Taking a slow sip of tea, Gabriel closed his eyes and savoured the delicate flavour. He must remember to have James inform Olivia it was an exceptional blend.
‘I spoke with Olivia about your need for another child.’
The coughing began in the back of his throat and rapidly moved to his nose. Was there a full moon, or was some other natural occurrence causing illogical things to happen today?
‘What possessed you to do that?’ he asked when he finally stopped choking.
‘Well, it is about time you had another child.’ His mother arched a regal eyebrow, which still had the ability to make him squirm. ‘Come now, you can’t believe that having only one son is a wise decision with the responsibility your title holds.’
‘More than anyone I understand the responsibility entrusted to me. I also know I have brothers who may have sons should it come to that.’
Narrowing her eyes, she placed her cup down. ‘It is not the same and you know it. You need more sons and you need to do something about it.’
He shook his head at the unusually demanding nature of his mother. ‘What possessed you to bring this to my attention?’
‘You are thirty-two. Your wife is twenty-six. Soon you both will run out of time. I do not understand this hesitation you both have.’
Gabriel took a deep breath. His mother had told the one woman on earth Gabriel was certain would never let him touch her that they needed to have sex. It’s a wonder his mother wasn’t wearing her tea. But then again Olivia was always perfectly composed when other people were present. Alone, he discovered, she could be a hellcat.
‘You made your opinions known to Olivia?’
‘I simply stated there was a need for the required second son.’
‘And what was her reaction to your subtle suggestion?’
His mother hesitated before she took a small sip from her cup. ‘I do not recall,’ she mumbled.
The strip of linen tightened around his throat and he wished it were possible to begin his day all over again. Of course he wanted another child. The memories of his childhood were filled with times he had spent with his brothers. He wanted Nicholas to have that, too, but it was no longer possible. Years ago he’d resigned himself to that fact. ‘I know you have the best intentions, but please do not interfere.’
Even though he wanted another child, Gabriel knew Olivia would never want him to get close enough to her to accomplish it. That part of his life had passed.
From the doorway to the Blue Drawing Room in Carlton House, Gabriel could see the round table in the centre of the room was set for Prinny’s breakfast. And for one man eating alone, there was enough food and drink to easily satisfy four people.
As Gabriel crossed the threshold he was taken aback when the burly Prince Regent pulled him into a hug. The man squeezed Gabriel’s rib cage, making it difficult to breathe. Disengaging himself from Prinny, Gabriel placed him at a distance, only to be grabbed again into another firm hug.
When Prinny finally released him, he slapped Gabriel on the right shoulder—the very one bruised from being slammed against the carriage wall the day before. Gabriel held back a groan.
‘Leave us,’ Prinny instructed the four footmen, dressed in blue livery with gold lace, who were posted around the table.
The men filed out quietly, the last one closing the door behind him.
‘I owe you my life, Winter. You protected me with your own person. Bravery and loyalty such as yours is uncommon. You do your father proud.’
Another tight embrace followed and this time Prinny’s large meaty hand clamped down on Gabriel’s sore shoulder. Bloody hell! He didn’t know how much more appreciation he could take.
‘I am simply relieved you were unharmed. Please know I’m aware restricting your movements to Carlton House will not be easy for you, but I firmly believe, for now, it’s the safest place for you.’
Prinny returned to his breakfast and unceremoniously dropped into a blue-velvet chair. With a wave of his hand he motioned for Gabriel to join him. ‘Would you care for anything? If none of this food is to your liking, I will have my kitchen make whatever you desire.’
‘Thank you, but I’ve already eaten.’
‘Then a drink, perhaps?’
There were numerous bottles scattered across the table containing wine, champagne and brandy. Prinny appeared to be imbibing all of them. Gabriel shook his head, knowing he needed to keep his mind sharp.
Prinny resumed cutting into his pie. ‘I don’t understand why you want me to remain here. There no longer is a threat to my life. Your note said the scoundrel had been apprehended.’
‘He was. However I believe he had assistance orchestrating your demise. I’ve come from the Tower and they have not yet been able to get the gunman to admit to anything.’
Prinny dropped his fork with a clatter and reached for his glass of champagne. His hand shook as he brought it to his lips. ‘So you truly believe there is someone walking around England who still intends to murder me?’ He drained the entire glass.
‘I do and that is why it is imperative you remain here where you are under guard at all times.’
‘Very well,’ Prinny replied on a sigh, ‘but you must find this person without delay. Devonshire is hosting a ball soon, it’s reported Mrs Siddons will return to the stage to perform in Douglas at Drury Lane and I hear the new exhibition at the Royal Academy will be stunning. If I remain here too long, I shall miss all the fun.’
‘I will do my best to ensure this is handled as quickly as possible. Since the threat could have come from anywhere, I think it prudent if you limit your visitors to an approved list of people.’
‘Nonsense, no one visiting here would wish me harm.’
If only life were that predictable. ‘Tell me about the gentleman you purchased the painting from. He appeared surprised to see you.’
‘I imagine he was. He expected one of my agents to purchase it for me.’
‘It would help if you could recall mentioning our outing to anyone. The gunman was carrying a drawing of my coat of arms.’
Pouring himself more champagne, Prinny appeared to give the question serious consideration. But after a few moments, he shook his head. ‘I might have mentioned it in passing to a few people during Skeffington’s musical. Capital evening. Selections from The Marriage of Figaro. You should have been there.’
‘Opera does not appeal to me,’ Gabriel said off-handedly. ‘Who did you tell?’
Prinny shrugged and took another drink. ‘Don’t recall, don’t you know. Talked with so many people and the champagne was flowing. Astonishingly I didn’t have the devil of a headache the next day. But that was before I asked you to join me.’
To steady his exasperation, Gabriel looked up at the massive crystal chandelier and concentrated on the red and blue coloured flecks dancing in the sunlight. If only Prinny didn’t like to brag so. ‘And your household...who knew I’d be taking you in my carriage?’
‘I informed Bloomfield that morning, but he is trustworthy.’