To Woo a Widow (The Heart of a Duke Book 10)(7)

By: Christi Caldwell

“Wait.” Her softly spoken request brought him around. She held her palms up. “I did not properly thank you for helping my daughter.”

“There is no need to thank me…” For some inexplicable reason that defied propriety, he needed to know the lady’s identity.

The young woman sank into a flawless curtsy. “Philippa Gage, Countess of Winston,” she murmured.

Lady Winston. He scoured his memory for remembrance of the lady or her husband. With her midnight curls and full lips, he’d recall a woman with a beauty to rival Aphrodite. Yet, he could not drag forth a single memory of seeing the lady in any London Season. Stooping, Miles retrieved the small leather book at the lady’s feet and handed it over to her. Their fingers again brushed and a rush of charged heat went through him. Her breath caught on an audible intake. Did she too feel that warmth? Drawing his hand away, he placed his hat on once more and touched the brim. “It is a pleasure, my lady.” He should leave. But he hesitated, something kept his feet frozen.

Lady Winston held his stare; high-color in her cheeks.

“Come along, Mama,” her daughter urged, giving the lady another tug. That movement propelled the woman into motion and with another perfectly executed curtsy, she turned on her heel and left.

Miles remained standing, staring after them, studying mother and daughter. The lady hovered a hand on Faith’s shoulder and spoke animatedly to the girl. Periodically, the child would nod. Then, the lady shot a glance back and their gazes collided once more.

A surge of awareness raced through him; an unexplainable, forbidden hungering to know more about her. Only when mother and daughter disappeared down a walking trail did it begin to subside. Giving his head a bemused shake, Miles beat a path back toward his mount. For the better part of ten years, his determined mother had been trying to match him off to a respectable young lady. He’d had little urgency to make one of those matches, because, well, there hadn’t really been a pressing need. Of course he would ultimately fulfill his obligations as the marquess, but even if he did not, there was still his younger brother, who’d admirably assume the role should something happen to him. In the time since he’d left university, his friend, the Duke of Bainbridge, had been married twice, suffered the loss of a babe, remarried, and fathered two children. Yet, oddly enough, he’d not given thought of himself as a husband. Or a father…beyond the obligatory end of his role as marquess.

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.