There were too many people in the house. In truth, it seemed there were always too many people in the house. Passing through the great hall, Guy grumbled at the sight of so many nobles. Most of them were heavy-eyed from drinking and weary from the night’s events, and they had all eaten themselves into a sorry state of lethargy. The status of nobility, in his opinion, was more glorified than it deserved to be. After years of struggling to achieve his current position, he had found that the rewards of his rank were outweighed by the burdens of responsibility. His home was always open to fellow lords and ladies, whether or not he wished to play host to them. Religious observances, however large or small their significance, were expected to be celebrated with great fanfare. There were seasonal holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and numerous other occasions that called for a gathering. And through it all, he was expected to be gracious and generous without complaint. It was a duty he found quite difficult to bare at times. If not for the promise of his wife’s consolation at the end of each day, he was not certain what he would do with himself.
What a hindrance it was for the two of them to be separated at night. As he moved up the stairs, he frowned at the idea of his wife in one room while he resided in another. She would be with their daughters, and he would be with Owen and Lucien next door. Such sharing of rooms was done to accommodate guests, and there was nothing to be done about it. But acceptance of such an arrangement did not mean he was required to be pleased with it.
Quietly entering the bedchamber, he saw that Evelyn and Thea were asleep. But Cassia was sitting up in bed. Holding Gabriel in her arms, she was softly humming to him as he gurgled, and Guy smiled at the sight of them. His wife was the most loving person he had ever known. Nothing pleased her more than caring for others, and her family meant more to her than anything else. It was always incredible to him that she had enough room in her heart for so many. Stepping further into the room, he came to the side of the bed and leaned against the bedpost, looking down at her with a warm, loving gaze. When she smiled up at him, he felt a familiar ache in his heart, and he smiled back at her.
“You look quite content sitting there,” he said, keeping his voice soft and low. “And might I add, the glow of candlelight becomes you. As it always has.”
She replied softly and sweetly, “Thank you, my love.” Her eyes looked down at Gabriel, and she smiled lovingly at the sight of him. “He is at last asleep. It seems our grandson is quite the stubborn one when it comes to minding his bedtime.”
Guy’s mouth crinkled with pride, while his eyes shined with a mischievous light.
“A stubborn nature is a fine quality in a nobleman. Am I not proof of that?”
He wanted her sly reproach…one of her sharp, witty remarks that always delighted him, and she did not disappoint.
“My dearest husband, stubborn is but one of many descriptions that suit you.”
If it had been just the two of them, he would have expressed his joy and delight, right then and there, with a kiss. But because of Gabriel, as well as the close presence of his daughters, he resisted the strong impulse.
And yet, such a temptation was too much to resist entirely.
Taking Gabriel from her, he carefully placed the baby in the cradle without waking him. It was an art he had secretly mastered over the years. It was not a man’s duty to handle children, and to do so willingly was to risk scorn and disgrace if the behavior were to be discovered. But he had long considered himself above other men. Cassia had often told him what a wonderful father he was, and he could find no reason to argue with her.
Turning from the cradle, he saw her watching him and smiling. At the bedside, he looked down at her upturned face. He reached out to gently brush her cheek with his fingertips.
“Now that our grandson is settled, would it be possible for me to steal a few moments of your time and attention?”
She smiled up at him. “Have I neglected you of late?”
He replied with an amused grin. “Not intentionally, of course. Circumstances have kept us apart, but that is no fault of yours. I am merely as selfish in regards to you as I have always been.”
Her eyebrow rose, and the corner of her mouth crept up a little higher. “What would you have me do, then?”
Reaching out, he took her by the hand. Her expression was full of curiosity, but she asked no questions as she let him help her to her feet, and quietly, he led her out to the terrace. He pulled the curtains closed behind them as they stepped out into the warm summer night. Pushing the two wooden lounging chairs together, making a seat both long and wide, he helped her to sit. Then, coming around to the other side, he sat down beside her, scooting over until they were pressed close together. Leaning into her, drawing her close to his body, he kissed her at last. Her words were soft with contentment as she whispered between presses of his lips to hers.
“What a lovely night it is.”
He murmured a quick response. “Quite lovely.” His lips moved from her mouth to her cheek, then to her jaw and the softness of her neck. Lord, there was something about that part of her skin that was so maddengly sweet. It roused his passions, as he knew it did hers. Her pleasurable little moan was evidence of it.
“You are clearly of an amorous nature tonight.”
“I am always of an amorous nature. The years have not dulled my need for you.”
The familiar warmth and soft feel of her body elicited instant reactions in his body and soul. She responded with the same fervor that she had always had for him, and he knew that if he wished to, he could satisfy the both of them right then and there. But a tiny portion of his senses remained, reminding him that they were only separated from an audience by a mere curtain. Frustrating as it was, he ceased the heated kisses to her skin. Keeping his eyes closed, he pressed his cheek against her shoulder, groaning.
“Why have you stopped?” she asked. “I was quite enjoying your attention.”
He muttered a response. “I do not wish to entertain you in the presence of others.”
As he sighed, he felt the gentleness of her fingers in his hair. Her touch was so soothing, and it helped him ease the transition from lustful love to a more gentle expression of their affections. He could not indulge in the pleasure of her body, but it was wonderful to be in her arms. For the moment, it was enough. Drawing himself back, he shifted their weights so that she was leaning against him. Her cheek now rested against his shoulder, and she sighed with happiness.
“You are such a loving husband, as you have always been. All wives should be as fortunate as I. You love me even when I am in this state of being.”
He reached out to touch the roundness of her belly. “How could I not love such a woman? The mother of my children. The angel that keeps watch over all of us.”
She uttered a soft laugh. “I am hardly an angel, my husband.”
“Your wings are unseen, but I insist that you are heaven sent.”
Lifting her head, she looked him in the eyes and grinned. “You once thought me a witch. Do you remember?”
He smiled back at her. How could he not remember? Not before or since had he loved a woman so deeply and passionately. She had possessed him then, just as she did now.
“Of course I remember,” he said. “And that description holds fast.”
“But I cannot be both devil and angel.”
“And yet you are. And the contradiction sets my soul on fire.”
He pressed his lips to hers. Suddenly, she gasped.
His expression grew concerned. “What is it?”
“The baby is moving,” she said with a smile.
Relieved that it was nothing serious, he placed his palm on her belly, feeling the movement of the child within. There was a teasing note in his voice as he remarked on it.
“Even before they are born, it seems they insist on making their presence known at these particular moments. Owen frequented our door more than any other.”
“Speaking of Owen,” she asked, “Did you have words with him? Did he tell you anything?”
Guy let out a breath. “He is displeased about the presence of our guests. It is his wish to spend his time in training…not in socialization. And, it seems he is not pleased with the comte’s behavior. He finds monsieur Rene too proud of his own accomplishments.”
“So there is nothing amiss, then. I am glad of it.”
She relaxed against him, and they enjoyed a moment of peace. Until he voiced his thoughts.
“I wonder if such is the case.”
Lifting her head again, she looked at him with curious eyes.
“Do you suspect something more?”
With a shrug, he replied. “Speaking as a man, I must tell you that I see the influence of a woman in his eyes.”
As he expected, Cassia’s eyes and expression filled with joyful anticipation. “Do you suppose he has chosen his bride?”
“My instincts tell me so, although I have said nothing of it to Owen. He would absolutely deny such an allegation.”
“You speak from experience, do you not?”
He smiled at her insinuation. “I do. When first we met, my pride was monstrous. You had my heart almost from the first, but it was quite some time before I admitted that I was a conquered man.”
She snuggled close to him. “Let us hope that our son is not the challenge that his father was. I am growing old, and I wish to have more grandchildren soon. These days, I can hardly tolerate the stubborness of men.”
“Except for me?” he asked.
Her laugh was soft, and so was her reply. “Aye, my love. I will always have a tolerance for Guy of Gisborne.”