“What happened?” she asked.
He stared at her in shock. “You don’t know?”
She blinked a few times. “Was I bleeding?”
“Quite a lot,” he choked out. He couldn’t possibly have elaborated. He didn’t want to describe the rush of blood he had witnessed. He didn’t want her to know, and to be honest, he wanted to forget.
Her brow wrinkled, and her head tipped to the side. After a few moments Gregory realized she was trying to look toward the foot of the bed.
“We cleaned it up,” he said, his lips finding a tiny smile. That was so like Lucy, making certain that all was in order.
She gave a little nod. Then she said, “I’m tired.”
“Dr. Jarvis said you will be weak for several months. I would imagine you will be confined to bed for some time.”
She let out a groan, but even this was a feeble sound. “I hate bed rest.”
He smiled. Lucy was a doer; she always had been. She liked to fix things, to make things, to make everyone happy. Inactivity just about killed her.
A bad metaphor. But still.
He leaned toward her with a stern expression. “You will stay in bed if I have to tie you down.”
“You’re not the sort,” she said, moving her chin ever so slightly. He thought she was trying for an insouciant expression, but it took energy to be cheeky, apparently. She closed her eyes again, letting out a soft sigh.
“I did once,” he said.
She made a funny sound that he thought might actually be a laugh. “You did, didn’t you?”
He leaned down and kissed her very gently on the lips. “I saved the day.”
“You always save the day.”
“No.” He swallowed. “That’s you.”
Their eyes met, the gaze between them deep and strong. Gregory felt something wrenching within him, and for a moment he was sure he was going to sob again. But then, just as he felt himself begin to come apart, she gave a little shrug and said, “I couldn’t move now, anyway.”
His equilibrium somewhat restored, he got up to scavenge a leftover biscuit from the tea tray. “Remember that in a week.” He had no doubt that she would be trying to get out of bed long before it was recommended.
“Where are the babies?”
Gregory paused, then turned around. “I don’t know,” he replied slowly. Good heavens, he’d completely forgotten. “In the nursery, I imagine. They are both perfect. Pink and loud and everything they are supposed to be.”
Lucy smiled weakly and let out another tired sound. “May I see them?”
“Of course. I’ll have someone fetch them immediately.”
“Not the others, though,” Lucy said, her eyes clouding. “I don’t want them to see me like this.”
“I think you look beautiful,” he said. He came over and perched on the side of the bed. “I think you might be the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.”
“Stop,” she said, since Lucy never had been terribly good at receiving compliments. But he saw her lips wobble a bit, hovering between a smile and a sob.
“Katharine was here yesterday,” he told her.
Her eyes flew open.
“No, no, don’t worry,” he said quickly. “I told her you were merely sleeping. Which is what you were doing. She isn’t concerned.”
“Are you sure?”
He nodded. “She called you La la la Lucy.”
Lucy smiled. “She is marvelous.”
“She is just like you.”
“That’s not why she is marv—”
“It is exactly why,” he interrupted with a grin. “And I almost forgot to tell you. She named the babies.”
“I thought you named the babies.”
“I did. Here have some more water.” He paused for a moment to get some more liquid into her. Distraction was going to be the key, he decided. A little bit here and a little bit there, and they’d get through a full glass of water. “Katharine thought of their second names. Francesca Hyacinth and Eloise Lucy.”
“Eloise . . . ?”
“Lucy,” he finished for her. “Eloise Lucy. Isn’t it lovely?”
To his surprise, she didn’t protest. She just nodded, the motion barely perceptible, her eyes filling with tears.
“She said it was because you are the best mother in the world,” he added softly.
She did cry then, big silent tears rolling from her eyes.
“Would you like me to bring you the babies now?” he asked.
She nodded. “Please. And . . .” She paused, and Gregory saw her throat work. “And bring the rest, too.”
“Are you certain?”
She nodded again. “If you can help me to sit up a little straighter, I think I can manage hugs and kisses.”
His tears, the ones he had been trying so hard to suppress, slid from his eyes. “I can’t think of anything that might help you to get better more quickly.” He walked to the door, then turned around when his hand was on the knob. “I love you, La la la Lucy.”
“I love you, too.”
Gregory must have told the children to behave with extra decorum, Lucy decided, because when they filed into her room (rather adorably from oldest to youngest, the tops of their heads making a charming little staircase) they did so very quietly, finding their places against the wall, their hands clasped sweetly in front of their bodies.
Lucy had no idea who these children were. Her children had never stood so still.
“It’s lonely over here,” she said, and there would have been a mass tumble onto the bed except that Gregory leapt into the riot with a forceful “Gently!”
Although in retrospect, it was not so much his verbal order that held the chaos at bay as his arms, which prevented at least three children from cannonballing onto the mattress.
“Mimsy won’t let me see the babies,” four-year-old Ben muttered.
“It’s because you haven’t taken a bath in a month,” retorted Anthony, two years his elder, almost to the day.
“How is that possible?” Gregory wondered aloud.
“He’s very sneaky,” Daphne informed him. She was trying to worm her way closer to Lucy, though, so her words were muffled.
“How sneaky can one b
e with a stench like that?” Hermione asked.
“I roll in flowers every single day,” Ben said archly.
Lucy paused for a moment, then decided it might be best not to reflect too carefully on what her son had just said. “Er, which flowers are those?”
“Well, not the rosebush,” he told her, sounding as if he could not believe she’d even asked.
Daphne leaned toward him and gave a delicate sniff. “Peonies,” she announced.
“You can’t tell that by sniffing him,” Hermione said indignantly. The two girls were separated by only a year and a half, and when they weren’t whispering secrets they were bickering like . . .
Well, bickering like Bridgertons, really.
“I have a very good nose,” Daphne said. She looked up, waiting for someone to confirm this.
“The scent of peonies is very distinctive,” Katharine confirmed. She was sitting down by the foot of the bed with Richard. Lucy wondered when the two of them had decided they were too old for piling together at the pillows. They were getting so big, all of them. Even little Colin didn’t look like a baby any longer.
“Mama?” he said mournfully.
“Come here, sweetling,” she murmured, reaching out for him. He was a little butterball, all chubby cheeks and wobbly knees, and she’d really thought he was going to be her last. But now she had two more, swaddled up in their cradles, getting ready to grow into their names.
Eloise Lucy and Francesca Hyacinth. They had quite the namesakes.
“I love you, Mama,” Colin said, his warm little face finding the curve of her neck.
“I love you, too,” Lucy choked out. “I love all of you.”
“When will you get out of bed?” Ben asked.
“I’m not sure yet. I’m still terribly tired. It might be a few weeks.”
“A few weeks?” he echoed, clearly aghast.
“We’ll see,” she murmured. Then she smiled. “I’m feeling so much better already.”
And she was. She was still tired, more so than she could ever remember. Her arms were heavy, and her legs felt like logs, but her heart was light and full of song.
“I love everybody,” she suddenly announced. “You,” she said to Katharine, “and you and you and you and you and you and you. And the two babies in the nursery, too.”