Olivia had reminded him of the time during their daily meeting that morning. This delay fell directly on Gabriel’s shoulders. She would give him five more minutes. Then she would ring for Bennett to locate him. It should be of no surprise to her that he was late. She had learned long ago Gabriel only thought of himself. ‘I’m certain Mr James relayed the correct time.’
‘Do you truly not speak at all now?’
‘Being in his presence is still a constant reminder of what he did. It’s best if I avoid him.’
‘Mother taught us to expect nothing from the men we marry. She always said that to them we are simply means to an heir. You should have listened to her,’ Victoria said gently.
Their mother knew first-hand how true those statements were and Olivia had never expected more. Their father married their mother to create a political alliance with Olivia’s grandfather, the Duke of Strathmore. He had never shown any interest in his wife as a person and their brother had followed suit with his wife. When he’d sought the Marquess of Haverstraw for Victoria, it was because the man had lands bordering their family’s Wiltshire estate. And he could not have been more pleased when the Duke of Winterbourne, a favourite of the Prince Regent, had shown an interest in Olivia. His pleasure had nothing to do with his daughter’s feelings on the matter. Not once had he discussed Gabriel with her before or after he consented to the marriage.
But Gabriel had taken her by surprise. This was a man who listened to her—really listened to her opinions and interests. To have the complete attention of a man who was that handsome and powerful had been intoxicating.
After having courted her for a month, he gave her the consideration of asking her for her hand before approaching her father. Foolishly she fell in love with him and believed some day he would grow to love her in return. But he never did.
‘You cannot direct your heart’s actions,’ she said to Victoria. If she could, Olivia would have saved herself many tearful nights.
‘I never understood why your heart became so engaged. The two of you fought quite regularly.’
‘We did not. When did you ever witness such behaviour?’
‘Usually during dinner.’
‘A discussion of contrasting opinions is not an argument.’
‘I would find such interaction with Haverstraw tiresome.’ She held her arms out towards her son. ‘I can take Michael from you. I fear he has become rather heavy.’
Olivia bounced Michael higher, pleased she was able to make him giggle. ‘Nonsense, he is a feather. I remember when I could pick Nicholas up this easily. Now he will have his ringlets cut and leave behind his gowns to don skeleton suits.’
As she rubbed her nose against Michael’s fuzzy blond head, he grasped a tendril of hair resting along her neck. ‘How I miss the smell of a baby.’
‘Should you hold him after he’s eaten, you might change your opinion.’
Olivia grinned in understanding.
Then, she felt it.
Even though she had tried to ignore the sensation, somehow she always knew when Gabriel entered a room. It was as if a ribbon was tied from one end of him directly to her.
His tall, broad frame obstructed the view beyond the doorway and his unruffled demeanour told her he was unaware he delayed the ceremony—or, perhaps, he didn’t care.
As if he felt the invisible connection as well, his unreadable hazel eyes found her and he nodded politely. He surveyed the room, his square jaw and carved features remaining impassive, until he spied Nicholas looking out the window with Gabriel’s brother, Monty. Only then did his lips curve into a smile that made the corners of his eyes crinkle.
She forced herself to look away. Years ago, that smile was given only to her, and it would always make her heart swell. Now, whenever she witnessed it, her heart would squeeze painfully.
Gabriel paid his respects to their mothers before advancing across the room to where Olivia sat. His eyes softened briefly when they settled on Michael, who was shoving his entire chubby fist into his own small mouth.
‘Duchess, Lady Haverstraw, I hope you’re both well.’
The brandy on his breath told Olivia how he had been occupying himself while their families waited patiently for his arrival. ‘Thank you, we are. I dare say I thought you might have been feeling poorly since you arrived so late, but I see you were relaxing with some brandy while we were debating on how long we could occupy the children before they began climbing the curtains,’ she said in the sweetest tone she could muster.
‘Forgive me. Urgent business kept me occupied until now. Had I been able to disengage myself and join you here, I would have.’
As he turned his head and watched Andrew approach Nicholas, Olivia noticed a thin red line over his left brow.
‘Did you injure yourself getting dressed today?’
He began spinning the gold intaglio ring on his pinkie. ‘I rode into a low-hanging branch in the park this morning.’
The only other time she’d witnessed him fidget with that ring was when he’d stood at the side of her bed after Nicholas was born—before she threw him out of her room. ‘I imagine you would like to say a few words before the ceremony begins.’
He stared blankly at her for a fleeting moment. ‘Of course.’
‘Very well, while you collect your thoughts, I’ll inform Nicholas we are finally able to begin.’ She placed her nephew in Victoria’s arms. As she stood, another whiff of brandy filled her nose. He was making it very difficult for her to resist the urge to step on his foot as she sauntered past him.
* * *
Once the carriages of her last few guests had departed down the drive, Olivia returned to the Green Drawing Room to find her mother-in-law seated on a sofa watching Gabriel and Nicholas build a house of cards across the room. Gabriel’s muscular form was stretched out across the Aubusson rug, while he supported himself on his elbow. She recalled the last time she had seen him reclining in such a casual pose. It was six years ago on a rug in her bedchamber. Squeezing her eyelids shut, she tried to force the image from her mind.
She needed wine. Unfortunately there was only tea. Heading to the table with the cups, Olivia looked at Gabriel’s mother. ‘Would you care for more tea, Catherine?’
‘If you are having another cup...I recall how trying it was to prepare for this occasion. Tea will be just the thing.’
Olivia handed Catherine a cup and poured another for herself, resisting the urge to steal another glance at Gabriel. It would be close to impossible to endure his presence much longer. Resentment rippled through her and tea would never relieve it.
‘Your sister’s youngest is beautiful,’ Catherine said, shifting so Olivia could sit next to her. ‘Watching you with him reminded me of how you would play with Nicholas when he was an infant. Now look at him. In those clothes and with his hair cut, he looks like a small version of his father and his uncles.’ She studied Olivia over the rim of her cup. ‘Soon he will be able to attend Eton.’
Olivia’s heart stopped. Gabriel wouldn’t do that to her. Would he? ‘Has your son mentioned something to you about sending him away to school?’
‘You’re the mother of his heir. Haven’t the two of you discussed plans for his education yet?’
Olivia shook her head. ‘I assumed he would continue to be tutored at home like his father until he was ready to attend Cambridge.’ Glancing at Gabriel, she wondered if he had other plans.
‘Perhaps. However, you’ll not know for certain unless the two of you discuss it.’ Catherine gave an appraising stare before turning her attention to her son and grandson. ‘My husband would build houses out of cards with the boys