And Simon was left wondering if he had just been snatched up into heaven—or perhaps led to the darkest corner of hell.

Daphne spent the rest of the day surrounded by her family. Everyone was, of course, thrilled by the news of her engagement. Everyone, that was, except her older brothers, who while happy for her, were somewhat subdued. Daphne didn't blame them. She felt rather subdued herself. The events of the day had left them all exhausted.

It was decided that the wedding must take place with all possible haste. (Violet had been informed that Daphne might have been seen kissing Simon in Lady Trowbridge's garden, and that was enough for her to immediately send a request to the archbishop for a special license.) Violet had then immersed herself in a whirlwind of party details; just because the wedding was to be small, she'd announced, it didn't have to be shabby.

Eloise, Francesca, and Hyacinth, all vastly excited at the prospect of dressing up as bridesmaids, kept up a steady stream of questions. How had Simon proposed? Did he get down on one knee? What color would Daphne wear and when would he give her a ring?

Daphne did her best to answer their questions, but she could barely concentrate on her sisters, and by the time afternoon slipped into the eve, she was reduced to monosyllables. Finally, after Hyacinth asked her what color roses she wanted for her bouquet, and Daphne answered, “Three,” her sisters gave up talking to her and left her alone.

The enormity of her actions had left Daphne nearly speechless. She had saved a man's life. She had secured a promise of marriage from the man she adored. And she had committed herself to a life without children.

All in one day.

She laughed, somewhat desperately. It made one wonder what she could do tomorrow as an encore.

She wished she knew what had gone through her head in those last moments before she'd turned to Anthony, and said, “There will be no duel,” but in all truth, she wasn't sure it was anything she could possibly remember. Whatever had been racing through her mind—it hadn't been made up of words or sentences or conscious thought. It had been as if she was enveloped by color. Reds and yellows, and a swirling mishmash of orange where they met. Pure feeling and instinct. That's all there had been. No reason, no logic, nothing even remotely rational or sane.

And somehow, as all of that churned violently within her, she'd known what she had to do. She might be able to live without the children she hadn't yet borne, but she couldn't live without Simon. The children were amorphous, unknown beings she couldn't picture or touch.

But Simon—Simon was real and he was here. She knew how it felt to touch his cheek, to laugh in his presence. She knew the sweet taste of his kiss, and the wry quirk of his smile.

And she loved him.

And although she barely dared think it, maybe he was wrong. Maybe he could have children. Maybe he'd been misled by an incompetent surgeon, or maybe God was just waiting for the right time to bestow a miracle. She'd be unlikely to mother a brood the size of the Bridgertons, but if she could have even one child she knew she'd feel complete.

She wouldn't mention these thoughts to Simon, though. If he thought she was holding out even the tiniest hope for a child, he wouldn't marry her. She was sure of it. He'd gone to such lengths to be brutally honest. He wouldn't allow her to make a decision if he didn't think she had the facts absolutely straight.

“Daphne?”

Daphne, who had been sitting listlessly on the sofa in the Bridgerton's drawing room, looked up to see her mother gazing at her with an expression of deep concern.

“Are you all right?” Violet asked.

Daphne forced a weary smile. “I'm just tired,” she replied. And she was. It hadn't even occurred to her until that very moment that she hadn't slept in over thirty-six hours.

Violet sat beside her. “I thought you'd be more excited. I know how much you love Simon.”

Daphne turned surprised eyes to her mother's face.

“It's not hard to see,” Violet said gently. She patted her on the hand. “He's a good man. You've chosen well.”

Daphne felt a wobbly smile coming on. She had chosen well. And she would make the best of her marriage. If they weren't blessed with children—well, she reasoned, she might have turned out to be barren, anyway. She knew of several couples who had never had children, and she doubted any of them had known of their deficiencies prior to their marriage vows. And with seven brothers and sisters, she was sure to have plenty of nieces and nephews to hug and spoil.

Better to live with the man she loved than to have children with one she didn't.

“Why don't you take a nap?” Violet suggested. “You look terribly tired. I hate seeing such dark smudges below your eyes.”

Daphne nodded and stumbled to her feet. Her mother knew best. Sleep was what she needed. “I'm sure I'll feel much better in an hour or two,” she said, a wide yawn escaping her mouth.

Violet stood and offered her daughter her arm. “I don't think you're going to be able to make it up the stairs on your own,” she said, smiling as she led Daphne out of the room and up the stairs. “And I sincerely doubt we'll see you in an hour or two. I shall give everyone explicit instructions that you are not to be disturbed until morning.”

Daphne nodded sleepily. “Thaz good,” she mumbled, stumbling into her room. “Morningsh good.”

Violet steered Daphne to the bed and helped her into it. The shoes she pulled off, but that was all. “You might as well sleep in your clothes,” she said softly, then bent to kiss her daughter on the forehead. “I can't imagine I'll be able to move you enough to get you out of them.”

Daphne's only reply was a snore.



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