Reese Dewar froze where he stood, the silver-headed cane in his hand forgotten, along with the ache in his leg. Rage took its place, dense and heavy, hot and seething.
Sooner or later, he had known he would see her. He had told himself it wouldn’t matter, that seeing her again wouldn’t affect him. She meant nothing to him, not anymore, not for nearly eight years.
But as she stepped off the wooden walkway, a ray of autumn sunlight gleamed against the jet black curls on her shoulders and anger boiled up inside him, fury unlike he had known in years.
He watched her continue toward her sleek black four-horse carriage, the crossed-saber Aldridge crest glinting in gold on the side. She paused for a moment as one of the footmen hurried to open the door and he realized she wasn’t alone. A small, dark-haired boy, nearly hidden in the voluminous folds of her skirt, hurried along beside her. She urged him up the iron steps and the child disappeared inside the elegant coach.
Instead of climbing the stairs herself, the woman turned and looked at him over her shoulder, her gray eyes finding him with unerring accuracy, as if she could feel his cold stare stabbing into the back of her neck. She gasped when she realized who it was, though she must have known, in a village as small as Swansdowne, one day their paths would cross.
Surely she had heard the gossip, heard of his return to Briarwood, the estate he had inherited from his maternal grandfather.
The estate he had meant to share with her.
Their eyes locked, hers troubled, filled with some emotion he could not read. His own gaze held the bitterness and anger he made no effort to hide. He loathed her for what she had done, hated her with every ounce of his being.
It shocked him.
He had thought those feelings long past. For most of the last eight years, he had been away from England, a major in the British cavalry. He had fought in foreign wars, commanded men, sent some of them to their deaths. He had been wounded and nearly died himself.
He was home now, his injured leg making him no longer fit to serve. That and the vow he had made to his dying father. One day he would come back to Briarwood, he had been forced to concede. He would make the estate his home as he had once intended.
Reese would rather have stayed in the army. He didn’t belong in the country. He wasn’t sure where he belonged anymore and he loathed his feelings of uncertainty nearly as much as he loathed Elizabeth.
She swallowed, seemed to sway a little on her feet as she turned away, climbed the steps and settled herself inside the carriage. She hadn’t changed. With her raven hair, fine pale features, and petite, voluptuous figure, Elizabeth Clemens Holloway, Countess of Aldridge, was as beautiful at six-and-twenty as she had been at eighteen.
As she had been when she had declared her love and accepted his proposal of marriage.
His gaze followed the coach as it rolled off toward Aldridge Park, the palatial estate that had belonged to her late husband, Edmund Holloway, Earl of Aldridge. Aldridge had died last year at the age of thirty three, leaving his wife a widow, leaving her with his son.
Reese spat into the dirt at his feet. Just the thought of Aldridge in Elizabeth’s bed made him sick to his stomach.
Five years his senior, Edmund was already an earl when he had competed with Reese for Elizabeth’s affections. She had been amused by his attentions, a handsome sophisticated aristocrat, but she had been in love with Reese.
Or so she had said.
The carriage disappeared round a bend in the road and Reese’s racing pulse began to slow. He was amazed at the enmity he still felt toward her. He was a man who had taught himself control and that control rarely abandoned him. He would not allow it to happen again.
Leaning heavily on his cane, the ache in his leg beginning to reach through the fury that had momentarily consumed him, he made his way to his own conveyance and slowly climbed aboard. Aldridge’s widow and her son had no place in his life. Elizabeth was dead to him and had been for nearly eight years.
As dead as her husband, the man she had betrayed Reese to marry.
And he would never forgive her.
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