He couldn’t even remember Sarah’s face now, which just made him feel guiltier.
“Look at this!” Jemma called to him.
He walked over and looked down at the board, rather blindly.
“It’s a counter gambit credited to Giuoco. I think I’ve improved on it. Look…” and she moved the pieces so quickly that he almost didn’t follow, but of course he did. Their brains were remarkably similar.
He sat down.
“Terrible day?” she asked.
It was almost too much. Her eyes were blue, like the midnight blue of the sky at night. And he wanted—her. Life. To stay here, on this earth with Jemma. To see the child they would create, if they had time.
“Elijah!” she said, startled. Slipped from her seat and sat on his knee. He turned his face into her shoulder. She smelled like roses.
He didn’t cry, of course. He never cried. He hadn’t when his father died, and he wouldn’t cry over his own death either.
But he put an arm around his wife and pulled her closer. She hadn’t been this near to him in years.
It felt good.
February 29, 1784
Simeon knew the moment that Honeydew opened the study door that there was more trouble. He put down his quill.
The news that the Duke of Cosway had returned, and that he was actually paying the family debts, had spread like wildfire. Half of England seemed to be lined up outside the servants’ door, begging five minutes to plead cases, generally to do with bills that his father or mother had refused to pay. Some stretched back twenty years.
“We have a visitor,” Honeydew announced.
Simeon waited, bracing himself for an irate creditor.
“Her Grace, the Duchess of Cosway.”
“Oh—” He bit off the curse. He was exhausted, he was dusty, and he could smell the water closets even with the door to his study closed. Isidore would probably take one look at this moldering excuse for a ducal palace and demand the annulment by tomorrow. Which would be a good thing, of course.
Honeydew had become distinctly more friendly, and had even stopped giving Simeon directives regarding his attire and manners. But he didn’t seem to be able to stop himself this time. “If you’d like to—”
Simeon looked at him and Honeydew dropped the suggestion. Likely Isidore did think he should be wearing a wig and waistcoat buttoned to the neck with a cravat on top. Even more likely, she pictured Revels House as perfumed and elegant.
He pulled his coat down, straightened his cuffs, noted the ink stain and dismissed it. He could bother with white cuffs and a cravat when he had to go to London and find himself another wife.
“Her Grace is in the Yellow Salon,” Honeydew said rather nervously.
“Yellow? Which one is that?”
“The drapes used to be yellow,” Honeydew admitted.
“Ah,” Simeon said. “The Curdled Milk Salon.”
There was actually a smile on his butler’s face. “This way, Your Grace.”
Isidore was seated on a straw-colored sofa, facing away from him. That straw color had once been lemon yellow, Simeon noted to himself. Isidore looked like a bright jewel perched on a haystack. His wife’s hair was the glossy black of a raven’s breast; her lips were cherries at their reddest. She looked like every boyhood fantasy he’d ever had about an exotic princess who would dance before him, wearing little more than a scarf.
He glanced down and groaned silently.
He’d tamed his body into perfect submission until he met his wife. He started buttoning his long coat as he walked forward, starting from the bottom.
“Isidore,” he said, when he had crossed enough of the faded carpet so that she could hear him without a shout. The only thing his house had in abundance was space.
She leapt to her feet, turning to face him. She was wearing a tight jacket over a buttoned waistcoat, with a tall beehive hat on top of her curls. The jacket was a rich plum color; gloves of the same color lay discarded on the sofa beside her.
“Duke,” she said, sinking into a curtsy.
He walked toward her and didn’t bow. Instead he took her hands in his and smiled down at her, resisting a sudden temptation to snatch her into his arms and steal a kiss. One didn’t kiss a wife who was not a wife. “This is a lovely surprise.”
When she smiled, her lips formed a perfect cupid’s bow. “I told you I might not wait for your visit to London. I hope I’m not disturbing you,” she said sweetly. She pulled her hands free and sat down.
He sat on the sofa facing hers. It gave a great squeaking groan on feeling his weight, as if it were about to collapse to the ground. “I am embarrassed to welcome you here. The house is in a terrible state. This room, for example…”
“It looks clean,” she offered, looking about.
It was clean. Honeydew would tolerate no dirt, but he had the feeling the butler worked to death the few housemaids his mother had kept in the household. He might as well get over the rough ground as quickly as possible. “My mother stopped paying bills a while ago. And she dismissed most of the household staff.”
Isidore had a strange look on her face and he knew just what she was thinking. The odor had begun drifting through the room like a fetid suitor.
“She didn’t have the water closets cleaned, the slates repaired, the house painted, the furniture upholstered, the servants paid, the cottages re-thatched…”
Isidore’s hand flew to her mouth, and over her nose as well. “Oh, dear!”
Simeon nodded. “That’s why I didn’t invite you to Revels House. When rain comes, and the wind shifts…”
She put down her hand and to his great relief, she was smiling. “You looked tired when I first met you,” she observed. “But now you look even worse.”
“There is a great deal of paperwork. Unpaid bills, solicitors’ letters…” He shrugged. “I haven’t been sleeping much.”
“I have a large estate, and you are my husband, Cosway. It’s yours. That is, it should have been yours long ago, but you never appeared to take charge of it so I have managed it.”
His heart lightened even further. “The truth is that I have a great deal of money as well. And mystifyingly, so does the duchy. I have no need of substance, though I thank you heartily for it.”
He nodded. “Exactly. My mother has long been a mystery to me. Did you understand her during your sojourn here?”
Isidore picked up her gloves and carefully smoothed each finger. “I’m afraid that I was far too young and coarse. Your mother is a woman of great sensibility.”
He thought that was a nice way of saying the obvious: his mother was a raving lunatic, if not worse. “She didn’t used to be like this,” he offered. “I’m afraid the shock of my father’s death made things worse.”
“How can I help?”
“You can’t, but I do appreciate the offer.”
“Nonsense,” she said, standing up. “You can’t manage everything on your own, Simeon.” She looked around. “Have you even raised the question of redecorating with your mother?”
He rose, thinking about how casually she said his first name…finally. “My mother is having a difficult time adjusting to my presence. She is distressed by the fact that I am paying bills that she considers to have been presented by thieves. But after so much time has passed, I have no way of ascertaining whether the bills are fraudulent, so I am necessarily paying everything in full.”