Gwendoline closed her eyes and breathed in the salty smell of the ocean. A storm was brewing, and she felt the static from it lingering in the air. With her eyes closed, the world felt vast and limitless before her, like she had the whole sky and sea before her stretching into eternity.
“I hope you realize that it’s going to rain at any moment.” Caspian’s voice drifted through her thoughts like a pleasant breeze. “I firmly believe that the Orkneys are incapable of passing a day without the most tempestuous of rainstorms.”
“And I hope you realize, being a gentleman, that if it begins raining, you’re to give me your coat. Then I’ll remain dry while you suffer.”
“Such cruel words from my own wife!” Caspian exclaimed. “Why, I can scarcely bear them! I think I might expire on the spot.”
Gwendoline laughed and opened her eyes. “If I haven’t managed to slay you with my words during the first four years of our marriage, I don’t see why they should wound you so fiercely now.”
When she looked over her shoulder at him, Caspian flashed her a familiar, rakish grin. With each year that passed, he seemed to grow more handsome. He looked a lot like his mother, the dear Lady Elderdale, but there were bits of him—like the thickness of his hair and his strong jaw—that took after his father. Caspian was undoubtedly a handsome man, but the thought that he might age and grow even more handsome hadn’t quite occurred to Gwendoline yet.
“If you must know, it’s because your words have grown sharper following your second child,” Caspian said, as if it was the most obvious answer in the world.
“Have they?” Gwendoline asked, amused. “I don’t see how bringing two lovely girls into the world would cause such a thing.”
Caspian offered his arm, and with a sly smile, Gwendoline took it, allowing him to escort her back down the path they’d came.
“It’s because motherhood makes you more powerful,” Caspian said, “Although perhaps, it’s more that you have aged well. Like a fine wine. You have grown wittier, and I have grown slower.”
“Oh, yes,” Gwendoline replied. “You’re just ancient.”
“At any rate,” Caspian continued, “This is supposed to be a business venture, rather than a pleasurable outing.”
“I don’t see why it can’t be both.”
“Are you going to tell my father that when he asks about what we have been occupied with? I do think he’s going to realize that I have not looked at the figures as much as I should have when we meet with our other partners.”
“I think he’ll forgive you. He’ll be greatly honored to see that his son is such a loyal, devoted husband.”
There was a time when that might have been untrue, but since the Lockwood and Farraday families resolved to set aside their years of animosity and work toward a better future, Lord Elderdale had also resolved to be a more attentive husband.
Gwendoline would guiltily admit that she hadn’t really expected the Lord to do it; no one had. But he’d surprised them all and seemed genuinely invested in being the best husband he could be. Gwendoline still couldn’t have said if he and Lady Elderdale loved one another, but they’d certainly become something better than what they were.
“And what shall I tell your father?” Caspian asked. “That his daughter is a wicked wife who led me astray when I ought to be working?”
Gwendoline hummed, pretending to think. In truth, her heart soared. Sometimes, she still couldn’t believe that her father and Caspian’s father were truly doing a business venture together. Several ventures now. After the years of animosity, Lord Elderdale and Lord Newhost came to the realization that being allies was better both for their families and for their businesses, and although there had been some tense, frustrating moments, there were many others which were kind.
“I think, since you pose the query, both our fathers will likely blame you more than they will me. They have long accepted that I intend to have as much of your time as I can. We have only one lifetime, after all, and I intend to make the best of that.”
“How thoughtful of you,” Caspian said. “I suppose I’m entitled to the same liberty, then.”
They approached a thick, tall tree with branches that shot upwards into the sky, and with a grin, Caspian leaned close. Gwendoline let out a very un-ladylike cry of surprise as he pressed her against the tree.
“I would very much like that liberty if I don’t have it already,” Caspian murmured.
He drew himself close to her, so the scent of him, of rosewater and cedarwood, mingled with the salt of the ocean and the freshness of the coming thunderstorm.
“You do have that liberty already,” Gwendoline said, her heart quickening.
Even after half a decade of marriage, she could never quite become accustomed to the way her body reacted to his. Gwendoline could never, try as she might, force her heart to beat more gently or for her face not to glow from the least scrap of his attention.
But that was fine.
He pressed his lips to hers and wound his fingers in her hair, and Gwendoline raised her arms, wrapping them around his neck. The stubble of his jaw scratched against her cheek, and Gwendoline let her body melt against his. They kissed. And then, they kissed again, more deeply. It might have been scandalous, even, but there was no one to see them save the birds in the sky.
And as Gwendoline kissed him, she felt the most pleasant warmth spread through her. It was as if she felt love for him stemming from some place deeper than her own body, like her affection for Caspian came from her very soul.
Then, a softness and a coolness spread over Gwendoline. At first, she didn’t realize what it was, but when Caspian broke the kiss, they both gazed upwards at the gray sky and the heavy clouds. A soft misting of rain fell over them, slowing soaking into Gwendoline’s perfectly arranged curls.
Caspian grinned. “What did I tell you?” he asked.
Raindrops fell against his face, tracing the line of his high cheekbones and his strong jawline, and they lingered in his hair sparkling like precious stones. With a fond smile, Gwendoline raised a hand and ruffled that same hair, knowing that none would notice some additional dishevelment on a couple who’d been caught in the rain.
“You’re right, of course,” Gwendoline said, “As you always are. You were right about me, and you were right about the rain.”
“And about James and Lady Florence.”
“Yes. But I could have told you that Florrie liked Lord James,” Gwendoline replied. “It doesn’t count if I also know it.”
Caspian shifted away, and they continued their walk to the waiting carriage. The coachman gave them a bemused smile but said nothing. “We’ll go to the estate now,” Caspian said. “Some of us have business to attend to.”
Gwendoline wrinkled her nose and let him aid her into the carriage. She settled neatly in the seat, and with a grin, Caspian sat beside her. It seemed that being in the Orkneys had made him lose most of his sense of propriety, but then, Caspian had never cared much for etiquette to begin with.
And really, that was why Gwendoline first fell for him. Caspian was unafraid to be a hopeless romantic and to make grand gestures that were sometimes frowned upon.
“Well, I wasn’t keeping you,” Gwendoline said. “From your business. You make it sound as though I abducted you and forced you to come with me, like some poor, abused princess.”
Caspian tipped his head back against the seat, as the coachman closed the door. “It was exactly like that, and should anyone ask, I’m going to say that is precisely what happened. The evil witch Gwendoline held me against my will.”
“I’ll let you go if you’ll promise to take me to Spain next. You said you would.”
Caspian squeezed her hand and grinned. “I have every intention of taking you there as soon as we have settled this matter with our fathers and the partners. This is one of the few times that my father has really allowed me to have a hand in our assets; you know. I want to do well for him.”
“I know you will.”
Caspian swooped down and kissed Gwendoline’s cheek. He lingered there for a moment, so droplets of water fell from his hair and onto her cheek. “I think I’ll do well at anything. It’s easy to find motivation when I have a woman whom I deeply love and support at my side.”
Gwendoline turned her face to his, so their noses brushed against one another’s. “I never tire of hearing you say such sweet things as that,” Gwendoline said. “I hope you realize that. I never will.”
Caspian trailed his fingers through her damp hair. “And I’m glad. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of saying them either. I think that’s for the best, too. Don’t you? Our little ladies, Emma and Elizabeth, will never know what it’s like to have parents who do not love one another.”
No, they wouldn’t. Gwendoline knew that her daughters would be different from most. They would know the importance of love in marriages, and Gwendoline had already determined that—some day in the distant future—when she and Caspian were concerned with their daughters’ engagements, the girls themselves would choose which men they desired the most.
“But I think our parents have learned a great deal, too,” Gwendoline said. “From us, as we have learned from them. And I’m sure once the girls are old enough, they’ll teach us a great deal, too.”
Presently, the girls were only two and three, but already, Gwendoline could tell they were going to be mischievous, mild creatures. How could they not be when both of their parents were?
“I think that’s just life, though. It’s always learning, unlearning, and relearning,” Caspian replied. “Like you. Every day, I find some new way to love you. Remarkable, isn’t it?”
Gwendoline’s breath caught in her throat, so she nodded. Caspian wrapped an arm around her and drew her close, and they passed the ride in companionable silence. At last, the carriage drew to a halt, and only then, did Caspian drop his arm.
When they emerged from the carriage, the rain still fell, growing stronger with each passing second. Caspian offered his arm, and Gwendoline took it without hesitation. And together, they passed through the rain and returned once more to their friends and family. It wasn’t a happily ever after, but something beyond it. Each day was happier than the last, and with every passing moment, the once warring Lockwoods and Farradays grew closer and closer together.
They entered the manor, where Lord Elderdale and Lord Newhost waited, seemingly engaged in a friendly conversation.
“Ah, there they are,” Lord Elderdale said.
“I apologize for keeping you waiting.” Caspian grinned. “You see, my wife—”
“Was entirely devoid of wrongdoing, I’m sure,” Lord Elderdale replied.
Lord Newhost crossed the floor and planted a quick kiss on Gwendoline’s cheek. “Be careful, my dear daughter. You’ll catch your death of cold if you wander too much in the rain.”
“It shall not happen again,” Gwendoline said. “I promise.”
Her father hugged her once again before turning to Lord Elderdale and Caspian. “Shall we proceed, gentlemen? Lord Brackworth has already begun complaining that we have tarried for too long.”
“He would,” Lord Elderdale muttered.
Caspian gave Gwendoline one last, lingering kiss. His eyes shined. “I’ll see you in a couple of hours,” he said.
“It’ll feel like an eternity,” Gwendoline murmured.
Caspian winked. “For me, yes.”
And he turned away, accompanied by their fathers. As the gentlemen closed the doors behind them, Gwendoline felt a grin creep onto her face. Against all odds, she and Caspian had really built something wondrous.
Ah, before you go...
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