The Duke's Wife (The Three Mrs #3) by Jess Michaels




Chapter 1





Spring 1814





“We should have three matching red dresses made after what we’ve all been through this last year. That would be one way to thumb our noses at Society,” Abigail Montgomery said with a sigh.

She caught the quick glance her two best friends exchanged behind her and she wished she had not said something so jaded. After all, Celeste and Pippa may have endured much similar humiliations over the last year, but they were both happily married now and likely not looking to make the spectacle of themselves that Abigail suddenly wished she could do.

“I think red would be beautiful with your dark hair,” Pippa said carefully. “But perhaps a bit much for the first event of the Season after the end of your mourning period.”

Abigail rolled her eyes. “Yes, my mourning period.”

The year she had been forced to perform the public act of mourning for her husband had been…interesting to say the least. Filled with danger and intrigue at the beginning, what with Erasmus’s secret marriages to the two very women sharing the chamber with her. There had been all kinds of danger that followed. But the year had also contained joy, for she had forged strong bonds with Celeste and Pippa. She’d watched them both find the greatest happiness in new marriages with men who adored them.

The last year of her life had been filled with loneliness, too, because she knew that a happy, romantic ending was not in the cards for her. She had loved Erasmus once…or thought she had. She’d never pictured anything but a long and successful marriage to him. Until he’d destroyed all of it, piece by tiny piece, chipping away until nothing was left. Long before she discovered he was a bigamist she had stopped feeling anything for the man but disdain. Knowing he felt the same for her.

“Are you well, dearest?” Celeste Gregory asked.

That drew Abigail from her maudlin thoughts, and she forced herself to attend. “Of course I’m well. I’m always well. So, the first event of a new Season. What a thrill. And I’m so glad you invited us to see your new gowns, Pippa. They are beautiful.”

She forced a tight smile on her face for her friend. Pippa was the new Countess of Leighton and was nervous about the upcoming events of the Spring. With good reason, for her marriage came with a great deal of scandal thanks to the bigamy and the fact that she’d married their late husband’s brother in a glorious, romantic rush.

Pippa was a beautiful woman. With her mop of unruly blond curls and her bright green eyes, she always looked like a slightly wicked angel. Probably why the Earl of Leighton, Rhys, adored her so much. The exterior matched the interior.

“You are certainly going to impress,” Abigail mused.

Pippa had been holding up a gown with an elaborately stitched bodice that would cling to her curves just so and a fall of a slighter paler silk that made up the skirt. “I hope so,” she sighed. “Appearances mean so much to the ton.”

“That green matches your eyes perfectly!” Celeste cooed.

“Rhys picked the fabric,” Pippa said with a blush and a happy smile. She had been married to the man just over six months and it seemed there was no dimming of the spark between them. Abigail was very happy for her friend. There were no other, less pleasant emotions that tightened her chest. Not even a one.

“Well, it’s as pretty as all the rest,” Celeste said, clasping her hands before her. “You will be the belle of any ball.”

Pippa’s smile faded slightly. “I don’t know about that,” she said. “I look forward to the first event of the Season. Well, the first event for Rhys and I…but I think it doesn’t bode well that we haven’t been invited to any others. That we must host our own fete in order to make ourselves known.”

Abigail caught Pippa’s hands and squeezed gently, her own troubles pushed to the background for a moment. “The way Society views your relationship to Rhys is…complicated.”

“I know. Had I been legally married to Erasmus, I never even would have been allowed to marry Rhys.”

“Yes,” Abigail mused. “Ecclesiastic law does frown upon a woman marrying her dead husband’s brother. But you were not legally married, so that eliminates that problem.”

Pippa shrugged. “Somewhat. But the scandal of Erasmus’s bigamy and the fact that I did marry his brother and become countess has not lessened all the burden Rhys must bear.”