Since Violet showed no sign of finishing that thought, Daphne murmured, “Yes, Simon will be my husband.”

Violet groaned, her cornflower blue eyes glancing everywhere but Daphne's face. “This is very difficult for me.”

“Apparently so,” Daphne muttered.

Violet took a deep breath and sat up straight, her narrow shoulders thrown back as if she were steeling herself for the most unpleasant task. “On your wedding night,” she began, “your husband will expect you to do your marital duty.”

This was nothing Daphne didn't already know.

“Your marriage must be consummated.”

“Of course,” Daphne murmured.

“He will join you in your bed.”

Daphne nodded. She knew this as well.

“And he will perform certain”—Violet groped for a word, her hands actually waving through the air—“intimacies upon your person.”

Daphne's lips parted slightly, her short indrawn breath the room's only sound. This was finally getting interesting.

“I am here to tell you,” Violet said, her voice turning quite brisk, “that your marital duty need not be unpleasant.”

But what was it?

Violet's cheeks blazed. “I know that some women find the, er, act distasteful, but—”

“They do?” Daphne asked curiously. “Then why do I see so many maids sneaking off with the footmen?”

Violet instantly went into outraged employer mode. “Which maid was that?” she demanded.

“Don't try to change the subject,” Daphne warned. “I've been waiting for this all week.”

Some of the steam went out of her mother. “You have?”

Daphne's look was pure what-did-you-expect. “Well, of course.”

Violet sighed and mumbled, “Where was I?”

“You were telling me that some women find their marital duty unpleasant.”

“Right. Well. Hmmm.”

Daphne looked down at her mother's hands and noticed that she'd practically shredded a handkerchief.

“All I really want you to know,” Violet said, the words tumbling out as if she could not wait to be rid of them, “is that it needn't be unpleasant at all. If two people care for one another—and I believe that the duke cares for you very much—”

“And I for him,” Daphne interrupted softly.

“Of course. Right. Well, you see, given that you do care for each other, it will probably be a very lovely and special moment.” Violet started scooting to the foot of the bed, the pale yellow silk of her skirts spreading along the quilts as she moved. “And you shouldn't be nervous. I'm sure the duke will be very gentle.”

Daphne thought of Simon's scorching kiss. “Gentle” didn't seem to apply. “But—”

Violet stood up like a shot. “Very well. Have a good night. That's what I came here to say.”

“That's all?”

Violet dashed for the door. “Er, yes.” Her eyes shifted guiltily. “Were you expecting something else?”

“Yes!” Daphne ran after her mother and threw herself against the door so she couldn't escape. “You can't leave telling me only that!”

Violet glanced longingly at the window. Daphne gave thanks that her room was on the second floor; otherwise, she wouldn't have put it past her mother to try to make a getaway that way.

“Daphne,” Violet said, her voice sounding rather strangled.

“But what do I do?”

“Your husband will know,” Violet said primly.

“I don't want to make a fool of myself, Mother.”

Violet groaned. “You won't. Trust me. Men are…”

Daphne seized upon the half-finished thought. “Men are what? What, Mother? What were you going to say?”

By now Violet's entire face had turned bright red, and her neck and ears had progressed well into the pinks. “Men are easily pleased,” she mumbled. “He won't be disappointed.”

“But—”

“But enough!” Violet finally said firmly. “I have told you everything my mother told me. Don't be a nervous ninny, and do it enough so you'll have a baby.”

Daphne's jaw dropped. “What?”

Violet chuckled nervously. “Did I forget to mention the bit about the baby?”

“Mother!”

“Very well. Your marital duty—the, er, consummation, that is—is how you have a baby.”

Daphne sank against the wall. “So you did this eight times?” she whispered.

“No!”

Daphne blinked in confusion. Her mother's explanations had been impossibly vague, and she still didn't know what marital duty was, precisely, but something wasn't adding up. “But wouldn't you have had to do it eight times?”

Violet began to fan herself furiously. “Yes. No! Daphne, this is very personal.”

“But how could you have had eight children if you—”

“I did it more than eight times,” Violet ground out, looking as if she wanted to melt right into the walls.

Daphne stared at her mother in disbelief. “You did?”

“Sometimes,” Violet said, barely even moving her lips, and certainly not moving her eyes off a single spot on the floor, “people just do it because they like to.”

Daphne's eyes grew very wide. “They do?” she breathed.

“Er, yes.”

“Like when men and women kiss?”

“Yes, exactly,” Violet said, sighing with relief. “Very much like—” Her eyes narrowed. “Daphne,” she said, her voice suddenly shrill, “have you kissed the duke?”



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