Book 5 in the >Heart of a Scandal Series
I have to admit, there was a lot of sadness when I wrote The End of Five Days With a Duke. I had so much fun writing Constance and Connell’s story. There were many times I found myself laughing aloud as I typed…and also sighing, at their romance. And yet, this book also marks The End of my Heart of a Scandal series. The five girls (Aldora, Rowena, Meredith, Emilia, and Constance) first to find the Heart of a Duke pendant are now all grown-up and each of their stories complete.
I hope you enjoy the last installment of The Heart of a Scandal series!!
The 5th and final installment in Christi Caldwell’s Heart of a Scandal series will have readers sighing, swooning, and laughing out loud!
Years earlier, Connell Wordsworth, the Duke of Renaud gave up the woman he wanted for the responsibilities thrust upon him. After loss upon loss, he heads to London, for a new home with no memories, no staff, and the only thing he wants in life…to be alone. He’s managing that feat quite nicely until…
Lady Constance Brandley, has a secret. She and her family don’t have two farthings to rub together. A spinster, long past the age of either love or marriage, she finds herself presented with a unique opportunity that could improve her circumstances. Except, that opportunity also brings the unlikeliest of gentlemen into her life—her best friend’s former betrothed, the Duke of Renaud.
Thrown together with the notorious scoundrel, it isn’t long before Constance discovers there’s far more to Connell, the Duke of Renaud than the world sees. And soon she finds herself longing for, everything she shouldn’t—the heart of a duke.
Ten years ago, almost to the day, the Duke of Renaud had lost absolutely everything.
He’d inherited a recalcitrant ward and her illegitimate babe, and with the inherited responsibilities, he’d severed his relationship with the only woman he’d ever—or would ever—love.
He’d been certain there was no greater pain than letting his then-betrothed go, and all to look after the brand-new babe of a distant woman he’d never met.
He’d wanted the pair of them gone and his betrothed back and just they two in the world.
Only to find on the almost-anniversary of their arrival in his life, in an ultimate twist of irony, he’d been wrong on every single score.
Frozen at the floor-to-ceiling windowpane, his hands clasped low behind his back, Connell stared blankly out. Not directly at the party below. But rather, just over the gathering to the ornate watering fountain set within the lone patch of grass upon the graveled drive.
A trio, rendered specks by the distance of his window to the ground, remained within his line of vision. That small happy group, along with the sea of footmen and maids that formed a neat half circle around them. They could go to hell.
The whole lot of them.
Nay, not all of them.
His gaze went to the small figure, and at his back, his fingers tightened reflexively, surely leaving nail marks he didn’t feel.
She stood sandwiched between her glowing mother… and a stranger. The man who’d sired Iris, who’d returned, and now would just take her away.
It didn’t matter to him that it was the other man’s legal right. And even worse, even more selfishly, it didn’t matter that this reunion was what both his ward and her daughter had wished for. For Connell was selfish. For Iris and Hazel, he’d given up his life. He’d given up his former love. He’d reshaped his very existence… only to lose them?
The safer, familiar anger that had fueled him and sustained him since the other man’s reappearance roared to life.
The moment Hazel and Iris boarded that carriage and took off down the damned drive, he never wanted to see the pair of them again.
As if she’d heard that silent vow and recognized it for the lie it was, Iris tipped her chubby face up. Her eyes landed on Connell’s spot.
Her earlier exuberance dipped and dimmed, and the evidence of her sadness had the same effect as a lash upon his heart.
Releasing his arms, he moved closer to the window and lifted his palms, waving in the unique “hello” Iris had done as a babe and continued on through her almost eleven years.
Iris’ smile was instantly restored, the one that dimpled her cheek. He could never deny her anything when she turned it on him. In a matched gesture, she wagged her fingers.
Her father said something, and as quick as if the moment had never been, she dropped her arm and spun to face the tall, too-thin gent. And just like that, Connell, with his hand still up, was forgotten.
Tears filled his throat, and the control he’d managed this morn snapped. He squeezed his eyes tight and fixed on breathing, because if he gave in to the sorrow of what he’d lost—who he’d lost—he’d never recover.
He’d thought losing Emilia Aberdeen was a pain he’d never recover from. For in the immediacy of that breakup, it had been impossible to fathom being any more brokenhearted.
Only to find just how bloody wrong he’d been.
This moment here and now would be what shattered him completely. Strangling on a sob, Connell sagged and caught the low window frame to keep from crumbling to his knees. Using the hard oak as a crutch, he pulled himself sideways so that his back rested alongside the wall, and his misery was hidden from the happy party below.
Catching his long hair between his fingers, he tugged the strands, wanting to feel any kind of pain other than the one that ravaged him.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
He’d come to think of those exaggerated, heavy footfalls as his butler Addlington’s calling card the past fortnight since Connell’s world had fallen apart. Then would come the rhythmic knock.
What in hell could the servant possibly want? Why wasn’t he outside even now with the happy send-off party, and Iris and her mother, and the bastard of a father—
“I said, ahe—”
“I heard you,” he bellowed. “What in the hell do you want?”
Which the other man apparently took to mean enter.
At the slight click of the handle, Connell scrambled upright and dashed his hands over his eyes. When Addlington entered, Connell had placed himself as he’d been at the window, in his earlier pose constructed of feigned nonchalance.
“Shouldn’t you be belowstairs?” he asked tersely the moment the butler’s visage appeared in the immaculate, gleaming crystal panel. Having joined Connell’s staff near the time he’d broken off his betrothal, Addlington had been with the family since Iris had arrived. Countless times, Connell had caught the little girl in the company of the butler. As such, he was not so self-absorbed that he didn’t recognize Addlington would feel keenly the cheerful girl’s departure.
“Yes. Yes, I should, Your Grace.” Addlington paused. “But then, I thought that you should, as well.”
“You’re insolent, and I should sack you.”
“Yes, undoubtedly you should.” The servant paused. “And as I’m already being insolent, if I may also say?”
“I’d rather you didn’t,” he said coolly.
Addlington went on as if he hadn’t spoken. “If you do not go and make your goodbyes to the little miss, you’ll regret it, Your Grace.”
The crystal pane acted as a mirror, and staring back from within was the bitter twist of Connell’s lips.
An apt word to capture much of what Connell carried through life. Regret. There was so damned much of it. So many mistakes made. So many faulty missteps and decisions, ones that had been made with the greatest of intentions.
But abandoning his spot high above the happy gathering below and watching as Iris and her mother departed, leaving only silence and memories in their wake? Nay, his well-meaning butler was wrong on that score—Connell wouldn’t be one ounce sorry for failing to take part in that celebratory departure. “Your concern is noted,” Connell murmured, resuming his study of the watering fountain below. “If you would close the door behind you?”
Addlington hesitated. “As you wish, Your Grace.” Taking several flourishing backward steps, the butler reached for the handle.
“Addlington?” he called.
The man of like years stopped. “Your Grace?”
“You should, however, join… ” Connell fought to get the beloved name out… and failed. “The gathering,” he settled for instead.
“Thank you, Your Grace.”
Connell made as if he’d not heard that expression of gratitude. He didn’t want it. He wasn’t deserving of it. Rather, it was for her—little Iris, who’d always loved Addlington.
The heavily carved, oak panel stared back in the glass, the only indication that the butler had gone and Connell was again alone.
For the first time… ever.
Once upon a lifetime ago, when he’d been a young man out of university, there’d been lovers and mistresses and friends… until he’d fallen in love, and every day had been consumed with Emilia Aberdeen. After the end of their betrothal, there had been only Iris and her flighty, but always smiling mother.
The driver came forward and drew the pink lacquer door open.
First, into the carriage went Hazel.
Iris, however, lingered. Addlington, who must have taken flight for the speed with which he’d made it to the little girl’s side, knelt beside her.
Iris flung herself into the butler’s arms, staggering the servant.
It was too much.
Squeezing his eyes closed, Connell stepped away from the window. He’d not survive this. It would be easier to lop off a limb than lose a girl who was like his own child. More than ten years of raising her, loving her, only to have her father reappear as if none of those years had ever mattered.
But then, they didn’t.
Because she’d always belonged to another. Connell had just never imagined a world in which that man would realize the gift he’d lost, or that he’d return and take with him all of Connell’s existence.
The distant click of the carriage door closing brought Connell’s eyes flying open. Hurrying back into position, he stared on, motionless, as the conveyance rolled along, rocking and swaying. He stared on until the garish pink vehicle diminished in size and then ultimately faded beyond the horizon, leaving a marked finality in its absence.
Now, there was no one.
There’d be no play tea parties, or midnight snacking, or Maypole festivities.
Yes, there was no one.
He hardened his jaw.
And Connell was determined that there would never be anyone, ever again.