LADY WHISTLEDOWN'S SOCIETY PAPERS, 2 JUNE 1813

In the end, Daphne did the only thing she knew how to do. The Bridgertons had always been a loud and boisterous family, not a one of them prone to keeping secrets or holding grudges.

So she tried to talk to Simon. To reason with him.

The following morning (she had no idea where he had spent the night; wherever it was, it hadn't been their bed) she found him in his study. It was a dark, overbearingly masculine room, probably decorated by Simon's father. Daphne was frankly surprised that Simon would feel comfortable in such surroundings; he hated reminders of the old duke.

But Simon, clearly, was not uncomfortable. He was sitting behind his desk, his feet insolently propped up on the leather blotter that protected the rich cherry wood of the desktop. In his hand he was holding a smoothly polished stone, turning it over and over in his hands. There was a bottle of whiskey on the desk next to him; she had a feeling it had been there all night.

He hadn't, however, drunk much of it. Daphne was thankful for small favors.

The door was ajar, so she didn't knock. But she wasn't quite so brave as to stride boldly in. “Simon?” she asked, standing back near the door.

He looked up at her and quirked a brow.

“Are you busy?”

He set down the stone. “Obviously not.”

She motioned to it. “Is that from your travels?”

“The Caribbean. A memento of my time on the beach.”

Daphne noticed that he was speaking with perfect elocution. There was no hint of the stammer that had become apparent the night before. He was calm now. Almost annoyingly so. “Is the beach very different there than it is here?” she asked.

He raised an arrogant brow. “It's warmer.”

“Oh. Well, I'd assumed as much.”

He looked at her with piercing, unwavering eyes. “Daphne, I know you didn't seek me out to discuss the tropics.”

He was right, of course, but this wasn't going to be an easy conversation, and Daphne didn't think she was so much of a coward for wanting to put it off by a few moments.

She took a deep breath. “We need to discuss what happened last night.”

“I'm sure you think we do.”

She fought the urge to lean forward and smack the bland expression from his face. “I don't think we do. I know we do.”

He was silent for a moment before saying, “I'm sorry if you feel that I have betrayed—”

“It's not that, exactly.”

“—but you must remember that I tried to avoid marrying you.”

“That's certainly a nice way of putting it,” she muttered.

He spoke as if delivering a lecture. “You know that I had intended never to marry.”

“That's not the point, Simon.”

“It's exactly the point.” He dropped his feet to the floor, and his chair, which had been balancing on its two back legs, hit the ground with a loud thunk. “Why do you think I avoided marriage with such determination? It was because I didn't want to take a wife and then hurt her by denying her children.”

“You were never thinking of your potential wife,” she shot back. “You were thinking of yourself.”

“Perhaps,” he allowed, “but when that potential wife became you, Daphne, everything changed.”

“Obviously not,” she said bitterly.

He shrugged. “You know I hold you in the highest esteem. I never wanted to hurt you.”

“You're hurting me right now,” she whispered.

A flicker of remorse crossed his eyes, but it was quickly replaced with steely determination. “If you recall, I refused to offer for you even when your brother demanded it. Even,” he added pointedly, “when it meant my own death.”

Daphne didn't contradict him. They both knew he would have died on that dueling field. No matter what she thought of him now, how much she despised the hatred that was eating him up, Simon had too much honor ever to have shot at Anthony.

And Anthony placed too much value on his sister's honor to have aimed anywhere but at Simon's heart.

“I did that,” Simon said, “because I knew I could never be a good husband to you. I knew you wanted children. You'd told me so on a number of occasions, and I certainly don't blame you. You come from a large and loving family.”

“You could have a family like that, too.”

He continued as if he hadn't heard her. “Then, when you interrupted the duel, and begged me to marry you, I warned you. I told you I wouldn't have children—”

“You told me you couldn't have children,” she interrupted, her eyes flashing with anger. “There's a very big difference.”

“Not,” Simon said coldly, “to me. I can't have children. My soul won't allow it.”

“I see.” Something shriveled inside Daphne at that moment, and she was very much afraid it was her heart. She didn't know how she was meant to argue with such a statement. Simon's hatred of his father was clearly far stronger than any love he might learn to feel for her.

“Very well,” she said in a clipped voice. “This is obviously not a subject upon which you are open to discussion.”

He gave her one curt nod.

She gave him one in return. “Good day, then.”

And she left.

Simon kept to himself for most of the day. He didn't particularly want to see Daphne; that did nothing but make him feel guilty. Not, he assured himself, that he had anything to feel guilty about. He had told her before their marriage that he could not have children. He had given her every opportunity to back out, and she had chosen to marry him, anyway. He had not forced her into anything. It was not his fault if she had misinterpreted his words and thought that he was physically unable to sire brats.



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