"I confess," she said, moving to the floor of the chamber with ease, as though she were at ladies' tea, "I feared I would miss the session altogether. But I'm very happy that I might sneak in before you all escape to wherever it is that you gentlemen venture for...pleasure." She grinned at an ancient earl, who blushed under
the heat of her gaze and turned away. "However, I am told that what I seek requires an Act of Parliament. And you are...as you know...Parliament."
Her gaze found his, her eyes precisely as he remembered, blue as the summer sea, but now, somehow, different. Where they were once open and honest, they were now shuttered. Private.
Christ. She was here.
Here. Nearly three years searching for her, and here she was, as though she'd been gone mere hours. Shock warred with an anger he could not have imagined, but those two emotions were nothing compared to the third. The immense, unbearable pleasure.
She was here.
It was all he could do not to move. To gather her up and carry her away. To hold her close. Win her back. Start fresh.
Except she did not seem to be here for that.
She watched him for a long moment, her gaze unblinking, before she declared, "I am Seraphina Bevingstoke, Duchess of Haven. And I require a divorce."
Duchess Disappears, Duke Devastated
Two years, seven months earlier. Minus five days.
If she did not knock, she would die.
She should not have come. It had been irresponsible beyond measure. She'd made the decision in a fit of unbearable emotion, desperate for some kind of control in this, the most out-of-control time of her life.
If she weren't so cold, she would laugh at the madness of the idea that she might have any control over her world, ever again.
But the only thing Seraphina Bevingstoke, Duchess of Haven, was able to do was curse her idiotic decision to hire a hack, pay the driver a fortune to bring her on a long, terrifying journey through the icy rain of a cold January night, and land herself here, at Highley, the manor house of which she was—by name—mistress. Name did not bestow rights, however. Not for women. And by rights, she was nothing but a visitor. Not even a guest. Not yet. Possibly not ever.
The hack disappeared into the rain that threatened to become heavy, wet snow, and Sera looked up at the massive door, considering her next move. It was the dark of night—servants long abed, but she had no choice but to wake someone. She could not remain outside. If she did, she would be dead before morning.
A wave of terrifying pain shot through her. She put a hand to her midsection.
They would be dead.
The pain ebbed, and she caught her breath once more, lifting the elaborate wrought- iron B affixed to the door. Letting it fall with a thud, the sound an executioner's axe, dark and ominous, coming on a flood of worry. What if no one answered? What if she'd come all this way, against better judgment, to an empty house?
The worries were unfounded. Highley was the seat of the Dukedom of Haven, and it was staffed to perfection. The door opened, a liveried young footman with tired eyes appearing, his curiosity immediately
giving way to shock as pain racked Sera once more.