The Duke and I (Bridgertons 1) - Page 1


The Duke and I

Midway through The Duke and I, Simon refuses to accept a bundle of letters written to him by his late estranged father. Daphne, anticipating that he might someday change his mind, takes the letters and hides them, but when she offers them to Simon at the end of the book, he decides not to open them. I hadn’t originally intended for him to do this; I’d always figured there would be something great and important in those letters. But when Daphne held them out, it became clear to me that Simon didn’t need to read his father’s words. It finally didn’t matter what the late duke had thought of him.

Readers wanted to know what was in the letters, but I must confess: I did not. What interested me was what it would take to make Simon want to read them . . .

The Duke and I:

The 2nd Epilogue

Mathematics had never been Daphne Basset’s best subject, but she could certainly count to thirty, and as thirty was the maximum number of days that usually elapsed between her monthly courses, the fact that she was currently looking at her desk calendar and counting to forty-three was cause for some concern.

“It can’t be possible,” she said to the calendar, half expecting it to reply. She sat down slowly, trying to recall the events of the past six weeks. Maybe she’d counted wrong. She’d bled while she was visiting her mother, and that had been on March twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth, which meant that . . . She counted again, physically this time, poking each square on the calendar with her index finger.

Forty-three days.

She was pregnant.

“Good God.”

Once again, the calendar had little to say on the matter.

No. No, it couldn’t be. She was forty-one years old. Which wasn’t to say that no woman in the history of the world had given birth at forty-two, but it had been seventeen years since she’d last conceived. Seventeen years of rather delightful relations with her husband during which time they had done nothing—absolutely nothing—to block conception.

Daphne had assumed she was simply done being fertile. She’d had her four children in rapid succession, one a year for the first four years of her marriage. Then . . . nothing.

She had been surprised when she realized that her youngest had reached his first birthday, and she was not pregnant again. And then he was two, then three, and her belly remained flat, and Daphne looked at her brood—Amelia, Belinda, Caroline, and David—and decided she had been blessed beyond measure. Four children, healthy and strong, with a strapping little boy who would one day take his father’s place as the Duke of Hastings.

Besides, Daphne did not particularly enjoy being pregnant. Her ankles swelled and her cheeks got puffy, and her digestive tract did things that she absolutely did not wish to experience again. She thought of her sister-in-law Lucy, who positively glowed throughout pregnancy—which was a good thing, as Lucy was currently fourteen months pregnant with her fifth child.

Or nine months, as the case might be. But Daphne had seen her just a few days earlier, and she looked as if she were fourteen months along.

Huge. Staggeringly huge. But still glowing, and with astonishingly dainty ankles.

“I can’t be pregnant,” Daphne said, placing a hand on her flat belly. Maybe she was going through the change. Forty-one did seem a bit young, but then again, it wasn’t one of those things anyone ever talked about. Maybe lots of women stopped their monthly courses at forty-one.

She should be happy. Grateful. Really, bleeding was such a bother.

She heard footsteps coming toward her in the hallway, and she quickly slid a book on top of the calendar, although what she thought she might be hiding she had no idea. It was just a calendar. There was no big red X, followed by the notation, “Bled this day.”

Her husband strode into the room. “Oh good, there you are. Amelia has been looking for you.”

“For me?”

“If there is a merciful God, she is not looking for me,” Simon returned.

“Oh, dear,” Daphne murmured. Normally she’d have a more quick-witted response, but her mind was still in the possibly-pregnant-possibly-growing-very-old fog.

“Something about a dress.”

“The pink one or the green one?”

Simon stared at her. “Really?”

“No, of course you wouldn’t know,” she said distractedly.

He pressed his fingers to his temples and sank into a nearby chair. “When will she be married?”

“Not until she’s engaged.”

“And when will that be?”

Daphne smiled. “She had five proposals last year. You were the one who insisted that she hold out for a love match.”

“I did not hear you disagreeing.”

“I did not disagree.”

He sighed. “How is it we have managed to have three girls out in society at the same time?”

“Procreative industriousness at the outset of our marriage,” Daphne answered pertly, then remembered the calendar on her desk. The one with the red X that no one could see but her.

“Industriousness, hmmm?” He glanced over at the open door. “An interesting choice of words.”

She took one look at his expression and felt herself turn pink. “Simon, it’s the middle of the day!”

His lips slid into a slow grin. “I don’t recall that stopping us when we were at the height of our industriousness.”

“If the girls come upstairs . . .”

He bound to his feet. “I’ll lock the door.”

“Oh, good heavens, they’ll know.”

He gave the lock a decisive click and turned back to her with an arched brow. “And whose fault is that?”

Daphne drew back. Just a tiny bit. “There is no way I am sending any of my daughters into marriage as hopelessly ignor

ant as I was.”

“Charmingly ignorant,” he murmured, crossing the room to take her hand.

She allowed him to tug her to her feet. “You didn’t think it was so charming when I assumed you were impotent.”

He winced. “Many things in life are more charming in retrospect.”

“Simon . . .”

He nuzzled her ear. “Daphne . . .”

His mouth moved along the line of her throat, and she felt herself melting. Twenty-one years of marriage and still . . .

“At least draw the curtains,” she murmured. Not that anyone could possibly see in with the sun shining so brightly, but she would feel more comfortable. They were in the middle of Mayfair, after all, with her entire circle of acquaintances quite possibly strolling outside the window.

He positively dashed over to the window but pulled shut only the sheer scrim. “I like to see you,” he said with a boyish smile.

And then, with remarkable speed and agility, he adjusted the situation so that he was seeing all of her, and she was on the bed, moaning softly as he kissed the inside of her knee.

“Oh, Simon,” she sighed. She knew exactly what he was going to do next. He’d move up, kissing and licking his way along her thigh.

And he did it so well.

“What are you thinking about?” he murmured.

“Right now?” she asked, trying to blink her way out of her daze. He had his tongue at the crease between her leg and her abdomen and he thought she could think?

“Do you know what I’m thinking?” he asked.

“If it’s not about me, I’m going to be terribly disappointed.”

He chuckled, moved his head so that he could drop a light kiss on her belly button, then scooted up to brush his lips softly against hers. “I was thinking how marvelous it is to know another person so completely.”

She reached out and hugged him. She couldn’t help it. She buried her face in the warm crook of his neck, inhaled the familiar scent of him, and said, “I love you.”

“I adore you.”

Oh, so he was going to make a competition of it, was he? She pulled away, just far enough to say, “I fancy you.”

He quirked a brow. “You fancy me?”

“It was the best I could summon on such short notice.” She gave a tiny shrug. “And besides, I do.”

“Very well.” His eyes darkened. “I worship you.”

Daphne’s lips parted. Her heart thumped, then flipped, and any facility she might have possessed for synonym retrieval flew right out of her. “I think you’ve won,” she said, her voice so husky she barely recognized it.

He kissed her again, long, hot, and achingly sweet. “Oh, I know I have.”

Her head fell back as he made his way back down to her belly. “You still have to worship me,” she said.

He moved lower. “In that, Your Grace, I am ever your servant.”

And that was the last thing either of them said for quite some time.

Several days later Daphne found herself staring at her calendar once more. It had been forty-six days now since she’d last bled, and she still had not said anything to Simon. She knew that she should, but it felt somewhat premature. There could be another explanation for the lack of her courses—one had only to recall her last visit with her mother. Violet Bridgerton had been constantly fanning herself, insisting that the air was stifling even though Daphne had found it to be perfectly pleasant.

The one time Daphne had asked someone to light a fire, Violet had countermanded her with such ferocity that Daphne had half expected her to guard the grate with a poker.

“Do not so much as strike a match,” Violet had growled.

To which Daphne had wisely replied, “I do believe I shall fetch a shawl.” She looked at her mother’s housemaid, shivering next to the fireplace. “Er, and perhaps you should, too.”

But she did not feel hot now. She felt . . .

She did not know what she felt. Perfectly normal, really. Which was suspicious, as she had never felt the least bit normal while pregnant before.

“Mama!”

Daphne flipped over her calendar and looked up from her writing desk just in time to see her second daughter, Belinda, pause at the entrance of the room.

“Come in,” Daphne said, welcoming the distraction. “Please.”

Belinda sat down in a nearby comfortable chair, her bright blue eyes meeting her mother’s with her usual directness. “You must do something about Caroline.”

“I must?” Daphne queried, her voice lingering ever-so-slightly longer on the “I.”

Belinda ignored the sarcasm. “If she does not stop talking about Frederick Snowe-Mann-Formsby, I shall go mad.”

“Can’t you simply ignore her?”

“His name is Frederick Snowe . . . Mann . . . Formsby!”

Daphne blinked.

“Snowman, Mama! Snowman!”

“It is unfortunate,” Daphne allowed. “But, Lady Belinda Basset, do not forget that you could be likened to a rather droopy hound.”

Belinda’s gaze grew very jaded, and it became instantly clear that someone had indeed likened her to a basset hound.

“Oh,” Daphne said, somewhat surprised that Belinda had never told her about it. “I’m so sorry.”

“It was long ago,” Belinda said with a sniff. “And I assure you, it was not said more than once.”

Daphne pressed her lips together, trying not to smile. It was definitely not good form to encourage fisticuffs, but as she had fought her way to adulthood with seven siblings, four of them brothers, she could not help but utter a quiet “Well-done.”

Belinda gave her a regal nod, then said, “Will you have a talk with Caroline?”

“What is it you wish for me to say?”

“I don’t know. Whatever it is you usually say. It always seems to work.”

There was a compliment in there somewhere, Daphne was fairly certain, but before she could dissect the sentence, her stomach did a nasty flip, followed by the oddest sort of squeeze, and then—

“Excuse me!” she yelped, and she made it to the washroom just in time to reach the chamber pot.

Oh dear God. This wasn’t the change. She was pregnant.

“Mama?”

Daphne flicked her hand back at Belinda, trying to dismiss her.

“Mama? Are you all right?”

Daphne retched again.

“I’m getting Father,” Belinda announced.

“No!” Daphne fairly howled.

“Was it the fish? Because I thought the fish tasted a bit dodgy.”

Daphne nodded, hoping that would be the end of it.

“Oh, wait a moment, you didn’t have the fish. I remember it quite distinctly.”

Oh, bugger Belinda and her bloody attention to detail.

It was not the most maternal of sentiments, Daphne thought as she once again heaved her innards, but she was not feeling particularly charitable at the moment.

“You had the squab. I had the fish, and so did David, but you and Caroline ate only squab, and I think Father and Amelia had both, and we all had the soup, although—”

“Stop!” Daphne begged. She didn’t want to talk about food. Even the mere mention . . .

“I think I had better get Father,” Belinda said again.

“No, I’m fine,” Daphne gasped, still jerking her hand behind her in a shushing motion. She didn’t want Simon to see her like this. He would know instantly what was about.

Or perhaps more to the point, what was about to happen. In seven and a half months, give or take a few weeks.

“Very well,” Belinda conceded, “but at least let me fetch your maid. You should be in bed.”

Daphne threw up again.

“After you’re through,” Belinda corrected. “You should be in bed once you’re through with . . . ah . . . that.”

“My maid,” Daphne finally agreed. Maria would deduce the truth instantly, but she would not say a word to anyone, servants or famil

y. And perhaps more pressing, Maria would know exactly what to bring as a remedy. It would taste vile and smell worse, but it would settle her stomach.

Belinda dashed off, and Daphne—once she was convinced there could be nothing left in her stomach—staggered to her bed. She held herself extremely still; even the slightest rocking motion made her feel as if she were at sea. “I’m too old for this,” she moaned, because she was. Surely, she was. If she remained true to form—and really, why should this confinement be any different from the previous four—she would be gripped by nausea for at least two more months. The lack of food would keep her slender, but that would last only until mid-summer, when she would double in size, practically overnight. Her fingers would swell to the point that she could not wear her rings, she would not fit into any of her shoes, and even a single flight of stairs would leave her gasping for breath.

She would be an elephant. A two-legged, chestnut-haired elephant.

“Your Grace!”

Daphne could not lift her head, so she lifted her hand instead, a pathetic silent greeting to Maria, who was by now standing by the bed, staring down at her with an expression of horror . . .

. . . that was quickly sliding into one of suspicion.

“Your Grace,” Maria said again, this time with unmistakable inflection. She smiled.

“I know,” Daphne said. “I know.”

“Does the duke know?”

“Not yet.”

“Well, you won’t be able to hide it for long.”

“He leaves this afternoon for a few nights at Clyvedon,” Daphne said. “I will tell him when he returns.”

“You should tell him now,” Maria said. Twenty years of employment did give a maid some license to speak freely.

Daphne carefully edged herself up into a reclining position, stopping once to calm a wave of nausea. “It might not take,” she said. “At my age, they very often don’t.”

“Oh, I think it’s taken,” Maria said. “Have you looked in the mirror yet?”

Daphne shook her head.

“You’re green.”

“It might not—”

“You’re not going to throw the baby up.”



Tags: Julia Quinn Bridgertons Romance
Source: www.readsnovelonline.com
readsnovelonline.com Copyright 2016 - 2022