But she wasn’t asleep. Her lashes fluttered up and down, eyes fixed on the opposite wall. What was she thinking? He wanted to know. Hell, he wanted to help her, but he wouldn’t push her.
“Shall I ring for some soup?” he ventured, hoping against hope that this was the right tactic.
“Chicken and rice, please,” she sniffed.
At least she was talking. That was a positive sign. “Perhaps a bit of wedding cake if you eat every last drop?”
“I’ll get fat,” she whispered.
He grinned against her forehead. “I certainly hope so.”
“That’s not nice, Liam.”
She snorted. “Shut up.”
“Then how will I order the soup and cake?” he teased.
“With your ducal powers.”
They grew quiet again, and he made to leave.
“Can you hold me a little bit longer?” she asked, looking up at him.
In that moment something inside of him shifted. Or maybe it cracked. Or maybe it was nothing at all… except… “I’ll hold you forever.”
Bella had to stop looking at him. He sounded so sincere, and he seemed so concerned. But she couldn’t be sure. Right now, she wasn’t sure of anything, except that she was married to a man who didn’t love her, yet said the most passionate, loving things to her.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” she said.
“No need to be sorry. It wasn’t my business.”
She frowned. Yes, she liked his answer, but he was always answering her like that. “But you shouldn’t keep secrets in a marriage.”
“I agree with you, but love, you were sixteen. In what way does that affect our marriage?”
“I think it just did.”
“Other than medically, how does it effect our marriage? Do you have plans to rekindle your relationship with Heath?”
She shook her head. “No, I don’t think of him like that anymore.”
“Did he ever apologize?”
The fierce look in Liam’s eyes almost took her breath away. “Yes, but I wouldn’t listen. So as soon as we graduated, I went to college clear across the country. Away from him. Away from everyone.” She’d never been so lonely in her life while living in Arizona. Sure, her mother’s side of the family had been welcoming. They’d made sure to make her feel like one of them. That she wasn’t a burden. That their home was her home, too.
“I dropped out after the first year, and started doing mission work instead. My parents were concerned, and then thrilled, when I followed in their footsteps,” she said.
“You only became a missionary to please them?” he asked, his tone slightly accusing.
“No, I became a missionary to get over myself.”
“Dr. Grahame is entirely right, you know. It wasn’t your fault.”
“In my head, I know it was an accident, but my choices hurt another. I know you don’t believe like me, but,” she put a hand over her stomach, “there was life inside of me. There was something in me created in love, and I didn’t appreciate it. I pretended that I really wasn’t pregnant because I didn’t want to deal with it. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents, and later… when I did miscarry, I felt relieved.”
“Relieved,” she repeated. “Because now no one but Heath, the emergency room doctor, and I would know. How selfish is that? How loving is that? What kind of mother is relieved when—when—?”
“Don’t. I can’t say I understand what you’re going though, but I can remind you that you were only sixteen? You were a child.”
“A child doing very grown-up things,” she pointed out.
He grabbed her chin, gently forcing it up. “I’m not going to argue the point. But I will encourage you to think about the child you’re carrying right now, and if all this self-loathing will help it. Or you, for that matter.”
Her shoulders sagged. He was right. She knew he was right, but it still didn’t make her confession hurt any less. “Can I have some milk with my cake?”
Letting go of her chin, he said, “You can have whatever you like.” He rose from the bed and made to leave.
“Liam,” she called out, right as he opened the door.
“Can we do the honeymoon thing here? I don’t want to be away from your doctor if I get dehydrated again.” Right now, she couldn’t imagine leaving this bed, much less the country.
“Are you certain?”
She nodded. “Very. I mean, look at where am I. In Scotland. Sleeping in a castle. With a handsome duke.”
He rubbed his chin. “When you put it that way… so very flattering you are, lass.”
“It’s a part of my southern charm,” she said.
“Consider your wishes fulfilled. Now, I need to see a man about a cake.” He disappeared around the open door, but she could hear him whistling as he went.
Despite herself, despite everything, she smiled. Genuinely smiled. Then she placed her hand on her abdomen again. “I promise to be more careful. There are so many people who love you and can’t wait to meet you, me included.”
She hoped her promise would be enough, because in that dark moment of losing her first child, she had forgotten her faith. And it had taken longer than she liked to rediscover it.
It was hard enough keeping the fact that a doctor came to see her early this morning a secret, but having to say goodbye to her parents almost had her on her knees, begging them to stay. Who else would she turn to for advice and guidance?
She had always lived near them. Always showed up for Sunday dinners and impromptu Friday night cookouts. She loved watching after her brothers and sister so her parents could go out for a night on the town, without worrying overly much.
She loved her hometown of Holland Springs. She suddenly realized that she would miss living there, more than she thought she would. She couldn’t see Liam moving there. Ever.
And maybe she was too much of a coward to ask him to consider it, but she didn’t care right now. Or maybe she was too prideful to care. Here, at least, no one knew her, and they wouldn’t talk about how she’d fallen.
She waved one last time at her parents before their car disappeared in the curve of the road that led away from Wintersea.
Liam’s warm fingers laced with hers. He didn’t say anything, and she appreciated that. There was nothing he could say right now to make her feel better.