Stretching out his legs, he settled back in his seat. “Honeymoon perk.”
“But it’s like this all the time, right?”
His mouth quirked on one side. “Yes.”
“Is that why you don’t usually stay for very long?”
“Listening to gossip, Duchess?”
Her cheeks turned pink. “I might have overhead some things while I was in the kitchen.”
“You might have, eh?” He glanced up at the ceiling, at the massive beams and sooty plaster, and then back at her. He wasn’t quite sure why, but he hated the fact that the servants were talking about him in front of Bella. Yes, he knew people talked. That was a fact of life, but he’d rather she come to him if she had questions.
“You got that look on your face again,” she said.
“I’m not arguing with myself.”
“Then what are you doing?”
“I don’t like people talking about me,” he confessed. “And I don’t like you listening to it.”
She gave him a sympathetic look and rose from the chair, then crossed the room to come stand behind him. Her hands settled on his shoulders, fingers digging in a little. “You are so tense.”
“And you are trying to manipulate me.”
“No, I want you to keep talking,” she said, and leaned forward. Her dark hair brushed the side of his face. “This is how my parents work things out.”
“Your mother massages your father’s shoulders?” He groaned as she found a particularly sore spot.
“No, the person who’s upset gets the massage while the other gets the floor and the time to speak their peace, without being accusatory,” she explained.
“Because it’s hard for two people to stay angry if they’re focused on each other,” she said and kissed him on the cheek before she straightened and started massaging him again. “Spill it, Stewart.”
“Cheeky,” he admonished.
She giggled. “Cagey.”
He exhaled and closed his eyes as she worked on his shoulders. “I have no idea what to do now that I have the money to accomplish all that I’ve dreamt of doing. For so long, I’ve held myself apart from everyone, because I had so much guilt, that I’m not sure if I’d be welcomed in Geimhreadh.”
“And you want to be welcomed there. You want to be treated like everyone else,” she said. “Nothing wrong with that.”
He chuckled, his eyes opening. He stared at the Stewart Coat of Arms that hung above the fireplace mantle. “Thank you. However, I need to do something more. Something the entire town, whether they directly benefit from Wintersea Castle or not, could enjoy.”
“What about a wedding reception for the entire town to come to?” Bella asked. “When I was in the village, I noticed that there was a huge green space in the middle of town. We could ask whoever’s in charge for permission. Then we could have food, drinks, and a band for dancing. Everyone could come, including kids, because we could start it at supper time.”
There was so much enthusiasm in her voice that Liam found himself getting caught up in her idea. “Perhaps in two weeks’ time.”
Bella clapped, right beside his ear, and he winced. “We have to get invitations out as soon as possible!”
“I’ll make an announcement on the town’s community e-board.”
She came around his chair and fisted her hand on her hips. “Not just there. You want everyone to feel included and special.”
“Eight hundred invitations?”
A smile lit up her face. “We can totally order them online, and then have them delivered, right?”
“Right,” he agreed.
“Okay, so you take care of the permission thing, and I’ll take care of the rest—that is, if you don’t mind.” She bit the side of her lip.
He grabbed her fist and brought it to his mouth, kissing her knuckles and then letting her hand go. “I’ll secure permission and help you with the rest.”
“This is going to be so much fun, Liam,” she said, and fairly danced out the room.
As a young man, Liam had both loved and hated Wintersea. It had stood for the man who neglected him and for the grandfather that wanted to do right by him.
And now, he sliced his gaze to Bella. She was examining the rock wall of an ancient bridge.
“How old is this?” she asked, peering over the top to see the stream below it. “Do you go swimming down there?”
“Centuries, and I go fishing there.”
She glanced back at him. “Will you take me with you the next time you go? We can have a fish fry when we’re done.”
For some reason, he tried to picture Verity sitting on the banks of the stream, bare feet in the water while she held a fishing pole in her hands, and he failed. Spectacularly.
“Did you go fishing with Peter?” he asked, feeling guilty for thinking of another woman.
“Once, but he got seasick.”
Liam gave her a look. “What kind of streams do you have in Holland Springs?”
“Men of Peter’s standing don’t go fishing in streams or lakes. They do deep-sea fishing,” she said with a little bit of scorn in her voice. “They charter a boat and have someone else bait their hooks.” Her eyes widened, as if she just realized what she said. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I prefer to do it how my dad taught me.”
“No worries, Bella. I bait my own hook,” he said, grinning. “I even clean and gut them, then cook my catch over a fire.”
A playful gleam entered Bella’s eyes. “I’m craving locally caught fish, and since it’s your husbandly duty to take care of me…”
He threw his head back and laughed. “If my duchess wants to fish, then fish she shall.”
It only took twenty minutes and a rather harried-looking employee to find the supplies they needed.
Bella had hitched up her dress to her thighs, dangling her legs over the side, while he leaned against a tree. Every now and then, she would dip her toes in the water and let out the most adorable squeaks.
“Still freezing,” she pronounced. “It has to be too cold for the fish. They can’t be normal fish, bless their hearts.”
His bobber dipped below the waterline, and he started to reel his catch in. “They’ll be warm enough when I’m cooking them. Grab the net, love.”
She clapped, almost dropped her pole, and then grabbed the net at the last minute. “I got him,” she cried, scooping up the speckled trout.