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Home > It's in His Kiss (Bridgertons #7)

It's in His Kiss (Bridgertons #7)
Author: Julia Quinn

Prologue

1815, ten years before our story begins in earnest…

There were four principles governing Gareth St. Clair’s relationship with his father that he relied upon to maintain his good humor and general sanity.

One: They did not converse unless absolutely necessary.

Two: All absolutely necessary conversations were to be kept as brief as possible.

Three: In the event that more than the simplest of salutations was to be spoken, it was always best to have a third party present.

And finally, four: For the purpose of achieving points one, two, and three, Gareth was to conduct himself in a manner so as to garner as many invitations as possible to spend school holidays with friends.

In other words, not at home.

In more precise words, away from his father.

All in all, Gareth thought, when he bothered to think about it, which wasn’t often now that he had his avoidance tactics down to a science, these principles served him well.

And they served his father just as well, since Richard St. Clair liked his younger son about as much as his younger son liked him. Which was why, Gareth thought with a frown, he’d been so surprised to be summoned home from school.

And with such force.

His father’s missive had held little ambiguity. Gareth was to report to Clair Hall immediately.

It was dashed irritating, this. With only two months left at Eton, his life was in full swing at school, a heady mix of games and studies, and of course the occasional surreptitious foray to the local public house, always late at night, and always involving wine and women.

Gareth’s life was exactly as a young man of eighteen years would wish it. And he’d been under the assumption that, as long as he managed to remain out of his father’s line of sight, his life at nineteen would be similarly blessed. He was to attend Cambridge in the fall, along with all of his closest friends, where he had every intention of pursuing his studies and social life with equal fervor.

As he glanced around the foyer of Clair Hall, he let out a long sigh that was meant to sound impatient but came out more nervous than anything else. What on earth could the baron—as he had taken to calling his father—want with him? His father had long since announced that he had washed his hands of his younger son and that he was only paying for his education because it was expected of him.

Which everyone knew really meant: It would look bad to their friends and neighbors if Gareth wasn’t sent to a proper school.

When Gareth and his father did cross paths, the baron usually spent the entire time going on about what a disappointment the boy was.

Which only made Gareth wish to upset his father even more. Nothing like living down to expectations, after all.

Gareth tapped his foot, feeling rather like a stranger in his own home as he waited for the butler to alert his father as to his arrival. He’d spent so little time here in the last nine years it was difficult to feel much in the way of attachment. To him, it was nothing but a pile of stones that belonged to his father and would eventually go to his elder brother, George. Nothing of the house, and nothing of the St. Clair fortunes would come to Gareth, and he knew that his lot was to make his own way in the world. He supposed he would enter the military after Cambridge; the only other acceptable avenue of vocation was the clergy, and heaven knew he wasn’t suited for that.

Gareth had few memories of his mother, who had died in an accident when he was five, but even he could recall her tousling his hair and laughing about how he was never serious.

“My little imp, you are,” she used to say, followed by a whispered, “Don’t lose that. Whatever you do, don’t lose it.”

He hadn’t. And he rather doubted the Church of England would wish to welcome him into their ranks.

“Master Gareth.”

Gareth looked up at the sound of the butler’s voice. As always, Guilfoyle spoke in flat sentences, never queries.

“Your father will see you now,” Guilfoyle intoned. “He is in his study.”

Gareth nodded at the aging butler and made his way down the hall toward his father’s study, always his least favorite room in the house. It was where his father delivered his lectures, where his father told him he would never amount to anything, where his father icily speculated that he should never have had a second son, that Gareth was nothing but a drain on the family finances and a stain on their honor.

No, Gareth thought as he knocked on the door, no happy memories here.

“Enter!”

Gareth pushed open the heavy oak door and stepped inside. His father was seated behind his desk, scribbling something on a sheet of paper. He looked well, Gareth thought idly. His father always looked well. It would have been easier had he turned into a ruddy caricature of a man, but no, Lord St. Clair was fit and strong and gave the appearance of a man two decades younger than his fifty-odd years.

He looked like the sort of man a boy like Gareth ought to respect.

And it made the pain of rejection all the more cruel.

Gareth waited patiently for his father to look up. When he didn’t, he cleared his throat.

No response.

Gareth coughed.

Nothing.

Gareth felt his teeth grinding. This was his father’s routine—ignoring him for just long enough to act as a reminder that he found him beneath notice.

Gareth considered saying, “Sir.” He considered saying, “My lord.” He even considered uttering the word, “Father,” but in the end he just slouched against the doorjamb and started to whistle.

His father looked up immediately. “Cease,” he snapped.

Gareth quirked a brow and silenced himself.

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