‘In my bedchamber, then. Or yours?’
‘Neither.’ Reluctantly he let her go and pulled on his robe, stuffed his feet into his slippers. There was something respectable about slippers. Wicked rakes did not make passionate love in slippers.
‘Why not? You want me.’ She slanted a look that was pure provocation from beneath her wet lashes.
‘Of course I want you, you witch. I love you. But I am going to marry you.’ Marry you. He repeated the words in his head, trying to convince himself that this was really going to happen. ‘So I am going to do this properly. Respectably.’ Isobel opened her mouth to protest. ‘I am going to go and get dressed. So are you and you will then find Lady Hardwicke.
‘I will ask the earl if he can spare me for a few days. We will drive back to London, in separate chaises, where I will formally ask your father for your hand. We will then proceed to do whatever it is that respectable people do for the duration of a respectable betrothal before they are respectably married.’
‘Giles, that will take weeks.’ Isobel rescued a stocking from the puppy and began to pull it on. Giles studied the way the walls had been painted with minute attention while the rustling and flapping of her dressing went on.
‘Precisely. Our wedding is going to be the exact opposite of an elopement.’
‘I am dressed. You may stop looking at the architraves or whatever it is you are pretending such interest in.’
‘Soffits,’ he said vaguely. ‘God, you are beautiful.’
‘No, I am not. I am—’
‘Beautiful. I love you.’
‘Then kiss me, Giles. You haven’t kissed me since you told me you loved me.’
‘Not here.’ He watched as she wrapped her wet hair into a towel. ‘I will walk you to your room and I will kiss you at your door because I cannot trust myself to touch you here.’ He looked down. ‘Why is there a puppy chewing my slipper?’
‘It is the same one from the farmyard. You gave her to me to hold. She is the only thing you ever gave me—except my life and my honour and a broken heart—so I had to keep her.’
‘Oh, hell,’ he said, appalled to find his vision blurring. ‘Come here.’
Isobel melted into his arms and Giles wondered why he had not realised from the first moment that he touched her that this was where she belonged. Her body was slender and strong in his embrace and her mouth hesitant, soft, as though she was shy and this was the first time.
So he kissed her as though it was, as though this was new for both of them. And it was true, he realised, because this was love and he had never loved before. So he did not demand or plunder, only explored and tasted gently, leisurely, until she was sighing, melting in his arms and he realised that he was more simply happy than he had ever been in his life.
* * *
‘What was your favourite thing about the wedding breakfast?’ Giles asked Isobel as she curled up against him on the wide and opulent seat of the carriage that had been his mother’s wedding present to them.
‘My father plotting a new shrubbery with your grandfather’s advice and your mother and mine circling each other like wary cats and then deciding their mutual curiosity about each other’s gowns was too much to resist. I have to say, it does help that Papa never had an affaire with her. Did you notice Pamela Monsom’s father dodging about the room to avoid her? Pamela is convinced there was something between them.’
‘Oh, Lord,’ Giles groaned.
‘It doesn’t matter. Or rather, it does to Lady Monsom, of course, but we can’t help that now. I like your mama—she says what she thinks and she is very kind to me now she doesn’t regard me as a menace to your well-being.’
‘She has had eight weeks to get used to the fact,’ Giles said.
‘And we have had eight weeks of blameless respectability.’ She snuggled closer and nibbled his earlobe.
‘I am not going to make love to you in the carriage,’ he ground out. ‘There is a big bed waiting for us. After that you may assault me where and when you please.’ She curled her tongue-tip into his ear. ‘Within reason!’
‘Very well.’ With an effort Isobel stopped teasing him, sat back and watched the countryside rolling past in the sunshine of the late afternoon. ‘Wasn’t Annabelle lovely? The children were so well behaved. I am so glad Jane brought them down.’
‘We will have them to stay whenever she can come,’ Giles promised. Isobel had watched him, seen how he was with both the children, how careful he was not to single Annabelle out. He would make a wonderful father.
‘We are here.’