This Duchess of Mine Page 11


“My father died at thirty-four. I’d have been a fool not to question my ability to live much over that date.”

“When did you understand that?”

“When I was eight years old.”

“No, no.” She was moaning it, her hands clutching his shirt.

“It drove me,” he said. “It was a passion, to make sure that my life came to something.”

“Because your father’s didn’t.”

“He had no time. I hated him for a while. But then I realized that he hadn’t my advantage. He had no idea. He was young; he might have proved himself a man had he lived another forty years.”

“Life allowed him to be foolish. Oh, Elijah, you never had the chance to be foolish. I’m just so—so sorry.”

They were silent a moment. Jemma’s eyes were dry, and fierce, like those of a mother hawk. “If you die before me…Well, whenever you get to where you’re going, Elijah, you sit down and wait for me.”

He laughed at that. “What do you envision? A bridge?”

“I’m thoroughly unimaginative. But I want to find you waiting for me.”

“I will wait for you,” he said, kissing her again.

She swallowed. “Does it hurt?”

“You mean, when I fall asleep?”

“That was no sleep,” she said. “But yes.”

“Not at all. It generally happens when I sit down. It’s as if the darkness just gathers itself up and comes over me. There’s just a little pain when I wake up, that’s all.”

“Your heart?”

“It works hard to bring me back. And it does bring me back, Jemma. In that sense, the attacks are no worse than they were a year ago: I wake up every time.”

“Don’t be so brave,” she said, her hands moving quickly. “I can’t bear it; I can’t bear it.”

He put a hand on her cheek but didn’t know what to say. Words came to him easily when he was in front of the House of Lords. But he became tongue-tied at the most important moments of his life, and all of those were with his wife.

“There’s nothing to be done, Jemma. I shall just live until I can’t anymore. People die unexpectedly every hour.” Unfortunately, his attacks were always followed by a headache, and he could feel its iron grip tightening.

“I don’t believe you when you say it doesn’t hurt, Elijah. Your eyes are tight.”

“I have a headache. Fowle has something for it.”

She was up in a flash, ringing the bell for his valet.

“Fowle knows?”

“I meant to tell you. Eventually.”

“Who else?”

“Vickery.”

“And Vickery didn’t tell me!”

“I wouldn’t allow it. Villiers.”

“You told Villiers and not—”

“No. He found me one day, in the library.” Elijah stood with some difficulty, given that his head felt as if it were a blacksmith’s anvil, pounded by blows from a sledgehammer.

“Sit down,” Jemma said. She came back and pushed him a little. “You shouldn’t be up.”

“Physical exertion is necessary,” Elijah told her, brushing her mouth with his. “I have lived past my father’s life span because I am fit.”

“How do you know when an attack is likely to happen?”

“I have begun to entertain the idea that they result from moments of sudden, great exertion. The time I fainted in the House, for example, I felt passionately angry about my subject. And this evening, when I saw you on the yacht, I was so alarmed that my heart lost its rhythm.”

“You must stop being so exhausted.” Her eyes brightened. “You could stay in bed!”

Elijah smiled wryly. “That’s not a cure, but a prison. The attacks don’t happen constantly, Jemma. I likely won’t have another one for a week.” He rolled his head from side to side, trying to ease the pressure that clamped his forehead. “I’ve found that taking exercise is very helpful. If my heart begins to beat irregularly, I can head off an attack by going for a ride. Forcing my heart into a regular rhythm helps it remember the correct pattern.”

He looked down at her. “I have every belief that marital intimacy will achieve precisely the same effect.”

But she just scowled at him. “Have you seen a doctor?”

“There’s no point to that.”

“I don’t agree!” she said hotly.

“No one’s found a cure for a broken heart,” he said.

“Not in any sense of the word.”

She did cry then, and he found himself cursing his heart, not for the fact that it was broken, but for its ability to break other hearts.

Chapter Five

March 27

Jemma rose the next morning with the emptiness that follows grief. The night before, she had forced Elijah to drink a posset, and then left. She had returned to her room, plucked a few wilted roses from her hair, washed her face, changed into a nice cotton nightdress—and cried for hours.

Not that crying did any good. She came to only one conclusion: Elijah must leave his work with Pitt. The unremitting work and frantic pace could not be good for his health.

Likely Elijah was right in his assessment that he wasn’t going to die today or tomorrow. But if he dropped the frenzied pace and the extraordinary hours of work generated by the House of Lords, he might be alive in a year. Or five years. Or…

She dressed carefully, avoiding Brigitte’s eyes. The household knew of their master’s heart problem now, of course. There was a distressed silence perceptible in the very air.

Elijah wasn’t in the breakfast room. When Fowle announced that His Grace had been summoned to an emergency meeting at the chief magistrate’s office, Jemma felt rage swell into that empty place in her heart.

“Did the duke leave a note?” she asked, and knew the answer already, of course.

Fowle cleared his throat. “Since the messenger came at dawn, His Grace merely asked me to give you his most sincere apologies.”

Elijah was killing himself. And for what? So the government of England would run more smoothly for one day, or even a week?

“He was not entirely certain what time he would be able to return,” Fowle continued, laying a carefully ironed copy of the Morning Post before her.

It was absurd to feel this angry at Elijah. And yet—how could he simply leave without a word, after what had happened last night? What if he died during the day? Would he leave her without a kiss, without a word? Realizing that thought would just lead to tears, she cut it off.

“My husband said he wouldn’t be home for the evening meal, didn’t he, Fowle?” she asked, hearing the peculiar deadness of her own voice.

“I’m afraid that His Grace did indicate the possibility that he would not return until late tonight,” Fowle replied, jumping straight to another subject with the adroitness of an experienced butler. “The duke left instructions with me about sending Mr. Twiddy to Swallowhill, should that person present himself today. The butler at Swallowhill has told me of the difficulty he has retaining garden laborers. I am sure he will be grateful for the help.”

So Elijah had not forgotten Twiddy, though he appeared to have forgotten his wife. Anger burned in Jemma’s chest.

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