She pressed her hand against her forehead, silently berating herself for her foolishness. It must have been her discussion about sensuality with Manning that had caused her to give in to his unusual behaviour. It definitely was not the taste and feel of her husband. Those feelings of wanting him were long dead.
That evening, Gabriel sat at his desk and reread Andrew’s letter. It was just three lines, informing him they had no new information at this time. At least that was what Gabriel thought the letter said. He would have to reread it yet again since his mind was preoccupied with reliving a kiss—a kiss with his wife of all people. And he could not stop smiling.
What the hell was wrong with him?
He should not be smiling. He should be furious that she would even consider having that painting hung in the Royal Academy. But instead of being blindingly angry, he was smiling simply because for the first time in ages he’d kissed his wife—and she’d kissed him back.
He was mad!
There was something about Olivia that always stirred such strong desire in him. It might be that she was beautiful, but many women were and he had no interest in bedding any of them. It was something else—some irresistible combination of beauty and a sharp mind. But for a man with secrets, her cleverness was more of a curse than a blessing. It was best he remember that.
Gabriel pressed his thumb against the bridge of his nose. He needed to reconfirm his priorities. Someone had threatened Prinny. His duty was to find out who it was and to prevent them from making another attempt on the man’s life. The weight of keeping Prinny safe and the safety of his people were heavy on his shoulders. He refused to allow anyone else to be killed on his watch. The last thing he should be thinking about was the taste of his wife’s lips and the feel of her bottom as he held her against him.
At least there had been one benefit to her sitting for Manning. Their subsequent argument had led to that kiss—the kiss that he’d initiated and she’d participated in.
Gabriel closed his eyes. The taste of her lips had opened a floodgate of memories of what it felt like to be inside her. It had been so long since he’d had a woman—since he’d had Olivia. His thoughts drifted to one of his favourite memories, which included a warm bath and firelight. All of his attention now was firmly fixed on the image in his head. The letter in his hands fell to his desk.
* * *
Olivia was enjoying a ‘ladies’ dinner’, as her hostess liked to call them. Periodically Katrina, the Duchess of Lyonsdale, would invite a few female friends to dine at her home in London while her husband would make himself scarce for the evening. This evening she’d invited Olivia, Victoria and Sarah Forrester, the daughter of the American Minister. Olivia found she looked forward to these ladies-only dinner parties where the conversations were often boisterous and they did not have to wait for the men to finish their port after the meal was over.
Tonight, Olivia stood next to her sister, staring up at the enormous portrait of Katrina, which hung above the fireplace in the library of Lyonsdale House. In the painting, Katrina sat in an elegant bergère chair with a book dangling gracefully from her long fingers and staring directly at the viewer. Manning had perfectly captured the hint of amusement that often crossed her face, and he had done a spectacular job with the shining folds of her ice-blue silk gown. Off to the side of Katrina’s chair, an old globe sat on a small table, a silent nod to the fact the Duchess of Lyonsdale came from the United States.
‘It arrived this morning,’ Katrina said, looking up at the portrait. ‘I did not anticipate it being so grand.’
The serious expression on Katrina’s face while she studied the painting made Olivia smile. ‘You are an English Duchess now. It should be grand to reflect your station.’
‘I know, but it’s just so...so...’
‘Enormous,’ Sarah added helpfully, placing her fingertips over her lips to stop from laughing. ‘You’re fortunate there was enough room to hold a life-size portrait of you.’
‘Sarah, I’ve only just begun carrying this child.’
‘I was simply referring to the size of the wall, not your size. Even you admitted it’s rather large. It’s as if there are two of you,’ Sarah continued, looking between the portrait and Katrina. ‘Although it is a beautiful likeness of you, I think I’m relieved I will not be immortalised as such.’
‘I’m relieved as well,’ came the voice of the Earl of Hartwick as he swaggered into the room alongside Lyonsdale and tossed a lock of his shiny black hair out of his eyes. ‘One of you is more than sufficient in this world,’ he drawled.
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