Authors Note: This is an alternate POV scene from Chapter 9 and features the FIRST KISS (!!!) but from Julian’s POV. I hope you enjoy!

Despite the encroaching chill from the autumn afternoon and how completely unlike myself I’d behaved lately, this stroll with Genevieve in the Cawthorn Hall gardens felt easy—easier than things had been between us in a very long time.

My daily letters weren’t looming over us. I was still writing them and I was sure that Genevieve still received them. But we weren’t discussing it. The missives were simply existing in the background—nebulous and undefined.

I still didn’t know why I wrote to her upon waking. But this method of communication was more genuine than any conversation I could possibly manage at a dining table surrounded by people. It was surely easier to pin down my thoughts early in the morning when I was alone and composed. I didn’t fret over my words or worry about the uncomfortable quality of my voice. This open line I had to Genevieve felt intimate and … right. It was like taking a book off the shelf and flipping back years with the pages—back to when Genevieve and I were easy with one another, when our friendship had been effortless.

I was feeling a stirring of that now, in real-time, here in this garden with Franny laughing and Daisy barking like mad in the background.

Our steps followed the path back to the large circular fountain in the center of the space. I could not help but remember my first day at Cawthorn Hall and Genevieve toppling back into this very pool. The memory brought a smile to my lips.

“Go ahead. I know you want to.” Her tone was annoyed but I could hear a smile there too.

I laughed long and loud thinking of Gen rising from the water. The stubborn woman exiting the fountain with the regal grace of a royal, absolutely soaking wet.

“Perhaps I should shove you in a fountain and see how humorous you think it is,” Gen said around a growing grin.

I could envision it—an irritated Genevieve seeking revenge and shoving me into the bubbling water. My amusement only grew.

Gen turned with a huff, but I was quicker, eager to keep her right here by my side.

Fighting my laughter, I begged, “Come back. I’m sorry.”

“You’re not!” she fairly shouted.

I tightened my hand around hers. “I am,” I said, sobering. “But you didn’t see it, Gen. Augie helped you out of the water and you had your head held high. It was like watching the Queen exit a fountain.”

She seemed to contemplate that. “I suppose you were at least polite at the time. Not like Silas bent over and behaving like the absolute worst.”

Her tumble into the water hadn’t been funny in the moment. I’d been shocked by her presence and admittedly hurt by our years-long separation. And yet I’d been unable to ignore her very womanly body emerging from the water. I hadn’t been laughing then.

The girl I’d known in my youth had turned into a woman. The wet fabric of her dress had molded to every dip and curve. It was a difficult image to forget.

And now, my gaze skated down her form—completely dry but still enticing and lovely to behold.

When my eyes finally returned to Genevieve’s, I could feel warmth in my cheeks and my blood singing with an attraction I should not be feeling. My dream returned to me, unbidden. How Genevieve had laughed and the way her imagined body had felt against mine.

I cleared my throat and focused my attention on what she’d said about her brother instead of the inappropriate thoughts fighting for attention. “That’s true. I could have been as ill-mannered as Silas.”

Her blue eyes flitted away from mine before she quietly admitted, “I had to hold my head high. I was mortified.”

Confused, I squeezed her hand in an effort to bring her attention back to me. “Why? It was just a small gathering. And mostly family in attendance.”

She seemed incredulous by my questioning. “Perhaps, Julian, I did not want the first time I’d seen you in seven years to be when I was thrown into a fountain. I was embarrassed and—and soggy. Not my finest moment.”

Her admission pointed to something tender and vulnerable. I didn’t want her to feel embarrassed, but I knew what she meant. We’d been apart for so very long. That afternoon hadn’t been the reunion either of us had envisioned.

“Genevieve,” I whispered, giving her hand another warm press, desperate to reassure her. I regretted finding humor in a situation that had clearly hurt her. “I’m sorry about what happened in the garden. And . . . just now. I should not have laughed at your expense.”

“It’s all right. Now that I have some distance from the event and some dry clothes, I can see that it was humorous. If it had happened to Emery, I would definitely be laughing.” She laughed a little at the thought of her sister in the fountain. And it was genuine and sweet.

I loved hearing the amusement in Genevieve’s voice—seeing her perfect lips form a happy grin. Briefly, her tongue darted out to wet her bottom lip as I watched, transfixed by her renewed happiness.

I felt helpless as we leaned toward one another. I took the hand I still held and placed it over my heart, sure she could feel the frantic beat beneath her palm.

This was ill-advised madness, but everything about this moment—and this woman—called to me. I gently nudged her nose with my own before closing my eyes and giving myself over.

Our lips met in a tender union, like a puzzle piece fitting neatly into place. I could taste the sweetness of her smile and all the versions of Genevieve. My stubborn friend. My confidant and co-conspirator. The dearest person to me in the world. And the young woman I’d left behind.

With a delicate touch, I traced the shell of her ear before cupping her jaw in my hands. Her skin was warm and I sifted her dark hair through my fingers, savoring the intimacy of the action.

My lips parted her own and just breathing the same air banished the memory of the distance between us. I didn’t want to think of missing Genevieve or the years we’d spent apart. So, in this garden, here and now, I clutched her to me, desperate and aching.

When our bodies came flush together from chests to thighs, Gen moaned—low and breathy in a way that had my cock going painfully hard.

I deepened the kiss, seeking her desire and her heat. And she returned everything I gave her. Genevieve’s eager tongue and searching lips had me groaning into her mouth, forgetting everything rational and wise.

There was no separation in my mind any longer. No painful end to our friendship. We were not the same Julian and Genevieve that we’d once been. There was only our desperate embrace and the way she felt against me—necessary, essential, a revelation.

The sound of a dog barking nearby had reality intruding painfully. And with the birdsong and Franny’s laughter came sense and reason.

Surely I’d gone mad to be kissing Genevieve Bartholomew in broad daylight in her sister’s—a duchess’s—garden in Mayfair.

I blinked into focus a startled and disheveled Genevieve before I had to look away. Her hair had been mangled by my covetous hands. And her cheeks burned scarlet. Genevieve’s blue eyes were wide and luminous—openly questioning when I didn’t have the answers.

Rather than meet her pleading gaze again, I said quietly to the stones beneath my feet, “I should go. That was . . . I should go.”

Genevieve said nothing.

The past and present were colliding again. The separation and simplicity that had existed for one shining moment in our kiss were gone. I stared down at the scuff marks on my boots and couldn’t believe I’d made such a misstep.

My mother’s tight, angry voice floated back to me on the biting October wind, “Mind your manners and remember your place.”

Genevieve was my friend. I could not ruin that and lose her again.

She was also a lady.

And I would always be the housekeeper’s son.


Thank you for reading! The Bartholomew series continues with Silas and Mary in Last on the List, coming December 12, 2023!

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