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Authors: Eliza Lloyd

FromNowOn

From Now On

Eliza
Lloyd

 

Mad Duchesses, Book 2

 

Sebastian Traynor had his chance. Once he could have eloped
with Grace. Once he could have had the one woman for whom he lusted. But back
then he hadn’t been willing to give up his freedom when there were so many
women from whom to choose. Except he never found a woman he loved as much as he
loved Grace.

He broke her heart before. Grace should refuse to see him
now. Now that she has lost her beauty. Now that she has finally found peace.

Sebastian has the skills needed to seduce Grace and once she
is naked and in his arms he will use them all to remind her of the love they
shared before.

 

A
Romantica®
historical erotic romance
from Ellora’s Cave

From Now On

Eliza Lloyd

Chapter One

 

Mistakes seemed to be the Earl of Ridgley’s forte.

Especially as they pertained to one woman—the Duchess of
Hammond.

Sebastian Traynor would have scoffed at anyone’s attempt to
call him a romantic, but he was. Since he’d first met Grace Oliver, née Lawton,
she’d wielded an unnatural and unknowing hold over him. His foolish younger
self had not recognized such feelings would not be assuaged by the number of
women he bedded.

Knocking on her door a year and half after the Duke of
Hammond had expired was also a mistake, but that didn’t stop him from gripping
the knocker and pounding it against the double wooden doors.

The bigger mistake had been not fighting for her when her
family had pressured her into marrying a title, a man with substantially more
wealth and prestige, while he had been the second son of an earl. The death of
both his father and older brother had made many things possible. Unfortunately
she had been married for years by then and he had to watch her from afar.

The estate in remote Cornwall had been over a week’s journey
in intermittently bad weather. There had been plenty of opportunities to turn
back. He had not seen her since the beginning of London’s Season last spring,
after which she had gone into seclusion. Mourning had nothing to do with her
withdrawal from society, though those who wanted to believe Grace had some
remnants of respect for her husband were free to believe so.

Gossip meant nothing to him unless there were whispers about
her.

And the whispers were that she had been horribly scarred
after her drunken bastard of a husband had smashed a bottle of port against her
face. Sebastian confirmed the truth by dispatching his man of affairs to
Hammond House as soon as he had heard. By then the duchess had gone. The duke
had died a week later in a gambling row, fittingly with a knife in his craw.
The sordid details had developed into the scandal of last year’s Season.

The tragedy could have been made worse only had Hammond
killed her, though perhaps Grace wished she were dead if she took such drastic
measures to hide herself from the world.

When his carriage had pulled to a stop and he had
disembarked, Sebastian felt the stirrings of sorrow. The estate was quiet—a
massive Palladian mansion nestled in a bank of oak trees. One would expect the
bustle and grandeur of such a place to overtake any sense of emotion except
awe, but it was there—solitude bordering on sadness. Only a stable hand had
hurried out to meet the carriage and four.

Had she gone mad out here in this godforsaken wilderness?

The portal opened a moment later just as he was ready to rap
the door a second time.

“My lord.” The majordomo bowed and swung the door wide.
“Might I be of assistance?”

“I’m here to see the Duchess of Hammond.” He withdrew his
card with the single word
Ridgley
emblazoned and centered in the middle,
dropping it to a salver.

The new duke, a military man with a decent head on his
shoulders, was still unmarried, though he had been inundated with potential
candidates during the Season. Sebastian had made it his business to converse
with the new duke but his taciturnity made rocks seem talkative. What he’d
garnered, to his relief, indicated Grace was not completely fragile.

“I regret Her Grace is indisposed.”

Of course, he had expected as much. It was part of the reason
he had arrived just as the sun was setting. “Would there be a time tomorrow
more convenient?”

“I am afraid not, Lord Ridgley.”

“Would you please let Her Grace know I am here? I daresay
the return trip to London is lengthy and I do not wish to leave without seeing
her.” Short of force, he would be required to defer to her wishes.

And her desire to be left alone had been very clear to all
of her friends who had trekked to Cornwall to visit, with the obvious exception
of her sisters. But none of the other visitors had the same determination or
motivation. They weren’t in love with her.

Another of his mistakes was that he had waited too long to come.

He knew he could not come during the first year while she
was mourning—at least that was what he had told himself. The past six months
could be excused by his duties in London and the Season. He had sent a few
fleeting, teasing notes, which she had not answered. He had delayed because he
was afraid—the kind of fear that exposed flaws in one’s character.

“As you wish,” the majordomo said. After another perfunctory
bow, the man took to the stairs and disappeared. That Sebastian was still
standing in the grand foyer rather than comfortably ensconced in a drawing room
was all the confirmation he needed. She had given standing instructions she
would not see anyone.

Maybe it was worse than he had imagined.

If he was truthful, and he had been wallowing in several
truths lately, he would admit the unknown severity of her wounds was why he had
delayed. Would he find out how shallow he really was once he saw her perfect
porcelain complexion marred by hideous scars? Would it kill his love? Would
love be replaced by pity for her and self-loathing for his weakness and
superficiality? Would it reveal what he felt wasn’t love at all?

Nonetheless, he had steeled himself to see this through. He
owed Grace something—for her friendship in spite of his character, for her
gentle, secret love in spite of his robust denial of emotion.

Some poet or romantic must have penned words to describe
this sort of grail. Was it really love if it could be so easily dashed by mere
wounds?

He had played out a few perfectly lustful and heartwarming
scenarios about their reunion. He had even imagined he would not leave once she
knew how he felt.

Rather than wait for the rejection that was sure to come,
Sebastian walked to the door and hurried outside. “Stable the horses. Tibbets,
bring my things inside. I will be staying.”

* * * * *

Grace stared at the card.

Ridgley.

Sebastian was here?

The single word blurred as a wash of tears filled her eyes.
Each beat of her heart pounded in hard raps against the inside of her chest,
the echo resounding in her ears. Was she breathing?

His person came into focus as if he stood before her.
Fastidious in his attire. Casual about his dark-brown hair, which always seemed
to be messed. A quick smile. And warm brown eyes, somnolent and clever.

She handed the card back to Mr. Felix and straightened her
shoulders. Not that she would see Sebastian under any circumstances, but it was
late and she was clothed in a casual dress a duchess should not been seen
wearing in the presence of company. No unrelated traveler would arrive with
such slipshod manners. Except him.

He knew better.

Why, Sebastian?

“Tell him I am unavailable. Tell him anything but he must
go.”

Felix’s droopy eyes gave away nothing. “It is late, Your
Grace. As a courtesy perhaps we should offer him food and lodging before he
leaves in the morning?”

The sun had just set and she was to have dinner within the
hour. She turned away from the majordomo, intense breathlessness taking away
her ability to think. She walked to the open windows of her balcony. The breeze
did nothing to refresh or calm her.

Why?

There were steps to the garden below and she was tempted to
flee along the paths and darkened walkways to hide from one of her greatest
fears—not just that she would be seen, but that she would be seen
by Ridgley
.

“Your Grace?”

“Of course, you are right. Where are my manners?”

“Will you be down?”

“Have cook prepare a tray for me. Please see Lord Ridgley
has all he requires.”

When Felix left the room, she felt the paralyzing fear of
being discovered, of being exposed. Cornwall was her private world, the
property farthest from London, farthest from anyone she knew or cared about.
Here she did not have to hide. Here she did not have to worry she was being
judged or people thought she was no longer beautiful.

No, she did not have to hide from anything but the world.

Grace placed her hand to the left side of her face, feeling
the ridged scars. She rarely looked in the mirror anymore; even her morning
toilette was completed on a bench near the fireplace.

Ridgley.

She thought of him only on her worst days. Tears formed
quickly—tears laced with sorrow and regret and yes, anger.

On her worst days, she blamed Sebastian.

Oh, why has he come?

Why had he come when she had established a perfectly
wonderful life here in Cornwall? Here beauty had a new meaning—not the refined
perfection of London or the manmade definition of attractiveness but something
greater.

What could have only been minutes passed before there was a
light tap on the door and Felix, rather than one of the kitchen staff, appeared
with a tray. She glanced at the ormolu clock on the mantelpiece to see an hour
had already ticked by. Had Sebastian’s presence already disrupted her
well-ordered world?

“Your Grace,” the majordomo said as he set the tray on a
round mahogany table. He carried the centerpiece away and then placed the
covered dishes in a semicircle around her plate. While he worked, he continued
with the news she wanted to hear. “Lord Ridgley has just started his supper and
a room has been prepared. He asks once again if he might have a moment of your
time.”

Even the tantalizing scents of butter and bread, ham and
sweet potatoes did not tempt her.

“No, Mr. Felix,” she said quietly.
He mustn’t
.
I
can’t
.
Such a mistake
.
Make him go away.

She used all of her noble manners to exude the strength she
did not feel. Felix held her chair at the table.

It was simple enough to be the queen of her Cornish kingdom.
No one in her realm would think anything less of their monarch let alone say a
thing about her appearance. In short, they had all come to a quiet agreement
that her scars would be ignored. Grace never talked about the wretched
disfigurement. Her staff pretended she was the most beautiful and kind Duchess
of Hammond. They lived a happy delusion in the country.

She was loath to have her world disrupted so forcefully a
second time.

Did Sebastian not understand she had secluded herself
willingly?

“He seems most determined, Your Grace.” Felix reached for a
note that lay on her supper tray. “He requested I give you this. And he said he
wished with all his heart you would read it and look upon his words favorably.”

“His exact words?” she asked.

Grace touched the note for a second. The temptation was
great. She raised her hand but caught herself just as the first hint of some
manly cologne wafted under nose. “No,” she said and handed it back. “Please
inform Lord Ridgley I cannot accept correspondence from him.” The other notes
he’d sent had sat on her bedside table for days before she succumbed to the
need to open them. The longer she went without reading, the longer she could
savor his words when she finally gave in. And she always did.

There were the scars on her face, yes.

But Ridgley could reopen the scars on her heart. Already she
could feel the small tears. “He must leave in the morning, Felix. See that it
happens if you must harness his team yourself.”

“Yes, Your Grace.”

After finishing food she did not taste, Grace called her
lady’s maid and slipped into a comfortable rail and robe. Normally she enjoyed
having Trish brush her hair for several long minutes, tonight instead she had
it wound into a thick braid.

Ridgley’s arrival had her feeling out of sorts, and she
hated being grumpy and irritable with the staff. She thought it would reinforce
the idea of her ugliness. There were times when she preferred being alone to
making an irreparable mistake with those who had been most faithful to her.
Many from her London household still served her needs since her permanent move
to Cornwall.

When she had succumbed to despair those many months ago, her
staff, led by Mr. Felix, had made all the difference. And of course her
sisters, except they had their own families and could devote only a limited
amount of time to her well-being—as it should be.

Grace doused all of the candles and strolled back to the
open windows. A chaise was placed against the corner wall and she curled on the
sofa, tucking her feet under her. She was not afraid of the night and her gaze
adapted to the nuanced degrees of darkness until she could see the wrought iron
railing, the oak trees against the slightly lighter horizon and then the faint
rows of the hedged maze.

Closing her eyes was a mistake. Visions of Ridgley as he had
been leapt to life inside her memories. Young, vibrant and deftly mischievous,
he was the reason many debutantes lost their hearts. Mischievousness eventually
turned into rakishness but that occurred sometime after she had married. Or so
she believed.

Hammond had hated Sebastian, knowing he was a rival for her
affections. What had hurt more? Hammond’s ruthless denunciation of her
character for befriending him? Or that Sebastian had not taken her away to
Scotland to marry when she had begged him?

He could have saved her.

All night she wrestled with thoughts of him—unable to sleep,
unable to understand his reasons for appearing on her doorstep. When she found
herself pacing in front of the fireplace as the ormolu pealed one o’clock, she
pulled her robe together and fastened the silken ties. She eased open her door
and padded to the head of the stairs. Barely a whisper of her robe could be
heard. The steps were cool on her bare feet—the first distraction she had had
all night.

She knew which book she wanted to read and precisely where
it was on the library shelf. The door was open. The aromatic flavor of cigars
hit her first. He had been here. Now, however, the room was as dark as the
silent night surrounding the countryside. She stopped for a moment in the
darkness and inhaled, wondering if she could smell him.

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