Home > The Defiant Wife (The Three Mrs #2)

The Defiant Wife (The Three Mrs #2)
Author: Jess Michaels

Chapter 1

 

 

Summer 1813

 

 

Phillipa Montgomery had expected a great many things in her life, but marrying a bigamist, nearly being murdered by him and then helping one of his other brides ready for her wedding…well, she never would have guessed that one.

Yet here she was, standing in the home of her late…husband? It was easier to just call him husband even though he never really had been.

She was helping adjust the beautiful white feather-and-pearl headpiece in Celeste Montgomery’s hair while Abigail Montgomery fastened the pretty sapphire necklace Celeste’s future husband had given her, the one that matched her eyes.

“You look so happy,” Abigail said, the tightness to her smile mimicking the same emotions Phillipa felt as she looked at her friend

Not because she begrudged Celeste her happiness. No one deserved it more! But just because happiness was a feeling that had fled from Pippa’s life years before, thanks to Erasmus Montgomery and his bitter lies, and she was, she could admit, if only to herself…jealous.

“I am so happy,” Celeste breathed. “I could not have imagined that when Owen knocked on my door not so very long ago and destroyed my world with news of Erasmus’s duplicity that I could ever be so happy.”

Pippa smiled, and this one felt less tight. Owen Gregory, the investigator hired by Erasmus’s brother, Rhys Montgomery, the Earl of Leighton, was the best of men.

Pippa swallowed hard at the thought of the earl. Pushed at things she ought not think when it came to the man.

“I don’t think anyone could have imagined anything that has happened to us all in recent months,” Abigail sighed as she sank onto the settee in the dressing room. “Between finding out our supposed husband had multiple wives, to each being suspected of his murder, to then finding out he wasn’t dead after all.”

“And then he tried to kill us,” Pippa added with a shake of her head. “And now he is dead and you are marrying again. It’s a whirlwind.” Exhaustion overwhelmed her at just the thought of it.

Celeste turned away from the mirror and faced the others. “Yes, all those things are truly terrible. I don’t deny it. But I also don’t want to forget that what we went through brought us together.” She reached out and caught Pippa’s hand, then motioned for Abigail to take her other. When she had joined their circle, Celeste smiled through tears. “I’m so lucky to know you both. To call you my friends, as close as sisters despite all the terrible things. So I can’t regret any of the worst, as it has brought me so much happiness.”

Abigail leaned forward to kiss her cheek. “And it will only bring you more, I think.” She glanced at the clock on the mantel. “Gracious, we are almost out of time.”

Celeste’s cheeks flushed with pleasure. “I can hardly wait.”

Pippa smiled at her eagerness and squeezed her hand. “I will go tell the vicar and Mr. Gregory that you are almost ready while Abigail puts on your finishing touches.”

“Thank you,” Celeste breathed with a smile that rivaled the sun.

Pippa slipped from the warmth of her friend’s joy into the hallway and drew a long breath as she pulled the door shut behind herself. Her hands were shaking and she smoothed them along the silky skirt of her gown.

“Phillipa?”

She froze, still facing the shut door. That voice was one she had come to know very well. Too well, truth be told. She swallowed hard, tried to wipe all emotion from her expression and turned.

Rhys Montgomery, Earl of Leighton, stood in the dim light of the hall and her breath caught just as it always caught, from the first moment she met him. He was a beautiful man, there was no denying that. He was tall, very tall, at least a head taller than she was. He had dark hair that swept over his forehead in nothing ever but perfect waves. And blue eyes. The deepest blue she’d ever seen.

He was never mussed, he was never out of place. No, he was too proper for that. Too serious, thanks to the hell his half-brother had unleashed upon them all. Although she thought Rhys…Lord Leighton…had probably always been a thoughtful sort of person.

His perfectly sculpted jawline tightened and those blue eyes flickered over her face. “Are you well, Phillipa?”

Because there were so many Mrs. Montgomerys going around lately, those in the inner circle had taken to calling the women by their first names, at least in private, to reduce confusion. But she would never get used to the way Leighton said Phillipa. It rolled over his tongue almost like a caress and made her stomach flip in ways that it most definitely should not.

“I’m fine,” she gasped out with a forced smile. “I was just coming to assure the groom that the bride is almost ready for him.”

He inclined his head. “And I was sent by said groom to check on the bride.”

Her smile became more genuine. “Mr. Gregory is anxious then.”

“Very.” A flutter of a smile crossed his lips and she swallowed at the sight of it. The man was truly handsome and she had no right to dwell on it so much. For too many reasons.

He cleared his throat. “Actually, I’m glad to have caught you alone. There is something we need to discuss.”

Her heart rate ratcheted up a notch and she fought to keep that reaction from her face as she motioned him back up the hall toward the stairs. At least if they were walking side by side, he couldn’t look at her so intently. “What is it?”

He paused, like this conversation was uncomfortable. “My brother’s son.”

Now she stumbled and he reached out to catch her elbow. The briefest of touches, gone the moment she was steady, but she felt it ricochet through her body just like his words did.

The son was not her child, though she had raised him since his mother disappeared. Pippa’s former servant, a woman who had turned out to be a long-time lover of Erasmus Montgomery. His true love. They’d had a child, one Erasmus saw as a bargaining chip and who Rosie, the mother, truly loved even if she had made a series of terrible decisions that separated them.

But now Erasmus was dead. Struck down by Rosie, herself, who had promptly run away.

“Kenley,” she breathed, trying not to think too hard about those chubby cheeks she adored. She had not seen the boy in weeks, though she regularly heard from the servants who had taken over his care.

Rhys flinched. “He named him…Kenley?” he asked, his voice cracking in a way that revealed emotion he didn’t show on his angled face.

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