The Duke's Perfect Wife


Page 69




Hart's bed, empty and neatly made, was colossal, with brocade hangings flowing to it from an oval canopy ten feet above it. The rest of the room was taken up with formal tables and chairs, a bookcase, a padded bench, and a console table holding brandy and a humidor.
In spite of the elegant furnishings, this was a cold room, even with the coal fire burning brightly on the hearth. Eleanor shivered.
Hart's windows faced the front of the house and the east side of the grounds. The curtains had not been drawn, and Eleanor walked to the east window and peered out.
"He's gone out to the mausoleum, Your Grace."
Eleanor stifled a shriek and turned to find Hart's French valet in the doorway. Marcel stood ramrod straight, looking not at all tired. The perfect servant, awake and alert to serve his master, even at three o'clock in the morning. Poor Maigdlin had succumbed to slumber.
"The mausoleum?" Eleanor asked when her breath returned. "In the middle of the night?"
"His Grace will go there sometimes when he can't sleep," Marcel said. "Is there anything I can fetch for you, Your Grace?"
"No, no. That's fine, Marcel. Thank you."
Marcel stood aside to let Eleanor leave the room, then he hastened down the hall ahead of her to open her bedchamber door. Eleanor thanked him politely and bade him go to bed. Hart would be fine without him, she said, and Marcel needed sleep. Marcel looked puzzled, but he went.
Eleanor bade Maigdlin, who was changing her bedsheets, to help her dress and to fix her arm in the sling. Maigdlin didn't want to, of course, but Eleanor was firm. She then sent Maigdlin up to her bed, hurried downstairs, and let herself out of the house through a back door.
She sped across the damp grass toward the squat, dark building on the edge of the grounds, her breath catching when she saw the wink of a lantern inside.
The Mackenzie family mausoleum was always cold. Hart's breath fogged inside it, even though the April night was almost balmy.
His grandfather had built this place in the 1840s, a Greek-looking mock temple with plenty of marble and granite. Hart's grandfather and grandmother reposed here, as did Hart's father and mother. Cameron's first wife did not, because Hart's father wouldn't hear of it. She was a bitch, a whore, and Cameron's disgrace, the duke had said. She can make do with the churchyard, though I'll be surprised if the vicar lets her in.
Hart's wife Sarah did have a tomb here, as did his son, Graham.
The marble of Sarah's tomb was black and gray, cold to the touch. The plaque on the front of the tomb was filled with flowery phrases that Hart never remembered asking for.
The smaller plaque next to Sarah's said, Lord Hart Graham Mackenzie, Beloved Son, June 7, 1876.
Hart traced the lettering of his son's name with gloved fingertips. Graham would have turned eight this year.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I am so sorry."
Silence and darkness filled the space. But Hart felt comfort from the cool marble, from the presence of the boy he'd held-only once.
If Hart had done everything right in his life, he and Eleanor would have been married long ago, and Kilmorgan would be overrun with children by now. The bodies of Sarah and Graham would not be in this cold place, with nothing but chisel marks on marble left to honor them.
But Hart had done everything wrong. This time, at least, this time, he'd gotten Eleanor to the altar. And then she'd pushed him out of the way of the pistol, trying to save him.
These last three days, while Eleanor lay in a fevered stupor, had been absolute hell. Tonight, the doctor had announced that the fever had turned, that Eleanor was resting. Hart in his relief hadn't known what to do. He'd shaken off his brothers' well-meaning offers of all the whiskey he could down and retreated here.
To assure himself that Eleanor wasn't out here, cold and alone? He didn't know.
All he knew was that he'd made a mess of his life, and he was still doing it. Hart, the arrogant, self-assured Mackenzie, could get nothing right, and these tombs were tangible evidence.
He'd always thought of his courtship and engagement with Eleanor as a farce in three acts.
Act I, Scenes: Their first dance together, followed by a kiss in the garden had awakened every need in his body. Next, the boathouse down by the river at Kilmorgan, where he'd unbuttoned Eleanor's modest dress and kissed her skin, discovering that she had a passion in her that she didn't hide, at least not from him.
Act II, Scene: The summerhouse. Hart remembered Eleanor riding beside him in her prim habit and riding hat, smiling and chattering as usual. The summerhouse, the old duke's folly, perched on a promontory, a gorge dropping away from it to a river below. From there, one could see across a vast stretch of Mackenzie lands all the way to the sea.
When Hart had led Eleanor inside, her reaction had been pure Eleanor.
"Hart, it's beautiful." The summerhouse folly had been fashioned like an ancient Greek temple, complete with overgrown ruined stone, a very un-Scottish structure. But the view was magnificent, and the summerhouse very private.
Eleanor turned in a circle, arms open. "My father would love this. So false and yet so true at the same time."
Hart had stepped to the stone balustrade and looked out over the vistas that never failed to stir his heart. The Mackenzies had come back from poverty and powerlessness after Culloden to become the wealthiest family in Scotland, and this panorama of their lands rammed it down the throats of every Englishman who came up here.Source: www_Novel12_Com