“Your brother-in-law is here,” Jeffries told him.
Simon paused. “Which one?” He had seven.
“Mr. Colin Bridgerton, Your Grace. With his family.”
Simon cocked his head. “Really?” He didn’t hear chaos and commotion.
“They are out, Your Grace.”
“And the duchess?”
“She is resting.”
Simon could not suppress a groan. “She’s not ill, is she?”
Jeffries, in a most un-Jeffries-like manner, blushed. “I could not say, Your Grace.”
Simon regarded Jeffries with a curious eye. “Is she ill, or isn’t she?”
Jeffries swallowed, cleared his throat, and then said, “I believe she is tired, Your Grace.”
“Tired,” Simon repeated, mostly to himself since it was clear that Jeffries would expire of inexplicable embarrassment if he pursued the conversation further. Shaking his head, he headed upstairs, adding, “Of course, she’s tired. Colin’s got four children under the age of ten, and she probably thinks she’s got to mother the lot while they’re here.”
Maybe he’d have a lie-down next to her. He was exhausted, too, and he always slept better when she was near.
The door to their room was shut when he got to it, and he almost knocked—it was a habit to do so at a closed door, even if it did lead to his own bedchamber—but at the last moment he instead gripped the doorknob and gave a soft push. She could be sleeping. If she truly was tired, he ought to let her rest.
Stepping lightly, he entered the room. The curtains were partway drawn, and he could see Daphne lying in bed, still as a bone. He tiptoed closer. She did look pale, although it was hard to tell in the dim light.
He yawned and sat on the opposite side of the bed, leaning forward to pull off his boots. He loosened his cravat and then slid it off entirely, scooting himself toward her. He wasn’t going to wake her, just snuggle up for a bit of warmth.
He’d missed her.
Settling in with a contented sigh, he put his arm around her, resting its weight just below her rib cage, and—
Daphne shot up like a bullet and practically hurled herself from the bed.
“Daphne?” Simon sat up, too, just in time to see her race for the chamber pot.
The chamber pot????
“Oh dear,” he said, wincing as she retched. “Fish?”
“Don’t say that word,” she gasped.
Must have been fish. They really needed to find a new fishmonger here in town.
He crawled out of bed to find a towel. “Can I get you anything?”
She didn’t answer. He hadn’t really expected her to. Still, he held out the towel, trying not to flinch when she threw up for what had to be the fourth time.
“You poor, poor dear,” he murmured. “I’m so sorry this happened to you. You haven’t been like this since—”
Since . . .
Oh, dear God.
“Daphne?” His voice shook. Hell, his whole body shook.
“But . . . how . . . ?”
“The usual way, I imagine,” she said, gratefully taking the towel.
“But it’s been— It’s been—” He tried to think. He couldn’t think. His brain had completely ceased working.
“I think I’m done,” she said. She sounded exhausted. “Could you get me a bit of water?”
“Are you certain?” If he recalled correctly, the water would pop right back up and into the chamber pot.
“It’s over there,” she said, motioning weakly to a pitcher on a table. “I’m not going to swallow it.”
He poured her a glass and waited while she swished out her mouth.
“Well,” he said, clearing his throat several times, “I . . . ah . . .” He coughed again. He could not get a word out to save his life. And he couldn’t blame his stutter this time.
“Everyone knows,” Daphne said, placing her hand on his arm for support as she moved back to bed.
“Everyone?” he echoed.
“I hadn’t planned to say anything until you returned, but they guessed.”
He nodded slowly, still trying to absorb it all. A baby. At his age. At her age.
It was . . .
It was . . .
It was amazing.
Strange how it came over him so suddenly. But now, after the initial shock wore off, all he could feel was pure joy.
“This is wonderful news!” he exclaimed. He reached out to hug her, then thought better of it when he saw her pasty complexion. “You never cease to delight me,” he said, instead giving her an awkward pat on the shoulder.
She winced and closed her eyes. “Don’t rock the bed,” she moaned. “You’re making me seasick.”
“You don’t get seasick,” he reminded her.
“I do when I’m expecting.”
“You’re an odd duck, Daphne Basset,” he murmured, and then stepped back to A) stop rocking the bed and
B) remove himself from her immediate vicinity should she take exception to the duck comparison.
(There was a certain history to this. While heavily pregnant with Amelia, she had asked him if she was radiant or if she just looked like a waddling duck. He told her she’d looked like a radiant duck. This had not been the correct answer.)
He cleared his throat and said, “You poor, poor dear.”
Then he fled.
Several hours later Simon was seated at his massive oak desk, his elbows resting atop the smooth wood, his right index finger ringing the top of the brandy snifter that he had already refilled twice.
It had been a momentous day.
An hour or so after he’d left Daphne to her nap, Colin and Penelope had returned with their progeny, and they’d all had tea and biscuits in the breakfast room. Simon had started for the drawing room, but Penelope had requested an alternative, someplace without “expensive fabrics and upholstery.”
Little Georgie had grinned up at him at that, his face still smeared with a substance Simon hoped was chocolate.
As Simon regarded the blanket of crumbs spilling from the table to the floor, along with the wet napkin they’d used to sop up Agatha’s overturned tea, he remembered that he and Daphne had always taken their tea here when the children were small.
Funny how one forgot such details.
Once the tea party had dispersed, however, Colin had asked for a private word. They had repaired to Simon’s study, and it was there that Colin confided in him about Georgie.
He wasn’t talking.
His eyes were sharp. Colin thought he was reading.
But he wasn’t talking.
Colin had asked for his advice, and Simon realized he had none. He’d thought about this, of course. It had haunted him every time Daphne had been pregnant, straight through until each of his children had begun to form sentences.
He supposed it would haunt him now. There would be another baby, another soul to love desperately . . . and worry over.
All he’d known to tell Colin was to love the boy. To talk to him, and praise him, and take him riding and fishing and all those things a father ought to do with a son.
All those things his father had never done with him.
He didn’t think about him often these days, his father. He had Daphne to thank for that. Before they’d met, Simon had been obsessed with revenge. He’d wanted so badly to hurt his father, to make him suffer the way he had suffered as a boy, with all the pain and anguish of knowing he had been rejected and found wanting.
It hadn’t mattered that his father was dead. Simon had thirsted for vengeance all the same, and it had taken love, first with Daphne and then with his children, to banish that ghost. He’d finally realized that he was free when Daphne had given him a bundle of letters from his father that had been entrusted into her care. He hadn’t wanted to burn them; he hadn’t wanted to rip them to shreds.
He hadn’t particularly wanted to read them, either.
He’d looked down at the stack of envelopes, tied neatly with a red and gold ribbon, and realized that he felt nothing. Not anger, not sorrow, not even regret. It had been the greatest victory he could have imagined.
He wasn’t sure how long the letters had sat in Daphne’s desk. He knew she’d put them in her bottom drawer, and every now and then he’d taken a peek to see if they were still there.
But eventually even that had tapered off. He hadn’t forgotten about the letters—every now and then something would happen that would spring them to mind—but he’d forgotten about them with such constancy. And they had probably been absent from his mind for months when he opened his bottom desk drawer and saw that Daphne had moved them there.
That had been twenty years ago.
And although he still lacked the urge to burn or shred, he’d also never felt the need to open them.