…and not a single one of her siblings had looked enough to see that.

Hands settled on her shoulders and she jumped as Chloe, of like height, met her gaze squarely. “They expect you to eventually wed,” she said quietly. “Because that is always the expectation, isn’t it? But you’ve been married, Philippa.” Yes, she had. For six years. Unable to meet her sister’s eyes, she slid her gaze beyond Chloe’s shoulder. “Do you know,” her sister murmured more to herself. “For so many years, I believed yours was nothing but a formal arrangement made with Gabriel’s influence. A passionless man he attended school with whom Gabriel respected for being just as staid as he was.” Philippa went still. Chloe lightly squeezed her shoulders. “I have seen you this year, and your mourning, and realize how wrong I’ve been. You loved him.” The words were spoken more statement than anything else and Philippa’s throat worked. “And regardless of what Mother wishes, I’d not see you wed any man, as you’ve already known love.” She paused. “Unless you wish to, that is.”

Philippa bit the inside of her cheek. Chloe expected something. An affirmation? A “thank you”? What was it? For a brief moment, Philippa could not see past the always-present bitterness that threatened to consume her. “There will never be another,” her voice shook with the force of that truth.

“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.