This Duchess of Mine Page 59


“Poor soul. What’s happened to his arms?”

“Knocked off,” Elijah said. “He kept his fig leaf, though. A man—even better, a god—likes to keep some things covered through the centuries.”

“He looks a bit scrawny,” Jemma said critically. “I like your legs better. Who knows what’s under that fig leaf? You would need a fig leaf twice that size.”

“Hush. You’ll insult the god, and right in his own backyard. There.” He poked in a last few flowers. “I’ll have to be very lucky or Apollo will come to life and claim you for his own.”

“If you remember, Apollo had no luck with women. Didn’t Daphne turn herself into a tree rather than be with him? And now we know why. It was undoubtedly due to those bony little knees of his, not to mention the tiny fig leaf.” Jemma started to sit up, so Elijah got up and pulled her to her feet. “I am ready to return to being a duchess, if it means that my bottom can warm up.”

“I can do that for you,” Elijah said with an exaggerated leer, cupping his hand over the part of her body in question. Her skirts were soaked, and he could feel her intoxicating, soft curve. “God, I’m so lucky.”

Her eyes contained such a beautiful smile that he had to stop and kiss her. “And happy,” he said a moment later.

She leaned her head against his chest. “I love you,” she said, but not: I’m happy.

“I love you,” he said, the words rising from his heart naturally. “I love you, Jemma. I love you.”

The joy in her face shamed him. “To find all this bliss, at the end,” he said, holding her tightly. “I don’t deserve it, Jemma. God knows, I don’t deserve you.”

“Maybe it’s not the end,” she said fiercely.

“If it is, I’ve had more joy in the last week than in the rest of my life.”

Her arms tightened around him and she said something, so low he couldn’t hear. But he thought she said she loved him, and he knew that already.

He dressed, and kissed her a few more times, and they walked back to the little door where the carriage waited.

Chapter Twenty-three

That evening

Elijah had banished Fowle and the footmen, and there were only the two of them, down at one end of a long mahogany table with a great deal of silver reflecting the candlelight.

“I don’t know how to live like this,” Jemma said after a few minutes of moving her food around her plate. Every time she looked at her husband, her throat tightened and she felt ill.

“I don’t think about it,” Elijah offered.

He was eating. How could he eat? How could anyone eat, sleep, think in his situation? There had to be some way, someone, who could help Elijah’s heart.

“Have you seen a doctor?” she asked.

“There’s no point.”

“But have you seen one?”

Her annoying, stubborn husband shrugged. “Villiers dragged me to a physician who studies hearts. The man said I may live for years.”

“Or not.”

“There’s a doctor in Birmingham who’s apparently doing miraculous things with hearts like mine. Villiers sent a carriage up there to get him.”

“How uncharacteristically generous of him,” Jemma said, ringing the bell. “Fowle, send around to the Duke of Villiers and find out when he expects his carriage to return from Birmingham. Wait for a response, if you please.”

Fowle disappeared with all the efficiency of a man who recognizes a woman on the verge of hysterics.

“Darling—” Elijah said.

“Don’t. Not now.” Her mind was racing. “There must be a way to cure this. There must be. The doctor in Birmingham will come here and cure you.”

“Eat your supper,” Elijah ordered.

She shook her head. “When did Villiers send the coach? I heard of a very good doctor the other day. Siffle, I think his name was.”

“It was in the Morning Post,” Elijah said, taking another bite of asparagus. “He’s doing miraculous things with broken limbs.”

“Well, perhaps he—”

“Come here,” Elijah said, pushing back his chair and holding out his arms.

She responded, then sat nestled against him, only to feel her heart beating furiously in her chest. Regularly. A scream threatened at the back of her throat.

He was stroking her hair as if she were a cat. “It’s all right, Jemma.”

“No, it isn’t.” She forced out the words.

They were both silent a moment. “Well, it’s not all right, but it is—”

“Don’t tell me it’s acceptable,” she said fiercely.

“This is not acceptable.”

“There’s nothing I can do about it.” The raw pain in his voice silenced her. “There’s nothing you can do about it.”

“Why didn’t you tell me as soon as I returned from Paris?” She whispered it into his chest. “You’ve known…alone. You could have told me!”

“You had the chess match with Villiers. And I wanted to win you, Jemma.”

“You already had me,” she said painfully. “You always had me, Elijah.”

“I wanted all of you. When you made the match with Villiers, I seized the opportunity to try to win you myself.”

“You could have just told me.”

“And then what? Would you have fallen in love with me again, as you have?” She said nothing, and he gave her a little shake. “As you have, Jemma?”

“I loved you already,” she said.

“I wanted you in love with me.”

“That was selfish. You didn’t think that I wanted time with you.”

“Forgive me?”

She sniffed and buried her head in his shoulder.

“No.”

“I’ve never been so happy as the last days. When you were wooing me, Jemma. When you were loving me. When you were laughing at me, or letting me make love to you. When you were making love to me.”

Huge tears were burning in her eyes. “I could have done all that a year ago.”

“We may have another year. My faint in the House of Lords occurred over a year ago.”

She heard the slightest note in his voice, knew he was lying. He knew, he knew. There was saltwater on her cheeks, the taste of it on her lips.

“You’ve given me what I thought I’d never have,” he continued.

“Don’t talk as if you’re dying tomorrow,” she said. “I can’t bear it. I can’t bear it!”

“You’re my Jemma. You were strong enough to leave me when I had to be left, and strong enough to come home when I needed you. You will care for my house, and my lands, and my poor Cacky Street men. You can bear it.”

“No.”

His arms tightened around her. “Don’t cry.”

“I shall cry if I want to,” she said fiercely. “Oh God, I suddenly understand widows’ weeds.”

“You mustn’t—”

But she didn’t listen to him. “Because if you die, I shan’t want to wear anything but black,” she said, a great sob rising in her throat. “I shall cry for a year and a day in my blacks, and no one can fault me. I didn’t understand why Harriet was still grieving for her husband although it had been almost two years.”

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