He turned to her, and Daphne was nearly undone by the sheer emotion burning on his face. His jaw was trembling, and a muscle worked frantically in his cheek. There was incredible tension in his neck, as if every ounce of his energy was devoted to the task of delivering this speech.

Daphne wanted to hold him, to comfort the little boy inside. She wanted to smooth his brow, and squeeze his hand. She wanted to do a thousand things, but instead she just held silent, encouraging him with her eyes to continue.

“You were right,” he said, the words tumbling from his mouth. “All along, you've been right. About my father. Th-that I was letting him win.”

“Oh, Simon,” she murmured.

“B-but what—” His face—his strong, handsome face, which was always so firm, always so in control—crumpled. “What if…if we have a child, a-a-and it comes out like me?”

For a moment Daphne couldn't speak. Her eyes tingled with unshed tears, and her hand moved unbidden to her mouth, covering lips that had parted in shock.

Simon turned away from her, but not before she saw the utter torment in his eyes. Not before she heard his breath catch, or the shaky exhale he finally expelled in an attempt to hold himself together.

“If we have a child who stutters,” Daphne said carefully, “then I shall love him. And help him. And—” She swallowed convulsively, praying that she was doing the right thing. “And I shall turn to you for advice, because obviously you have learned how to overcome it.”

He turned to face her with surprising swiftness. “I don't want my child to suffer as I have suffered.”

A strange little smile moved across Daphne's face without her even realizing it, as if her body had realized before her mind that she knew exactly what to say. “But he wouldn't suffer,” she said, “because you'll be his father.”

Simon's face did not change expression, but his eyes shone with an odd, new, almost hopeful light.

“Would you reject a child who stuttered?” Daphne asked quietly.

Simon's negative reply was strong, swift, and accompanied by just a touch of blasphemy.

She smiled softly. “Then I have no fears for our children.”

Simon held still for one moment more, and then in a rush of movement pulled her into his arms, burying his face in the crook of her neck. “I love you,” he choked out. “I love you so much.”

And Daphne was finally certain that everything was going to be all right.

Several hours later, Daphne and Simon were still sitting on the love seat in the sitting room. It had been an afternoon for holding hands, for resting one's head on the other's shoulder. Words hadn't been necessary; for both it had been enough simply to be next to the other. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and they were together.

It was all they needed.

But something was niggling at the back of Daphne's brain, and it wasn't until her eyes fell on a writing set on the desk that she remembered.

The letters from Simon's father.

She closed her eyes and exhaled, summoning the courage she knew she'd need to hand them over to Simon. The Duke of Middlethorpe had told her, when he'd asked her to take the packet of letters, that she'd know when the time was right to give them to him.

She disentangled herself from Simon's heavy arms and padded over to the duchess's chamber.

“Where are you going?” Simon asked sleepily. He'd been dozing in the warm afternoon sun.

“I—I have to get something.”

He must have heard the hesitation in her voice, because he opened his eyes and craned his body around to look at her. “What are you getting?” he asked curiously.

Daphne avoided answering his question by scurrying into the next room. “I'll just be a moment,” she called out.

She'd kept the letters, tied together by a red-and-gold ribbon—the ancestral colors of Hastings—in the bottom drawer of her desk. She'd actually forgotten about them for her first few weeks back in London, and they'd lain untouched in her old bedroom at Bridgerton House. But she'd stumbled across them on a visit to see her mother. Violet had suggested she go upstairs to gather a few of her things, and while Daphne was collecting old perfume bottles and the pillowcase she'd stitched at age ten, she found them again.

Many a time she'd been tempted to open one up, if only to better understand her husband. And truth be told, if the envelopes hadn't been closed with sealing wax, she probably would have tossed her scruples over her shoulder and read them.

She picked up the bundle and walked slowly back to the sitting room. Simon was still on the couch, but he was up and alert, and watching her curiously.

“These are for you,” she said, holding up the bundle as she walked to his side.

“What are they?” he asked.

But from the tone of his voice, she was fairly certain he already knew.

“Letters from your father,” she said. “Middlethorpe gave them to me. Do you remember?”

He nodded. “I also remember giving him orders to burn them.”

Daphne smiled weakly. “He apparently disagreed.”

Simon stared at the bundle. Anywhere but at her face. “And so, apparently, did you,” he said in a very quiet voice.

She nodded and sat next to him. “Do you want to read them?”

Simon thought about his answer for several seconds and finally settled on complete honesty. “I don't know.”

“It might help you to finally put him behind you.”

“Or it might make it worse.”

“It might,” she agreed.

He stared at the letters, bundled up by a ribbon, resting innocently in her hands. He expected to feel animosity. He expected to feel rage. But instead, all he felt was…



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