Christian Fallon, the Duke of Aubrey, has never forgotten the woman he fell in love with six years earlier. Forced by his father to marry another, he endured a miserable marriage. Now a widower, he arrives in London with the intention of vanquishing his enemy, a man who is set on destroying Christian’s family. When he finds that his enemy is courting the woman Christian tried for years to forget, he conceives of a plan to take everything away from the man, including Katherine, the widowed Duchess of Westervly.
Katherine has intentionally caught the eye of the Viscount of DeWynter, a man she can barely tolerate, but her stepmother is missing, and clues lead to the viscount as having a hand in her disappearance. When Christian appears on the scene, she is torn between the two men; Christian, who has held her heart all these years, and DeWynter, whom she believes can lead her to her stepmother.
As Christian turned to leave, he bumped into a woman.
“My pardon,” he said, then stilled. Katherine.
“Your…Your Grace.” She placed her hand over her heart, and her cheeks paled.
Percy stood behind Katherine, the same maid she’d had when he was courting her. At the time Percy had been a coconspirator in helping them find time alone. From the glare the impertinent maid gave him, it didn’t seem to deter her that he was now a duke. She’d probably like to stick a blade in his heart, and he couldn’t deny it would be deserved.
“Katherine, a pleasure to see you. It has been a long time.” Six years, eight months, and one week to be exact. When he had ended their courtship, she had married the Duke of Westervly almost immediately, and the two had left London for Westervly’s family seat. That she’d married so quickly had been a hard blow to his heart, even though he had lost his right to think anything where she was concerned. That her new husband had been elderly hadn’t mattered. All he knew was that she was truly lost to him.
“Please, I would prefer Your Grace or Duchess.”
Had he detected a tremor in her voice? “Of course, Duchess. Again, my pardon.” Her gaze stayed just below his chin, and he wanted her to look up, wanted to see into those beautiful green eyes to learn if there was any regard for him. Stupid that. He had broken her heart, over six years had elapsed, and the word was that she was as good as betrothed to DeWynter. There would be nothing in her eyes for him. She didn’t even want to hear her name from his lips.
She tilted her head, her gaze on the package he held. “It appears you are in a mood to read.”
Because he expected to be dismissed, it took a moment to realize she’d given him the opportunity to spend a few minutes with her. He lifted the paper-wrapped books. “These are for Mother.” He didn’t include mention of Theresa, as he didn’t want to answer any questions concerning his sister.
“Oh, is she in Town?”
Ignoring the glare Percy was still sending his way, he put his hand on Katherine’s elbow and steered her to a spot away from the door, regretting that he wore gloves, that he wasn’t touching her skin to skin. “She doesn’t come to London. Ever. Believe me, I’ve tried to get her to leave Rosemont, if only for a few days.”
Words were spilling from his mouth that were of no concern to her, but he couldn’t seem to stop them. If he didn’t speak, she would leave. Finally she looked up at him, and he had to force his lungs to keep breathing in air. How had he forgotten that her eyes reminded him of the leaves of a forest tree after a rain? Dark green and luminous.
“I’m sorry. I had hoped to hear that she…”
When she trailed off, he finished her sentence. “That she was happier after His Grace died, doing the world a favor?” Pink stained her cheeks, confirming he had guessed right. “Don’t be embarrassed, Duchess. I had hoped for the very same thing.”
He was relieved she hadn’t offered condolences on behalf of his bastard of a father. Also he hated having to address her as Duchess or Your Grace. She would always be Katherine to him. “As we are speaking of being sorry, my sympathy for the loss of your husband.”
“Thank you, Your Grace. I miss him terribly.”
At the tears pooling in her eyes, Christian wanted to break something. He shouldn’t want to believe her marriage had been one of convenience, but she had obviously loved Westervly. Until he had seen Katherine again at last night’s ball, he’d convinced himself that she was simply a fond memory. How different would his life have been if he had married her? Would they still be happy, still be in love?
She glanced at Percy, then returned her gaze to him and touched her fingers to his. “I hope you are happy, Christian. I truly do.” Without giving him a chance to respond, she walked out the door without looking back. Percy did, however, giving him one last glare.
He couldn’t move, could only stare at the fingers of his glove where it seemed warmth lingered from her touch. She had called him Christian. He had heard her speak his name in his dreams, but to hear it from the living, breathing her made him want to weep for what he had lost.
Sandra is a 2013 Golden Heart® Finalist for her contemporary romance, CRAZY FOR HER. In addition to her contemporary romantic suspense novels, she writes Regency stories.