Chapter Sixteen

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"Good morning, Margaret." Duncan dropped his newspaper on the table and stood the moment she entered dining room.

"My apologies for being late. I hope you didn't wait on my account."

"I only sat down a few minutes ago myself."

Weeks had passed since she'd fled the stable in tears. Duncan had kept a comfortable distance, offering support and friendship but giving her ample amounts of privacy. He hadn't pushed for another outing and she was thankful for his understanding. She'd resided at Dalenburgh for several months now, but to say the estate felt like home would be a half-truth. She had established somewhat of a routine to pass the days--reading, needlework, long walks, and continuing to write lengthy letters back to Chadfinch. She'd penned dozens but had yet to receive a reply. Nothing but stone silence from Rosemary, Ellen...and George. It pained her deeply.

"I have some business in town this morning. You're welcome to join me."

He made the same offer every couple of days to which she always offered the same response.

"No thank you."

"Still working on the painting? Of the landscape?"

"Heaven's no. I abandoned that pursuit. Sketching is one thing, painting is entirely another."

"You're quite good at both. You don't give yourself near enough credit."

"I thought that perhaps I might go for a ride this afternoon." She'd waited for this moment for several days. She watched his eyes, curious to see how he'd respond. "You're welcome to join me. That is, if you have the time."

"That's a very kind offer--"

"And one I'm making because you've shown me such kindness."

He'd gone out of his way to make her feel safe and secure...and she truly wanted to be his friend.

"After luncheon then?" he asked.

"I look forward to it."

#

His cold, wet body slumped against the closed door of his suite. He was exhausted and the typical London weather only made things worse. In the weeks he'd been in London he'd moved full steam--endless meetings with importers, stops at every Shaw restaurant and club, visits to area distilleries to sample products. Tomorrow would be more of the same, only this time with the welcomed addition of a housing agent. Living at the hotel had been a source of great convenience, but he was ready to settle into his own space. He knew of several areas he felt would be more than suitable. With any luck he would be Master of his own house very soon.

Mr. Shaw had given him a generous advance which he'd used to splurge on a bottle of Roederer. He called down for an ice bucket and some fresh towels. All he wanted was a bath and to decompress. And though he didn't truly feel like celebrating, he hoped the French champagne might boost his spirits. At the very least, he'd call it research for his new position.

Soaking in the warmth and steam of the tub, he let his mind drift into forbidden territory. He really hadn't allowed himself to think of her, not since Mr. Shaw's telegram summoned him to London several days before his planned arrival. Her face came sharply into view and he wondered what she might be doing at that exact moment. He wondered if she was as lonely on her big estate as he was inside the lavish hotel suite.

"I wanted to take you away -- far away to some magnificent hotel. I wanted it to be special."

"It was, because it was real. We're downstairs, remember? And I wouldn't trade us for the world."

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