Lord Ruin
herself, had never loved any woman. He seduced them. He made them fall in love with him, but he never felt a thing. But, maintaining that low opinion of him was more difficult by the moment. He wasn’t frivolous. Nor vain, though he had every right to vanity. As for his intellectual gifts, she had foolhardily underestimated them.
    “Mm.” His hands slowly traced a line down her spine. “Your father has given his permission.”
    She steeled herself against the melting of her will. “Did you ever love Emily?”
    “No.”
    By then, he was unfastening the back of her gown and coherent thought ceased.

 
    Chapter Ten
      
    “You’re a clever girl,” the dowager duchess of Cynssyr said to Anne. A helmet of gray hair surrounded a face of stern lines and steely eyes pinned Anne to her chair. On her lap, she cradled Caesar, a dog about the size and shape of a modest teapot. His chocolate eyes constantly followed his mistress’s hand in hope of a treat.
    “I’d be pleased if you thought so.” Anne pretended to drink her tea, but held her breath when the cup came near. The smell of tea, like wine and an ever-growing list of food and drink, threatened to turn her stomach inside out.
    The duchess stared down her nose and watched Anne through half-lidded eyes. “Yes. A very clever girl. I thought so the moment I heard your sister, Mary, was to wed Aldreth. I was convinced of it when my son told me of your sister, Emily.”
    “More tea?” said Anne. By the far wall a footman stood solid as an oak, his green livery clashing with the lilac wallpaper. She thought he must get quite tired of standing.
    The duchess extended her cup, and Anne dutifully poured. Caesar lifted his head, sniffing eagerly. “Whatever he thinks of you,” the duchess said, stroking the dog with her free hand, “and I don’t imagine it’s much, he will stand by you.”
    “Three lumps, am I right? Here are the best.”
    The duchess stirred her tea into a whirlpool. “Young women these days have their heads stuffed full of nonsense. Their fathers do not discipline them and their mothers daren’t. In consequence, they make bad marriages and even worse wives.”
    “Do have this last cake.”
    Her lips thinned, and Caesar, too, seemed to stare at Anne with a jaundiced eye. “A marriage of opposites so seldom succeeds.” She fed a bit of cake to the dog before her attention landed once again on Anne. “I wonder, will my son’s?”
    Anne lifted her cup and smiled. “Does it often rain in London this time of year?”
    “The boy’s been between the sheets with half the ladies of society.” Much to Caesar’s disappointment, the duchess ate the last bite of cake. “Ah. Jubert. A genius.” Her eyes closed while she savored the taste, then she laid down her fork. “Have you enough starch in you to manage my son?”
    “I have no wish to manage him.”
    Caesar yipped, and the duchess cradled him to her chest, stroking his chin. “There, there. Such a willful boy,” she said, addressing the dog more than Anne, so that for a moment she wasn’t entirely sure if the duchess meant her son or the dog. “And proud.”
    “Pride is not one of Cynssyr’s vices.”
    “He’s a handsome devil who knows too well how women admire him. But, he was born to greatness and God has seen fit to make him capable of achieving it.”
    “Some would say he has.”
    “He has not been happy since he came home from the fighting. He changed after that, and though war made a man of him, I wish he had changed less.” She bent her head to the little dog, and Caesar stretched up his nose toward her. “The joy went out of him.” A moment later, the iron eyes once more studied her. “I have long prayed he would find solace in marriage. Well. Perhaps he may find it in his children.”
    “I hope, your grace, that will be true for us both.”
    “What kind of woman are you, I wonder. Have you malice toward my son? Can you make him happy?”
    “My tears are shed, Duchess.

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