‘No.’ She shook her head, painfully honest as ever. ‘But it is because of you that I told them. You made me think about trust and honour and what I was withholding from them because I dared not take a chance on their love. So I told them. It was later that I realised that, now they have given up all hope of me making a conventional match, they might consent if they thought you would make me happy.’
‘There is a lesson for me in that, you do not have to spell it out,’ Giles said. Trust and the withholding of love. He had not trusted her to be strong enough to cope with his impossible love as well as her own. ‘I thought I was doing the right thing, making the right sacrifice.’
‘So it was a sacrifice?’ For the first time he saw her fear and her uncertainty in the wide grey eyes and the way she had caught her lower lip between her teeth.
Still the words would not come. How could he risk her regretting it as soon as the knot was tied? So much of her life that she took completely for granted would be lost to her. But if Isobel could trust him, then he must trust her. ‘Yes, it was a sacrifice,’ Giles admitted.
Her smile was radiant. ‘Oh, thank goodness.’ It was an ungainly business, splashing towards each other through water that was more than waist-deep. Giles found he was laughing when he finally had Isobel in his arms and so was she, and crying, and the puppy was yapping.
‘This is so bizarre it has to be true,’ Giles said, his arms full of wet woman. His pulse was racing, he felt dizzy. ‘I thought I was dreaming. How on earth did you get here?’
‘Never mind that! Will you marry me?’ Isobel demanded, her arms twined round his waist.
‘Are you sure?’ This time he knew she saw his hesitation clearly, realised he had not said those words that mattered to her so much.
‘Not if you are not.’ All the animation drained away, leaving her naked and vulnerable. ‘I am sorry if I misunderstood. I thought it was only the fear of scandal that stopped you and if that was no longer there, it would be all right.’ Isobel pushed away from him and splashed to the steps. She climbed out, dripping and naked, the puppy gambolling around her feet until it sensed her unhappiness and crouched, whining.
‘Isobel!’ Giles took three long strokes and climbed the steps beside her. ‘You do not realise what it would mean to be married to me.’ He caught her, blocked her escape up the narrow twist of steps that led to the changing area.
‘You are used to a great house, a London home, dozens of servants. You are received at Court, you are invited to the most fashionable functions.
‘I cannot give you that. You won’t be received at Court any longer, there will be people who will snub us, my country home is a tenth the size of this and if we want to live in London we must rent, at least at first. I don’t own a carriage. I—’
‘Is that all?’ she demanded. ‘What do you think I want, Giles?’ When he just stood and looked at her, she prodded him in the ribs.
‘Me?’ Isobel nodded. ‘Our children?’ Another nod.
‘That is all and that is everything. I have a perfectly good dowry which will keep me in all the fashionable frivolity I want—if I want it. The rest can go to the children if you are too stiff-necked to take it to buy a town house or a carriage or whatever you want to improve the estate.’
‘Truly. Now, tell me why you will not marry me, because the only reason that I am prepared to accept is that you do not love me.’
It was like shackles breaking or a dam bursting inside. There was only one thing between him and having the woman he loved and that was his stubborn fear of believing what Isobel was telling him.
Giles took a deep breath. ‘I love you.’ He found he was grinning. ‘I love you. I never thought I would be able to say it to you.’ He picked her up, slippery as a fish, and started to climb as she wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her face against him. Apparently his love had run out of words.
Giles stood her on her feet when they reached the little changing room. His brocade robe hung neatly on one of the hooks on the wall that was warmed by the boiler. His slippers equally tidy below. ‘My dear love,’ he said mildly as he surveyed the scattered feminine clothing that strewed the floor. ‘Am I to expect our home to be in this much of a muddle?’
‘I was in a hurry,’ Isobel said with dignity. She ran her hands over his body. ‘I still am. You love me,’ she murmured, as if she could still not quite believe it.
Giles caught her wrists as her fingers descended lower. ‘And I will prove it to you. But I refuse to make love to you on the floor.’ Not here and not now, anyway. There was a large bearskin rug in front of his dressing-room fire at home that had fed a particularly delicious and tormenting fantasy about Isobel.