Map of a Lady's Heart - Caroline Linden Page 0,1

the Duke of Frye, pink-cheeked with happiness and excitement, and then one day the engagement was abruptly over, and no one spoke of why. Even Viola had no idea what had happened. Serena turned pale and silent, and her mother, the dowager duchess, had almost immediately announced a Christmas house party of friends to cheer her.

A burst of noise made both women look up. The duke was coming down the stairs, his secretary close behind. Because of the sudden change in plans, Geoffrey Martin was accompanying the duke, which left Viola even more in charge of the castle. Geoffrey was carrying the large traveling desk that contained the duke’s correspondence, and he went directly out to the waiting coach and horses.

The duke came to his wife’s side. “Are you ready, my love?”

“Nearly,” she told him. “We’re leaving poor Viola in a horrible situation, Gareth.”

Wessex glanced at her. Viola stood a little straighter under his piercing dark gaze, and bobbed a curtsey. “I’ll do my best, Your Grace.”

“And that’s why I’m not worried,” said the duchess firmly, putting her hand on Viola’s arm. “I have great faith in you.”

“Thank you, Your Grace,” she said with another tiny curtsey. Viola tamped down her sense of impending disaster, which was surely just her imagination. The duchess had hired her for her competence, giving her a home and an income when she desperately needed both. It wasn’t only her own well-being that depended on it; her younger brother Stephen needed her support until he was old enough to manage it for himself. Viola would be forever grateful to the Duchess of Wessex for giving her such a plum position.

For the past two years she had devoted herself to earning the duchess’s trust, and she wasn’t about to lose it now. “I shall be guided by Her Grace the dowager duchess in every uncertainty.”

“Quite right.” The duke gave her a small smile, which did wonders to his face. He appeared very somber and intimidating until he smiled. “We must go, Cleo, if we’re to reach Morland today.”

The worry in his wife’s face deepened. “Yes, I’ll be right there.” She drew Viola aside as the butler stepped forward with the duke’s coat and hat. “Send someone to Morland Park if there’s any trouble,” she said quietly, naming the Blair home. “It’s only ten miles, we can return in a day.”

“Your Grace,” protested Viola, “I’m sure that won’t be necessary—”

The duchess made a subtle shushing motion. “Perhaps not, but if anything untoward happens . . .” Her eyes bored into Viola’s, as if trying to convey something too terrible to say out loud. Startled, Viola could only wet her lips and nod.

“Very good.” The duchess blew out a breath. “I hope all will be well, both here and at Morland.”

“Yes, Your Grace. I dearly hope Mrs. Blair is well.” Viola bowed her head. If Mrs. Blair’s child was born too early, he might not survive.

The other woman smiled wistfully. “I wish we were taking you with us. I don’t know what I shall do without you.” She sighed. “I wish we didn’t need to go at all yet.”

The duke approached with her cloak. “We must go, Cleo,” he said again. The duchess nodded, and Wessex folded the cloak tenderly around her shoulders.

Viola followed as they went out to the coach. Footmen rushed before them with hot bricks for the carriage floor. Geoffrey, his muffler pulled up almost to his hat brim, swung into the saddle of a gray gelding. The horses shook their traces as the duke and duchess climbed into the carriage.

“Good-bye,” called the duchess, waving as a footman closed the door. The duke touched the brim of his hat, and the coachman lifted the whip and started the horses.

Viola waved back, hunching her shoulders against the cold. Running footsteps sounded behind her, and then Bridget Cavendish was beside her, swinging one arm exuberantly in the air. “Good-bye,” she cried. “Give our love to Blair and to Helen!” The carriage rolled on, past the oaks.

Bridget lowered her arm. “I hope Helen has the baby safely.”

“Yes,” said Viola softly. “I hope so too.”

“With Cleo there, I’m sure she will.” Bridget turned to her, and Viola finally focused on her long enough to see the gleam in her eyes. Oh no. “Cousin Viola . . .”

“No,” said Viola immediately. Her late husband had been one of Bridget’s distant cousins, and Viola was therefore only a relation by marriage, but when the girl called her “cousin,” Viola had learned