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She did not refute his reasoning and lowered her gaze in thought, but then she shook her head. “I could not.”

“I know no one here.”

“There can be much titillation in lying with a stranger.”

“Yes, Dian—my friend said the same.”

“And you are inclined to believe her, are you not?”

A muscle rippled along his jaw. That had not stopped her from coming to Chateau Follet, but he kept his tone friendly. “Your husband does not note your absence?”

“He enjoys the races at Ascot. He would not miss me.”

The latter sentence was murmured as if to herself, but he heard the resignation in her voice. “Indeed?”

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She seemed surprised that he had heard. “Yes, well, he—he has a mistress to satisfy him.”

It was his turn to be surprised. He had not known that Trudie knew. He had taken care that she would not.

“Are you certain of this?” he asked, searching her countenance for emotion. Was she saddened or vexed by his mistress? To his surprise, he found neither sorrow nor anger but a calm acceptance of his infidelity.

She nodded. “My friend—her husband made mention of it to her quite by accident.”

Charles. Leopold suppressed an oath. He should have known Charles had as large a mouth as Diana.

“Hearsay does not qualify as verity.”

“Well, I—I saw her—his mistress, that is.”

“How unfortunate,” Leopold said carefully, “that your husband should flaunt his mistress before his own wife.”

“Oh, he did not! I arrived at London last season a day earlier than I had told him I would. When I was told he had gone to the theater, I followed suit and saw him—them. She is quite pretty. Beautiful, rather.”

Stunned, Leopold stared at her. His wife had lied to him more than once? What else had she hid from him? Seeing the sadness now in her eyes, he put aside the queries for now. He cursed himself. He had hoped to spare Trudie the pain of knowing—had even convinced himself at one point that she would hardly care that he had a mistress because she had demonstrated so little interest in the amorous attentions of her husband. Many a husband entertained mistresses, and their wives either did not know or chose to look the other way.

But a part of him had always known such attempts to convince himself of the harmlessness of what he did to be false. He had feared that Trudie would be hurt. If she had been more receptive of him in bed, he might not have felt as compelled to take a mistress. But it mattered not how much fault could be placed at her door. He could not rid himself of the remorse.

“I can see why a man, wed or not, would wish to keep her company,” Trudie said wistfully.

Behind his mask, Leopold winced. Her words were a dagger that twisted the guilt inside him.

“Then it is only fair that you indulge in

your own liaison,” he pronounced.

She stared at him as if contemplating his reasoning. “I—I suppose.”

“Oh, I think I am not quite ready.”

He advanced toward her, wanting a better look into her eyes. “What does your readiness require?”

She took a step back for every one he took towards her. “I…I know not. Well, it does not matter.”