This Duchess of Mine Page 74


Mrs. Mogg finally allowed herself to be drawn away, though she could hardly believe it. “I couldn’t have missed him. There must be another gate.”

“’Course there is,” Henry said stoutly. “They probably left early. Too many people in that there garden, if you ask me.”

But in fact not all the lanterns were out. There were still glowing lights hanging from the columns of the baths themselves, and the duke and duchess were wandering hand in hand in that direction.

“We’ve never been here at night,” Jemma said. “It’s magical, Elijah. Just look at all the stars.”

“I have a surprise for you,” her husband said.

They walked between the dilapidated columns, turned right and descended the stairs to the baths. Jemma stopped. “Oh, Elijah!”

In the golden light of the lanterns hanging around the baths, the pool looked like a purple sea. The entire surface was covered with hundreds and hundreds of floating violets. “It’s so beautiful!”

“Every violet Stubbins was able to force in his new frames,” Elijah said with satisfaction, “and more sent in from the country.”

She smiled up at him. “Extravagant man!”

“I’ve been waiting to do this all evening.” He slid the knotted cloth of her toga off her shoulder. It fell to the ground, leaving her in nothing but an extremely naughty pair of cherry-colored stays.

“I didn’t expect to find that under your toga!” Elijah said. His voice darkened at the very sight of her slender long legs topped by stays that pushed her breasts forward, as if they longed for a man’s touch.

Jemma took a step toward him with a sultry swing of her hips. “Your toga, Duke.” With one finger, she pushed it off his shoulder.

Unlike the duchess, the duke had chosen to wear nothing under his toga.

Jemma broke into laughter.

“It was a good idea,” Elijah said, grabbing her. His hands slid down her back, over her stays, shaped her bottom. “Unfortunately, every time I caught sight of you I had to turn away and think hard about chess, because the front of this damned toga tented in the most obvious manner.”

He picked her up and carried her straight into the water. They made a little path through the violets, as fragrance drifted into the air. “Oh, Elijah,” Jemma said, “this is the most romantic night I could ever have dreamed of.”

“Do you know what interesting fact Stubbins told me this morning?” he asked, striding through the violet sea.

“Does it involve manure?” she asked, leaning her head against his chest, just for the reassurance of hearing the steady beat of his heart.

“You can eat violets.” He placed her carefully down on the edge of the bath, where he had arranged for long cushions to be placed on the cold marble, just as the Romans had.

“What on earth are you planning?” Jemma said. She stretched languorously, loving the way his eyes ran greedily along the lines of her legs.

“I’m going to turn you into a pagan goddess,” he said, nimbly pulling out the pins that held up her curls, and then turning to the ties holding up her stays.

Jemma lay back and smiled at the open sky. Far overhead, stars were shining, though the roofless bath seemed like the most protected room in the world. Elijah was tucking flowers in all her ringlets. He stood back and looked at her. She rolled over on her side and propped up her head with one hand. “How do I look?”

“More like a debauched Roman matron than a goddess,” he observed. He reached forward again.

Jemma squeaked. “Not there too?”

“Everywhere,” he said with satisfaction. “In fact, given that violets are edible, we should consider your body a banquet. Put a violet everywhere that you would like me to…taste. Do you see what I am doing, Jemma?”

“Turning me into a flower bed.”

“No, I am having fun. Just as you taught me.”

She leaned over to give him a kiss.

“I’m being extravagant,” he continued. “I’m risking bankrupting the duchy to blanket you in flowers. I’m flirting with you, and now I’m going to make love to you.”

“Hmmm…” Jemma rolled to her back and held out her hand for violets. “Here,” she said, dropping them onto the slope of her breast. “Oh, and here.” She loved it when he kissed her stomach. “And…”

The next hour or so was delicious from a culinary—and a personal—point of view.

It was only when they were sitting twined together on the steps leading down to the pool, enveloped by the warm water, that Jemma said, “Elijah.”

“Hmmm,” he said. “Look at those broken tiles over there, Jemma. I do believe there used to be a mosaic depicting Apollo and Daphne on that wall.”

“I have a surprise too.”

“You do?”

She looked up at him. “I taught you how to have fun. And you taught me something just as important.”

“I love praise,” he said, nuzzling her. “Tell me more.”

“You taught me that not all games need to be won. And that I don’t always have to be in control.”

He nipped her ear. “That’s true.” There was a deep, male satisfaction in his voice. “You’ve become quite used to begging.”

“I have a gift in return.”

His eyes were grave now, looking into hers. “What gifts haven’t you given me, Jemma? Besides my life?”

She kissed him again, loving him. Then she picked up his hand and put it gently on her belly. “This is my gift.”

He froze.

“Jemma!”

She started laughing at the look in his eyes.

“You’re joking,” he said hoarsely.

“Never.”

“You’re—You’re having a baby?”

“We’re having a baby,” she corrected him.

He had both hands on her tummy now, spanning her with ease. “Are you certain, Jemma?” he asked.

“I’ve seen pregnant woman and you’re very slim.”

“I am not!” she protested. “You simply haven’t noticed. Look!” And she stood up. She thought her stomach formed the sweetest, most delicate curve she’d ever seen.

Elijah rose from the water, drops flying from his muscled body, and without pausing fell to his knees and put his lips to her stomach.

“Oh, Elijah!” Jemma said, putting a hand on his dark hair.

“I love you,” he said huskily. “You’ve given me my life, Jemma…twice over.”

In the end, she cried.

He was too happy for tears.

Epilogue

An appalling number of years later

There were times when the Duchess of Beaumont felt quite irritated about growing old. Her right ankle hurt sometimes. Her hips were a little rounder than she would have preferred. Her hair was emphatically no longer pure gold.

Even now, for example, as she bent over to adjust the knot of pearls on her slippers, something creaked in one knee and she straightened quickly.

“Why the frown?” Elijah said, entering the chamber and stripping off his riding coat. He had been in Hyde Park with Evan, their eldest. Without waiting for an answer, he continued, “I have to tell you what happened while we were riding. Your friend, the Duchess of Cosway, stopped me because she wanted to know more about the Cacky Street helmets. She had the idea that perhaps their village smith might use something of the same nature.”

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