Adam’s voice grew louder, and she had to pay attention to what he was saying instead of asking how Liam knew.
Liam’s dark eyes gazed in to hers and the world seemed to tilt, her body sliding toward his.
The corner of his mouth lifted, and she bit her bottom lip. Heat filled her, starting from where their hands were joined and flowed to the top of her head down to the tips of her toes.
She barely listened as Adam spoke of love and respect. Of sickness and health. Of when times were hard and easy.
“Love isn’t just an emotion that makes us do beautifully foolish things,” he said with a smile in his voice, and Bella wondered if he were thinking of his wife. “It’s a choice you make when the entire world is telling you marriage shouldn’t be this hard. Relationships shouldn’t take this much work. It’s the choice you continue to make when everyone is telling you to follow your heart, instead of working through the difficult times.”
This time, she and Liam looked at Adam. His blue eyes were serious and his expression was thoughtful. “There will be difficult times. There will be times when you question your decision for standing here today. But there will also be moments of pure Grace, of blessings, and,” he grinned and wriggled his dark brows, “magic.”
Liam’s mouth twisted a little, while Bella sighed. She would remember that, she swore to herself. Because without the dark times, how would they ever cherish the light?
“Do you, Isabella Gloriana Montoya Edwards, take Liam Aiden Bruce Stewart as your husband?” Adam asked.
Bella didn’t hesitate. She gazed right into Liam’s dark eyes and said, “Yes.”
They were married.
And now, Liam could breathe a bit easier. Yes, he did feel a slight twinge of guilt when he immediately left the reception to go sign the proper documents to immediately have the monies released into his accounts. Yet, he’d returned to find Bella and her family laughing and talking with his mother and sister.
No one, it seemed, had noticed his brief absence. Not even his bride, who when she saw him, had given him a smile so sweet that his heart started to ache.
All in all, he would call the day a success.
He dropped into his favorite chair, wondering if he should go to Bella or wait for her. This part, the after the wedding and everyone had gone home or to a hotel for the evening, was rather awkward. Staring into the fire, he finally loosened his tie.
The thirteen-inch-thick stone walls kept Wintersea cool year-round, and to him, perfect, but there had always been a fire in the study while the duke was in residence. And since he was the duke in residence…
He exhaled, thinking of Bella, and rose to his feet. He should go to her, and give her the choice of spending the night in his bed, or he in hers.
Nearly sprinting to her room, he knocked on her door and then waited. She didn’t come. So, he knocked again and called out her name.
“Figures,” he muttered to himself. He’d waited too long and now his bride was asleep. So, he walked away and prowled around the house, down halls lined with painting of his ancestors. Of sour-faced men with equally sour-faced women, until he got to the fourth duke. He and his bride were bonny and smiling from ear to ear. They looked in love. They looked like life had dealt them a hand they wanted to keep rather than discard.
If only he could have the promise of that. If only he could assure himself that he hadn’t made the mistake of marrying a woman for the money she could provide him. In all honesty, he’d been better off marrying a stranger, or at least a woman who he could deal with on a superficial level. He couldn’t imagine Bella being content with superficial. She would dig and mine, and search for the things that would hurt and heal.
Not until a distant clock chimed out the time of two am did he head back to his bedroom. There was a light on under the door, and he cautiously opened it. Usually, there was no one about at this time of night.
A fire snapped and crackled in the hearth. He frowned. The household knew not to build a fire in any room that wasn’t going to be used, or wasn’t currently occupied. He didn’t have the money to spare to pay for it, and even now that he did, it seemed a waste.
Besides, he could build his own bloody fire in his bedroom.
He shut the door behind him and began to undress. As he stripped down to his briefs, a small noise caught his attention. He walked to the bed, where he thought the noise originated, and found his bride asleep in it.
Her black hair was spread over his pillow, her mouth slightly parted as her chest slowly rose and fell. He could see the golden skin of her bare shoulders and the upper swells of her breasts.
Sitting on the bed beside her, he ran his fingers through the soft strands, marveling at the silky texture. She stirred a little in her sleep and then settled again.
“Have you been waiting for me?” he asked softly, not expecting her to answer. “Shall I crawl into bed with you and take you in my arms?”
Damned if she didn’t smile at that.
Rising from the bed, he turned out the single lamp in the room and settled down beside his wife, pulling her into his arms. Nuzzling her hair, he kissed her head, and then let his hand drift lower to her stomach. The slight swell that greeted him never failed to shock him.
Would it be a boy or a girl? Would she want to know?
He wanted to know, he realized. He wanted to name him or her. He wanted to plan for football and dance lessons, fishing trips and afternoon teas. He wanted a future, one with a family, and not this solitary existence he’d imagined as his new future once Verity had betrayed him.
Bella let out a little sigh.
He smiled, allowing his body to relax and his eyes to close. No, he wouldn’t spend the rest of his life alone. His life would be full of surprises and… Bella and their child.
It wasn’t the sun that woke Liam up. It wasn’t Bella moving around in bed that made awareness enter his brain. In fact, it was the smallest of whimpers that alerted him.
His eyes shot open, and he glanced at the woman curled up in a ball beside him. She looked to be frozen, her face white with pain, while tears slid down her cheeks. Her arms were wrapped around her belly.
The sight was like a kick to the gut.
“Bella, are you okay?” he asked stupidly.
She bit her lip, turning it as white as her face, before exhaling two words, “Doctor. Baby.”
His heart slammed against his chest as he jumped up from bed. “Can you walk? Forget walking.” He roared for his valet and dressed in record time. “I’ll carry you, shall I?”