February 1823

Gloucestershire, England

It was ironic, really, that it had happened on such a sunny day.

The first sunny day in, what had it been—six straight weeks of gray skies, accompanied by the occasional sprinkling of light snow or rain? Even Phillip, who’d thought himself impervious to the vagaries of the weather, had felt his spirits lighten, his smile widen. He’d gone outside—he’d had to. No one could remain indoors during such a splendid display of sunshine.

Especially in the middle of such a gray winter.

Even now, more than a month after it had happened, he couldn’t quite believe that the sun had had the temerity to tease him so.

And how was it that he’d been so blind that he’d not expected it? He’d lived with Marina since the day of their marriage. Eight long years to know the woman. He should have expected it. And in truth . . .

Well, in truth, he had expected it. He just hadn’t wanted to admit to the expectation. Perhaps he was just trying to delude himself, protect himself, even. To hide from the obvious, hoping that if he didn’t think about it, it would never happen.

But it did. And on a sunny day, to boot. God certainly had a sick sense of humor.

He looked down at his glass of whiskey, which was, quite inexplicably, empty. He must have drunk the damned thing, and yet he had no memory of doing so. He didn’t feel woozy, at least not as woozy as he should have been. Or even as woozy as he wanted to be.


He stared out the window at the sun, which was slipping low on the horizon. It had been another sunny day today. That probably explained his exceptional melancholy. At least he hoped it did. He wanted an explanation, needed one, for this awful tiredness that seemed to be taking over.

Melancholy terrified him.

More than anything. More than fire, more than war, more than hell itself. The thought of sinking into sadness, of being like her . . .

Marina had been melancholy. Marina had spent her entire life, or at least the entire life he’d known, melancholy. He couldn’t remember the sound of her laughter, and in truth, he wasn’t sure that he’d ever known it.

It had been a sunny day, and—

He squeezed his eyes shut, not certain whether the motion was meant to urge the memory or dispel it.

It had been a sunny day, and . . .

* * *

“Never thought you’d feel the likes of that on your skin again, eh, Sir Phillip?”

Phillip Crane turned his face to the sun, closing his eyes as he let the warmth spread over his skin. “It’s perfect,” he murmured. “Or it would be, if it weren’t so bloody cold.”

Miles Carter, his secretary, chuckled. “It’s not as cold as that. The lake hasn’t frozen this year. Just a few patchy spots.”

Reluctantly, Phillip turned away from the sun and opened his eyes. “It isn’t spring, though.”

“If you were wishing for spring, sir, perhaps you should have consulted a calendar.”

Phillip regarded him with a sideways glance. “Do I pay you for such impertinence?”

“Indeed. And rather handsomely, too.”

Phillip smiled to himself as both men paused to enjoy the sun for a few moments longer.

“I thought you didn’t mind the gray,” Miles said conversationally, once they’d resumed their trek to Phillip’s greenhouse.

“I don’t,” Phillip said, striding along with the confidence of a natural athlete. “But just because I don’t mind an overcast sky doesn’t mean I don’t prefer the sun.” He paused, thought for a moment. “Be sure to tell Nurse Millsby to take the children outside today. They’ll need warm coats, of course, and hats and mittens and the like, but they ought to get a little sun on their faces. They’ve been cooped up far too long.”

“As have we all,” Miles murmured.

Phillip chuckled. “Indeed.” He glanced over his shoulder at his greenhouse. He probably ought to take care of his correspondence now, but he had some seeds he needed to sort through, and truly, there was no reason he couldn’t conduct his business with Miles in an hour or so. “Go on,” he said to Miles. “Find Nurse Millsby. You and I can deal later. You know you hate the greenhouse, anyway.”

“Not this time of year,” Miles said. “The heat is rather welcome.”

Phillip arched a brow as he inclined his head toward Romney Hall. “Are you calling my ancestral home drafty?”

“All ancestral homes are drafty.”

“True enough,” Phillip said with a grin. He rather liked Miles. He’d hired him six months earlier to help with the mountains of paperwork and details that seemed to accumulate from the running of his small property. Miles was quite good. Young, but good. And his dry sense of humor was certainly welcome in a house where laughter was never in abundance. The servants would never dare joke with Phillip, and Marina . . . well, it went without saying that Marina did not laugh or tease.

The children sometimes made Phillip laugh, but that was a different sort of humor, and besides, most of the time he did not know what to say to them. He tried, but then he felt too awkward, too big, too strong, if such a thing were possible. And then he just found himself shooing them off, telling them to go back to their nurse.

It was easier that way.

“Go on, then,” Phillip said, sending Miles off on a task he probably should have done himself. He hadn’t seen his children yet today, and he supposed he ought to, but he didn’t want to spoil the day by saying something stern, which he inevitably seemed to do.

He’d find them while they were off on their nature walk with Nurse Millsby. That would be a good idea. Then he could point out some sort of plant and tell them about it, and everything would remain perfectly simple and benign.

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