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I Burn for You

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Daphne paced the length of her room at the inn, wondering what to do next. It was her wedding night and she was alone, in her own room, at an inn in some small village. Even with what little she knew of marriage, she had not expected her wedding night to start like this.

Should I go to him? She thought, wringing her hands as she made another turn. Will he come to me? She wished her mother had given her more clues on what a wife is supposed to do but with only three days to plan a wedding, time had been short and her mother had been more preoccupied over the dresses, floral arrangements, and preventing a scandal than making sure Daphne had a clear idea of what happened in the marriage bed.

Blushing, Daphne tried to put her mother’s vague statements out of her head as the image of two basset hounds from their country estate popped into her head. “No one explained it to them. But there were puppies.”

Is that why Simon had asked for separate rooms? Daphne wondered, turning again. If Simon couldn’t have children, maybe they wouldn’t… Her thought wandered into nothing, unsure what to call the marital act even to herself.

Daphne closed her eyes, remembering the feel of Simon’s hand pressed gently on the bare skin of her back at a ball, of his lips pressed urgently against hers in the garden, how tenderly he had removed her glove at the church. She longed for his touch again.

Surely he cannot hate me, Daphne thought as she walked the short length of the room between the bed and the door, turned, walked, and turned again. He made it clear he would rather die than marry me, but his touch could not feel like that if he truly hated me. She felt tears forming at the corners of her eyes but blinked them away. Please God, do not let him hate me.

Turning again, Daphne took a deep breath then quickly strode to the door, yanking it open. She blinked and took a step back as she took in the sight of Simon, standing uncertainty in the hallway.

“We should go down to dinner.” Simon gestured half-heartedly towards the stairs.

Sighing with frustration, Daphne turned her back to Simon and walked back to where she had been pacing.

“Daphne, I-” Simon realized he was still in the hallway and hurried into his wife’s room, closing the door. “Are you not hungry? The food is excellent here, I assure you.” He fussed over the doorknob, not meeting her eyes. “The last time I visited-”

“I do not want any dinner!” The words tore out of Daphne’s throat, cutting off whatever Simon had to say about the skill of the inn’s cook. She closed her eyes and inhaled, trying to compose herself before facing her husband.

“I spent the last three days wanted to be alone with you, wanting to talk to you, wanting to know.” Daphne started to pace again, careful not to step any closer to her husband. Simon looked not quite at her but not away from her either, not moving.

“I understand that you do not wish to see me, that you would prefer to stay in your separate room and endure a wordless dinner together on our wedding night, but I-”

“That is not what I would prefer.” Simon said stiffly, cutting her off as he shifted his gaze over to the fireplace.

“Simon.”

“You are mistaken.” There was an edge to his voice as he finally met his wife’s eyes for the first time. The fire reflected off of his deep brown eyes and there was a spark in them that Daphne could not name. Anger perhaps? No, she had seen him angry before when he had leaped to defend her from Nigel Berbrooke and his gaze held something...else.

Simon took a shuddering breath and Daphne spoke softly, a hint of timidness to her words, unsure what this all meant. “You have avoided my presence.”

“In order to allow you your liberty.”

“You have said all but a few words to me.”

“In order to keep myself from saying the wrong things.”

Now Daphne was standing still, watching Simon pace but not coming any closer to her either.

“You’ve barely been able to look me in the eye,” she said.

“Because I could not bear witness to the misery I have caused you.”

“You did not…” Daphne shook her head slightly and bit her lips together before continuing. “I am the one who trapped you into this marriage.”

“I trapped you.”

Daphne looked up, surprised to see Simon searching about for his next words.

“I have spent the last three days in agony, unable to talk to you, unable to be alone with you, because I knew you wanted nothing to do with me.”

Daphne opened her mouth to interject, to tell him that wasn’t true but he continued on, “And understandably so, after forcing you to make an unimaginable sacrifice. You wanted a life with children, a family. You wanted a life with a man you truly knew. You wanted a love match, and yet-”

“And yet this could not be any more different. Is that what you hoped to say?” Daphne’s words cut through Simon as he saw the unshed tears glistening in his wife’s eyes. How little she knows he thought, looking at her wordlessly before she spun around, her back to him.

“I shall join you for dinner momentarily.” Her voice tried to be light but she grabbed too quickly for her shawl, betraying her emotions as she fidgeted with the fabric. Daphne sighed tremulously, trying to gather herself before going down to the dining room where she would have to pretend to be happily married in front of everyone.

“Everything I told the queen was true.”

Daphne’s hands froze at her husband’s words, unable to let herself hope. She slowly turned to stare in wonder and confusion at Simon.

“I cannot stop thinking of you.” His next words were soft, just above a whisper, the way his hands had felt on her skin. “From the mornings you ease, to the mornings you quiet, to the dreams you inhabit, my thoughts of you never end. I am yours, Daphne. I have always been yours.”

Daphne’s mind was racing as she thought back through the time they spent together, fooling the whole ton and Mrs. Whistledown, to his abrupt end to their ruse, insisting they were not friends, to that fateful night in the garden, his reaction to her stopping the duel, preferring to die than marry her. Nothing made sense.

“I do not understand.” She managed to get out as Simon threw up his hands and started towards the door.

“I do not know how to be more clear.”

“Do not get angry.” Daphne realized she still had not moved from her spot in front of the bed. She forced herself to walk toward Simon.

“I am not angry,” Simon said angrily. How could she not understand? He had bared his soul for her and still she claims to not know him or his feelings.

“You look angry and bothered. Look at you, you are downright flushed,” she insisted, stepping closer.

“Yes, that is what happens.”

“When one is angry.”

“When one burns for someone who does not feel the same!” Simon was not sure who had moved more, but suddenly there was just a pace between the two of them.

“You burn for me?” Daphne asked haltingly, her voice almost failing to say each word. Simon felt as though he would burst.

“Why do you think I followed you into that garden?”

Simon had known what he was doing, the danger he was putting her in the moment he had taken that first step after her. All it would take would be someone else taking the air or watching from a window and she would be ruined. Almost had been ruined, all because of him. Still, he could not allow her to walk unguarded into the dark hedges, where anyone could be lying in wait after too much wine.

“Why do you think I went into that garden?” Daphne whispered, slightly satisfied at the look of surprise on Simon’s face. “If you would have only looked at me this week for longer than two seconds you would have seen. It is you I cannot sacrifice. I burn for you.”

Daphne took what was both the smallest and largest step she had ever taken as Simon reached out for her, his fingertips barely touching her arm. Their kiss was not like the kisses they had shared in the garden, fierce and full of urgency. This kiss was soft and quiet, almost shy. Daphne pulled her lips away but kept her face pressed up against Simon, her eyes closed.

He burns for me.

Her lips eagerly sought out Simon’s again as his arms slipped down and around her waist. She reached up to his shoulders, pulling him closer to her as his lips moved across her check and then down her neck. The stubble of his beard prickled against her collarbone as his lips tickled her gown’s neckline.

“What are you-” Daphne gasped. “Simon?”

“Do you want me to stop?” Simon breathed huskily into the bodice of her dress between kisses.

“No.” Her answer was almost lost in between her rapid breaths.

Simon tore himself away, using almost all his willpower and tried to compose himself. “Do you want me to stop?” He asked more clearly, looking directly into his wife’s eyes. He did not want to stop, not now, not ever, but he would not, could not do anything to harm her. He wanted her to be sure.

Daphne looked into her husband’s eyes, still burning. Not anger, she realized. Passion. Her mother had spoken of passion, but now she knew what she had meant.

Daphne shook her head and grabbed tightly at Simon’s shirtsleeves, pulling him closer to her, unsure of how to speak of what she wanted from him. Luckily she didn’t have to.

“I want to show you more,” he said.

“More?”

He nodded and Daphne leaned in to kiss him again. His arms wrapped around her and found the little buttons up the back of her dress. Still kissing her, his fingers deftly undid the back of her dress and pushed the dress from her shoulders.

Simon pulled back, smiling as he took in his wife in the firelight, still almost entirely covered but enjoying every inch of skin that hadn’t been visible before. He pulled her in, urgently as his mouth found hers. He wanted to show her so much more, to touch her, to please her.

Simon spun Daphne around so quickly she felt dizzy and quickly started unlacing the back of her stays. Realizing she would soon be naked, Daphne took several shuddering breaths, her hands up near her breasts. He must have seen women naked dozens of times before, she thought. What will he think?

Her thoughts left her as Simon started to kiss down her neck again, slowly pushing the stays away from her body. Daphne helped him push the fabric away from her body. Simon’s hands crept back up her body, running along her torso before coming to rest on her breasts.

Gasping, Daphne spun to face him. He smiled before sliding down to kneel before her, his hands moving to undo the buttons of her underskirt. Daphne closed her eyes as the silk slipped to the floor, bare before him. She felt him stand and moved her hands to his torso, trying to unbutton his waistcoat but her hands were trembling and she could not manage the buttons.

Simon’s steady hands replaced hers, removing the waistcoat with ease before untying his cravat. He gazed at her as she watched his hands work, a hunger in his eyes. He swiftly pulled his shirt over his head and she drank in the sight of him. The flames casting shadows across his dark skin, the light flickering across his defined muscles. She reached out a hand to touch his bare chest, her pale hand setting his skin ablaze. He kissed her again, her hands wrapping behind his neck before slowly spinning her and lowering her down to the bed, resting himself on top of her.

“Did you touch yourself,” Simon whispered, his face inches from hers “like we talked about?”

Daphne felt herself flushing as she nodded.

“Show me.”

Daphne’s eyes widened in shock and delight, “I, I cannot.” Why had Mama not prepared her for this? Did he expect her to… Was he going to...

Her thoughts vanished as Simon smiled and gently took her hand in his, guiding hers down the length of her body to between her legs. Daphne gasped as he touched her with her own hand before she felt his finger rest above her opening. He started to stroke her and she gasped again. It felt so different than her timid fumbling about under her covers, afraid of being discovered despite locking the door.

“Tell me what you thought about when you were alone.”

The stroking grew faster. Daphne felt slickness between her legs as waves of pleasure coursed through her body.

“I thought about-” Daphne gasped as the pleasure grew, unable to focus on anything besides Simon’s hand, his body pressed against hers. She felt as though she would burst, but still she wanted more.

“Simon, I need you closer.”

She felt him shift above her, felt him pressing against her through his trousers. She needed him. She kissed him, trying to convey her need without words. He stood up and Daphne watched as he finished undressing, sliding his trousers off.

He let her stare at him, taking in the sight of him naked. Simon knew she had never seen a man like this before and he drank in her awe, her wonder, her slight trepidation even still. How much does she know? He wondered as he stepped back to the bed. Probably not nearly enough as she should.

He balanced himself on his forearms above Daphne, hesitating, his cock pressed up against her legs. “This may hurt a moment.” He didn’t want to hurt her, only to bring her pleasure, for her to feel as he did when they joined. He looked at her and waited for her to nod, to tell him she was ready.

Slowly, he guided himself halfway inside her. He grunted, feeling Daphne tense around him before she relaxed, moaning. He could not tell if it was from pain or pleasure but he could feel how wet she was, her need mixed with his. He withdrew almost all the way and then pushed himself in a fraction more than he had. Slowly, patiently, he let Daphne take the lead, guiding him in deeper until she suddenly thrust underneath him, letting him fully enter.

“Daphne,” he groaned as she moved with him. She smiled up at him between gasps and moans, and wrapped her fingers into his hair. He kissed her as they continued to slowly move as one.

“I thought about you.” Daphne said suddenly, all shyness gone. “When I touch myself, I always think about you.”

Her words lit a fire in Simon as he grabbed her hips and thrust himself into her, faster and faster. Daphne’s gasps kept pace with him but he only saw pleasure in her eyes before she closed her eyes and threw her head back, moaning loudly.

The sight of her was too much for him to bear and he could feel himself getting closer to climax. Quickly, he pulled out and turned away from Daphne, his hand replacing where she had been as he came, spreading his seed across the sheets. Cleaning himself as best he could, he turned back to his wife, who lay with a smile on her face, still gasping for breath.

“How do you feel?” He asked as he ran a finger down her neck and across her collarbone.

“I feel-” Daphne laughed “I feel wonderful.”

Absolutely wonderful, she thought, catching her breath on her pillows. Mama was right, it’s the most natural thing in the world.

***

Daphne awoke the next morning to the sunshine streaming in through the curtains, the faint sound of muffled conversation. Rolling over, she caught sight of Simon gently closing the door, clad only in his trousers. He smiled at the sight of her.

“Good morning. I was just asking for breakfast to be brought up to us this morning before we set out for Clyvedon.” Simon had a hint of a mischievous smile. “You didn’t get a chance to eat dinner and I didn’t want you to wake feeling overly hungry.”

Daphne felt herself flushing as her stomach rumbled. She was hungry. They had never made it downstairs to dinner. In fact, they never made it out of bed after they had fallen into it together.

Daphne suddenly felt shy, embarrassed by last night’s excursions. She knew she didn’t know much about the marital act, but was shocked to find just how much Simon had taught her just in one night. After a brief respite in each other’s arms, Daphne had found herself filled with her need, her desire once more and Simon had been all too happy to make love to her again.

That was just one of things Simon had taught her - what to call it. Making love.

Daphne drew the sheet up to cover her chest and didn’t quite meet the eyes of her husband.

“Simon,” she called softly and then stopped, unsure of how to proceed. Sensing her hesitation, Simon crossed the room in two quick strides and pulled her close to him, brushing her hair back out of her face. It had come out of its updo at some point in the evening. Daphne wondered how she was going to make it presentable for travel without Rose there to assist her.

“Yes, my love?”

Daphne traced her fingers across his chest, admiring him but thinking of him in the arms of faceless women across the continent. Women who surely knew more than she about pleasuring a man. “Did you enjoy last night as much as I did?I didn’t do anything,” she faltered before trailing off, “anything wrong?”

Simon clasped her fingers in his hand and gently kissed her fingertips. “Anything wrong? Darling, you couldn’t do anything wrong if you tried. When I kissed you in that garden, I thought I would be consumed by my desire for you. Last night, your touch set me aflame. I could feel the heat of your kisses in my bones. I had yearned for that moment, yet being with you was beyond anything I could have hoped for.”

Simon gently cupped her chin in his hands and kissed her softly. Daphne could feel a heat rising with herself and let out a soft moan as Simon pulled his lips away from hers.

“Must we leave?” She managed to breathe as Simon started to kiss his way down her neck and she let the sheet fall away from her chest. “Can we not simply stay in this bed forever?”

Before Simon could answer, there was a knock at the door. Simon sighed and quickly pulled on his shirt and adjusted his trousers before fetching Daphne’s dressing gown. Once she was properly covered, he opened the door to a serving woman carrying a covered tray.

“Your Grace,” she bobbed a quick curtsey, pretending not to notice the clothing strewn across the floor or the tangled bedsheets. “Breakfast for you. Would you like me to set it on the table?”

“No that won’t be necessary, thank you.” Simon took the tray from her hands. She bobbed a curtsey again to make her leave as Simon carefully closed the door. He set the tray on the small table and turned back to his wife.

“Would you join me? We have a long day ahead of us once we reach Clyvedon. Plus,” Simon grinned, “you’ll need your energy. I have a few things planned for the two of us.”

***

The next few days were a blur to Daphne as she tried to settle into her new role as duchess. During the days, she tried to learn the names of the staff, thought of plans to redecorate, and how to make the village accept her into their fold. At night, she hardly got any rest as she discovered what everyone had meant when they mentioned marital bliss.

Brushing her hair before bed, she blushed as she remembered the encounter she had with Simon in the library. He had been searching for papers the previous steward seemed to have misplaced and she had simply been browsing the shelves when they came upon each other.

Simon had glanced around before pulling her between two shelves, leaning her against a ladder used for reaching the taller shelves.

“Daphne,” he whispered into her ear as he started to nibble on it, “how am I to get any work done when you consume my thoughts?”

Daphne wrapped her hand around one of the ladder’s sides to steady herself, “What do you expect me to do all day while you pour over numbers? I’d rather you teach me something rigorous that has nothing to do with the rigors of running an estate.”

“Something new then?” Simon mused before pulling away from her, desire filling his eyes. “I can teach you something new right now.” His strong hands encircled her waist to lift her up onto one of the ladder rungs and knelt so his face was near her hips.

Gently, his hand reached up under her skirts and softly traced up her leg, starting at her ankle until her stocking met bare leg. He deftly moved her leg to rest on his shoulder.

“What are you doing?” Daphne gasped, realizing she was bare before him. He had touched her, but never like this. He had never looked directly at her, not there before.

“Relax my darling,” Simon breathed and the warm air against her skin made Daphne melt. “Tell me to stop if you must, but trust me.” He looked up at her, waiting for her to nod before continuing.

Daphne closed her eyes and nodded, not sure if she was filled with excitement or embarrassment. All thoughts quickly left her as Simon kissed the innermost skin of her thigh, his stubble rough against her soft skin. She moaned as he moved inward and gasped at the feel of his tongue on her bud. He teased her like he had with his fingers, circling her sex until she moaned before sucking the soft skin, softly at first and then more urgently.

She moaned louder, not caring if the staff heard, letting him continue until she felt on the brink of release.

“Wait!” Daphne called out breathlessly. “Come here.”

Grabbing his chin in her hands with a force he wasn’t used to, Simon let Daphne pull him to his feet to kiss him. She was surprised by the taste on his lips, a strange sweetness she knew was from her.

Daphne moved her hands to the top of his trousers, feeling the length of him hard beneath the fabric. Eagerly she pulled his shirt out of the way and reached to undo the buttons.

Grabbing her hand as if to stop her, Simon asked “Whatever will the staff think?”

“Does it matter?” Daphne responded in the same teasing manner without pausing in her undressing of Simon. He joined in her attempts, deftly undoing the top of his trousers and pushing the fabric just as far down as he needed. He gasped sharply as Daphne boldly took him in her fingers and guided him to her opening, wet from his mouth and her own desire.

Simon pushed Daphne backwards until she was kept upright only by his support and her grip on the ladder. Surprised at how ready she was for his cock, he moved faster than he usually started and she moaned in pleasure, arching her back, her mouth hungrily searching for his. Her left hand let go of the ladder and he shifted to keep her steady as she grabbed him closer, digging her hands into his back.

“Simon,” she moaned, not at all concerned with her increasing volume. “Oh Simon.”

“Daphne,” Simon responded with a kind of primal hunger as he watched his wife lean her head back, moaning louder and louder. His hand slipped beneath her skirts to cup her center, his thumb stroking her bud at the same speed as he moved inside her.

Daphne pressed her mouth against his shoulder and gasped before another moan ripped free of her chest. She felt as if she would explode from the sensenations. Gripping Simon tighter, she lost herself in the waves of pleasure that crashed over her, crying out into Simon's shoulder before slumping against his chest. She could feel him still inside her, and he held her close, not moving for a moment until she regained her hold on the ladder before sighing as he pulled away from her, redoing his buttons quickly and tucking in his shirt.

I let myself get too close, he thought as he tried to adjust his trousers without Daphne noticing how hard he still was. Don’t want her to notice how much you still want her, still need her. Helping Daphne readjust her skirts and her hair, he kissed her fingers goodbye before departing to his rooms to finish what his wife had started.

***

By the time their first month at Clyvedon had finished, Daphne and Simon had settled into a routine as duke and duchess. Simon continued to make sense of the accounts the steward had left and set things right with his tenets, ordering needed supplies to switch to the better farming practices he had learned about. Daphne, with the help of Mrs. Colson, had corrected several missteps with the village and had made great strides in being welcomed as their new lady of the land. At night all their responsibilities melted away, their thoughts only of each other as their bodies joined.

Daphne awoke to find Simon had already departed. Rose would not come in and wake her as long as she shared a room with her husband. She stretched languorously, now at ease with her naked body against the cool sheets. Her hands traced over where Simon had touched her last night and sighed before pulling on her dressing gown and ringing the bell for Rose.

Rose arrived quickly, bringing with her a warm pot of tea, “Good morning, Your Grace.” Rose set the tea on the side table and poured a cup for Daphne, bringing it over to her at the dressing table. Striding over to the bed, Rose pulled back the sheets to make the bed, but paused and frowned.

“Your Grace,” Rose started before stopping her words.

“Yes Rose, what is it?”

Rose started again, her voice less timid. “Your courses have not yet arrived since we came to Clyvedon. They were due last week but you said that His Grace was unable to have children so I assumed you were simply late. However you’ve never been late before and it’s over a week now…” Rose trailed off.

Daphne set her cup down on the saucer so fast tea sloshed over the sides. She had lost track of time between trying to live up to the standards set by the previous duchess and enjoying her stolen moments with Simon during the day and their hours together at night.

Her hands gingerly rested on her stomach, hardly daring to breathe, to hope. When Simon told her that he could not give her children, she had accepted that it was the price of loving him, of becoming his wife, of ensuring he did not die during the duel with her brother. Was it possible he had been wrong? She had never given up hope, not truly. Whenever she saw the young children of the village she prayed for a miracle that would bless her and Simon with a child. She just hadn’t expected it to happen so soon.

“Rose,” Daphne started in what she hoped was a casual tone. “Do you know how a woman knows for certain she is with child?”

“It can be difficult to tell early on. Missing your courses is a sign, so is feeling sick in the morning. I believe there is a midwife in the village. If you like I could-”

“No, thank you Rose.” Daphne cut in sharply. She smiled at her maid to take any sting out of her words. “Perhaps in a week or so. We don’t want to set any tongues wagging.”

Daphne knew that Mrs. Whistledown was far off in London, but she had been featured in that scandal sheet far too often this season for her to dare share her sliver of hope with anyone besides Rose for now.

“I think I will spend most of my day reading.” Daphne picked up her tea. “Could you have breakfast brought to me in my sitting room?”

Rose nodded, made a brief curtsey and rushed out of the room.

Daphne sighed and closed her eyes. Please God, give me a child.

***

That evening, Simon walked into the room they had been sharing, his room in name, but theirs in practice and raised an eyebrow at the picnic spread out across the carpet.

“Dinner?” He asked.

Daphne laughed from her seat on the floor and held out a hand to him, urging him to sit on a cushion alongside her.

“I had asked the kitchens to prepare us a picnic for dinner tonight but the gardeners warned a storm is on its way and it wouldn’t do for us to catch a chill.”

“Oh? And when has rain stopped us before?” Simon asked as he gracefully lounged on the cushions laid out and pulled the basket stocked with fruits, cheeses, and other treats toward him. Daphne blushed under his gaze, not out of embarrassment but from the heat rising inside of her. They had taken shelter from the rain on one of their several nights out of doors in each other’s arms and had returned to the house soaked through and muddy.

Simon noticed her blushes and leaned in to kiss her, stopping just short of her lips. “Do you remember the same night I do?” he whispered. “Do you need help remembering how we welcomed the rain?”

Sighing contentedly, Daphne leaned in the rest of the way to kiss her husband. He tasted sweet, of summertime berries.

“Darling,” Daphne breathed, her forehead pressed against Simon’s. “I have something to tell you.”

“What is it?” Simon asked absentmindedly, stoking her cheek.

“My courses are late.”

Simon’s hand froze but Daphne rushed on. “It’s still too early to tell yet if I’m with child, but I’ve never been late before and it’s been well over a week since they were due. I know you said you couldn’t have children, but perhaps you were mistaken? I don’t know much about your condition-”

“My condition?” Simon asked softly, confused until realization dawned on him. “You thought… You didn’t realize…”

“Realize what?” Daphne looked at him, her brow furrowed and her lips parted. She had expected unrestrained joy at the possibility of a child, of a miracle.

Simon pulled his hand away and sat up on the floor. “Daphne,” he started softly, “I made a vow to my father on his deathbed that his lineage would die with me. That I would sire no heirs. I told you, I cannot give you children. Physically, I am capable of…”

Simon trailed off as he saw the look on his wife’s face, a mask hiding any emotion. She had pulled further away from him as he spoke and now awkwardly started to stand.

“You lied to me.” Daphne whispered, her hands moving towards her stomach.

“I did not lie.” Simon remained on the floor.

“I trusted you. I trusted you more than anyone in this world and you took advantage.”

“I told you I cannot give you children.”

“Cannot and will not are two entirely different things! You chose this for yourself. You chose to lie to me.”

“I did not lie.” Simon sprang to his feet, striding towards where Daphne stood but she moved back quickly until her back hit the wall and he froze at the sight of his wife fleeing from him. “I thought you were prepared. I thought you understood how a child came to be.” He finished.

“You took my future from me, the one thing I wanted more than anything. You knew. You knew that becoming a mother one day, to have a family of my own one day, you knew that was all I ever wanted!” Daphne’s mask had started to crack, and Simon could see the unrestrained anger building in her.

“I was prepared to die on that dueling field rather than marry you and take your dream away. I would have died for you. You were the one who insisted on this union. You told me I was enough.”

“That was before I knew you.”

Those words, delivered so coolly, cut Simon to the core. That morning they had been happy. Now, he could feel his entire world crashing down around them. His wife saw him for what he was. He had broken his vow to his father. He felt himself steel himself against the woman, his wife, standing before him, possibly bearing his child.

Daphne continued a mocking tone entering her voice, “Do you know, I even felt pity for you? Poor Simon, I thought, how it must pain him to know that he will never know what it is to be a father.”

“I never asked for your pity.” He replied stiffly.

“And I never asked for your betrayal!” Her words had lost all coolness now. These sounded like they had been ripped from her body, full of all the anger and grief he could see on her face.

“Daphne, I-”

“You what?” She cut in, refusing to let him finish what she was sure was a profession of love. What hollow words. She took a deep breath and turned back to ice. “You what? You love me? No, you most certainly do not. You do not know the meaning of the word. You do not lie to the one you love. You do not trick the one you love. You do not humiliate the one you love. I may not know much, as you have made abundantly clear, but I do know one thing. I know that is not love.”

Daphne turned and strode out the room, leaving Simon standing there, wordless. She felt hot tears streaming down her cheeks as she hurried to the safety of her own chambers.

Most of her items were still in Simon’s room, the room they had shared together but she stripped off her gown and crawled into the cold bed in her chemise, hands covering her still flat stomach protectively.

“Do not worry little one.” She whispered, “I am here.” Outside, the storm broke.

***

Daphne was already in the breakfast chamber the following morning when Simon walked in. She did not wish him a good morning or even acknowledge he had entered. Sighly, he strode to the opposite end of the table and started in on his own meal. The only sound that filled the room was the silverware against the plates.

“Would you please ask Miss Nolan if my personal effects have yet been removed from the Duke’s bedchamber and placed in the Duchess’s rooms?” Daphne’s question, directed to one of the serving men, cut through the silence yet her voice was perfectly composed.

“Would you please inform Her Grace that I will allow no such thing?” Simon countered, still focused on his plate before him.

Confused and uncomfortable, the serving man Simon directed his response to looked at Daphne then back at Simon.

“Should I really deliver the message Your Grace?”

Daphne’s silverware clang as she dropped her fork and knife onto her plate.

“You cannot believe I shall welcome you back into my bed after your lies and deception?” Who cares what the staff thinks, she told herself resolutely, determined not to blush or give Simon even the hint of an advantage. “For what purpose could you possibly wish to detain me?”

Simon slammed his tea cup on the table, “Because you are my wife.”

Daphne carefully placed her tea cup back on the table before looking at her husband. “It is customary for a wife to reside in her own bedchamber once the honeymoon is over, a time that has well and truly passed, would you not agree?”

“I will be kept informed as to the success of our endeavors.” Simon glanced meaningfully to Daphen’s stomach, hidden beneath the table.

“I would never dream of concealing the truth of such important matters.”

Before Simon could reply, there was a quick knock at the door promptly followed by Rose.

“Your Grace,” she strode to where Daphne sat. “Wistledown has just arrived. You should…” She trailed off as she held the pamphlet out for Daphne to take.

“Is something wrong?” Simon asked as soon as the paper was in her hands. Daphne read quickly, scanning for names she knew. Bridgerton popped out at her and she forced herself to stop and read the entire entry. Colin Bridgeton. Marina Thompson. A concealed pregnancy. A sham of an engagement. There was no way to save Marina Thompson from a fall from grace, but the column clearly stated Colin as not the father and there was still a chance to extract her family from the growing scandal.

“We must pack straightaway.” Daphne directed Rose, still not looking at Simon

“Yes Your Grace.” Rose made to hasten out of the room. Daphne stood and went to follow her.

Simon stood up as soon as his wife moved, concern apparent on his face. “Has something happened?”

Daphne paused by the door, strained patience and an eagerness to be away about her as she held out the pamphlet for him to take. “My brother seems to have been embroiled in scandal. I must return to see my family immediately. They will need me.”

Simon could hear his exclusion from the words my family but acted as if he had not. “I will accompany you.”

“This is a family matter.” Daphne replied stiffly.

“Separate bedrooms may be tolerated. Separate households will not be suffered. I’ll not let you out of my sight until we know for sure whether you are with child.”

Daphne forced herself to chuckle. Arguing in front of the staff was one thing, but the entire household knowing of her possible condition was quite another. Turning to face the staff members that still remained in the breakfast chamber, she addressed them, every inch the duchess. “Please request that His Grace prepare his largest carriage. I shall require my space.” And with that, she swept out of the room to oversee the packing.

***

After what felt like an eternity, the carriage pulled into Grosvenor Square. Several hours into the ride, Daphne had started to wish she had started a new embroidery project but she hadn’t found the need during the honeymoon. Although, with how bumpy some of the roads were on the way back to London, she would have likely pricked herself several times over and bled all over her dress. Not the best way to arrive back in London.

The carriage had barely halted before she flung over the door and stuck out her hand for the coachman to help her down. Simon acted as if to follow but Daphne stopped him “There is no need to act the jailer. I shall not discover I am with child within the next hour, shall I?” before closing the door on him.

Sighing, Simon directed their coachman to take him to Hastings House. After he stepped out in front of his London home, he sent the carriage back to Bridgeton House so that Daphne would not have to walk.

He felt as if his heart was in his throat as he set about getting the house ready for Daphne’s arrival. If she even returns here for the night, he thought bitterly. It is late and perhaps she will decide to sleep at her family’s house. That would get all the scandal sheets talking.

Once all the staff were set about their tasks, in truth through no great effort on his account, he retired to his study and poured himself a large glass of brandy. He started to pace, then realized what he was doing and forced himself to sit behind the large desk.

He could not get a hold on his emotions. He was filled with terror at the thought of Daphne possibly being with child, not simply because of the vow he had made his father. His mother had died in the birthing bed, as had too many of his friend’s mothers, sisters, and wives. There was nothing he could do to save Daphne from a similar fate. He could see his wife, screaming in pain, coated in sweat, blood spread across the sheets. He pushed the thought from his mind.

He was disgusted with himself for risking her so. For returning again and again to her arms and her bed. For breaking his vow to his father.

And yet. A small voice remained in the back of his head that he had to silence to stop himself from being filled with unbridled joy. He closed his eyes and could imagine Daphne, pregnant and radiant. He could picture himself holding her, kissing her belly. He could see her, child in arms, the very picture of motherhood, him at her side.

Enough. He forced the thoughts out of his head, drank the entire glass of brandy in one gulp, then resolutely poured himself another. Whether or not she was with child, he would do the right thing.

***

The staff recognized Daphne as soon as she approached the front door.

“Your Grace, we were not expecting you,” the doorman said surprised, but smiling as he ushered her back inside the house she had once again started to think of as home.

Daphne adopted the mask of a happily married duchess, called away from her honeymoon. “Everything happened so quickly we could not send word of our arrival. My family…?”

“In the parlour, Your Grace,” he gestured, accompanying her only out of formality since she knew every corner of the house by heart.

She strode into the room without to find her brothers and mother all in heated conversation. “Evening everyone.”

“Dearest,” her mother stood, shocked to see her eldest daughter.

“What are you doing here Daph?” Anthony interjected. “Should you not be frolicking in newlywed bliss?”

Daphne closed the door behind her and walked as casually as she could into the room, as if her marriage was not falling apart, as if her family were not on the verge of irreparable scandal once more.

“I came as swiftly as our carriage would allow when I heard the news.” Daphne said.

“In the middle of your honeymoon?” Anthony asked credulously.

Benedict laughed “Hastings must surely be cursing the Bridgeton name for this. Where is he anyhow?”

“He went to set up Hastings House.” Daphne looked away from her mother, still taking in her daughter’s sudden appearance.

“We have all things in order Sister. We do not require your assistance.” Anthony spoke with what he hoped was the confidence his father would have had during a situation such as this.

“That is simply not true and you know it.” Violet Bridgeton knew she was head of the household in everything but name and was pleased her daughter had returned to help manage the fiasco, even if Daphne had only managed her own household for a month. But the season has proved Daphne a shrewd participant in London society and her new title of Duchess of Hastings could only help gloss things over.

“Daphne may be the answer to all our problems.” Violet continued, knowing her sons had not yet put the pieces together. “Once the ton sees that we still have the favor of the duke and duchess, then the whispers may very well cease and we shall go about our daily lives as if nothing has happened, as if nothing is awry.”

“And no one will be the wiser” Daphne said. “Pretending that nothing is amiss is the perfect way to lure the ignorant into submission. Is it not, Mama?”

Violet smiled uncertainly at her daughter before sharing a confused look with her three eldest sons. The daughter she had watched ride away in a carriage to the countryside was not the woman who stood before her now. Has something happened between her and the duke?

Daphne could sense her family’s concern shifting from Colin to her and continued on in a rush, “Now, what grand event will the ton be descending upon this week? Surely there is something.”

Jolted from her thoughts, Violet searched her mind, “The queen is hosting a luncheon.”

“I am certain the duke and I can secure an invitation.” Daphne replied. “If we are lucky, our return to London will give everyone so much to talk about, they simply have no breath left to discuss other matters.”

“I am so very glad everything has been settled on my behalf.” Colin said before storming out of the room, slamming the door behind her.

Daphne shook her head and sighed. She knew what it felt like to think you were in love only to have it all be a lie.

Sharing a quick word with her mother promising to talk more in the morning, Daphne hurried off to Colin’s room, knocking and entering after a muffled “Come in.”

Colin was hunched over at his writing desk in the corner, his back to her. Taking care to quietly close the door, Daphne walked hesitantly into the room.

“You really wanted to marry her?” She asked.

“I did.”

“Well then, perhaps we should count you lucky to not have married a stranger.”

Offended, Colin spun around to look at her. “She was not a stranger.”

“She was. Whistledown knew her better than you.”

“Whistledown knows everyone’s secrets.”

“And you are lucky to have learned Miss Thompon’s now instead of after your wedding day.” Daphne could feel her patience fading, her mask of perfection slipping.

Colin shifted awkwardly, “I know you must think me a fool, but my heart pays no heed to mere logic. When I think of her, I only want to be near her, to be with her, despite all reason otherwise.”

“I know that madness well,” Daphne paused, “but you cannot visit her.”

Colin shook his head and turned back to the writing table, refusing to face his sister. “Leander swam Abydos to Sestos every single night in complete darkness just to see his love.”

“Leander also lost his way and drowned.” Colin turned back at her cold words. “So the story goes”, Daphne quickly added before turning to make her leave.

“Did something happen Daphne? Back at Clyvedon?” Colin asked before she could make her exit.

Daphne shifted her weight from foot to foot before turning back to her brother again. “If you really must speak with Miss Thompson, perhaps I can arrange a rendezvous. Chaperoned, obviously.”

Colin’s face lit up, “I would appreciate that. You will see my passions are not in vain.”

Daphne nodded, then turned to leave. She again gave quick goodbyes to her mother, Anthony, and Benedict, promising to return in the morning. She was surprised to see her carriage waiting outside but then sighed. Of course Simon wouldn’t let her walk to Hastings House, even with one of her brothers to join her.

At least he did not insist on coming in with me. At least he only sent the carriage back instead of waiting for me out front once I made it clear he was not welcome at my side.

Rose greeted her upon her arrival to Hastings House and showed her to her chambers. Daphne had not yet been to Hastings House but she was pleased that Rose had set up the duchess’s bedchamber for her and Simon had either not interfered or was not aware.

“Where is the duke?” Daphne asked hesitantly as Rose brushed out her hair before bed.

“He went out not a full hour ago, Your Grace. I do not know where, but if I may speak freely…?” Rose trailed off, meeting Daphne’s eyes in the mirror when Daphne nodded. “He did smell slightly of brandy as he left and I overheard him telling Jeffries not to wait for his return.”

Daphne was still awake when she heard a heavy footfall on the stairwell that could only be Simon. Opening her door a crack, she peered out but he heard the door on its hinges and turned.

His cravat hung loose around his neck, his shirt open and jacket off. She could tell there was a slight sheen of sweat on his brow and as he wiped his face, she could see his knuckles starting to bruise.

Fighting in the streets? Daphne wondered, Or with Will?

She tried to duck back into her room but heard his strong voice call out “You still awake?” When she did not answer, he continued “I’ve already seen you.”

Abashed, Daphne opened the door and stepped into the hall that separated their bedchambers.

“The queen is holding a luncheon this week. We will need to attend with my brother to signal our support.” She said.

Simon gave her the barest hint of a nod then turned toward his room.

“Where have you been all night?”

Daphne’s words stopped Simon in his tracks. He gathered as much venom as he could into his words. “I did not think you concerned about my whereabouts.”

“Is this truly what our marriage will be for the future?” Daphne started to walk closer to Simon but stopped as he looked at her. “You out all night, doing God knows what with God knows whom?”

“With whom?” he repeated. “You wound me.” Simon strode the rest of the distance between them in the hall. “A month since we were wed, yet you already imagine me disloyal.”

“Is it such a wild imagining?” Daphne could imagine him in one of the houses of ill repute, a woman on his lap, drink in his hand. She pushed the image out of her mind but continued, “We both know your reputation, Your Grace. It is clear that you find there is nothing left in our marriage.”

Daphne turned to return to her room.

“Nothing left?” Simon had taken another step toward her.

“It is what I said.”

“It is what you believe?”

Daphne opened her mouth to respond, to push him away again but paused. There was a fire in his eyes again, a need she had not seen since before she told him she suspected she was with child.

Simon took the last step to her and Daphne threw herself at him, pressing her mouth against his as he grabbed her waist. His tongue pushed between her lips, hungrily, and she could taste a slight hint of brandy that lingered, mingled with dried sweat.

Spinning her around, Simon pushed her into a wall, her mouth opening to his as he bit her lip sharply. Crying out, Daphne tore off his waistcoat and pulled at his shirt, eager to undress him as he moved down to her breasts, her nipples visible through the thin fabric of her nightdress.

Simon slipped one of the straps off her shoulder, pulling the fabric lower until her breasts were free, her nipples firming from the cold night air and the desire building in her. Hurriedly, Simon kissed his way down her chest until he took one nipple between his teeth, running his tongue over the smooth skin and giving her a playful nibble until she moaned again.

“Simon, I want you.” She pulled him to her just as he moved a finger to her lips, shushing her. One hand behind her neck, he encircled her waist with his other hand and carried her over to the stairway, kissing her hard the entire way.

Laying her ever so gently down so she sat a few stairs above him, he kissed his way down her body, stopping again at her exposed breasts until she gasped with pleasure. Kneeling, he lifted the skirt of her nightdress and kissed her hard between her legs before pleasuring her with his tongue. He could feel the need in her, the desire as he sucked at her bud and slipped a finger inside her, making her cry out again.

“Simon! Yes, Simon!”

Daphne arched her back, holding onto the stair’s iron railing for support and she dug her fingers into Simon’s scalp, urging him on. She could feel the pleasure building, overwhelming the feelings of hurt and betrayal she had struggled with the past few days. He was returning to her, he was-

Her pleasure reached its peak and she moaned softly, holding Simon’s head in place as she curled her toes, feeling herself come undone under Simon’s touch.

Simon gazed up at his wife as she reached her climax. He memorized her face, her sounds, the taste and smell of her for what he knew would be the last time.

Daphne took several heaving breaths, her nightdress still baring her exquisite chest, before whispering “Should we go into the bedroom and finish what we started?”

She leaned down to kiss him but Simon pulled away. She still did not understand.

“No.”

The word was almost inaudible but he knew from the fresh hurt on her face she had heard him. Simon stood, facing away from her, infuriated with what he had done to her, how he continued to hurt her.

Daphne stood, confused. “What is to become of us Simon?”

He knew he had to hurt her again. He steeled himself to it, and spoke in a voice that brought back memories of his father. “If you are with child, then I shall stay and do my duty to support you both.”

“And if I am not?”

“Then we shall remain married in name only. You will be provided for, of course, in a manner befitting the duchess. But I shall not darken your doorstep again. Our lives will be entirely separate. This,” he gestured to the stairwell, “this cannot happen. This will not happen. Do you understand me?”

“That we no longer trust each other? Love each other? Yes, Your Grace. I understand that quite well.”

Simon watched her walk back into her separate bedchamber, slamming the door behind her.

***

The next few weeks were a whirlwind of duty. Luncheons, callers, visits with her family, balls, and soirees. All while putting on a façade of a perfect marriage, of newlywed bliss. They carried it off well enough. After all, they had already fooled the whole ton and Mrs. Whistledown into thinking they were the perfect love match of the season. They just had to last a few more weeks before leaving London. To where, Daphne did not know. Time could only tell.

After returning from Lady Danbury’s soiree for married ladies of the ton and thinking how much better it would be if ladies were warned what marriage entails ahead of time, Daphne was surprised to find Simon at Hastings House, the door to his bedchamber open.

Daphne hesitated on the stairs, unsure whether to go to him or not. Her husband had been staying out increasingly late each night, returning well after she had fallen asleep waiting to hear the sounds of his footsteps on the stairs.

Hearing her approach, Simon turned to look at her in the hallway. His hand holding a bloody rag, a bowl filled with liquid in front of him. Daphne could see a small amount of blood that remained on his face.

“It seems I became a little too rough training with Will.”

Daphne was unsure whether or not to believe him, but she took his words as an invitation and walked to his door, pausing in the doorway.

“Shall I call for Jeffries?” She asked.

“No.”

“Let me.”

Simon looked up to see his wife halfway to him and reaching for the cloth in his hand.

“With four brothers you can only imagine the nasty cuts I’ve tended over the years.” Daphne laughed.

Simon handed her the cloth and sat up straight in the chair, moving his face into the light. Daphne dipped a clean end of the cloth into the liquid and pressed it gently against his face. Simon winced against the sting and Daphne quickly pulled the cloth away. She moved slower, putting one hand on his cheek as she pressed the cloth even more gently than before against the cut skin.

Simon closed his eyes, picturing her doing this a thousand times to her brothers, of her tending to their tears and bloods. He looked up at her and could see her bending over a faceless child, wiping away tears and snot with all the tenderness and love a mother needed.

Daphne caught his eye and lowered the cloth. Never moving her eyes from his face, she sat down across his lap, her hand still pressed against his cheek. Simon could not stop himself from kissing her, knowing she could surely taste the metallic tinge of the blood but pushing all the tenderness and love he still had for her into the kiss.

Eventually she pulled away but he kept their foreheads pressed together.

“Why will you not unfold yourself to me?” Daphne asked.

Her words were like a caress across his skin but Simon knew he could not answer her.

“Daphne…” he begged and started to turn away.

“A child would be a blessing.”

Sighing, Simon shifted Daphne off his lap and stood, forcing her to stand along with him. Turning away, he leaned against the chair, his head in his hands.

She continued, “Tell me why you are so adamant.”

“Because I swore a long time ago that I would never sire a child.”

Daphne shook her head, “I still do not understand.”

“My father,” Simon started, feeling his hatred for the man bubble up in him, “cared more about the continuation of the Hastings line than anything in the world. More than my mother. More than me. And so I made a vow that his efforts would be in vain, that the line would die with me.”

“So this is all because of a vow?”

Simon nodded once, meeting his wife’s accusing stare.

“You made a vow to me too. Or, has our wedding day slipped your mind?”

“I told you-” Simon started but Daphne cut him off.

“You told me that you could not have children. You did not tell me that it was some token of revenge against a man who no longer walks this earth.”

“I swore to him on his deathbed.”

“And you betrayed me in our marriage bed.”

Simon had no answer for her and she turned as if to go, placing the cloth back upon the table before turning back to face him.

“Let me be certain I understand. If I am not with child already, you will neither have children, nor the happiness we could have together because you promised your father you will not. If I am with child, you will force us all into unhappiness, refusing to show me or our child any love in the same manner as your father.”

Daphne watched Simon struggle for words, grasping for an answer.

Daphne nodded sadly, “ I thank you for your elucidation Your Grace. Your hatred for your father outweighs any affection that you might bear towards me.”

Simon searched for something to make her understand, to reassure her of his love for her but came up short.

Gathering herself, Daphne continued. “Well we should know whether I am actually with child in a few weeks. Then we will know how we are to spend the rest of our lives, miserable together or happy apart.”

***

The next night held one of the most important social events of the season, one Simon and Daphne could not miss under the excuse of nuptial bliss. The queen and the rest of the ton would be attending the concert. The absence of the Duke and Duchess of Hastings would surely bring gossip.

Daphne was standing in the entry hall, waiting for Simon when she caught a glimpse of her reflection in one the mirrors. Walking over, she turned slightly sideways and cupped her belly in both hands. Her courses still had not arrived but she felt no other symptoms Rose had told her, no morning sickness or sore breasts. She did not dare tell her mama yet, not when her whole world hung by a thread.

She saw Simon in the corner of the mirror, standing in the doorway watching her wordlessly. His face was unreadable. She hurriedly dropped her hands and acted as if she was smoothing the fabric.

“Are you ready?” He asked.

“I am,” Daphne replied, walking to the front door to leave.

Their carriage ride was a wordless one, but they sat next to each other instead of in opposite corners in case anyone was able to catch a glimpse of them through the curtains. Once they arrived, Simon transformed into the very image of a doting husband, helping her down from the carriage, taking her arm, guiding her through the throngs of people.

Daphne caught her mother’s eye and gave her a quick nod but she and Simon quickly were pulled into conversation. Daphne smiled politely through the chatter, but she and Simon had arrived late so they wouldn’t have to put on a show the entire night and soon they were being ushered to their box.

Anthony and their mother sat in their own box across the theatre but Daphne pretended to be too engrossed in the music to catch her mother’s eye again. She could fool the entire ton, but not her mother. Not anymore.

Daphne gasped at a sharp pain in her lower stomach. Simon looked over at her and raised an eyebrow questionly but she was unable to reply as the pain returned again and spread to her back. She felt a slight dampness between her thighs.

Simon grabbed her hand and muttered, “Daphne, are you alright?”

Daphne looked at him, fear across her face, then pulled her hand out of his grasp and dashed from their box.

Simon looked across the way to see Violet Bridgerton also standing and leaving her box. Do I follow? He wondered, unsure what to do.

Daphne strode down the hall as quickly as she dared to the room reserved for ladies who needed privacy. Once inside, she grabbed for the soft cloth laid out on the table and reached up inside her skirts, terrified of what she might find.

Violet entered the room her daughter had entered and paused for just a moment at the sight of her daughter holding a blood soaked cloth, tears streaming down her cheeks. Thinking quickly, Violet slipped back out the door to the hallway, pulling the two serving women who stood outside the room to ensure a lady’s privacy close to her. One was close to Violet’s age, fair-haired, while the other was a dark-haired young woman.

“I have need of both of you. The duchess is not feeling well and we must leave immediately. Is there a back stair nearby?” Violet asked.

The fair-haired woman on the right nodded, “Yes, Viscountess. I can show you the way.”

“Good, but first direct my carriage to come round where the backstairs exit. I assume the street behind the theatre can accommodate a carriage? Yes, good. Now go, quickly, quickly!”

The woman bobbed the briefest of curtseys and went rushing down the hall. There were no prying eyes - the entire ton was still enjoying the concert but Violet was taking no chances that the night's events would appear in the next edition of Whistledown.

“You,” Violet turned to the younger woman who remained. “Go to the Duke of Hastings’ box. Do not bother the duke, but if he leaves his box tell him that the duchess was not well and I took her back to Bridgerton House. Do you understand? Good, now go.”

Violet turned before the woman had moved an inch and was already slipping back into the room to tend to her daughter.

“Mama,” Daphne gasped, but Violet was already taking charge of the situation. “I’m here dearest, I’m here.”

Daphne had half-collapsed into a chair and Violet swept over to her, drying her daughter’s eyes.

“Deep breaths, there’s a good girl. I’m taking you home. Can you walk? Good, lean on me for support. Now let’s get you cleaned up, the carriage is pulling around.”

With an experienced hand, Violet pinned a fresh cloth into place for her daughter and placed the ones Daphne has used into the designated box for the theatre staff to take care of later. With the two women about the tasks she had set, it wouldn’t do for another lady of the ton to enter the room to find a mess left behind.

Just as Violet had finished, there was a quick knock at the door. “Viscountess, your carriage is ready.”

Pulling her daughter upright with a steady hand around her waist for support, Violet urged Daphne along “Come now dearest, quickly now.”

The fair-haired woman guided Violet and Daphne to the staff stairs on the side of the building and opened the door to the stairwell, wide enough for several people to walk abreast but still considerably smaller than the grand staircase in the front of the building.

“The way is clear, Viscountess, I sent a man ahead to make sure no one was on the stairs and the duchess’ carriage is waiting just outside.”

Violet looked at the other woman, really looked at her for the first time and was surprised to find genuine concern, determination, and keen understanding in her eyes.

“Thank you,” Violet said, surprised at the words..

“May I?” The woman gestured to the other side of Daphne and Violet nodded. Daphne had been able to stand with some support when they left the room, but Violet could feel her daughter leaning on her for more support after the brief walk to the stairs. The woman moved to support Daphne’s other side and Violet heard a gentle murmuring, “Pardon me, Your Grace,” as the woman slipped her arm under Daphne’s elbow.

With the woman’s help, they made it down the stairs without issue. Violet felt a surge of relief at the sight of Daphne’s carriage and coachman waiting. Together, the three of them managed to get Daphne inside the carriage and with another word of thanks to the woman for her assistance, Violet directed the carriage to return them to Bridgeton House with all haste.

***

Simon shifted in his seat, hardly hearing the music. Daphne had still not returned after almost ten minutes. Surely if something was wrong, she would send for me?

He heard what sounded like two women whispering in the hall outside of his box. Hoping his actions would not draw attention, he slipped out of his box to find two women who worked at the theatre, one fair-haired, the younger dark-haired, whispering fiercely. At the sight of him, they stopped and curtseyed.

The elder woman looked at the younger woman with a look that clearly conveyed orders for the younger curtseyed again, muttered a polite “Your Grace,” and went down the hall with a quick step.

Simon turned back to enter his box, but a firm “Your Grace,” made him pause. Turning to the woman who had not moved he raised an eyebrow quizzically.

“Forgive me for interrupting the concert Your Grace,” the woman began, stepping closer and dropping her voice to just above a murmur, “but I was directed by the Viscountess Bridgerton to let you know that the Duchess of Hastings felt unwell and the Viscountess has taken her back to Bridgeton House. We are notifying the Viscount as well-”

The words washed over Simon, and for a moment he could hear nothing, not the music that carried throughout the entire theatre or anything else the woman might have said. All sound was drowned out by a rushing sound in his ears as panic welled up inside him.

“Felt unwell?” Simon cut the woman off, “Do you know what ailed the duchess?”

The woman hesitated, clearly unwilling to speak but after a small pause, “It appeared to be a woman’s complaint, Your Grace.”

Her courses? Simon thought, or something gone wrong?

He closed his eyes against the sudden vision of Daphne lying in a bed with bloody sheets, drenched in sweat, her face twisted in pain as she struggled for breath.

“Call my carriage at once.” His own voice sounded distant, as if it were underwater.

“Yes, Your Grace.”

The woman started to move down the hallway and Simon followed. He would wait for his carriage out front, there was no point in returning to his box.

Simon was pacing in the entry hall when he heard footsteps coming down the stairs and turned. Anthony was hurrying down the stairs, and he only moved faster at the sight of Simon clearly unnerved.

“I was told that Daphne was unwell and Mother had taken her home?”

Anthony paused at the look on Simon’s face, stopping at the bottom of the stairs. Simon knew he was unable to conceal his terror for his wife, but he turned away from his oldest friend, unwilling to speak his fears aloud in case that made them true.

“Simon, what-” Anthony began, but was cut off at the arrival of a footman.

“Your Grace. My Lord.” The footman bowed slightly. “I apologize for the delay, but it appears that both of your carriages have not yet returned. Mr. Bridgerton and Miss Bridgerton called for the carriage just before the concert began and the Viscountess and the Duchess called for the duchess’ carriage not too long ago.”

Simon cursed and broke into a run out of the theatre. Bridgeton House isn’t that far, he thought as he raced down the street. He could hear heavy footfalls and knew Anthony was following him. If his brother-in-law called after him or people on the street shouted as he pushed them out of the way, Simon did not hear, the sound of his own heartbeat the only sound he could hear.

***

Violet called to the doorman as soon as the carriage pulled up at Bridgeton House. “Charles, quickly, I need your assistance.”

Charles came hurrying down the front path as Violet helped hand Daphne down. Charles kept her upright as Violet exited the carriage, then pulled her daughter back over to her.

“My lady, is everything alright?” Charles asked, as he helped hurry them inside.

“No,” Violet said, “Call for Mrs. Davies immediately. I will need her to run an errand and-”

Colin poked his head out of the front parlour and Violet felt immense relief at having one of her grown children home.

“Mother, you’re home early-” Colin froze at the sight of Violet and Charles holding up a half-conscious Daphne. Violet looked at her daughter and noticed she had bled through the cloth that had been carefully pinned into place. Blood was visible on her skirts.

“Colin, carry her up to my bedchamber. Don’t ask questions,” Violet said sharply, holding up a hand as Colin opened his mouth, “Do as you’re told.”

Mrs. Davies, the housekeeper stepped into the entryway as Colin lifted Daphne into his arms and hurried up the stairs.

Violet turned to her, relieved to finally have a woman to help. “Mrs. Davies, good. I need you to tell the kitchen to immediately boil water for tea. Have one of the maids send up as much clean linens to my bedchamber as possible. I need you to take the carriage and fetch Mistress Fletcher. Tell her it’s urgent. If she’s not at home, call upon Mistress Bolton, Wynn, then Baker in that order. As soon as one is available come back here immediately.”

Mrs. Davies nodded then took off at a pace Violet had never seen her housekeeper move at before. She could hear the yelling of instructions, something else that had never occured in her household. She dashed up the stairs to her room to tend to her daughter until her old midwife arrived.

“Colin, out.” she said as soon as she had entered the room. “Ask for one of the maids to come up to me and then wait in the parlour out of the way.”

Colin spun around at his mother’s entrance. He had been standing in shock at the sight of his sister, barely conscious on the bed with blood clearly visible on her skirts now. Violet noticed there was a small amount of blood on his waistcoat too.

“Mother, what-”

“Colin, I don’t have time to explain, this is women’s business. Go to the parlour and if any of your brothers or the duke arrives, tell them we are not to be disturbed. Now out!”

***

Simon turned the corner into Grosvenor Square, panting hard. His training with Will hadn’t trained him for a mad sprint across Mayfair. Anthony was close on his heels, no longer calling after him, no doubt struggling for breath as well.

Just as Simon had Bridgerton House in his sights, his carriage pulled up in front of the house and two cloaked women hurried out of the carriage. Simon lengthened his stride, managing to enter the house just moments after the women.

The Bridgerton’s housekeeper, Mrs. Davies had pushed back the hood of her cloak and was taking the clock from her companion, a well-dressed woman well into her later years. Simon had not met her before, but her presence reminded him strongly of Lady Danbury. She was clearly older than Lady Danbury, her white hair pulled back into a stately bun, but she stood straight and moved with ease. Her commanding tone ordered Mrs. Davies as she thrust a bulging bag into Mrs. Davies arms.

“Never mind the cloaks dear child, we have work to be done. Come, come! Is Violet already upstairs with the girl?” The woman had already started for the stairs but turned as Anthony burst into the house after Simon, both men breathing hard.

“My wife?” Simon managed to pant out, his chest on fire.

“Your Grace, I presume?” The woman had already turned her face away from him and was moving up the stairs. “I do not have time to manage husbands or other meddling men at present. Join Mr. Bridgerton in the parlour and stay out of my way until I fetch you. This is women’s business.”

Without a backward glance, the woman swept up the rest of the stairs, Simon put firmly out of her mind.

***

Violet sat on the edge of the bed, wiping her daughter’s forehead with a damp cloth when her bedchamber door opened. She looked up, ready to tell Colin off for bothering her yet again when Mistress Fletcher entered the room. Violet felt all the tension she did not even know she felt ease out of her at the sight of her old midwife. Mistress Fletcher has helped deliver Daphne into this world, and she would help see Daphne through this.

Mistress Fletcher’s keen eyes swept over the entire bedchamber and with a curt nod to herself, started issuing instructions.

“Right, we will need some hot water for tea. Already boiling? Excellent. Put it off to the side and warm some broth. You,” she pointed to Mrs. Davies, still clutching the bag Mistress Fletcher had thrust at her, “put that on the table. I will need a basin to clean my hands as well.”

Mrs. Davies set the bag where directed, then promptly moved against the wall to get out of Mistress Fletcher’s path as the woman strode to the table and started sorting through the items in her bag.

“Now, Violet, tell me everything you know.”

Violet relayed what had happened at the concert, the quick carriage ride home, the preparations she had already made for Mistress Fletcher’s arrival.

“I didn’t even know she was with child!” Violet finished, emotions getting the better of her. “I thought she would have told me the moment she suspected.”

“Honestly Violet, with how little you mamas tell your girls even after they are wed, it’s possible she didn’t even know herself. Married two months? An early loss then, without much danger, as you well know yourself. Stop.” Mistress Fletcher’s firm command froze Anna, one of the maids, who had started to gather blood-soaked linens from the floor.

“I must keep an eye on how much she has bled. Have you taken any other linens away? No? Good girl. Now stay there,” Mistress Fletcher pointed to the wall next to Mrs. Davies, “until I have need of you.

***

Simon remained in the entry hall, frozen by the woman’s words. He desperately wanted to chase after her, to make sure Daphne was alright but terrified of what he would find. Visions of his wife crying out in pain seared behind his eyes as he squeezed them shut.

“Colin!” Anthony’s voice cut through the scene playing out in his head, bringing back to reality.

Simon turned to see Colin Bridgerton sitting with his face in his hands on a couch in the front parlour. He took a step toward his brother-in-law but froze when the firelight flickered across Colin’s waistcoat, the familiar sheen of blood glistening against the patterned fabric.

Anthony had not noticed and stepped hurriedly into the room, chattering on. “Colin, what the heavens is going on?”

Simon found himself pulled into the parlour, hardly aware he was moving as Colin spoke slowly, deliberately.

“Mother arrived, half dragging Daphne inside, demanding I carry her upstairs to her bedchamber before giving orders to half the household. Daphne had fainted by the time I got her upstairs and there was blood…” Colin trailed off before starting again. “Mother kicked me out of the bedchamber and no one has spoken a word to me since. I tried to learn what was happening but Mother sent me back downstairs.”

Colin glanced down at his waistcoat and then looked from Anthony to Simon. Anthony finally noticed the blood on his brother’s clothing and swore under his breath. Colin looked back down at his waistcoat.

“Is Daphne going to die?” Colin asked softly, not meeting anyone’s eye, his face suddenly looking much younger than his 22 years.

Simon grunted as if he had been punched and sank back into one of the chairs. He realized that he knew less about pregnancy than his wife had known about the marriage bed on their wedding night. He could not even begin to guess how much danger his wife was in, if she would live through the night.

“Whiskey,” he growled, a demand and a plea. Colin sat, still unmoving but Simon closed his eyes as he heard the click of glasses that surely meant Anthony was pouring.

A glass was pushed into his hand and without opening his eyes, Simon swallowed the entire pour in one gulp, feeling the burn of the liquor sear the back of his throat and settle in his stomach. Without a word, he held out the glass for more and Anthony obliged. Again, Simon tossed back the entire glass once again before burying his face in his hands, letting the empty glass drop to the carpeted floor.

“She is not going to die.” His words came out as a rasp, his throat still on fire. “I will not let her die. I will stand before God Himself and challenge Him for the right to her soul if I must. She. Will. Not. Die.”

***

Daphne awoke to her mother bent over her, dabbing gently at her forehead with a damp cloth.

“What has happened?” She asked, surprised to find herself in her mother’s bedchambers. The evening’s events came back to her - the pain she felt at the theatre, knowing somehow that something was terribly, terribly wrong and being overcome by the sheer terror for her unborn child.

There was no doubt in her mind now that she was with child. Or had been. She shook the thought from her mind.

“Hush now dearest,” her mother said in a soothing tone, “Mistress Fletcher is here, you will be alright.”

Daphne scanned the room, taking in the sight of her mother’s old midwife pouring a cup of freshly made tea. Mistress Fletcher looked up from the table and smiled kindly.

“Hello child,” Mistress Fletcher said, bringing the warm teacup over to Daphne. “Sit up now, there’s a good girl. Drink this, it’s cooled enough that you won’t burn yourself. It will help ease the bleeding and the pain. Now, everyone out. I need to talk with Daphne alone. Go reassure the men downstairs. They were in quite a state when I arrived and I’m sure they’ve only worked themselves up more since then.”

Daphne briefly wondered what hour it was. It was completely dark outside but she couldn’t see the clock from the bed.

Mistress Fletcher waited until the staff and Violet had left the room before laying a hand against Daphne’s brow. “How are you feeling? No fever, which is a good sign, but a bit warmer than I would like.”

Daphne laid a hand on her abdomen and winced. “It hurts, almost like when I get my courses but worse.”

Mistress Fletcher nodded, “The pain is always the worst at the start. It will ease over the next few days. Now, I understand you’ve been married nearly two months now. Did you have any relations with your husband prior to your marriage? Not to worry dear,” she added hurriedly at the shocked look on Daphne’s face. “Anything you tell me stays between the two of us. I just need to know how far along you were.”

Daphne shook her head, blushing slightly, “No, no relations before our wedding night.”

“Did you know you might have been with child?”

“My courses didn’t arrive last month. They were due again next week. I had meant to tell Mama, but with everything that’s happened since we’ve returned to London, I never got a chance to.”

Mistress Fletcher nodded, “An early loss then. I am very sorry to tell you Daphne, but you are no longer with child.”

Daphne felt as though her heart had frozen. She had refused to entertain the thought from the moment she saw blood at the theatre, had been overcome with dread until she fainted from fear and blood loss, but had still refused to accept the fact even when she saw Mistress Fletcher. Mama wouldn’t have called for her if bleeding was normal during pregnancy.

Mistress Fletcher continued, softening her voice as she patted Daphne’s hand, “I know the loss is hard, especially when it’s your first. Do not fret child, I am sure you and your husband will be blessed with many children in the future. But I must tell you, this was not your fault. Almost every woman of the ton I have assisted has lost at least one pregnancy and nearly all have gone on to have perfectly healthy sons and daughters.”

Daphne shook her head, tears streaming down her cheeks now. Her one chance for a child, gone. All her future held now was living separately from Simon, never again to know his love, his touch. She knew she could not return to London alone, not after their famous love match was the highlight of the season. Would he leave her at Clyvedon and escape to the continent? Would she spend the rest of her life alone in the quiet, empty halls of a place that was haunted by some of her happiest moments and a future that would never be?

Mistress Fletcher opened her mouth, no doubt full of more reassurances when the door to the bedchamber burst open, startling both women.

Simon stood in the doorframe in his shirtsleeves, his cravat undone. His clothes looked rumpled, his eyes were bloodshot. Fear was etched into his face.

“Daphne” he breathed, practically falling to his knees at the sight of her sitting up in bed, her hair a sweaty mess, blood-stained linens visible on the floor.

Daphne turned her face away, unable to look at him. He will be relieved, she thought, he will keep his vow to his father after all.

Mistress Fletcher stood, making a dismissive gesture with her hands. “I told you I do not have time for meddling husbands. Your wife is quite alright but needs tending.”

Simon looked at her, filled with pain and worry that had only grown in the hours spent in the parlour. “Please, may I have a moment alone with her?”

Mistress Fletcher pursed her lips but nodded when she realized he would likely make more trouble if she refused. Besides, the girl showed no signs of being in danger physically. Perhaps a talk with her husband would ease the emotional pain. She had no herbs to help there.

“Very well. But briefly.” She stood and elegantly swept out from the room, not a single hair out of place despite the night’s activity.

Simon made his way over to the bed and took Daphne’s hands in his. She still did not look at him as she cried. He kissed her fingertips “Daphne, darling, I am here. Speak to me, please”

With her face still turned towards the wall Daphne closed her eyes and tried to steady her breath. “It appears that I am no longer with child. Your vow to your father is unbroken.”

No longer with child. The words hit Simon harder than any physical blow he could have received. Isn’t this what you wanted? He was surprised that he felt no relief, just pain at the look of utter despair on his wife’s face.

Simon move his hands to cup her face and slowly turned her face to his. Her eyes will still shut but he started to wipe her tears away.

“Daphne,” he breathed, “Daphne my love, I am so sorry.”

“It’s what you wanted.” Her words were whispered but held no heat, no anger to them. They were as empty as she felt.

“I was mistaken.” He said softly.

Simon waited for Daphne to respond to his words but she did not, her eyes still closed to him so he continued.

“I was mistaken. I let my hatred for my father prevent me from achieving true happiness with you. That man holds no more power over me. I told you once that I am yours. Daphne, I am yours, fully now. My love for you, for our future, has driven all other thoughts from me. Anything you desire, I will give to you. If you wanted the moon on a necklace and stars to decorate your hair, I would fly to the heavens to collect them for you. If you wanted a gown made of seafoam and pearls, I would dive beneath the deepest waves to craft it for you. And if you still desire children,” he paused and took a shaking breath, “I will give them to you. All I desire in this world is your happiness.”

Daphne opened her eyes so she could look at her husband, barely allowing herself to hope. “But you said you made him a vow-”

Simon cut her off gently, “The vows I made to you matter more. I vowed to love you, comfort you, honor and keep you. I have not fully kept those vows these past few weeks, but I promise you today that from this day forward, I will.”

Sighing, Simon pressed his forehead against his wife’s. Her face was damp from sweat and slightly warm.

“My father made me believe that in order to be loved, I needed to be perfect, without fault. For so long, I thought I was too damaged, too broken to let myself be happy. In loving you I realized that is not the case. I do not know how to be the man you need me to be, the man you truly deserve. But I vow to spend every day trying.

“I cannot begin to fathom the amount of pain you are in right now, the pain I have put you through these past few weeks, the pain you felt tonight when I was not at your side when you needed me the most. But I am here now, my love. I will not leave you again. I thought-” Simon’s voice faltered and he felt hot tears on his cheeks, “I thought I would lose you tonight. And I cannot bear to imagine a world without you. I am terrified of the dangers childbirth will bring for you, but if you are brave enough to face it, then I am by your side.”

Slowly, giving Daphne the chance to turn away if she wanted, Simon moved his lips closer to hers. He did not kiss her, their lips almost touching, letting her make the final move. He whispered, “You are my heart, my soul, my very breath. All that I am, is yours.”

Her lips met his and he felt tears streaming down his cheeks now, intermingling with hers and he kissed her fiercely, gently, sending all his love to her through his touch.

“I still burn for you.” Daphne whispered, pulling her lips away slightly but keeping her face pressed against his.

“I will always burn for you.” Simon replied, before kissing her again.

***

A month had passed. Daphne had returned to Hastings House and Mistress Fletcher had cleared her to resume any activities with Simon, along with a stern talk on seeing a midwife the instance she suspected she was with child.

Simon was out, settling their affairs in London before they returned to the country in a few days. Another season had come to a close. Daphne reclined on a chaise lounge in Simon’s bedchamber, waiting for her husband's arrival.

She felt as nervous as she had on her wedding night. Simon had promised that he wanted children with her, but now that they could start trying again, Daphne was filled with anxiety. Would he stick by his word?

Simon has been the perfect husband the last few weeks, attending to her every need, soothing her fears, and holding her when she cried, still mourning the loss.

Daphne sat up at the sound of footfalls on the stairway, setting the book she was reading on the side table.

“I’m sorry I’m so late darling,” Simon said as he entered the room, brightening at the sight of her. “I got held up at the club. I thought you would be in bed hours ago.”

Lifting her chin up for a kiss, Daphne smiled back at her husband. “It’s quite alright dear. I didn’t want to fall asleep alone.”

“I’m here, Daphne.” Simon said, gingerly lifting her from her seat and moving her to the bed. Daphne kissed him more urgently and he almost stumbled, surprised at her boldness.

“Do you want to go to sleep?” He asked, “or to bed?”

In response, Daphne kissed him again, softly but still with the urgency she had before. Simon let out a soft moan as he laid her back on the pillows.

Daphne untucked his shirt from his trousers, helping him lift it over his head. He tugged at the sash holding her nightgown closed and inhaled sharply as he realized she was naked beneath the silk. Hurriedly, he finished undressing then laid down next to his wife, taking her in his arms and kissing her lips, her cheeks, her neck.

He traced a hand lightly along her body, pleased when goosebumps appeared following his touch.

“Simon,” Daphne whispered, “I want you.”

“Patience, my love.” Simon replied, moving his lips to her breasts and gently cupping them in his hands as he showered her skin in kisses. He slowly worked one nipple between his thumb and forefinger, watching it harden before taking it in his mouth. He circled it with his tongue before sharply sucking on her breast. Daphne gasped, closing her eyes as Simon continued to tease her as his hand slipped down to her thigh.

Moving his hand as slowly as he could, Simon worked his way along Daphne’s inner thigh before coming to cup her mound. She moved her hips beneath him, urging him to move faster. Smiling between kisses, Simon moved a finger to her bud and impossibly slowly began to brush his finger against her.

Daphne moaned, “Simon, please, I need you.” God how he loved to hear his wife say his name, to make her need as clear as his. He could feel himself pressing hard against her but wanted to worship her body before they joined.

“Not yet my love,” he whispered as he increased the speed at which he pleased his wife. She writhed beneath him, moaning in pleasure and arching her back.

“Simon,” Daphne gasped out at last, feeling as though she would die from pleasure “Simon!” She pulled his face up to hers, kissing him, her tongue pushing between his lips. Reaching down, Daphne took his cock in her hand. Simon groaned at her touch as she guided him inside her.

Gasping, Simon looked into his wife's eyes, filled with pleasure and love. Together, they moved slowly as one, making love with a renewed tenderness. Simon dug his hands into the sheets, closing his eyes as he felt himself approaching the edge.

Moaning out, Simon pulled his wife to him as he climaxed. Daphne wrapped her legs around him and held him tight, feeling him pulse inside of her, her eyes filled with love as she watched her husband empty himself into her.

Half-collapsing on top of her, filled with a love he had never experienced before, Simon kissed his wife before forcing himself to shift away from her, just long enough to readjust so that she was cradled in his arms.

“I love you,” he murmured into Daphne’s hair. Sighing contentedly, Daphne intertwined her fingers between his. “And I, you.”