To Woo a Widow (The Heart of a Duke Book 10)(5)

By: Christi Caldwell

Not even a little bit.

Chapter 2

Miles Brookfield, the Marquess of Guilford, preferred riding in Hyde Park during the early morn and this nine o’clock hour belonged to him. There was no nagging mother worrying about her four marriage-aged, unwedded children. There were no marriage-minded young ladies seeking his attentions. There were no headaches or hassles that came from being forced to make insignificant greetings to other lords just for the sake of propriety.

What there was on this particular day was a child in the middle of the path. Peering down the gravel riding trail, Miles drew on the reins of his mount, Whisper, and brought the chestnut to a quick halt. Of all the blasted… How had a child come to be alone in the middle of Hyde Park?

Particularly such a small child. It looked practically a babe to him, but as a bachelor still at almost thirty years of age, the whole details of those tiny persons were really beyond him. Furrowing his brow, Miles skimmed his gaze over the horizon, looking for the attending nursemaid. But for the morning birds taking flight overhead, the landscape remained empty. With a click of his tongue, he nudged his mount into a slight trot. Careful to not startle the child by riding up quickly on her, Miles brought Whisper to a stop and swung his leg over his mount. He swiftly looped the horse’s reins about a nearby elm and started over. “Hello,” he called out as he strode forward.

Kneeling on the side of the riding path, a girl with tight, dark ringlets and dressed in a fine white frock remained with her head bent, while gathering yellow buttercups from the edge of the graveled trail. A small book lay discarded at her side. By the quality of her satin skirts, she belonged to a respectable family. His frown deepened and he glanced around once more. What manner of nursemaid lost her charge? And what in blazes was he to do with a lost child?

Miles stopped beside the girl and she glanced up. “Hullo.” She smiled and returned her attention to the small flowers.

Doffing his hat, he beat it against his leg. Why in blazes could he not have brought Bainbridge with him? In addition to being his only friend in the world, Jasper Waincourt, the Duke of Bainbridge, had the distinction of being a father and he’d certainly know a good deal better how to be with a lost, peculiarly silent girl. He looked around again, hopeful that reinforcements were on the way—surely, someone had to be looking for the child. All he had to do was wait for them to arrive. When no much-needed nursemaid or mama came rushing forward, he dropped awkwardly to his haunches. “Uh—do you have a mother?” he asked and then grimaced. Of course she had a mother. The better question being, was whether that negligent parent or servant were about. “Or, rather, do you have a mother, here?” he amended.

The little girl hummed a discordant tune and tipped her head back and forth in time to her off-tempo song.

Miles shoved to his feet. At an absolute loss, he beat his hat hard against his leg in tune to her singing. Now, what? His last dealings with children had been two decades earlier when he’d been ten and the last of his siblings had been born. Since then, beyond the Duke of Bainbridge’s two small children, he’d no interaction with those little humans.

Even with his limited experience, he readily saw the folly in picking wildflowers alone, in the middle of a riding path. Moving in front of the girl, Miles again fell to his haunches.

The little girl paused and looked up. Surprise shone in her cornflower blue eyes. “You again,” she blurted.

Despite the peculiarity of finding an unattended child, Miles grinned. “Me, again.” He nodded to the flowers gathered in her hand. “They are pretty.”

“Would you like to pick some with me?”

Miles tugged at his cravat. He’d wanted to ride his horse, which, of course, in the midst of a nearly empty Hyde Park would have been vastly more uncomplicated than picking flowers with a lost child. Nonetheless, he sank to a knee, and proceeded to pick—

Incorrectly. “Not like that,” she chided. The little girl swatted at his fingers and the ghost of a smile pulled at his lips. “Like this,” she said, proceeding to demonstrate. “You have to pick the stem.” She lifted her head up and gave him a look.

Something was required of him. What was it? “Uh—”

“For the flowwwers,” she said with an eye roll and by the faint exaggeration of that single word, she’d found his flower-picking skillset wanting. Then, she narrowed her eyes and gave him a frown. “Don’t you give your mama flowers?”

The only thing his mother desired from him was a suitable match with Miss Sybil Cunning. “I have given my mother flowers,” he settled for. Years and years ago when he’d been a small boy. He grasped at what she’d said. “And I take it these are for your mother?” Her absent mother. Then, given the cold ways of the ton mothers, they generally didn’t accompany their offspring on outings to the park.