Phillip entered his greenhouse and shut the door behind him, taking a welcome breath of the moist air. He’d studied botany at Cambridge, taken a first, even, and in truth, he’d probably have taken up an academic life if his older brother had not died at Waterloo, thrusting the second-born Phillip into the role of landowner and country gentleman.

He supposed it could have been worse. He could have been landowner and city gentleman, after all. At least here he was able to pursue his botanical pursuits in relative serenity.

He bent over his workbench, examining his latest project—a strain of peas that he was trying to breed to grow fatter and plumper in the pod. No luck yet, though. This latest batch was not just shriveled but had even turned yellow, which had not been the expected result at all.

Phillip frowned, then allowed himself a small smile as he moved to the back of the greenhouse to gather his supplies. He never minded too terribly when his experiments did not produce the expected outcome. In his opinion, necessity had never been the mother of invention.

Accidents. It was all about accidents. No scientist would admit to it, of course, but most great invention occurred while one was attempting to solve some other problem entirely.

He chuckled as he swept the shriveled peas aside. At this rate, he’d cure gout by the end of the year.

Back to work. Back to work. He bent over his seed collection, smoothing them out so that he could examine them all. He needed just the right one for—

He looked up and out the freshly washed glass. A movement across the field caught his eye. A flash of red.

Red. Phillip smiled to himself as he shook his head. It must be Marina. Red was her favorite color, something that he’d always found odd. Anyone who spent any time with her would have surely thought she’d prefer something darker, more somber.

He watched as she disappeared into the wooded copse, then got back to work. It was rare for Marina to venture outside. These days she didn’t often leave the confines of her bedchamber. Phillip was happy to see her out in the sun. Maybe it would restore her spirits. Not completely, of course. Phillip didn’t think even the sun had the ability to do that. But maybe a bright, warm day would be enough to draw her out for a few hours, bring a small smile to her face.

Heaven knew the children could use that. They visited their mother in her room almost every evening, but it wasn’t enough.


And Phillip knew that this lack was not made up for by him.

He sighed, a wave of guilt washing over him. He was not the sort of father they needed, he knew that. He tried to tell himself that he was doing his best, that he was succeeding in what was his only goal when it came to parenthood—that he not behave in the manner of his own father.

But still he knew it wasn’t enough.

With resolute motions, he pushed himself away from his workbench. The seeds could wait. His children could probably wait, too, but that didn’t mean they should. And he ought to take them on their nature walk, not Nurse Millsby, who didn’t know a deciduous tree from a coniferous and would most likely tell them that a rose was a daisy and . . .

He glanced out the window again, reminding himself that it was February. Nurse Millsby wasn’t likely to locate any sort of flower in this weather, but still, it didn’t excuse the fact that he ought to take the children on their nature walk. It was the one sort of children’s activity at which he truly excelled, and he ought not shirk the responsibility.

He strode out of the greenhouse but then stopped, not even a third of the way back to Romney Hall. If he was going to fetch the children, he ought to take them out to see their mother. They craved her company, even when she did nothing more than pat them on the head. Yes, they should find Marina. That would be even more beneficial than a nature walk.

But he knew from experience that he ought not make assumptions about Marina’s state of mind. Just because she’d ventured outside did not mean that she was feeling well. And he hated when the children saw her in one of her moods.

Phillip turned around and headed out toward the copse where he’d seen Marina disappear just a few moments earlier. He walked with nearly twice the speed of Marina; it wouldn’t take very long to catch up to her and ascertain her mood. He could be back at the nursery before the children set out with Nurse Millsby.

He walked through the woods, easily following Marina’s path. The ground was moist, and Marina must have been wearing heavy boots, because her prints had sunk into the earth with clear definition. They led down the slight incline and out of the woods, then onto a grassy patch.

“Damn,” Phillip muttered, the word barely audible as the wind picked up around him. It was impossible to see her footprints on the grass. He used his hand to shade his eyes from the sun and scanned the horizon, looking for a telltale scrap of red.

Not near the abandoned cottage, nor at Phillip’s field of experimental grains, nor at the large boulder that Phillip had spent so many hours clambering upon when he was a child. He turned north, his eyes narrowing when he finally saw her. She was heading toward the lake.

The lake.

Phillip’s lips parted as he stared down at her form, moving slowly toward the water’s edge. He wasn’t quite frozen; it was more that he was . . . suspended . . . as his mind took in the strange sight. Marina didn’t swim. He didn’t even know if she could. He supposed she was aware that there was a lake on the grounds, but in truth, he’d never known her to go there, not in the eight years they’d been married. He started walking toward her, his feet somehow recognizing what his mind refused to accept. As she stepped into the shallows, he picked up speed, still too far to do anything but call out her name.

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