A Daring Liaison(3)

Bloody hell! Was everything he’d believed wrong?

* * *

“Two husbands? And both of them dead?” Lady Sarah Travis asked without preamble, her violet eyes wide with astonishment.

Georgiana Huffington was well aware that the Wednesday League book club had convened an emergency meeting on her account. The ladies were quietly dedicated to helping women who, for one reason or another, found themselves in a pickle.

She gave a decisive nod, feeling the color rise to her cheeks. It was always the same—this reaction. Perhaps it was because she was only three-and-twenty. Or perhaps they were wondering how she could possibly have had such colossal ill fortune. They might as well know the worst immediately. “And one fiancé,” she admitted with a breathless sigh.

Grace Hawthorne leaned forward and placed her teacup on a low table. “My dear! That is...too heartbreaking.”

Lady Annica Auberville and Lady Charity MacGregor, the other two women present, nodded their agreement.

“Is this why Gina has brought you to us?” Lady Sarah prodded with a sideways glance at her sister-in-law, Eugenia Hunter.

“She said you might be able to help me.”

Lady Annica placed her teacup beside Mrs. Hawthorne’s and studied Georgiana intensely. “I confess I do not know how.”

Dizzy with the implications of what she was about to say, she took a deep breath before she could say the words aloud. “I have begun to wonder if their deaths were altogether natural.”

She expected protests, or at least some sort of reassuring denial. But the ladies merely studied her as if she had said something perfectly reasonable. For a long moment, the only sound in Lady Sarah’s elegant sitting room was the rhythmic tick-tock of an ornate tall case clock in one corner.

Finally, Lady Sarah nodded. “Please rest assured that anything revealed in this group is utterly confidential. And we shall expect the same of you.”

She heaved a sigh of relief and nodded her agreement rather vigorously. What she was about to say was bad enough, but to risk it being repeated was untenable.

The women smiled and Lady Sarah inclined her head. “Could you give us a brief summary, Mrs. Huffington?

A sick feeling settled in the pit of Georgiana’s stomach. “I was first married at seventeen, barely three months after entering society. His name was Arthur Allenby. The night of our vows he tumbled down the stairs, having had a bit too much celebration.”

“Consummated?” Lady Annica asked in a very frank manner.

Dear sweet Allenby. He’d been so eager for the marriage bed, and then... “No. He fell before, well, you know. Mr. Allenby’s family returned my dowry, added considerable compensation and sent me back to my aunt Caroline’s at once. I was a reminder of the tragedy, they said. Then, after my mourning and an extra year, came Gower Huffington. We wed two years ago. In December. We traveled to his country estate for our honeymoon.” This time there had been a consummation. He’d been quite eager and quick—over before she’d been able to ease the pain. And once again, for good measure Gower had said. She had dared hope she would come to tolerate it in time. “A day or two after we arrived, he went for a walk and did not return. By the time the woodsman found him the next day, he was quite dead. His heart gave out, the coroner said.”

She glanced at Lady Annica and answered before it was asked. “Consummated, no issue. Mr. Huffington’s lands were not entailed, nor his fortune. He had no other close heirs and left me quite comfortable.”

“And...and you wonder if these unfortunate incidents were entirely natural?” Lady Sarah repeated.

“It seems rather odd to me that neither of my marriages have lasted longer than a day or two. It could be a tragic coincidence.” Georgiana hesitated. The final story was shorter, and even more tragic. “But last fall, before Aunt Caroline and I left town so quickly, I was betrothed to another man. He was killed barely a day after signing our contracts and before any announcements had been made.”

Even Gina’s eyebrows went up at this. “Who was it, Georgiana?”

“Mr. Booth. Mr. Adam Booth.”

“I was at the Argyle Rooms that night! I recall the incident—in the street outside Argyle House.”

Georgiana nodded. She still did not know the particulars of that event, except that she had been assured it had nothing to do with her. But still...

“Too much for mere coincidence,” Lady Annica mused. “Do you have any particular reason, aside from the untimely nature of the deaths, for suspecting foul play, Mrs. Huffington?”

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