The Duke's Perfect Wife


Page 58




"You need to…"
"I will take care of you whether you marry me or not, but things will be easier if you are my wife. You need a husband, Eleanor, as much as I need a wife. When your father passes, you'll have nothing. Glenarden will go to a cousin you barely know, and you'll be turned out. What will you do then?"
"I'm proving to be very good at the typing machine." Eleanor tried to make a joke, but Hart did not laugh.
"You will end up in a cheap boardinghouse full of dreary old women," he said. "Prey for any man who decides that a lovely spinster is fair game. Or you'll pass from country house to country house, living with friends, but I know you-you'll feel horribly ashamed and believe you're taking advantage of them."
"When you put it like that, things do sound rather bleak."
"They don't have to be. Once you're a Mackenzie, no one can touch you. Even being betrothed to me will have weight. You'll never have to worry again, El. Neither will your father. And who knows, I might have given you a child today."
Eleanor shook her head. "I did not conceive when we were lovers before, and I am rather long in the tooth now…"
"You never know, El. Today was an impulse, but you shouldn't pay for it. Neither should a child. I'd want him to have a name."
Eleanor heard the fervor in his voice. Hart wants a baby, she realized in surprise. Her heart warmed.
Hart's hands were firm points on her shoulders, hot in the cold rain. "I will take care of you and any child-my name will take care of you."
Eleanor's mouth was dry, thoughts rising and dying in her head. "Any woman marrying you will have to become a grand society lady, the other half of your political career."
"I know. I know that, El. But I can't imagine anyone who would do better."
A more skeptical woman might think Hart had seduced her today so he could have a hostess to entertain wives of the political gentlemen he needed to woo. But Eleanor hadn't imagined the catch in his voice when he'd said, I'll never bear it if you go away again, or the spark in his eyes when he'd a moment ago spoken of the possibility of a child.
She wet her lips. "It is much to ask."
"Yes, it is." Hart cradled her face in his hands, his thumb smoothing across her lower lip. "And I will do everything in my power to make sure you do not regret it."
Eleanor looked into his eyes. She read the certainty of victory in the amber depths, surety that he'd win everything he wanted. And yet, behind it, she saw fear. Hart was poised at a crossroads-from this day forward, his life could go in any direction. And he was afraid.
He was not alone in his fear. Eleanor's throat was tight, her knees weak, her limbs trembling as her entire life was swept away by the utterance of a few words.
"I suppose this means Curry has lost his forty guineas," she said.
"Damn his forty guineas." Hart pulled her to him and kissed her. His hard embrace told Eleanor she'd never get away from him again, and Eleanor, sinking into Hart's wonderful warmth, was unsure she wanted to go.
When Eleanor and Hart reached the house, all was chaos. Romany children ran around the field, in spite of the rain, chasing or being chased by Mackenzie and McBride children. The Mackenzie dogs joined the Romany goats and dogs in the romping, barking or bleating nonstop. The children screamed with a sound that could peel paint from walls.
Fleming came to meet Hart and Eleanor, leading his horse, his flask still out. "Good God, it's a massacre," he said, taking a drink. Hart agreed with him.
The running children saw them and streamed their way, Aimee shouting at the top of her lungs. "Uncle Hart! Aunt Eleanor! Come and see our tent. It's a real Romany tent." The Romany children piled around her, some understanding her English, some not. They smiled up at Hart, black eyes dancing.
Adults came after the children-Mac, Daniel, Ian, Ainsley stopping to lift and cradle her crawling daughter, Gavina, named for the child Ainsley had lost. Ian's son, Jamie, saw his father, waddled determinedly toward him, and threw his arms around Ian's leg.
Ian's eyes softened from his usual distant stare to focus on his son. He smoothed the boy's hair, then let Jamie hang on to his boot as he walked, slowly, toward Hart. Jamie laughed, loving the game.
"What's happened?" Ainsley asked, shielding Gavina from the rain. "Something's happened, Eleanor. Tell."
Ian stopped next to David and lifted Jamie, both to keep him away from Fleming's horse's hooves and to let Jamie pet the beast's nose.
"Eleanor will marry Hart," Ian said.
A huge smile blossomed on Ainsley's face as Eleanor's mouth popped open. "How on earth do you know that, Ian Mackenzie?" Eleanor asked.
Ian didn't answer. Jamie went on petting the horse with his tiny hand.
"True?" Daniel demanded.
"Sadly," Fleming answered. "I'm an unfortunate witness."
"Next month," Hart said in clipped tones. "At Kilmorgan." He was very aware of Eleanor's hand in the crook of his arm, her grip tightening as he spoke.
"Next month?" Ainsley said, eyes wide. "That's very little time. Isabella will be incensed. She'll want a grand wedding."
Mac laughed out loud. "Good on you, Eleanor. You fixed him at last."Source: www_Novel12_Com