It's in His Kiss (Bridgertons #7)

And for the rest of the night, he couldn’t quite forget the smell of her perfume. Or maybe it was the soft sound of her chuckle. Or maybe it was neither of those things. Maybe it was just her.

But she was already in. Gareth couldn't help but stand back in admiration. Hyacinth Bridgerton was clearly a natural born athlete.

Either that or a cat burglar.

Charlotte Stokehurst,” Violet Bridgerton announced, “is getting married.”
“Today?” Hyacinth queried, taking off her gloves.
Her mother gave her a look. “She has become engaged. Her mother told me this morning.”
Hyacinth looked around. “Were you waiting for me in the hall?”
“To the Earl of Renton,” Violet added. “Renton.”
“Have we any tea?” Hyacinth asked. “I walked all the way home, and I’m thirsty.”
“Renton!” Violet exclaimed, looking about ready to throw up her hands in despair. “Did you hear me?”
“Renton,” Hyacinth said obligingly. “He has fat ankles.”
“He’s—” Violet stopped short. “Why were you looking at his ankles?

Children,” Lady Bridgerton said with a sigh as she retook
her seat. “I am never quite certain if I’m glad I had
them.

Claptrap last week,” Lady D announced. “I think the priest is getting old.”
Gareth opened his mouth, but before he could say a word, his grandmother’s cane swung around in a remarkably steady horizontal arc. “Don’t,” she warned, “make a comment beginning with the words, ‘Coming from you…’”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” he demurred.
“Of course you would,” she stated. “You wouldn’t be my grandson if you wouldn’t.” She turned to Hyacinth. “Don’t you agree?”
To her credit, Hyacinth folded her hands in her lap and said, “Surely there is no right answer to that question.”
“Smart girl,” Lady D said approvingly.
“I learn from the master.”
Lady Danbury beamed. “Insolence aside,” she continued determinedly, gesturing toward Gareth as if he were some sort of zoological specimen, “he really is an exceptional grandson. Couldn’t have asked for more.”
Gareth watched with amusement as Hyacinth murmured something that was meant to convey her agreement without actually doing so.
“Of course,” Grandmother Danbury added with a dismissive wave of her hand, “he hasn’t much in the way of competition. The rest of them have only three brains to share among them.”
Not the most ringing of endorsements, considering that she had twelve living grandchildren.
“I’ve heard some animals eat their young,” Gareth murmured, to no one in particular.
Hyacinth wrinkled her nose, as she always did when she was thinking hard. It wasn’t a terribly attractive expression, but the alternative was simply not to think, which she didn’t find appealing.

Don’t look so upset,” Hyacinth said, once it was just
the two of them again. “You’re quite a catch.”
He looked at her assessingly. “Is one meant to say such
things quite so directly?”
She shrugged. “Not to men one is trying to impress.”
“Touché, Miss Bridgerton.”
She sighed happily. “My three favorite words.”
Of that, he had no doubt.

Gareth turned to Gregory. “Your sister will be safe
with me,” he said. “I give you my vow.”
“Oh, I have no worries on that score,” Gregory said
with a bland smile. “The real question is—will you be
safe with her?”
It was a good thing, Gareth later reflected, that Hyacinth
had already quit the room to fetch her coat and her
maid. She probably would have killed her brother on the
spot.

He didn’t know where the thought had come from, or what strange corner of his brain had come to that conclusion, because he was quite certain it would be nearly impossible to live with her, but somehow he knew that it wouldn’t be at all difficult to love her.

He looked up, meeting the viscount’s dark eyes with steady purpose. “I would like to marry Hyacinth,” he said. And then, because the viscount did not say anything, because he didn’t even move, Gareth added, “Er, if she’ll have me.”
And then about eight things happened at once. Or perhaps there were merely two or three, and it just seemed like eight, because it was all so unexpected.
First, the viscount exhaled, although that did seem to understate the case. It was more of a sigh, actually—a huge, tired, heartfelt sigh that made the man positively deflate in front of Gareth. Which was astonishing. Gareth had seen the viscount on many occasions and was quite familiar with his reputation. This was not a man who sagged or groaned.
His lips seemed to move through the whole thing, too, and if Gareth were a more suspicious man, he would havethought that the viscount had said, “Thank you, Lord.”
Combined with the heavenward tilt of the viscount’s eyes, it did seem the most likely translation.
And then, just as Gareth was taking all of this in, Lord Bridgerton let the palms of his hands fall against the desk with surprising force, and he looked Gareth squarely in the eye as he said, “Oh, she’ll have you. She will definitely have you.”
It wasn’t quite what Gareth had expected. “I beg your pardon,” he said, since truly, he could think of nothing else.
“I need a drink,” the viscount said, rising to his feet. “A celebration is in order, don’t you think?”
“Er…yes?”
Lord Bridgerton crossed the room to a recessed bookcase and plucked a cut-glass decanter off one of the shelves. “No,” he said to himself, putting it haphazardly back into place, “the good stuff, I think.” He turned to Gareth, his eyes taking on a strange, almost giddy light. “The good stuff, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Ehhhh…” Gareth wasn’t quite sure what to make of this.
“The good stuff,” the viscount said firmly. He moved some books to the side and reached behind to pull out what looked to be a very old bottle of cognac. “Have to keep it hidden,” he explained, pouring it liberally into two glasses.
“Servants?” Gareth asked.
“Brothers.” He handed Gareth a glass. “Welcome to the family.

Hyacinth,” he said.
She looked at him expectantly.
“Hyacinth,” he said again, this time with a bit more certitude. He smiled, letting his eyes melt into hers. “Hyacinth.”
“We know her name,” came his grandmother’s voice.
Gareth ignored her and pushed a table aside so that he could drop to one knee. “Hyacinth,” he said, relishing her gasp as he took her hand in his, “would you do me the very great honor of becoming my wife?”
Her eyes widened, the misted, and her lips, which he’d been kissing so deliciously mere hours earlier, began to quiver. “I… I…”
It was unlike her to be so without words, and he was enjoying it, especially the show of emotion on her face.
“I… I…”
“Yes!” his grandmother finally yelled. “Yes! She’ll marry you!”
“She can speak for herself,” he said.
“No,” Lady D said, “she can’t. Quite obviously.

I am asking you to marry me because I love you,” he said, “because I cannot imagine living my life without you. I want to see your face in the morning, and then at night, and a hundred times in between. I want to grow old with you, I want to laugh with you, and I want to sigh to my friends about how managing you are, all the while secretly knowing I am the luckiest man in town.”

“What?” she demanded.

He shrugged. “A man’s got to keep up appearances. I’ll be universally detested if everyone realizes how perfect you are.

If you want to know if a gentleman loves you,” her mother said, “there is only one true way to be sure.”
“It’s in his kiss,” her mother whispered. “It’s all there, in his kiss.

I love you, too,” she said.
He took her face in his hands and kissed her, once,
deeply, on the mouth. “I mean,” he said, “I really love
you.”
She quirked a brow. “Is this a contest?”
“It is anything you want,” he promised.
She grinned, that enchanting, perfect smile that was so
quintessentially hers. “I feel I must warn you, then,” she
said, cocking her head to the side. “When it comes to
contests and games, I always win.”
“Always?”
Her eyes grew sly. “Whenever it matters.”
He felt himself smile, felt his soul lighten and his worries
slip away. “And what, precisely, does that mean?”
“It means,” she said, reaching up and undoing the buttons
of her coat, “that I really really love you.

I’m not certain you’d know the right sort of man for you if he arrived on our doorstep riding an elephant.”
“I would think the elephant would be a fairly good indication that I ought to look elsewhere.

I’m not trying to impress you,” he replied, glancing up at the front of the room. “Gads,” he said, blinking in surprise. “What is that ?”
Hyacinth followed his gaze. Several of the Pleinsworth progeny, one of whom appeared to be costumed as a shepherdess, were milling about.
“Now that’s an interesting coincidence,” Gareth murmured.
“It might be time to start bleating,” she agreed.
“I thought this was meant to be a poetry recitation.”
Hyacinth grimaced and shook her head. “An unexpected change to the program, I’m afraid.”
“From iambic pentameter to Little Bo Peep?” he asked doubtfully. “It does seem a stretch.”
Hyacinth gave him a rueful look. “I think there will still be iambic pentameter.”
His mouth fell open. “From Peep?”
She nodded, holding up the program that had been resting in her lap. “It’s an original composition,” she said, as if that would explain everything. “By Harriet Pleinsworth.The Shepherdess, the Unicorn, and Henry VIII .”
“All of them? At once?”
“I’m not jesting,” she said, shaking her head.
“Of course not. Even you couldn’t have made this up.”
Hyacinth decided to take that as a compliment.
“Why didn’t I receive one of these?” he asked, taking the program from her.
“I believe it was decided not to hand them out to the gentlemen,” Hyacinth said, glancing about the room. “One has to admire Lady Pleinsworth’s foresight, actually. You’d surely flee if you knew what was in store for you.

I understand that you are an accomplished swords-man,” she finally said.
He eyed her curiously. Where was she going with this? “I like to fence, yes,” he replied.
“I have always wanted to learn.”
“Good God,” Gregory grunted.
“I would be quite good at it,” she protested.
“I’m sure you would,” her brother replied, “which is why you should never be allowed within thirty feet of a sword.” He turned to Gareth. “She’s quite diabolical.”
“Yes, I’d noticed,” Gareth murmured, deciding that maybe there might be a bit more to Hyacinth’s brother than he had thought.
Gregory shrugged, reaching for a piece of shortbread. “It’s probably why we can’t seem to get her married off.”
“Gregory!” This came from Hyacinth, but that was only because Lady Bridgerton had excused herself and followed one of the footmen into the hall.
“It’s a compliment!” Gregory protested. “Haven’t you waited your entire life for me to agree that you’re smarter than any of the poor fools who have attempted to court you?”
“You might find it difficult to believe,” Hyacinth shot back, “but I haven’t been going to bed each night thinking to myself—Oh, I do wish my brother would offer me something that passes for a compliment in his twisted mind.

I would give the world to have one more person for whom I would lay down my life.

Lady Danbury said. “You’ll be seeing him tomorrow night, anyway.”
“I am?” Hyacinth asked, at precisely the moment Mr. St. Clair said, “She will?”
“You’re accompanying me to the Pleinsworth poetry reading,” Lady D told her grandson. “Or have you forgotten?”
Hyacinth sat back, enjoying the sight of Gareth St. Clair’s mouth opening and closing in obvious distress. He looked a bit like a fish, she decided. A fish with the features of a Greek god, but still, a fish.
“I really…” he said. “That is to say, I can’t—”
“You can, and you will be there,” Lady D said. “You promised.”
He regarded her with a stern expression. “I cannot imagine—”
“Well, if you didn’t promise, you should have done, and ifyou love me…”
Hyacinth coughed to cover her laugh, then tried not to smirk when Mr. St. Clair shot a dirty look in her direction.
“When I die,” he said, “surely my epitaph will read, ‘He loved his grandmother when no one else would.’”
“And what’s wrong with that?” Lady Danbury asked.

Milk?” Lady Bridgerton asked.
“Thank you,” Gareth replied. “No sugar, if you please.”
“Hyacinth takes hers with three,” Gregory said, reaching for a piece of shortbread.
“Why,” Hyacinth ground out, “would he care?”
“Well,” Gregory replied, taking a bite and chewing, “he is your special friend.

Miss Bridgerton,” he said, “the devil himself couldn’t scare you.”
She forced her eyes to meet his. “That’s not a compliment, is it?”
He lifted her hand to his lips, brushing a feather-light kiss across her knuckles. “You’ll have to figure that out for yourself,” he murmured.
To all who observed, he was the soul of propriety, but Hyacinth caught the daring gleam in his eye, and she felt the breath leave her body as tingles of electricity rushed across her skin. Her lips parted, but she had nothing to say, not a single word. There was nothing but air, and even that seemed in short supply.
And then he straightened as if nothing had happened and said, “Do let me know what you decide.”
She just stared at him.
“About the compliment,” he added. “I am sure you will wish to let me know how I feel about you.”
Her mouth fell open.
He smiled. Broadly. “Speechless, even. I’m to be commended.”
“You—”
“No. No,” he said, lifting one hand in the air and pointing toward her as if what he really wanted to do was place his finger on her lips and shush her. “Don’t ruin it. The moment is too rare.

Mother,” Hyacinth said with a great show of solicitude,
“you know I love you dearly—”
“Why is it,” Violet pondered, “that I have come to expect
nothing good when I hear a sentence beginning in
that manner?

No one said we had to spend every waking moment together," he said, "but at the end of the day"-he leaned and kissed each of her eyebrows, in turn-"an most of the time during, there is no one I would rather see, no one whose voice I would rather hear, and no one whose mind I would rather explore.

Of course none of those men was suitable. Half were
after your fortune, and as for the other half—well, you
would have reduced them to tears within a month.”
“Such tenderness for your youngest child,” Hyacinth
muttered. “It quite undoes me.

Say whatever is in your heart,” Violet said. Her lips
twisted wryly. “And if that doesn’t work, I suggest that
you take a book and knock him over the head with it.”
Hyacinth blinked, then blinked again. “I beg your pardon.”
“I didn’t say that,” Violet said quickly.
Hyacinth felt herself smile. “I’m rather certain you
did.”
“Do you think?” Violet murmured, concealing her own
smile with her teacup.
“A large book,” Hyacinth queried, “or small?”
“Large, I think, don’t you?”
Hyacinth nodded. “Have we The Complete Works of
Shakespeare in the library?”
Violet’s lips twitched. “I believe that we do.”
Something began to bubble in Hyacinth’s chest. Something
very close to laughter. And it felt so good to feel it
again.
“I love you, Mother,” she said, suddenly consumed by
the need to say it aloud. “I just wanted you to know that.”
“I know, darling,” Violet said, and her eyes were shining
brightly. “I love you, too.

Speaking of which,” he murmured.
Hyacinth’s mouth fell open as he dropped down to one
knee. “What are you doing?” she squeaked, frantically
looking this way and that. Lord St. Clair was surely peeking
out at them, and heaven only knew who else was, too.
“Someone will see,” she whispered.
He seemed unconcerned. “People will say we’re in
love.”
“I—” Good heavens, but how did a woman argue
against that?
“Hyacinth Bridgerton,” he said, taking her hand in his,
“will you marry me?”
She blinked in confusion. “I already said I would.”
“Yes, but as you said, I did not ask you for the right reasons.
They were mostly the right reasons, but not all.”
“I—I—” She was stumbling on the words, choking on
the emotion.
He was staring up at her, his eyes glowing clear and
blue in the dim light of the streetlamps. “I am asking you
to marry me because I love you,” he said

The two of you together are a menace,” Penelope remarked.
“My aim in life,” Lady Danbury announced, “is to be a
menace to as great a number of people as possible, so I
shall take that as the highest of compliments, Mrs.
Bridgerton.”
“Why is it,” Penelope wondered, “that you only call me
Mrs. Bridgerton when you are opining in a grand fashion?”
“Sounds better that way,” Lady D said, punctuating her
remark with a loud thump of her cane.

This is a wonderful day,” Anthony was muttering to himself. “A wonderful day.” He looked up sharply at Gareth. “You don’t have sisters, do you?”
“None,” Gareth confirmed.
“I am in possession of four,” Anthony said, tossing back at least a third of the contents of his glass. “Four. And now they’re all off my hands. I’m done,” he said, looking as if he might break into a jig at any moment. “I’m free.”
“You’ve daughters, don’t you?” Gareth could not resist reminding him.
“Just one, and she’s only three. I have years before I have to go through this again. If I’m lucky, she’ll convert to Catholicism and become a nun.
Gareth choked on his drink.
“It’s good, isn’t it?” Anthony said, looking at the bottle. “Aged twenty-four years.”
“I don’t believe I’ve ever ingested anything quite so ancient,” Gareth murmured.

Well,” he said with an affected sigh, “you have my approval, at least.”
“Why?” Hyacinth asked suspiciously.
“It would be an excellent match,” he continued. “If nothing else, think of the children.”
She knew she’d regret it, but still she had to ask. “What children?”
He grinned. “The lovely lithping children you could have together. Garethhhh and Hyathinthhhh. Hyathinth and Gareth. And the thublime Thinclair tots.”
Hyacinth stared at him like he was an idiot.
Which he was, she was quite certain of it.
She shook her head. “How on earth Mother managed to give birth to seven perfectly normal children and one freak is beyond me."
"Thith way to the nurthery.” Gregory laughed as she
headed back into the room. “With the thcrumptious little
Tharah and Thamuel Thinclair. Oh, yeth, and don’t forget
wee little Thuthannah!

What I’m trying to say is that when you were born, and
they put you into my arms—it’s strange, because for
some reason I was so convinced you would look just like
your father. I thought for certain I would look down and
see his face, and it would be some sort of sign from
heaven.”
Hyacinth’s breath caught as she watched her, and she
wondered why her mother had never told her this story.
And why she’d never asked.
“But you didn’t,” Violet continued. “You looked rather
like me. And then—oh my, I remember this as if it were
yesterday—you looked into my eyes, and you blinked.
Twice.”
“Twice?” Hyacinth echoed, wondering why this was
important.
“Twice.” Violet looked at her, her lips curving into a
funny little smile. “I only remember it because you
looked so deliberate. It was the strangest thing. You gave
me a look as if to say, ‘I know exactly what I’m doing.’ ”
A little burst of air rushed past Hyacinth’s lips, and she
realized it was a laugh. A small one, the kind that takes a
body by surprise.
“And then you let out a wail,” Violet said, shaking her
head. “My heavens, I thought you were going to shake
the paint right off the walls. And I smiled. It was the first
time since your father died that I smiled.”
Violet took a breath, then reached for her tea. Hyacinth
watched as her mother composed herself, wanting desperately
to ask her to continue, but somehow knowing the
moment called for silence For a full minute Hyacinth waited, and then finally her
mother said, softly, “And from that moment on, you were
so dear to me. I love all my children, but you . . .” She
looked up, her eyes catching Hyacinth’s. “You saved me.”
Something squeezed in Hyacinth’s chest. She couldn’t
quite move, couldn’t quite breathe. She could only watch
her mother’s face, listen to her words, and be so very,
very grateful that she’d been lucky enough to be her
child.
“In some ways I was a little too protective of you,” Violet
said, her lips forming the tiniest of smiles, “and at the
same time too lenient. You were so exuberant, so completely
sure of who you were and how you fit into the
world around you. You were a force of nature, and I didn’t
want to clip your wings.”
“Thank you,” Hyacinth whispered, but the words were
so soft, she wasn’t even sure she’d said them aloud.

Will you be quiet?" he asked, smiling down at her.
She nodded.
He pretended to think about it. "I don't believe you/"
She planted her hands on her hips, which had to be a ludicrous postition, naked as she was from the waist up.
All right," he acceded, "but the only words I'll allow from your mouth are, 'Oh, Gareth,' and 'Yes, Gareth.'
He lifted his finger.
What about 'More, Gareth?'"
He almost kept a straith face. "That will be acceptable