Cue the bit about becoming her mother.
Hyacinth sighed. Violet Bridgerton was probably laughing about this, this very minute. In fact, she’d been laughing about it for nineteen years. “Just like you,” Violet liked to say, grinning at Hyacinth as she tousled Isabella’s curls. “Just like you.”
“Just like you, Mother,” Hyacinth murmured with a smile, picturing Violet’s face in her mind. “And now I’m just like you.”
An hour or so later. Gareth, too, has grown and changed, although, we soon shall see, not in any of the ways that matter . . .
Gareth St. Clair leaned back in his chair, pausing to savor his brandy as he glanced around his office. There really was a remarkable sense of satisfaction in a job well-done and completed on time. It wasn’t a sensation he’d been used to in his youth, but it was something he’d come to enjoy on a near daily basis now.
It had taken several years to restore the St. Clair fortunes to a respectable level. His father—he’d never quite got ’round to calling him anything else—had stopped his systematic plundering and eased into a vague sort of neglect once he learned the truth about Gareth’s birth. So Gareth supposed it could have been a great deal worse.
But when Gareth had assumed the title, he discovered that he’d inherited debts, mortgages, and houses that had been emptied of almost all valuables. Hyacinth’s dowry, which had increased with prudent investments upon their marriage, went a long way toward fixing the situation, but still, Gareth had had to work harder and with more diligence than he’d ever dreamed possible to wrench his family out of debt.
The funny thing was, he’d enjoyed it.
Who would have thought that he, of all people, would find such satisfaction in hard work? His desk was spotless, his ledgers neat and tidy, and he could put his fingers on any important document in under a minute. His accounts always summed properly, his properties were thriving, and his tenants were healthy and prosperous.
He took another sip of his drink, letting the mellow fire roll down his throat. Heaven.
Life was perfect. Truly. Perfect.
George was finishing up at Cambridge, Isabella would surely choose a husband this year, and Hyacinth . . .
He chuckled. Hyacinth was still Hyacinth. She’d become a bit more sedate with age, or maybe it was just that motherhood had smoothed off her rough edges, but she was still the same outspoken, delightful, perfectly wonderful Hyacinth.
She drove him crazy half the time, but it was a nice sort of crazy, and even though he sometimes sighed to his friends and nodded tiredly when they all complained about their wives, secretly he knew he was the luckiest man in London. Hell, England even. The world.
He set his drink down, then tapped his fingers against the elegantly wrapped box sitting on the corner of his desk. He’d purchased it that morning at Mme. LaFleur, the dress shop he knew Hyacinth did not frequent, in order to spare her the embarrassment of having to deal with salespeople who knew every piece of lingerie in her wardrobe.
French silk, Belgian lace.
He smiled. Just a little bit of French silk, trimmed with a minuscule amount of Belgian lace.
It would look heavenly on her.
What there was of it.
He sat back in his chair, savoring the daydream. It was going to be a long, lovely night. Maybe even . . .
His eyebrows rose as he tried to remember his wife’s schedule for the day. Maybe even a long, lovely afternoon. When was she due home? And would she have either of the children with her?
He closed his eyes, picturing her in various states of undress, followed by various interesting poses, followed by various fascinating activities.
He groaned. She was going to have to return home very soon, because his imagination was far too active not to be satisfied, and—
Not the most mellifluous of tones. The lovely erotic haze floating about his head disappeared entirely. Well, almost entirely. Hyacinth might not have looked the least bit inclined for a bit of afternoon sport as she stood in the doorway, her eyes narrowed and jaw clenched, but she was there, and that was half the battle.
“Shut the door,” he murmured, rising to his feet.
“Do you know what your daughter did?”
“Your daughter, you mean?”
“Our daughter,” she ground out. But she shut the door.
“Do I want to know?”
“Very well,” he sighed, followed by a dutiful “What did she do?”
He’d had this conversation before, of course. Countless times. The answer usually had something to do with something involving marriage and Isabella’s somewhat unconventional views on the subject. And of course, Hyacinth’s frustration with the whole situation.
It rarely varied.
“Well, it wasn’t so much what she did,” Hyacinth said.
He hid his smile. This was also not unexpected.
“It’s more what she won’t do.”
“Jump to your bidding?”
He halved the distance between them. “Aren’t I enough?”
“I beg your pardon?”
He reached out, tugged at her hand, pulled her gently against him. “I always jump to your bidding,” he murmured.
She recognized the look in his eye. “Now?” She twisted around until she could see the closed door. “Isabella is upstairs.”
“She won’t hear.”
“But she could—”
His lips found her neck. “There’s a lock on the door.”
“But she’ll know—”
He started working on the buttons on her frock. He was very good at buttons. “She’s a smart girl,” he said, stepping back to enjoy his handiwork as the fabric fell away. He loved when his wife didn’t wear a chemise.
He leaned down and took one rosy-tipped breast into his mouth before she could object.
“Oh, Gareth!” And her knees went weak. Just enough for him to scoop her up and take her to the sofa. The one with the extra-deep cushions.
“God, yes,” she groaned.
He slid his hand under her skirt until he could tickle her senseless. “Such token resistance,” he murmured. “Admit it. You always want me.”
“Twenty years of marriage isn’t admission enough?”
“Twenty-two years, and I want to hear it from your lips.”
She moaned when he slipped a finger inside of her. “Almost always,” she conceded. “I almost always want you.”
He sighed for dramatic effect, even as he smiled into her neck. “I shall have to work harder, then.”
He looked up at her. She was gazing down at him with an arch expression, clearly over her fleeting attempt at uprightness and respectability.
“Much harder,” she agreed. “And a bit faster, too, while you’re at it.”
He laughed out loud at that.
“Gareth!” Hyacinth might be a wanton in private, but she was always aware of the servants.
nbsp; “Don’t worry,” he said with a smile. “I’ll be quiet. I’ll be very, very quiet.” With one easy movement, he bunched her skirts well above her waist and slid down until his head was between her legs. “It’s you, my darling, who will have to control your volume.”
“Oh. Oh. Oh . . .”
He licked her then. She tasted like heaven. And when she squirmed, it was always a treat.
“Oh my heavens. Oh my . . . Oh my . . .”
He smiled against her, then swirled a circle on her until she let out a quiet little shriek. He loved doing this to her, loved bringing her, his capable and articulate wife, to senseless abandon.
Twenty-two years. Who would have thought that after twenty-two years he’d still want this one woman, this one woman only, and this one woman so intensely?
“Oh, Gareth,” she was panting. “Oh, Gareth . . . More, Gareth . . .”
He redoubled his efforts. She was close. He knew her so well, knew the curve and shape of her body, the way she moved when she was aroused, the way she breathed when she wanted him. She was close.
And then she was gone, arching and gasping until her body went limp.
He chuckled to himself as she batted him away. She always did that when she was done, saying she couldn’t bear one more touch, that she’d surely die if she wasn’t given the chance to float down to normalcy.
He moved, curling against her body until he could see her face. “That was nice,” she said.
He lifted a brow. “Nice?”
“Nice enough to reciprocate?”
Her lips curved. “Oh, I don’t know if it was that nice.”
His hand went to his trousers. “I shall have to offer a repeat engagement, then.”
Her lips parted in surprise.
“A variation on a theme, if you will.”
She twisted her neck to look down. “What are you doing?”
He grinned lasciviously. “Enjoying the fruits of my labors.” And then she gasped as he slid inside of her, and he gasped from the sheer pleasure of it all, and then he thought how very much he loved her.
And then he thought nothing much at all.