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

By:Christi Caldwell

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

       Chapter 1


London, England

Late Spring 1818

"Everyone knows fairytales include a charming prince, an always smiling,  hopeful princess, and a joyous happily ever after. This story is very  much the same … "

A soft sigh interrupted Philippa, Lady Winston's reading. Seated in the  nursery, with one daughter balanced on her lap and the other at her  feet, Philippa glanced up from the small leather book.

On the lips of her five-year-old daughter, Faith, hovered a dreamy  smile. "What happens next?" The girl, stretched out on her belly, kicked  her legs up behind her.

Knowing the tale inside out, Philippa closed the book and spoke in soft  tones, careful to position her lips so that her daughter could see them.  "This princess, however, was unlike any of the other princesses … "

Her daughter rounded her eyes. "Can she not hear out of one ear like me,  Mama?" Philippa's heart pulled. "Or is she a widow like you?"

Philippa jerked and the book tumbled to the floor where it landed with a  soft thump. Where she had always been guarded in her thoughts and  emotions, there was an unrestrained honesty to Faith that, as a mother,  she found both pride and awe in. On some occasions, many of them to be  precise, Philippa found herself disconcerted by her daughter's stream of  questionings.

Faith quickly retrieved the volume and waved it about. "Can a widow be a  princess in a book?" she continued on a rush. "Because Grandmother was  whispering to Lady Martindale and Lady Martindale said that widows were  old, gray, plump, and never married." She brightened a bit. "I know  because I read their lips. They said you might marry because you weren't  those things."

Faith's words held Philippa motionless. The unspoken, but clear dream  that Philippa would again one day marry. To speak the truth was  unthinkable. It would shatter her daughter's innocence and, having had  her own dreams destroyed by life early on, she would never be that  person.

Her other daughter, one-year-old Violet, babbled happily while Philippa  desperately fought through years of pain and bitterness to give her  daughters every fanciful, hopeful word young girls were deserving of.

"Mama?" The hushed worry in that inquiry snapped Philippa to the moment.

"Mama. Mama. Mama." Violet bounced up and down, clapping her hands.

And Philippa did what any protective mama would do. "I expect any woman,  regardless of age, can be a princess," she lied. Time had proven that  the very tales she read to her daughters, the same ones she herself had  devoured as a child, were as real as magical mirrors and talking  animals.

"Do widows marry again?"

Philippa snuggled Violet. "Some do." The foolish ones. The desperate  ones. And after marriage to Calvin, she was no longer a naïve fool. With  the funds he'd left her, she certainly was not desperate.

"And what of you?" Faith surged upright and layered her palms atop Philippa's knees. "Will you have a happily ever after?"

Coward that she'd always been, Philippa looked to the nursemaid, who  took her unspoken cue. Rushing over, the pretty young woman held her  arms out for Violet. Philippa kissed the baby's plump cheek and handed  her youngest daughter to Miss Cynthia. "I already have my happily ever  after," Philippa said softly, ruffling the top of Faith's dark curls. "I  have you and Violet and I will never need anyone more."

Instead of her child's comfort in that assurance, Faith frowned. "But  you must have a prince. All princesses need princes. Unless it is  because you are a widow?" She scrunched up her mouth. "Except you are  not one of those old ones like Grandmother said. So surely you might  marry."

Philippa had been married. She'd rather dance through the fiery flames  of hell than make another wedding march. Forcing a smile for Faith's  benefit, Philippa dropped another kiss atop her head. "It's time to see  to your lessons."

With her daughter's groans of protest trailing behind her, Philippa  hurriedly took her leave of the nursery. Once outside and free of the  quizzing, her shoulders sagged. Each time she read those fanciful tales  of love and dreams coming true, the questions came all the more.

More than half-fearing Faith would follow her into the hall and put  countless more inquiries to her about her marital state, Philippa  quickly sought out her chambers. Closing the door behind her, she made  her way over to the vanity and studied herself. The words Faith had  overheard Mother and Lady Martindale speaking echoed around Philippa's  mind.

Yes, the world held varying views on who and how a widow should be.                       
       
           



       

At a mere five years past twenty, Philippa was decidedly not old, nor  gray, and most definitely not plump. Nay, she hardly fit with Lady  Martindale's societal expectations of a widow. Her gaze snagged on the  black widow's weeds she still wore that hung on her too-slender frame.  The midnight taffeta was assuredly the most visible indication that she  was, in fact, a widow.

The door opened and she spun around, her skirts snapping at her ankles.  Her younger sister, Chloe, hovered at the entrance, gripping the edge of  the oak panel. "Hello," Chloe's hesitant greeting carried over to her.  "Hello." Yes, because when a young lady found herself widowed, with two  young children no less, and moved back into her former residence, no one  knew what to do, or how to be, or what to say. Not even her usually  loquacious and spirited sister-the very same sister who now stood  half-concealed behind the door.

Long ago, Philippa had learned to be suspicious of her sister's  unexpected appearances. A schemer and meddler, Chloe's motives always  portended more. Secretly, Philippa, as the daughter who'd only ever been  proper, enjoyed trying to determine just what Chloe was up to. She  motioned Chloe in.

With that invitation, Chloe rushed inside and closed the door behind  her. "I would like to take you shopping," she said without preamble.

That is why she was here? How very peculiarly un-Chloe-like … and more  than a bit disappointing for it. "I do not require anything." And she  didn't. While Calvin had provided nothing in the way of a loving union     , his expert handling of his estates and finances had seen her well  cared for in his death. Plus, her dowry had reverted back to her. No,  there was hardly a shortage of wealth. And most importantly, with his  death, Calvin had given Philippa her freedom. Never again would she  worry after being nothing more than a nobleman's property to get his  precious heir upon. Now, she could allow her daughters a life free from  their late father's constant recriminations. She could now offer her  daughters the opportunity to find happiness in the world around them.

"It is not my intent to tell you how long to grieve," Chloe continued.  Philippa sighed. So this is what brought Chloe 'round. "But it is time  to step outdoors again."

Of course, it was inevitable. The expectation that Philippa would rejoin  the living-or rather living, as they saw it. Not how she might view  things, in this new reality. Annoyance needled in her belly. "I do go  outdoors." To give her fingers something to do, Philippa grabbed her  embroidery frame and sailed over to her bed. Feeling her sister's gaze  on her, she sank onto the edge of the mattress and looked up.

Chloe's eyes were rounded saucers in her face. Was it a surprise that  ever-obedient Philippa would ever dare to do something as outrageous as  challenge another's opinions? "This is not about going into Jane's  gardens. It is about finding your smile."

Philippa wrinkled her nose. Chloe spoke as though there was something  wrong in choosing to spend the better part of her days in the gardens  with her daughters for company. "I smile," she said softly. Every day  her daughters, Violet and Faith, brought her more joy than she knew a  heart was capable of.

Chloe gave her a meaningful look. "Surely you do not wish to remain closeted away?"

Actually, she did. Very much so. Knowing that admission would only  result in further probing, Philippa did as she so often did-she remained  silent. It was far easier than letting Chloe, or anyone, into the world  she kept hidden-the world where she had suffered through the misery of a  cruel marriage. What would revealing the truth about her marriage bring  other than pain to the family she loved, a family who'd already known  too much pain at the abusive, late marquess' hands? "I am quite content  with my situation. Furthermore," she said, stiffening her spine. "It is  perfectly reasonable for a widow to be out of Society for a year."

"Oh, Philippa," her sister murmured once more. Oh, Philippa. A wholly  useless expression that conveyed nothing and everything at the same  time.

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