About the book
"He is a monster," said the world, but she loved him anyway...
Lady Cordelia McArty never thought she'd end up so miserable. Abandoned at the altar by the love of her life, she barely bats an eyelid when her father announces her marriage to another. After all, what does she have to live for?
There are many things Arthur Coghill, Duke of Redvale, is known for: the scar marring his face and the family history that gave the Dukedom its name being the most prominent. So, he never expected another member of the ton would come to offer him his daughter's hand. Or the Lady Cordelia herself.
As the darkness melts away, Cordelia and Arthur finally taste happiness on the tip of their tongues. Happiness that turns into ashes when a sudden bout of unexplainable sickness leaves Cordelia on the brink of death. And true to his name, the Duke of Redvale will do everything to save her. For when is a monster not a monster? Oh, when you love it...
Arthur Coghill walked the length of his study, his hands clasped behind his back. Mr. Rochester, his steward, was still talking but he no longer heard him at all.
He looked out of the window, down at the garden. It was a sad sight and if he had been inclined to care about such things, he might have found it quite depressing.
The flower garden, once the pride and joy of his mother, was all but abandoned. The rose bushes were barren, the petals littering the ground.
“We have a gardener, do we not?” he asked, startling the steward.
“Excuse me? Your Grace?”
He turned and waved a hand, dismissing the thought. “Never mind. You were saying?”
He turned while running one hand through his shoulder-length black hair. It was a habit he’d developed after the war, to ensure his destroyed face stayed hidden from view as much as possible.
Not that the steward cared. He’d seen him at his very worst after his return home three years ago.
Mr. Rochester was a small, wiry man, reaching not even up to Arthur’s shoulder. His hair, once a rich brown, was now streaked with grey and white and his beard matched this. He sat in the armchair across from Arthur’s desk and almost disappeared in the large chair. Adding to his almost comical appearance was the mountain of papers in front of him. A mountain Arthur was meant to tackle for it related to the estate’s holdings. He’d thus far found no motivation to do so.
“Your Grace?” Mr. Rochester said again. “It is imperative that you pay close attention to matters of the estate. It is dire. The brewery is already lost to us and…”
Arthur turned with a groan and marched back toward his chair, dropping inside.
“Yes, yes. Of course. The estate. The brewery. I am aware it is dire for you speak of little else, Mr. Rochester. Now, pray, just how bad is it?
Are we merely purse-pinched or are we on the rocks already?”
“It is quite dire, I am afraid. Your father, as you know, closed the brewery some months before his death, laden with debt as it was. Your father, in addition to his poor management skills, bled rather freely when it came to his funds. He was often too kind to his tenants and would lend money to many a… well. People who ought not to have been entertained in that regard. Many tenants are behind in their rents, for one. I am afraid your father was not a gifted businessman.”
“Is this not why we employ a steward? Someone to steer the ship when the captain is not able to?”
His words wounded the older man. It was easy to see by the way he flinched backwards in his seat. Arthur was well aware his tone was harsher than he’d intended. However, these days he found it easier to simply speak his mind than worry himself over what was proper, what was kind. Still, he’d known Rochester almost all of his life and he felt a little bad at the man’s discomfort.
But why should I? He is our steward after all. He should have taken care of matters. To think that once my father owned the most successful brewery in the North and now it is gone. Due to nothing but his mistakes… I must not allow myself to fall into the same trap my father slipped into and become too soft. That is what brought on this situation to begin with.
“Your Grace, I assure you, I did all I could. However, your father was in the habit of loaning money out to his many friends, he forgave debts, he gave to charity more than was expected of him. And then there was the gambling, of course. That wretched business.”
“By Jove, that again. I thought he’d done away with that bad habit after he was forced to sell my mother’s jewelry and incurred her wrath some five-and-ten years ago.”
“I am afraid since her death he had taken on a great many bad habits. Which is how he found his untimely end, as you know.”
Arthur shook his head. “To be of his age and take up carriage racing. Mutton-headed, I declare.”
“Your Grace…” the steward said, his eyes wide.
“Very well, I am sorry for my outburst, Rochester. Now. Tell me the truth, how close am I to being a pauper?”
The man swallowed hard and at once Arthur realized that he was much closer to the truth than he’d thought.
“That bad, huh?”
“Your Grace, it does not look good. Several debts are due in short order. Your father made deals, took out loans on the property. You stand to lose a great portion of your holdings.”
Father, I am not at all surprised. You had to die and leave me in this mess, did you not? You could not have lived long enough to clear up this disaster. No, instead you bring this calamity down upon my head. As if I needed any more to add to my misery.
He took a deep breath and looked at the steward straight in the face.
“Mr. Rochester, as you know, I spent a great amount of time in the military and there I have learned one thing. When faced with an overwhelming assault it is best to deploy what we call force concentration. Are you familiar with the term?”
“I believe it means to concentrate ones forces on one portion of the enemy, to equal the field, so to say.”
“Precisely. Now. What is our biggest threat? What is the largest amount we owe that is due the soonest?”
The steward pondered this for a moment and shuffled papers back-and-forth before presenting Arthur with a written agreement. He recognized the large elaborate signature of his father, the late Duke, who had passed away a month prior.
Theirs had not been a close relationship. While his father was a good, kind man, they had little in common. Arthur took after his practical-minded mother while his father was always driven by his intuition and heart, both of which often led him astray. No, the late Duke of Redvale and his heir were not close. They’d not seen one another for three years. And even before then, they had not been close. Especially not after Arthur returned from the military so severely damaged.
It was due to this estrangement that he’d not known just how bad the estate was being run, just how grand the losses. He hadn’t visited their family home, Lolich Castle, since the end of his military service, staying instead at their estate in Scotland. He still could not understand how the grounds had fallen into such disrepair. Lolich Castle was a shadow of its former self, just like its newest owner.
Before him, the steward pointed to various sections on the document. “It seems your father made a deal with a merchant in town, a Mr. Fordham. The deal was such that your father received the sum of two thousand pounds with an agreement to forfeit a section of land to Mr. Fordham should he not be able to pay back the sum in total by June of this year.”
Arthur frowned. “How could he make such a deal? The lands are in entailment for another two generations.”
“Unfortunately, he was able to. Many years ago, while you served overseas, he had some of the lands returned to him as freehold property.”
He pointed at a map to the right of the desk which showed the entire estate.
“All of these areas are now in freehold, and these three areas of land are to be claimed by Mr. Fordham unless we repay the entire sum.”
Arthur’s mouth dropped open. “Those are our most profitable lands! Father, how could you?” He could not believe what he was hearing out of the steward’s mouth. Even he knew which parts of the property yielded the most profit and to think his father would have taken out a loan against them—let alone had broken the entailment upon them—defied belief.
“They are indeed. Your father was convinced he would be able to repay the debt. In part, with his carriage racing, upon which he also took bets.”
“Mr. Rochester, there are hundreds of people employed on this estate. If we do not have the income…”
“I know, Your Grace. I know. It is, in part, why your father has let go so many of the servants over the last year or so.”
Arthur frowned and thought back to his earlier inquiry regarding the gardener.
“Pray, how many of the servants were let go?”
Mr. Rochester scratched his beard. “I would say half, at least. Yes, most of the kitchen staff, the scullery maids. The dairy is closed down. Mr. Hambros, who owns the estate next door now, purchases all of the milk produced here, sends back what is needed by the household and sells the rest at a profit. There is but one gardener now who tends to the entire grounds.”
Arthur dropped his head in his hands, overwhelmed by all of this.
“Why did you not tell me it was quite so bad when first we met upon my arrival?”
“You were in mourning. You are in mourning still,” he nodded toward Arthur’s head-to-toe black attire. Arthur nodded and glanced down at the mourning ring his father had left for him, containing a lock of his hair, as was customary to leave for one’s family.
Arthur sat back and rested his hands on the arms of his chair.
“Well, what can we do? We must raise the funds somehow. What is there to sell? Valuables? Paintings? We cannot lose those lands—if we do then we are lost ourselves, for without those lands we will not make any profits and then I will be a pauper. A pauper in a castle, but a pauper nonetheless.”
“Well, Your Grace…” The steward started. At once, Arthur braced himself.
“What? Is there a loan on the castle as well? Am I to spend the rest of my days living in the saddle room in the stable?”
The older man smiled and shook his head. “No, of course not. I just meant that there is not enough to sell to raise what is needed. Or rather, not in enough time. The loan must be repaid by the end of June.”
Arthur pressed his lips together. “Very well. What do you suggest, Mr. Rochester?”
The man studied the room as if he wished to look anywhere but directly at Arthur. When at last he did turn to him, he took in a gulp of air.
“There is one way. Marriage. If you were to marry a lady from a wealthy household, you could request a sizeable dowry. Enough to repay the debt. With proper management, the estate can be turned around and thrive once more. But first, we must get the funds.”
Arthur rose and placed his hands on his hips.
“And who, pray, ought I marry? Who would have me, anyhow? Have you not seen what the French did to me in the war? Huh?” He lifted his hand to his face and pulled up the eyepatch that hid away the most severe of the damage he’d received.
Mr. Rochester flinched at the sight and averted his eyes.
“Well. There you are. If you cannot look at me without disgust, how do you expect a young lady to?”
Rochester swallowed hard and at last, turned to him again.
“It is not only looks that matter. You are a Duke. There are not many eligible Dukes in the Kingdom, Your Grace. That alone is worth a lot. And you have a vast, beautiful estate with great potential. As well as the estate in Scotland, inherited by your mother. Please, allow me to make inquiries to see if there might be interest in a match.”
Arthur sneered at the mere mention. He could not imagine anyone who would want to be anywhere near him. He was disfigured and not just physically. He was disfigured inside as well. He suffered nightmares of the war, waking several times a week from terrible dreams. He hid away from the world, never ventured into the city, and even in his little corner of the world he was a recluse.
However, if he did nothing the estate would fall and with it his family’s entire line. As he looked out he saw two young maids walking back from the wash house, baskets of laundry in their arms as they rushed down the servant staircase.
He had a responsibility, not just to them, but to so many.
He glanced over his shoulder, eyed the steward, and shrugged.
“I suppose. Go ahead and see if there is some fool out there desperate enough to marry someone like me. Good luck, for I venture to say the moment you tell them who it is that is in want of a wife, they will turn on you and laugh.”
He turned back to the window and shook his head. Marriage. A wife. The mere notions were ludicrous to him.
No, he already knew it. He, Arthur Coghill, would spend the rest of his life alone. He knew it.
Lady Cordelia McArty raised her head and smiled at the man who moved across the dance floor with her in his arms as though there was nobody else in the world but her. He beamed down at her, chocolate-brown eyes glistening with delight. Slight dimples marked his handsome, oval face and fine lines around his eyes spoke of his frequent laughter, his good humor.
How very fortunate she was to have found him, David Lancaster, Duke of Mableton. And she would be his wife. He twirled her once more, released her hand and then joined her again, his strong hands wrapping around her small one.
“Cordelia, I cannot wait for the day you are my wife. If only we did not have to wait so long,” he whispered into her ear. Her entire body tingled at the sound of his warm, raspy voice.
“Four months is not that long, it will pass in no time at all. Especially as you will be occupied in Scotland with your father’s business interests.”
David sighed as the music ended. “This is true. You ought to come with me, Cordelia. I cannot stand the thought of being away from you for so long.”
She smiled at him, her pale freckled face coloring up slightly. “I know it. I can hardly imagine it, either.”
She slipped her arm through his and together they exited the dance floor. It was Wednesday, and they were at Almack’s as they were every week. Although this would be their last dance together until the following year when David returned from Scotland.
“Let us take the air,” he suggested and she followed him outside into the street. It was September, the end of the Season drew near, parliament was closing down, and all the noble families would soon be retreating to their country estates.
The sound of birds chirping in the distance mingled with the melody from the orchestra that was now playing the next song.
They walked around the corner and suddenly, David stopped and turned her toward him. His hands, meaty and large, rested on her shoulders and he tilted her chin up.
“Cordelia McArty, I love you. I just wanted to remind you of that. I cannot wait to marry you. You are the star in my sky.”
“And you are mine,” she replied.
He ran one hand over her dark-brown hair, taking care not to disturb her elaborate hair style, and then cupped her face with both hands.
Cordelia’s eyes fluttered shut and her heart leapt, knowing within a moment his luscious lips would be on hers and they would seal their love once more with a kiss. She felt his breath on her face and then—
“Delia? You are miles away.” Sophia Doyle’s voice pierced through her daydream and her eyes flew open. She spun around to face her lady’s maid, a woman who despite her status was also her closest friend. Sophia stood in her maid’s uniform beside her, her bushy eyebrows furrowed as she squinted at her.
“I’m sorry, Sophia. I was, indeed, miles away. I…” Cordelia glanced down at the locket in her hand. It was this, the golden locket, that had transported her to a time not too long ago when she thought herself happy. The locket fit into the palm of her hand. It was solid gold with a golden thread and small pearls that ran around the enamel in the center of it. It was not the locket itself that had so mesmerized her, of course. It was the watercolor painting in the center. A silhouette of the man she’d once loved, David, Duke of Mableton. Her fiancé for a brief three months.
Seeing his visage so unexpectedly while cleaning out her chamber had so startled her she’d not been able to move from her chair in front of her large looking glass. She glanced at the locket once more and then handed it to Sophia.
“Take this. It can go with the items that are sent to the church.”
Sophia’s blue eyes widened and her mouth formed the shape of an O. For a moment she said nothing but then cleared her throat.
“But are you sure? This is solid gold. I am sure we could have the picture removed or painted over. Surely, there could be a different use for it.”
Cordelia rose and stepped before her mirror. She wasn’t a tall woman and at two-and-twenty, she was no longer young, either. And yet, she thought for her age and given the circumstances she still looked quite respectable. Her eyes were the color of fresh honey, amber flecks sprinkled within them just as freckles sprinkled her nose, no matter what the season. Her figure was still desirable with curves in all the right places and her skin was taut and pale—as was the fashion.
“I would be married almost two years now, did you know?”
She spoke to her maid but did not take her eyes off her reflection.
“I know it. That dastardly man. Running off with some bit of muslin. To think he could have had you, the daughter of an Earl with a beautiful estate and a sizeable dowry, and he threw it all away for some wanton Scottish lass he knew but five minutes.” Sophia shook her head, her mouth pinched together as though she could hardly keep from saying something else, something less ladylike.
Cordelia reached for her and took her gently by the wrist. “Now, now. Do not get carried away. He made his choice. He chose to run away to Gretna Green and marry this woman, Isabella. She is now the Duchess of Mableton and that is that.” She looked at the locket again. “I ought to have thrown this into the river when I had the chance. The Thames would have been a suitable home for it. Although if the vicar can find a use for it then that is, of course, preferable.”
She fell silent and once again looked into her mirror.
I cannot help but wonder what it was that made him stop loving me. Or rather, to love another better. Is it my nose? It is crooked, slightly bent to one side although unless you look closely you cannot tell. Are my eyes too close together? Is her skin of a fairer shade? Her body less curvaceous? Perhaps it was her sense of humor, for mine is dry and often sarcastic. She cannot possibly be more accomplished than I am. Papa invested such vast sums in my education…
“Will you stop it?” Sophia said with a harsh tone.
“I said nothing.”
“I know. But you were thinking about it. I saw the little wheels in your mind spinning round and round, fretting over what might have been. You ought to stop. It has been two years.”
Cordelia could not help but smile at the young woman. At three-and-twenty Sophia was but a year older than Cordelia. Cordelia remembered her arrival at their manor all those years ago. As the orphaned niece of their housekeeper, Mrs. Cooper, she’d started as a scullery maid. Over the years, a friendship grew between the girls—despite their differences in station—and when it came time for Cordelia to have a lady’s maid there was only one choice.
As such, Sophia had been by her side through the highest points, from her coming out seven years ago and her engagement to David, and the lowest. Faith, there had been many lowest these last few years. Her mother’s death, the broken engagement—and now the prospect of spinsterhood. It was the thought of this which made her look at her friend with sorrow and resignation.
“I know it has,” she said at last. “I suppose I cannot break out of my nostalgia because in a way it is all I have. I’ve no hope of ever marrying now and thus the memory of when it almost happened is all I can cling to.”
Sophia crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Will you stop, Delia? You are a young woman still and any lad would be lucky to have you.”
Cordelia rose out of her chair and smoothed down her gown, a rose-colored muslin creation with a lace overlay embroidered with beautiful little flowers. It was one of her favorite gowns and she always paired it with a white spencer with large, textured buttons. Today, however, she wore her shawl for it was chilly in the manor, despite the fire in the fireplace.
Outside, the early April air was crisp and the grey skies only contributed further to her mood.
“It is easy for you to say—you are not a lady of high society. In my class, at this age, you are destined to be an ape-leader. I have been through seven Seasons. Seven! This would be my eighth and I simply cannot. It was bad enough that it took four seasons to find David but then the mortification of his leaving me a month before the wedding…”
She shook her head and walked to the armoire, swung open the doors and surveyed her many caps and bonnets. Selecting one with a white ribbon, she placed it on her head and tied a knot under her chin.
“Going out, are we?” Sophia asked, as she walked to the dressing room adjoining Cordelia’s large chamber. She returned with a pair of light pink silk gloves and handed them to her friend.
“I am going to take the air. I saw the little black kitten again at the stables yesterday. I am determined to find it and make friends. I should love to have a cat. Ideal for a spinster in the making.”
Sophia rolled her eyes. “If you don’t change your thinking, you might well end up a spinster. It is all about the way you look at things, I declare. And you look at things in grey, greyer, and black. There is color to be found out in the world, Delia. You just have to look.”
Cordelia touched her friend’s shoulder and smiled at her. “You are kind and I am lucky to have you as a friend. But on this, we shall have to disagree. I do not mind my lot in life anymore. I will be at my father’s side, running the household alongside him until he passes. When Charles becomes Earl of Aedon, I will hope that he can find a place for me in his household.”
“He is your brother and he adores you—of course he will find a place. I should hope it won’t be necessary and you will marry well yet. Preferably to a lord with a handsome valet or butler for your dearest lady’s maid to marry.” Sophia winked at her.
“I shall keep it in mind. Now. I must go and….”
She was interrupted at once by the sound of raised voices outside. She dashed to her window, followed by Sophia, and they looked out. Her chamber, situated on the corner of the manor, overlooked the garden and lake up ahead as well as the stables in the distance, just past the wash house. It was from this direction the shouts were coming.
“It is the Viscount!” someone called.
“Charlie!” She gasped as her hand flew to her mouth. In the distance, she saw the burly figure of her brother, slumped forward on his horse, Rover. He was unconscious, accompanied by his friend and neighbor, Lord Rothwell, as well as several servants.
“Fetch the physician!” Rothwell shouted.
“What is the matter with him?” Sophia asked, more to herself than anyone else. Cordelia did not wait around to answer her. Instead, her feet set into motion and she flew out of the door, down the hall with its grand tapestries hanging from either side of the red carpet, and down the marbled staircase.
She burst out of the door and into the early afternoon air, shivering at once for her shawl had flown off her shoulders somewhere during her sprint.
“What has happened?” she asked breathlessly.
The riding party had arrived at the manor and Rothwell was already off his horse and stood by Rover.
“He was injured, gravely, I am afraid,” the man said, as Cordelia looked up at him with her eyes wide as saucers.
And then, as he reached up to her brother, Cordelia clasped a hand to her neck and stumbled backwards.
There, in front of her, her brother, her dearest friend aside from Sophia, was being lifted off his horse and his face, his handsome, kind face, was entirely covered in blood.
He shifted in his bed and groaned, causing Cordelia to jump up at once and rush to his side.
“Charlie?” she called gently. His eyes flickered open, accompanied by another groan.
“Delia? Where am I? What… what happened?”
She clasped his hand. “You were hit in the face by a branch when you rode out yesterday. We were ever so worried.”
Charlie blinked and pushed himself up, using his sister to steady himself.
“I cannot believe it. I don’t even remember it at all. What a cake I made of myself and in front of Lord Rothwell, of all people.”
She tilted her head to one side and pursed her lips, wondering just why it mattered so much who was there when he nearly met his death. Noticing her expression, he cleared his throat while examining his forehead with his free hand.
“Lord Rothwell has agreed to introduce me to his cousin, the daughter of the Earl of Sharsford. I think she would be a wonderful match.”
Cordelia thought about the name for a moment and smiled. “Eliza? She is a darling. Although I thought you were not looking to wed anytime soon. Did you not claim you were unwilling to wed before the age of thirty? And you are not yet seven-and-twenty.”
He dropped his hand, having examined the bandage that ran around his head.
“That is true but so many of my friends are married already and having children. Several already came into their inheritance. Not that I am in any rush to succeed Father. But I feel as though I ought to settle. And I must consider you as well.”
She swallowed. “You do not have to do anything because of me, brother. You must do what brings you happiness.”
“Making sure my sister is provided for brings me great happiness, rest assured of this. I have heard Lady Eliza is a lovely woman and if she is, indeed, then I do not see why I ought not marry her. Provided you, too, like her, since we will all be living together.”
Despite her earlier assertions to Sophia that she was perfectly content with the idea of being a spinster, in reality, the thought scared Cordelia. She’d been raised to be a wife. She had spent years learning every dance in the Kingdom, spoke three languages, played four instruments, and was well versed in reading and watercolors. She was the perfect lady, and yet after the disastrous end of her engagement to the Duke of Mableton, nobody would so much as look at her.
She was forever tainted, even though the actions that led to the end of their engagement were entirely of David’s doing, it was she who had to contend with the curious glances of everyone around her, with the silent judgement and not so silent whispers behind her back whenever she ventured to Almack’s.
It is as though I am at fault for his leaving me. Even though when last we saw one another he was perfectly happy and pledged his love for me, his eternal love. And even in his first few letters from Scotland, he proclaimed much of the same. But they do not know this, of course. They only see me, the lady who could not keep her betrothed from running away with a merchant’s daughter.
“Delia? Why so Friday-faced?” her brother asked. His eyes were still small from his extended sleep.
“Nothing, I just thought of… I just thought about my lot in life, that is all.”
He smiled kindly at her. “Is it really so bad to have to consider a life with your brother? Am I so terrible a person it would be a hardship?”
“It would be for you. You would have to live with not just your wife but your sister for all of your days.”
He waved his hand in the air. “If you get too troublesome I shall banish you to the seaside,” he chuckled.
Alas, she did not find his comment funny in the least.
Realizing the upset he’d caused her, Charlie reached for her arm.
“I am sorry, I did not mean to upset you. I only spoke in jest.”
She nodded and wrapped her hand around his. “I know it.
“You never know, you might find some dashing Lord next Season. The start of the Season is only weeks away.”
She shook her head. “I do not wish to go to London this year. No, I feel as though I am talked about wherever I go. Those ladies like to hide behind their white feather fans and whisper, all the while staring in my direction. No, Charlie. I am determined to remain here. It is pretty here in the summer.”
“That I cannot deny. Nor can I deny the vapid nature of some of our fellow nobles. But, pray, how will you find a husband if you do not go to London? There isn’t a suitable lord anywhere in our area. They are all married already, or vile. No, you must go to London, there is no way around it. I shall dance with you and accompany you to the theater and Almack’s.”
She shook her head, her long, dark hair swinging from side to side.
“My dear, you know as well as I that at my age I am destined to be an ape-leader. I may be able to enjoy these activities again one day but now they only remind me of the fact that I will never be one of them. I will never visit these places with a husband by my side and I will be pitied wherever I go.”
“It is not fair, it is not right. And all of this because of Mableton. I swear if ever I got my hands on him, he would regret what he did to you. I wish I could challenge him to a duel. I wish it…”
“Charles. It warms my heart that you care for me so, but please, do not upset yourself so much.”
Her brother sighed. “I would do it. But very well. I shall abandon my plan of challenging him outright, but I will not promise that I will not plant a facer on him.” He paused for a moment and squinted at her. “Perhaps it is for the best that you do not go to London this year. I have heard word Mableton might, at last, be returning to England from Scotland, along with the bird of paradise he wed.”
Cordelia swallowed at this news. She’d assumed he would remain in Scotland for the rest of his life. His marriage to someone so far beneath his station and at the cost of a desirable match had caused his family to all but turn away from him. While they could not take his title from him or his lands, they’d cast him out in every other way. In consequence, he’d stayed in Scotland for the past two years.
“I can hardly believe it. The Dowager Duchess was so adamant about never accepting the woman into the family.”
Her brother nodded grimly. “It seems that his mother is willing to welcome him home with open arms once more now. Not that she had a choice. They could not keep him from his own property, of course.”
“I wonder what made her change her mind on the matter? When last I spoke to her she swore she’d never see him again, let alone her.”
She saw the truth in his eyes before he said the words. The true reason why they were being welcomed back into the family fold after so badly disgracing their entire household. It was the only reason that could cast aside such a grave offence. An heir.
“She is with child, is she not?”
“That is what’s on dit,” he confirmed while holding onto her hand. Despair crashed over her like a wave. It should have been her. She should’ve been the Duchess of Mableton. She should have been the one on her way to motherhood. Not that bit of muslin who’d bewitched the man Cordelia loved.
“It isn’t right. It should be me. I cannot believe it.” Tears sprang into her eyes as she blinked, wishing them away.
“Delia,” her brother said, an urging in his voice. “Do not despair.” He paused for a moment and studied her face. The two of them were close, so close she knew he could read her like an open book. “You do not still love him, do you? Not after everything he’s done.”
She turned to her brother and shook her head, a forced smile on her face. “Of course not. How could I? No, these tears are tears of rage and disappointment, of mortification at my humiliation at his hands.” She placed a hand on his forearm. “You ought to rest now. Papa is coming back this evening and he will be horrified enough to hear of your accident. We can at least present him with a rested version of you when you greet him.”
Charles sighed and pulled a blanket closer around him. “I suppose you are right. I ought to rest. But only if you are sure you are not too upset.”
“I cannot say that I am not upset, you would know it anyhow. But I can promise that I will be fine. I really will be. Now, rest.”
She rose, not allowing any further comment from her brother and made her way out of the chamber and into the hall.
Once she was free from her brother’s eyes she leaned against the wall and dropped her head, tears spilling down her face and onto the marbled floor.
While she’d assured Charles this was not the case, she could not deny it herself. She did still love the man who’d broken her heart. She did. And she feared she always would.
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