‘And for the rest of our lives?’ Giles pulled on his robe and made himself meet her eyes, too shadowed to read. ‘I do not know, Isobel. I honestly do not know anything, except that this has no future.’
He turned the key in the lock and eased the door ajar. ‘The servants are beginning to stir, I can hear them moving about on the landing above.’ He looked back at her, upright, shivering a little in the morning air, her lips red and swollen from his kisses, her eyes dark. What he wanted was to drag her from the bed, bundle her in to her clothes and flee with her, take her home to Norfolk and be damned to the consequences. Was that love? If it was, it was selfish, for nothing would more surely destroy her.
‘Go back to sleep,’ Giles said instead and went out into the darkness.
* * *
What she wanted to do was to get up, get dressed, throw her things into a portmanteau and follow him, beg him to take her away, to his home and his grandfather and let the world say what it would. Because this was love, however much she might fight it. Love was too precious, too rare, to deny.
But it was impossible to act like that, as though she had only her own happiness to think of. Her parents would be appalled and distressed. Cousin Elizabeth and the earl would be mortified that such a scandal had occurred while she was under their roof. Giles’s business, his whole future, would suffer from the scandal.
He cared for her and that was a miracle. He had shown her love, all through the night, as much by his care and restraint as by the skill of his lovemaking. Perhaps he would come to realise that he loved her, but some deep feminine instinct told her that he would be wary of admitting it, even if his upbringing, his past, the constraints upon him, allowed him to recognise it.
She had given him everything she could, except that one deep, precious secret. Annabelle. Lucas’s child was being raised as a legitimate Needham, believed by all the world to be the twin of little Nathaniel, the child of her friend Jane and Jane’s husband Ralph Needham, Lucas’s half-brother. The two men were drowned together when their carriage overturned into a storm-swollen Welsh mountain beck late one winter’s night.
No one knew except Jane, her small, devoted household in their remote manor and the family doctor. Annabelle was growing up secure and happy with all the prospects of a gentleman’s daughter before her and Isobel dared not risk that future in any way. She saw her child once or twice a year and lived, for the rest, on Jane’s letters and Annabelle’s messages to Aunt Isobel. Her parents would never know their own grandchild. She had not heard her daughter’s first words nor seen her first steps.
If she married again Isobel knew her conscience would tear her apart. How could she take her marriage vows while hiding such a thing from her husband? But how could she risk telling a man when he proposed? If he spurned her and then could not be trusted with the secret it would be a disaster.
Giles had said he was glad he had stayed with his mother, that he knew who he was. No pretence, no lies, he had said and he obviously admired and loved the Dowager for the decision she had taken. He would not understand why Isobel gave her child away; he would think she did not have the courage of his own mother to keep Annabelle and defy the world.
There was a very large lump in her throat and her face was wet, Isobel realised. She dared not let Dorothy find her like this. She slid out of bed, her legs still treacherously weak at the knees from Giles’s lovemaking, and splashed her cheeks in the cold water on the washstand. Then she smoothed the right-hand side of the bed, tucked it in and got back in, tossing and turning enough to account for the creases.
* * *
A clock struck six and Isobel knew she had been lying, half asleep, half waking and worrying, since Giles had left her. In an hour and a half Dorothy would bring her chocolate and hot water. She must try to sleep properly despite the warm tingling of her body and the agitation of her mind. Whatever the day brought, she would need her wits about her.
There was no sign of Giles at breakfast, nor was he with the earl, Isobel discovered after some carefully casual questions. Lizzie finally gave her a clue.
‘I think it is such a pity,’ she was protesting to Anne as they entered the breakfast room. ‘Good morning, Cousin Isobel. Have you heard the awful news? Mr Harker is conspiring with Papa to demolish the Hill House.’
‘Really, Lizzie! You are dramatising ridiculously,’ Anne chided as she sat down. ‘Papa has decided it is not worth reconstructing, that is all. Much better that it is safely demolished.’
‘But Mr Repton said—’
‘Mr Repton is not always right and it is Papa’s decision. Anyway, we would not be here to use it for ages, even if it was rebuilt.’