Daphne's heart stopped.
Simon moved ever closer, until his nose rested on hers. “I love you, Daff,” he whispered.
Her heart started again, with a vengeance. “You do?”
He nodded, his nose rubbing against hers. “I couldn't help it.”
Her lips wobbled into a hesitant smile. “That's not terribly romantic.”
“It's the truth,” he said, with a helpless shrug. “You know better than anyone that I didn't want any of this. I didn't want a wife, I didn't want a family, and I definitely didn't want to fall in love.” He brushed his mouth softly against hers, sending shivers down both of their bodies. “But what I found”—his lips touched hers again—“much to my dismay”—and again—“was that it's quite impossible not to love you.”
Daphne melted into his arms. “Oh, Simon,” she sighed.
His mouth captured hers, trying to show her with his kiss what he was still learning to express in words. He loved her. He worshipped her. He'd walk across fire for her. He—
—still had the audience of her three brothers.
Slowly breaking the kiss, he turned his face to the side. Anthony, Benedict, and Colin were still standing in the foyer. Anthony was studying the ceiling, Benedict was pretending to inspect his fingernails, and Colin was staring quite shamelessly.
Simon tightened his hold on Daphne, even as he shot a glare down the hall. “What the hell are the three of you still doing in my house?”
Not surprisingly, none of them had a ready answer.
“Get out,” Simon growled.
“Please.” Daphne's tone didn't exactly suggest politeness.
“Right,” Anthony replied, smacking Colin on the back of the head. “I believe our work here is done, boys.”
Simon started steering Daphne toward the stairs. “I'm sure you can show yourselves out,” he said over his shoulder.
Anthony nodded and nudged his brothers toward the door.
“Good,” Simon said tersely. “We'll be going upstairs.”
“Simon!” Daphne squealed.
“It's not as if they don't know what we're going to do,” he whispered in her ear.
“But still—They're my brothers!”
“God help us,” he muttered.
But before Simon and Daphne could even reach the landing, the front door burst open, followed by a stream of decidedly feminine invective.
“Mother?” Daphne said, the word croaking in her throat.
But Violet only had eyes for her sons. “I knew I'd find you here,” she accused. “Of all the stupid, bull-headed—”
Daphne didn't hear the rest of her mother's speech. Simon was laughing too hard in her ear.
“He made her miserable!” Benedict protested. “As her brothers, it's our duty to—”
“Respect her intelligence enough to let her solve her own problems,” Violet snapped. “And she doesn't look particularly unhappy right now.”
“And if you say that's because you lot barged into her home like a herd of mentally deficient sheep, I'm disowning all three of you.”
All three men shut their mouths.
“Now then,” Violet continued briskly, “I believe it's time we left, don't you?” When her sons didn't move quickly enough to suit her, she reached out and—
“Please, Mother!” Colin yelped. “Not the—”
She grabbed him by his ear.
“Ear,” he finished glumly.
Daphne grabbed Simon's arm. He was laughing so hard now, she was afraid he'd tumble down the steps.
Violet herded her sons out the door with a loud, “March!” and then turned back to Simon and Daphne on the stairs.
“Glad to see you in London, Hastings,” she called, gifting him with a wide, brilliant smile. “Another week and I would have dragged you here myself.”
Then she stepped outside and shut the door behind her.
Simon turned to Daphne, his body still shaking with laughter. “Was that your mother?” he asked, smiling.
“She has hidden depths.”
Daphne's face grew serious. “I'm sorry if my brothers forced—”
“Nonsense,” he said cutting her off. “Your brothers could never force me to say something I don't feel.” He cocked his head and pondered that for a moment. “Well, not without a pistol.”
Daphne smacked him in the shoulder.
Simon ignored her and pulled her body against his. “I meant what I said,” he murmured, wrapping his arms around her waist. “I love you. I've known it for some time now, but—”
“It's all right,” Daphne said, laying her cheek against his chest. “You don't need to explain.”
“Yes, I do,” he insisted. “I—” But the words wouldn't come. There was too much emotion inside, too many feelings rocking within him. “Let me show you,” he said hoarsely. “Let me show you how much I love you.”
Daphne answered by tilting her face up to receive his kiss. And as their lips touched, she sighed, “I love you, too.”
Simon's mouth took hers with hungry devotion, his hands clutching at her back as if he were afraid she might disappear at any moment. “Come upstairs,” he whispered. “Come with me now.”
She nodded, but before she could take a step, he swept her into the cradle of his arms and carried her up the stairs.
By the time Simon reached the second floor, his body was rock hard and straining for release. “Which room have you been using?” he gasped.