She will never trust her broken heart to him again.
Shortly after Lady Juliet trusted her heart to Graham, the Marquess of Hertford, he disappeared with no explanation. Eight months later he is back in London, eager to resume their relationship, but claims he cannot tell her where he’s been.
Graham was fulfilling a duty to the duke who had once acted as his guardian. Sworn to secrecy, Graham is frustrated in his attempts to win back Juliet’s trust and convince her he wants her for his wife. As he works hard to chip away at her frozen heart, a twist of fate might snatch happiness away from them forever.
Lady Juliet looked into her mirror at the sad eyes that stared back at her. It was her sister Elise’s wedding day, and she should be happy for her. As much as she wanted to feel joy, all the happiness in her life had fled when Graham left her the night they’d made love in the very bed behind her.
He’d kissed her softly and said he would talk to Papa in the morning, but she’d asked him to wait until after Elise’s wedding. Papa’s edict that he would not accept offers for his younger daughters until Elise wed still stood. Even though Elise was close to marrying, Juliet wanted to make sure Papa had no reason to refuse Graham.
However, she had expected to see him at various events, and possibly receive an invitation for a ride. True, she’d been busy with her sister’s wedding, but not hearing a word from him was frightening her. She hadn’t seen him since the night they’d been together.READ MORE
Two weeks. Two very long, very disturbing, weeks. She’d been tempted to send a note to his house, but held back. Something scared her more than his neglect. Had he decided after she’d given herself to him that she was no more than an easy woman, and one he would not want as his wife?
“Oh, Juliet, you look beautiful!” Marigold entered her room, dressed in a demure pale rose gown. Juliet’s gown was also pale rose, but a bit more fashionable. Marigold had always seemed more than only one year younger than Juliet. “Thank you, sister, and you look lovely as well.” She hugged her sister and stepped back. “I guess we should go fetch the bride.”
Arms wrapped around each other’s waists, they left the room.
“Elise, you are a stunning bride.” Juliet sailed into her room with Marigold right behind her.
Elise studied Juliet in her mirror with a frown. “Juliet, are you unwell?”
“No, I am fine, why do you ask?” Lord, she never could hide anything from Elise. When Juliet had been only six years, their mother had died from consumption, leaving a devastated husband and three young daughters. Elise had stepped easily into the mother role, even though she’d only been ten years, herself.
“No reason.” Elise continued to study her. Once her dear elder sister got a bug in her ear that something might be wrong with either of her sisters, she would not let it go. She considered it her duty to know everything about Juliet and Marigold and solve whatever problem they might be dealing with.
Even though, in a moment of weakness, Elise had confessed to her that she and Simon had been intimate, Juliet did not want to reveal the same thing to Elise. Her sister’s situation had ended wonderfully. Right now, Juliet was not so sure hers would end the same.
Elise crossed the room and placed her hand on her forehead. “Are you sure, sweeting? You are not looking well.”
Juliet snapped her head away. “I am fine. I just told you.” Glancing at the look of surprise on her two sisters’ faces, she re-arranged her features into something more pleasant. “Truly, I am fine. It is your wedding day, Elise. We must focus on you, and not on non-existent problems.”
A glance in her own mirror earlier had revealed a pale face and an obvious loss of weight. Perhaps Elise had been so caught up in her own happiness she hadn’t noticed Juliet, for which she was thankful. Now that her wedding day had arrived, her hovering sister would soon be off on her wedding trip and not be examining Juliet so closely.
Elise gave her one more glance and said, “Shall we go downstairs and see about this marriage business?”
Both girls grinned at her, and they left the room.
Two days later, Juliet descended the staircase and entered the breakfast room. All the remaining wedding guests had departed earlier in different directions. She’d heard the last of the carriages rolling away from the house before she left her room. She was relieved to not have to continue acting the happy hostess, a role she’d never played before. Life would be very different with Elise married and living in St. George’s townhouse
She was halfway through her breakfast, wondering what she would do with her time now that the frenzy of the wedding preparations was over, when the butler, Mason entered the breakfast room. He looked at her sheepishly, very unusual for their usually staid butler.
“Please forgive me, my lady. A gentleman brought a note for you some time ago, but with all the wedding business, it got pushed to the back of the small table in the entrance hall and ended up on the floor. I just now noticed it.”
“That is fine, Mason. I understand things have been a little hectic lately.” She reached out and took the missive from him. The butler left the room, and with shaky hands Juliet opened the note.
My deepest apologizes, but something has come up that makes it necessary for me to leave London. I will write as soon as possible.
She frowned and read the note several times. However, no matter how many times she read it, the words did not change. Graham had left London, giving no indication how long he would be gone, or where he’d gone. Had he been called back to his estate for a problem that only he could handle?
Her initial relief at having received word from him did not last long. Was this his way of extraditing himself from what he now considered a sticky situation? Thankfully, her courses had started only a few days after their encounter, so that worry was no longer a threat.
Very well, she would take his word for it. He was called away, and would send news soon. She would carry on, and most likely a letter would arrive shortly, since Mason said the note had been delivered some time ago. Graham’s estate was not so far that he could not write to her presently.
Feeling better, she decided to make morning calls. She would see if Marigold wanted to attend with her.
The days went by, and no word from Graham. Each time she questioned Mason on the arrival of the mail, she felt worse. In desperation, she’d broken with propriety, and sent a note to Graham’s country home, Hertford Place. No response.
There was only one conclusion she could draw. Once he’d learned she was not a woman who held her virtue for marriage, he’d abandoned her. He’d lost his respect for her and decided she was not the sort of woman he wished to marry and have as the mother to his children. Her heart ached and her stomach was constantly in knots.
The few events she’d attended had been torture. Too many young ladies of the ton had looked upon her with envy when she and Graham had been courting. Tall, handsome, charming, titled, and wealthy, he had been a sought-after potential husband by many debutantes and their marriage-minded mamas.
Now they viewed her with contempt or worse, pity. No one seemed to know to where Lord Hertford had disappeared, and the rumors began to fly. Of course, she was at the center of all the assumptions.
Juliet returned from the Bowers soiree with a raging headache. Keeping up the pretense of not caring that Graham was not at her side any longer, or unable to speak with authority as to where he was had taken its toll.
She stood in front of her mirror and hated the haunted look in her eyes. Her clothes hung on her frame, and her pallor spoke of illness. Stiffening her shoulders, she left her room and went downstairs in search of Papa, who was precisely where she thought he would be.
Entering his library, she observed him as he sat, staring into the cold fireplace. “Papa?”
He turned to her with a bright smile. “Ah, my precious daughter. How nice of you to visit me.” Standing in a courtly manner, he held out a chair and motioned for her to take a seat.
“I was just thinking how quiet everything is here with your sister married and off on her wedding trip.” He sighed and took a sip of his brandy.
“Yes, Papa, I miss her as well.” She didn’t feel this was the time to remind him that his edict that Elise needed to marry before he would accept suitors for his two younger daughters had something to do with Elise being on her wedding trip.
“Papa, I would like to ask a favor of you.”
“Of course, my sweet, what is it?”
“I find I am tired of the Season. Now that Elise is happily settled, I would like to return to the country.”
Papa studied her a bit too carefully for her liking.
“Is everything all right with you, my dear?”
“Yes. I just wish for some peace and quiet after all the madness of the wedding.” Although that was true, she also felt a strong draw to retire to the place she’d love since she was a child. To lick her wounds.
“Sweeting, I think you have offered a wonderful solution for us all. Marigold has mentioned a desire to return to the country as well.” He slapped his hands on his thighs and stood. “So be it. We will all return to the Manor as soon as we are packed.”
Juliet released a sigh of relief, and gave her papa a fierce hug and kiss on the cheek, which had him studying her carefully. Before he could ask any further questions, she turned and left the room. Maybe at the Manor she would be able to put Lord Hertford out of her mind forever. Which seemed precisely what he had done to her.COLLAPSE