The Duke and I (Bridgertons 1) - Page 44

It was bone-crackingly good.

Aubrey Hall, Kent

Twenty years later

The moment Violet heard Eloise scream, she knew something was dreadfully wrong.

It wasn’t as if her children never yelled. They yelled all the time, generally at each other. But this wasn’t a yell, it was a scream. And it wasn’t born of anger or frustration or a misplaced sense of injustice.

This was a scream of terror.

Violet ran through the house, with speed that ought to have been impossible eight months into her eighth pregnancy. She ran down the stairs, across the great hall. She ran through the entry, down the portico stairs . . .

And all the while, Eloise kept screaming.

“What is it?” she gasped, when she finally spied her seven-year-old daughter’s face. She was standing at the edge of the west lawn, near the entrance to the hedgerow maze, and she was still screaming.

“Eloise,” Violet implored, taking her face in her hands. “Eloise, please, just tell me what is wrong.”

Eloise’s screams gave way to sobs and she planted her hands over her ears, shaking her head over and over.

“Eloise, you must—” Violet’s words broke off sharply. The baby she was carrying was heavy and low, and the pain that shot through her abdomen from all the running hit her like a rock. She took a deep breath, trying to slow her pulse, and placed her hands under her belly, trying to support it from the outside.

“Papa!” Eloise wailed. It was the only word she seemed able to form through her cries.

A cold fist of fear landed in Violet’s chest. “What do you mean?”

“Papa,” Eloise gasped. “Papapapapapapapapapa—”

Violet slapped her. It would be the only time she would ever strike a child.

Eloise’s eyes went wide as she sucked in a huge breath of air. She said nothing, but she turned her head toward the entrance to the maze. And that was when Violet saw it.

A foot.

“Edmund?” she whispered. And then she screamed it.

She ran toward the maze, toward the booted foot that was sticking out of the entrance, attached to a leg, which must be attached to a body, which was lying on the ground.

Not moving at all.

“Edmund, oh Edmund, oh Edmund,” she said, over and over, something between a whimper and a cry.

When she reached his side, she knew. He was gone. He was lying on his back, eyes still open, but there was nothing of him left. He was gone. He was thirty-nine years old, and he was gone.

“What happened?” she whispered, frantically touching him, squeezing his arm, his wrist, his cheek. Her mind knew she could not bring him back, and her heart even knew it, too, but somehow her hands would not accept it. She could not stop touching him . . . poking, prodding, yanking, and all the while sobbing.


It was Eloise, come up behind her.


She couldn’t turn around. She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t look at her child’s face, knowing that she was now her only parent.

“It was a bee, Mama. He was stung by a bee.”

Violet went very still. A bee? What did she mean, a bee? Everyone was stung by a bee at some point in their lives. It swelled, it turned red, it hurt.

It didn’t kill you.

“He said it was nothing,” Eloise said, her voice trembling. “He said it didn’t even hurt.”

Violet stared at her husband, her head moving from side to side in denial. How could it not have hurt? It had killed him. She brought her lips together, trying to form a question, trying to make a bloody sound, but all she could get out was, “Wh-wh-wh-wh—” And she didn’t even know what she was trying to ask. When did it happen? What else did he say? Where had they been?

And did it matter? Did any of it matter?

“He couldn’t breathe,” Eloise said. Violet could feel her daughter’s presence growing close, and then, silently, Eloise’s hand slipped into her own.

Violet squeezed it.

“He started making this sound”—Eloise tried to imitate, and it sounded awful—“like he was choking. And then . . . Oh, Mama. Oh, Mama!” She threw herself against Violet’s side, burying her face where there had once been a curve of a hip. But now there was just a belly, a huge, massive belly, with a child who would never know its father.

“I need to sit down,” Violet whispered. “I need to—”

She fainted. Eloise broke her fall.

When Violet came to, she was surrounded by servants. All wore masks of shock and grief. Some could not meet her gaze.

“We need to get you in bed,” the housekeeper said briskly. She looked up. “Have we a pallet?”

Violet shook her head as she allowed a footman to assist her into a sitting position. “No, I can walk.”

“I really think—”

“I said I can walk,” she snapped. And then she snapped on the inside, and something burst inside of her. She took a deep, involuntary breath.

“Let me help you,” the butler said gently. He slid his arm around her back, and carefully helped her to her feet.

“I can’t—but Edmund . . .” She turned to look again, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. It wasn’t him, she told herself. That’s not how he is.

That’s not how he was.

She swallowed. “Eloise?” she asked.

“Nanny has already brought her up,” the housekeeper said, moving to Violet’s other side.

Violet nodded.

“Ma’am, we must get you to bed. It’s not good for the baby.”

Violet placed her hand on her belly. The baby was kicking like mad. Which was par for the course. This one kicked and punched and rolled and hiccupped and never, ever stopped. It was quite unlike the others. And it was a good thing, she supposed. This one was going to have to be strong.

She choked back a sob. They were both going to have to be strong.

“Did you say something?” the housekeeper asked, steering her toward the house.

Violet shook her head. “I need to lie down,” she whispered.

The housekeeper nodded, then turned to a footman with an urgent stare.

“Send for the midwife.”

She didn’t need the midwife. No one could believe it, given the shock she’d had and the late state of her pregnancy, but the baby refused to budge. Violet spent three more weeks in bed, eating because she had to, and trying to remind herself that she must be strong. Edmund was gone, but she had seven children who needed her, eight including the stubborn one in her belly.

And then finally, after a quick and easy birth, the midwife announced, “It’s a girl,” and placed a tiny, quiet bundle in Violet’s arms.

A girl. Violet couldn’t quite believe it. She’d convinced herself it would be a boy. She would name him Edmund, the A-G alphabetization of her first seven children be damned. He would be called Edmund, and he would look like Edmund, because surely that was the only way she would be able to make sense of all this.

But it was a girl, a pink little thing who hadn’t made a sound since her initial wail.

“Good morning,” Violet said to her, because she didn’t know what else to say. She looked down, and she saw her own face—smaller, a bit rounder—but definitely not Edmund’s.

The baby looked at her, straight into her eyes, even though Violet knew that could not be true. Babies didn’t do that so soon after birth. Violet should know; this was her eighth.

But this one . . . She didn’t seem to realize she wasn’t supposed to stare her mother down. And then she blinked. Twice. She did it with the most startling deliberation, as if to say, I’m here. And I know exactly what I’m doing.

Violet caught her breath, so totally and instantly in love she could hardly bear it. And then the baby let out a cry like nothing she had ever heard. She wailed so hard the midwife jumped. She screamed and screamed and screamed and even as the midwife fussed, and the maids came running in, Violet could do not

hing but laugh.

“She’s perfect,” she declared, trying to latch the tiny banshee onto her breast. “She is absolutely perfect.”

“What shall you name her?” the midwife asked, once the baby had busied herself trying to figure out how to nurse.

“Hyacinth,” Violet decided. It was Edmund’s favorite flower, especially the little grape hyacinths that popped up each year to greet the spring. They marked the new birth of the landscape, and this hyacinth—her Hyacinth—she would be Violet’s new birth.

Tags: Julia Quinn Bridgertons Romance
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