Truly Beloved (True Gentlemen #11) by Grace Burrowes



Dedication





To those who have struggled

with grief and loss





Chapter One





The lady stalking across the frozen garden had apparently passed from the brave phase of widowhood into the indomitable phase. Her unrelievedly black attire showed starkly against the winter-white landscape, and her brisk movements contrasted with the deep stillness surrounding her.

Fabianus Haviland, Viscount Penweather, sensed the woman’s determination from her stride, her posture, the measured speed with which she covered the snowy ground. Instinct told him she’d been recently bereaved. This was not a dowager of long standing, but rather, a woman new to her grief and bent on besting it.

“My sister comes to pay her weekly call,” Grey Dorning, Earl of Casriel, said, passing Fabianus a tot of brandy. “To your health.”

“And yours,” Fabianus replied, silently toasting the lady’s fortitude as well. Some widows never reached the indomitable stage. They remained paralyzed for years by the shock of a spouse’s passing, becoming vague, faded creatures whom family worried over and resented by turns.

Casriel took the place beside Fabianus at the window. “Lady Daisy has made it through the first three months of widowhood. My wife, who has reason to know, claims that’s the hardest part.”

Fabianus took a sip of fine libation, savoring the mellow burn in his vitals. “Everyone grieves differently. For some, the condolence calls are the greater difficulty. For others, the early days are the worst tribulation.” For still others, the occasional widower, for example, the real torment began when life was supposed to return to normal, which it could never, ever do.

Casriel eyed him speculatively. “I forgot you once had something of a reputation.”

Fabianus’s nickname in the less genteel clubs had been The Widow’s Revenge, and he—dimwitted cockerel—had found that a source of amusement. The whole business had started out innocently enough, with a few merry widows popping out at him from shadowed alcoves when he’d come down from university. His breeding organs had popped out of his breeches with equal regularity, and a pattern had formed.

He’d soon learned that some widows sought to be pursued, some sought to be temporarily caught, some sought nothing more than affectionate friendship.

The woman in the garden stopped at the fountain in the center of the formal parterres. The month being February, any body of water would be covered with a sheet of ice. Her ladyship toed through the dusting of snow until she found a stout stick, which she jabbed at the interior of the fountain.

“She’s breaking the ice for the birds and squirrels,” Casriel said. “My father taught me to do that. I’m not sure who taught Daisy. She’s considerably my junior, and while not exactly a stranger to me, she also married before the rest of us. I am now ordered by my countess to reacquaint myself with my younger sister. One hardly knows where to begin with such a fraught endeavor, but aided by my—”

“My lord, excuse me.” Fabianus set down his drink. “Your garden has been invaded by a demon sprite, and I must notify my nursery staff.” Fabianus had known dragging Pandora along on this trip was ill-advised, but then, leaving the child to wreak havoc in Hampshire would have been patently stupid.

“My gracious,” Casriel said, peering at the scene in the garden and taking another sip of his drink. “Intrepid little thing.”

Casriel could afford to see humor in the situation. He wasn’t responsible for the imp scampering around a snowy garden clad in nothing more than a pair of unlaced boots.

Fabianus paused at Dorning Hall’s terrace entrance long enough to snatch his cloak before facing the frigid air.

“Pandora Haviland, you will stop this nonsense at once.” He walked, he did not run, across the terrace. “For shame, child, to behave in such a manner.”

Lady Daisy had tossed her stick away and left the fountain. She’d also withdrawn a small white cloth bag from a pocket in her black skirts.

Pandora veered right, down a path that would intersect with Lady Daisy’s. Fabianus did not favor sprinting after the girl, but neither could he allow her to cavort unclad in the bitter cold.

“Pandora,” Lady Daisy called, shaking her little cloth bag. “Are the pirates after you?”

Pandora changed course again, this time heading straight for Lady Daisy. “I’m a pirate,” the child bellowed. “I have escaped the Royal Navy!”