Elise corresponded regularly with her sister and relished reading about all the wedding preparations. A local seamstress was making Bea’s gown, although the bride to be was keeping the style of it a secret. Mrs Garner had a workshop based in St Albans and had served the Dewey family for over a decade. Walter had never had the means to provide his daughters with many new clothes when growing up and their debuts had thus been modest affairs.
‘What have you got there?’
Else twisted about at the sound of her husband’s husky baritone.
Alex came closer and dropped a kiss on her bare shoulder. His fingers continued to caress his wife’s satiny skin as he glanced at the parchment in her hand, recognising the writing.
‘Your father has sent you a letter.’
Elise twisted about in the circle of her husband’s arms. ‘I’m just about to read it, Alex, so don’t...’ Her breathy plea was cut off as his mouth slanted over hers and he drew her closer.
‘Oh...Alex...’ Elise giggled, but her protest was half-hearted as she melted against him.
‘It’s your own fault,’ he growled. ‘What’s a man to do when his gorgeous wife parades about half naked?’
‘Whatever he likes, I suppose,’ Elise breathed against his preying mouth.
‘Right answer, sweetheart...’ Alex purred and, swinging her up in his arms, headed for the bed.
‘There was a time when it was hard to shake you off my shoulder; now I need to make an appointment to see you?’ Alex Blackthorne’s ironic comment drew an apologetic grin from his best friend. However, the fellow’s narrowed gaze remained fixed on the razor sweeping a path through stubble towards a lean cheekbone.
Hugh Kendrick swirled the implement in a china bowl filled with soap-floating water before turning to face the viscount. ‘You know I’d sooner come to watch the fight with you, but I’ve promised Gwen a trip to Epsom races this afternoon.’
Alex sank into a hide chair in his friend’s bedchamber. Obligingly he shifted to one side, allowing Hugh’s startled valet to rescue an elegant jacket that his master had discarded over the back of the upholstery.
‘Besides, if your wife wasn’t out of town you wouldn’t want my company, would you?’ Over the top of the towel mopping his face Hugh hiked a dark eyebrow at Alex.
‘True...’ Alex sighed, flicking a speck from a thigh breeched in fawn cloth.
He was feeling at a loose end since Elise had gone to Hertfordshire to visit her family. It was puzzling that Walter Dewey had written a letter containing a coded message that he would like Elise to visit as soon as she was able.
Alex felt rather guilty now for distracting his wife from immediately reading her note on the morning it had arrived. It had been some hours after the post was delivered that Elise had finally retrieved the paper from amongst their warm, crumpled bed sheets. Mere moments after breaking the seal she’d thrust the letter beneath Alex’s nose, announcing that she’d deciphered her father’s few odd sentences and was certain that a crisis had occurred. Elise could never bear to be parted from her infant son, so Adam had gone to Hertfordshire too, and at Alex’s insistence Maria had accompanied mother and child in one of the luxurious Blackthorne travelling coaches.
‘You look browned off,’ Hugh remarked, shrugging into his shirt. For several minutes he had been contemplating Alex’s frowning expression as he stared into space with his chin resting atop fingers forming a steeple. Hugh guessed his friend was already missing his beloved wife and son.
The two men had been friends for decades, despite the fact that for most of that time their statuses had been poles apart. Hugh had been the underdog, with nothing much to claim to his credit other than his popularity and his family connections. His late father had been an upstanding fellow, a minor peer of the realm who had seen the best in everybody. Unfortunately that blind faith had been particularly strong where his heir was concerned. Others, however, could see what a corrupt, calculating character was Toby Kendrick. On taking his birthright following his father’s demise, Hugh’s brother had become even more of an unbearable wretch.
But Hugh no longer had reason to feel resentful over the bad hand life had dealt him as the second son of a gentleman who believed in primogeniture. Neither had he reason to feel lucky that Viscount Blackthorne had chosen him as a life-long comrade. Hugh might not have a title to polish, but he now had every other advantage that his illustrious friend enjoyed, including a fortune that his acquaintances coveted and that dukes would like their debutante daughters to share in through marriage.