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Authors: Shayla Black

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* * * *

Lucien Clayborne, the fifth Marquess of Daneridge, stood at the edge of the cold grave.
He closed his eyes and bunched his fist around a bouquet of spring flowers. The smell
of the blossoms and freshly cut grass blended with his grief to swirl a guilty nausea
through him. He relished the pain, along with the discomfort of the morning drizzle.

Chelsea had been dead three months, and he had no one to blame but himself. He cursed
into the biting wind. Why couldn’t he have breathed twenty years of his own worthless
life into her precious little body?

Flooded with grief, he sank to his knees, not giving a damn that mud fouled his gray
wool trousers. Carefully, he placed the flowers over her grave, next to the others
he had brought the day before. Chelsea would have accepted them with one of her bright,
guileless smiles.

Lucien cursed heavenward, glad he was insulting the God who had taken Chelsea from
him. He wanted that God to feel his anguish. He wanted that God to understand he no
longer believed in Him.

Hot tears scalded the back of his eyes. He swallowed back the unmanly show of emotion.

For the thousandth time, he asked himself: Why Chelsea? As usual, no answer came.

His body ached from lack of sleep as he rose. How long before he could pass a whole
hour without thinking about her and the knowledge that he had failed her? How much
longer would regrets and recriminations taunt him, keeping him awake through the night?

Those torments were no more than he deserved—for the rest of his life. After all,
he had been immersed in his much too public divorce and escaping its unpleasantness
to notice Chelsea. Consumed with rage and bruised pride, he had spent all his energy
shedding Ravenna legally and emotionally, while trying to ignore her indiscreet tryst
with Lord Wayland and their flight to Italy.

He had failed to notice his own daughter’s confusion or need for affection until it
was too late.
Lucien turned away from the grave. As his lonely black carriage traveled up South
Audley Street, he watched St. George’s burial ground slowly slip from his sight. He
made himself a vow: If he ever had another child, he would be a
much
different father.

* * * *

“My dear, Serena! It
is
you,” her grandmother said with surprise, rising from the damask-covered Grecian
couch. She grasped Serena’s hands with her own frail ones. “You look lovely. Why didn’t
you write to tell me you were planning a trip to London?”

“Grandy, I had no time, and I did not want to come. Cyrus insisted,” she explained.
“I realize it’s early. Have I come at a bad time?”

“Oh, no. Now, you must sit and tell me everything.” Her grandmother’s face lit up
in a beaming smile. “Have you come to town early to prepare for your confinement?”

Serena sighed, bracing herself for her grandmother’s disappointment. “No, Grandy.”

“Are you doing something to prevent conception?”

Serena stared at her grandmother in astonishment. “Grandy! Of course not. I would
hardly know how.”

Speculative blue eyes assessed Serena. “Then why aren’t you in the family way yet?
Your health is not failing, I hope.”

Embarrassed by the turn of the conversation, Serena cast her gaze down. “No, things
simply have not worked out as Cyrus and I had hoped.”

“But you are still trying?”

“Grandy, could we please discuss something else?”

The older woman sighed. “Talk to me, lamb. Your husband is a duke. He needs an heir
other than that worthless nephew of his. And I want a great-grandchild from you.”

“I am ever aware of that, Grandy,” Serena answered patiently.

“When I was your age, I had two children and one on the way. I only stopped conceiving
when I started refusing Aldus.” Her grandmother’s blue eyes narrowed. “Is that your
game?”

Serena felt her cheeks heat up. “Grandy! Such indelicate talk is—”

“Warranted in this situation,” she interrupted. “Are you barring your door against
him?”

“Of course not. I try to be a dutiful wife in all respects.”

“You try? Is something wrong between you?”

She looked away, shifting uneasily. “Grandy, this is something Cyrus and I must work
out.”

“You look unhappy. Are you quarreling?”

Serena shook her head. “No, nothing like that.”

Grandy took her hand. “Oh child, you must tell me it’s not true.”

“What?” Serena whispered, feeling an ominous sweep across her heart.

Her grandmother frowned, her eyes full of displeasure. “The gossip before you two
wed was that he had cast aside his mistress of many years because he was no longer...capable.”

Cyrus had kept a mistress? Serena shouldn’t be surprised, as nearly all men of wealth
did.

“Capable?”

Her grandmother nodded. “That he is impotent. And I would say Madame Maria ought to
know. She bore your husband three daughters.”

Serena’s mouth fell open in shock as a hot bolt of envy pierced her. Another woman
had borne Cyrus’s girls, and she, his wife, would never conceive. How unfair!

“Serena, is this true?”

Numbly, she nodded. Here was a whole part of Cyrus’s life she knew nothing of. She
had never heard of Madame Maria or her children. A thousand questions, along with
a well of pain, rose up within her, leaving her raw and aching.

“I knew I should have protested the marriage, but he claimed he was marrying to beget
an heir. So, I assumed the rumors were false.”

Serena barely heard.

Grandy shook her shoulder, regaining her attention. “Does this have anything to do
with your sudden trip to London?”

“Yes.” Serena felt a new onslaught of tears and fumbled to produce a handkerchief
from her sleeve. She twisted it in her hands. “Cyrus has asked me to take a lover.”

Her grandmother quirked one silver brow in disdain. “This is how he intends to get
an heir?”

“Yes, and I cannot do it.” She paused, fists bunching. “He’s asking me to commit adultery.”

“Oh, phoo! I could kick your Aunt Constance, rest her soul, for feeding you too much
moral rubbish. All those prayer meetings affected your thinking.”

“It
is
adultery, even if Cyrus condones it.”

“Really, lamb. Don’t be so provincial. Such affairs are quite common among the
ton
. Look at my good friend Lady Bessborough. It’s quite known she had children by men
other than her husband. She has not been ruined at all.”

“But I cannot picture myself engaging in—in the same illicit acts that brought Mama
such shame.”

“Your situations are hardly alike. Having one discreet affair for the sake of conception
hardly compares to taking as many lovers as suits your whim and flaunting them.”

“But one lover or a hundred, the number should not signify,” Serena argued. “It is
immoral.”

“I agree with your husband; it’s also necessary. You can and you must take a lover.
It will be good for you to find someone devilishly handsome and let him seduce you.”

“But Grandy, to behave as if I’ve no morals--”

“Let your overstarched morals retire in peace, along with your Aunt Constance. You’re
too young to bury yourself with her and that old stuffed shirt you call husband. Here
in Town, very few people note the doings of a married lady, as long as you’re discreet.
Besides, I think it’s time you followed your heart.”

 

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