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The Duke's Willful Wife
Author: Elizabeth Lennox

Elizabeth Lennox - The Duke's Willful Wife

The Duke's Willful Wife
Elizabeth Lennox



Chapter 1

Sasha picked up the paintbrush, her fingers shaking and her stomach churning with fear and anticipation. “I’m over him,” she whispered out loud, ignoring the cold mist that showed her breath as she took the step closer to the canvas. Dipping her brush into the first color, she braced herself and started the process, the first colors hitting the white canvas no longer a shock to her mind but still something she didn’t particularly enjoy. But since this whole process, of painting this particular subject was physically painful for her, she ignored the starting sensation and concentrated on working through to get to the answer.

There was no other way to do it, she told herself, but to dive right in. Being afraid of the answer wasn’t going to solve the problem and she wouldn’t know the truth until she started. Procrastinating wouldn’t give her the information she desperately needed.

Impatiently, she pushed her long, brown hair out of her way, tucking it up on top of her head with the end of her paint brush, uncaring that a bit of paint smeared across her lovely cheekbone. She wore no makeup, but her soft, brown eyes and peaches and cream complexion were rarely viewed by anyone anymore. She went out each day for a long walk and she occasionally saw the others in the village, but the only daily care she took in her appearance was to remove her paint smock that covered her from neck to knee while she worked. She was unaware, and unconcerned if people questioned her appearance.

At least that was the case over the past year.

Classical music flowed around her as she worked on the painting. She didn’t stop for food, didn’t notice the light changing as the morning turned to afternoon, then the evening faded into night, nor did she acknowledge the ache in her legs from standing all day. It was almost midnight before she put her paintbrush down and sighed in frustration.

As she looked at the painting, her heart lurched, the truth staring at her from the eyes she’d just painted. The truth was irrevocable and no matter how many times she told herself that she didn’t, when she painted his face, she knew she was still in love with her husband.

She sighed with the acceptance that she wasn’t yet over the man who had hurt her so deeply that even a year later, she still felt as if a hole had been torn out of her chest. Maintaining a stoic face while she worked, Sasha carefully cleaned her brushes and set them in the appropriate place in their holders to dry out, meticulously ensuring that they were immaculate and ready for her next project.

When she was finished with her supplies, she wearily carried the canvas to the barn behind her tiny cottage and stored it with the others that she’d worked on recently. The paintings here were items she’d either started and hadn’t finished because she’d lost the inspiration, or that she didn’t want the world to see because they were too personal or not good enough. This one fell into all of those categories so she stacked it towards the back, pulling the heavy tarp over the stack to ensure dust and water didn’t get to it, and made sure that the moth balls were in place to deter some of the more curious animals from damaging any of the works. She might not be ready to sell or get rid of these efforts, but that didn’t mean she wanted anything to happen to them.

Back in her cottage, she turned off the music, poured herself a glass of milk for dinner, then climbed into bed without bothering to change. Worn out jeans, flannel, tattered shirt and all, she just needed the warmth of the relative softness of her bed. And the pillows. She pulled them close, hugging one to her chest and the other tucked under her head. Not the same because the pillows didn’t emanate the same heat as his arms and chest and they were much too soft compared to his muscles that were more analogous to rocks than anything else, but close enough and they were all she had at the moment, she thought as the tears spilled down her cheeks.

Tomorrow would be better, she promised herself. And she wouldn’t try again for another month. Long walks, maybe some different music and a new painting. Her mind went through all the rituals she’d discovered that would help her get through the day. One breath at a time, she sighed into the night. Just one breath, one moment, one step at a time.

The following morning, she forced herself to fix some breakfast and eat it. It was only a soft boiled egg and whole wheat toast, but it was more than she’d eaten the whole previous day. A cup of tea warmed her up and she pulled her sneakers on for her morning walk. She pushed herself harder this time, walking around the pond, through the village, smiling and waving to the people she saw. She’d grown up in this small town so she knew just about everyone, but she didn’t socialize a great deal anymore. Ever since Dante and his accusations, his rejection of her, she hadn’t felt strong enough to be around other people.

Soon though, she’d start accepting some of the invitations. She needed to get out more, to be with other people and stop acting like a miserable, old recluse. Her activities lately weren’t healthy and she needed to rejoin the world, to feel life again even if it might be painful at times. She knew she wasn’t ready to start dating again, but she needed to reconnect with her friends, especially her college friends. She missed them terribly and she knew they worried about her. She e-mailed with them when she remembered to log into her account, but the communication was sporadic. Dana was married with a baby on the way and Jenna was doing well as a journalist. They both had stopped by over the past year to check in on her and she’d done a relatively good job of convincing them that she was okay.

The banging on the door as she stepped through her back access startled her. Since the house was so small, she could see straight through from the back to her front entrance but the solid oak wouldn’t allow her to see through and discover who had invaded her space so unexpectedly.

“Sasha! I’m here for the paintings. I know you’re here so don’t try and pretend otherwise,” the male voice said.

Sasha’s body relaxed as she released a relieved laugh, then hurried to the front door. “Robert, you know I’d never pretend with you,” she said and hugged him enthusiastically. “What are you doing way out here in the country? I told you I’d bring the paintings to you Monday and I know you abhor leaving your precious city life and risk running into a leaf or, heaven forbid, a bug.”

Sasha’s agent and friend stepped through the front door and took his favorite client into his arms, as much to greet her as so determine if she was taking care of herself. As his arms closed around her slender frame, he became worried that she wasn’t eating well. “I didn’t trust you to be on time and you know that’s a completely justified terror when it comes to you lately. Your sense of timeliness seems to have disappeared completely. Besides, Monday is too far in the future. I need the paintings this weekend.” He surveyed her face, noting the more pronounced cheekbones and prominent, brown eyes still filled with so much loneliness. Damn that man who had done this to her gentle soul! Sasha was one of those sweet, caring people who pushed spiders out of her house instead of stomping on them. How Dante Fuitello could do this to such a beautiful woman was beyond anything Robert could understand.

Sasha pulled away, knowing that Robert would comment on her weight if he felt how much she’d lost in the past few weeks. And since there wasn’t a whole lot to lose in the first place, he wouldn’t be shy about mentioning her health, a subject that he brought up constantly it seemed.

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