Today's Reading

Ignoring the sensation, the Duke of Haven ripped open the door to his offices and made his way through the now quiet corridors to the entrance of the main chamber of the House of Lords. Stepping inside, he inhaled deeply, immediately regretting it. It was August and hot as hell on the floor of Parliament, the air rank with sweat and perfume. The windows were open to allow a breeze into the room—a barely-there stirring that only exacerbated the stench, adding the reek of the Thames to the already horrendous smell within.

At home, the river ran cool and crisp, unsullied by the filth of London. At home, the air was clean, promising summer idyll and hinting at more. At the future. At least, it had done. Until the pieces of home had peeled away and he'd been left alone, without it. Now, it felt like nothing but land. Home required more than a river
and rolling hills. Home required her. And so he would do this summer what he had done every moment he'd been away from London for the past two years and seven months, exactly. He would search for her.

She hadn't been in France or in Spain, where he'd spent the summer prior, chasing down Englishwomen in search of excitement. She hadn't been any of the false widows he'd found in Scotland, nor the governess at the imposing manor in Wales, nor the woman he'd tracked in Constantinople the month after she'd left, who had been a charlatan, playing at being an aristocrat. And then there'd been the woman in Boston—the one he'd been so sure of—the one they called The Dove.

Not Sera. Never Sera. She had disappeared, as though she'd never existed. There one moment, gone the next, laden with enough funds to vanish. And just as he'd realized how much he wanted her. But her money would run out, eventually, and she would have no choice but to stop running. He, on the other hand, was a man with power and privilege and exorbitant wealth, enough to find her the moment she stopped.

And he would find her.

He slid into one of the long benches surrounding the speaker's floor, where the Lord Chancellor had already begun. "My lords, if there is no more formal business, we will close this year's parliamentary season."

A chorus of approval—fists pounding on seatbacks around the hall—echoed through the chamber.

Haven exhaled and resisted the urge to scratch at his wig, knowing that if he gave in to the desire, he would become consumed with its rough discomfort. "My lords!" the Lord Chancellor called. "Is there, indeed, no additional formal business for the current session?"

A rousing chorus of "Nay!" boomed through the room. One would think the House of Lords was filled with schoolboys desperate for an afternoon in the local swimming hole instead of nearly two hundred pompous aristocrats eager to get to their mistresses.

The Lord Chancellor grinned, his ruddy face gleaming with sweat beneath his wig as he spread his wide hands over his ample girth. "Well then! It is His Majesty's royal will and pleasure..."

The enormous doors to the chamber burst open, the sound echoing through the quiet hall, competing with the chancellor's voice. Heads turned, but not Haven's; he was too eager to leave London and his wig behind to worry about whatever was going on beyond.

The Lord Chancellor collected himself, cleared his throat, and said, "...that this Parliament be prorogued to Thursday, the seventh day of October next..."

A collection of disapproving harrumphs began as the door shut with a powerful bang. Haven looked then, following the gazes of the men assembled to the now closed door to chambers. He couldn't see anything amiss.

"Ahem!" the Lord Chancellor said, the sound full of disapproval, before he redoubled his commitment to closing the session. Thank God for that. "...Thursday, the seventh day of October next..."

"Before you finish, my Lord Chancellor?"

Haven stiffened.

The words were strong and somehow soft and lilting and beautifully feminine—so out of place in the House of Lords, off limits to the fairer sex. Surely that was why his breath caught. Surely that was why his heart began to pound. Why he was suddenly on his feet amid a chorus of masculine outrage.

It was not because of the voice itself.

"What is the meaning of this?" the Chancellor thundered.

Haven could see it then, the cause of the commotion. A woman. Taller than any woman he'd ever known, in the most beautiful lavender dress he'd ever seen, perfectly turned out, as though she marched into parliamentary session on a regular basis. As though she were the prime minister himself. As though she were more than that. As though she were royalty.

The only woman he'd ever loved. The only woman he'd ever hated.

The same, and somehow entirely different.

And Haven, frozen to the spot.
...

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