Still, even though he was plagued by this nagging sense of guilt every time he thought of her (which pretty much meant all day), and even though his gut twisted every time he saw her stricken face in his mind (which pretty much meant he spent the day with an upset stomach), he felt as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders now that everything was out in the open.

Secrets could be deadly, and now there were no more between them. Surely that had to be a good thing.

By the time night fell, he had almost convinced himself that he had done nothing wrong. Almost, but not quite. He had entered this marriage convinced that he would break Daphne's heart, and that had never sat well with him. He liked Daphne. Hell, he probably liked her better than any human being he'd ever known, and that was why he'd been so reluctant to marry her. He hadn't wanted to shatter her dreams. He hadn't wanted to deprive her of the family she so desperately wanted. He'd been quite prepared to step aside and watch her marry someone else, someone who would give her a whole houseful of children.

Simon suddenly shuddered. The image of Daphne with another man was not nearly as tolerable as it had been just a month earlier.

Of course not, he thought, trying to use the rational side of his brain. She was his wife now. She was his.

Everything was different now.

He had known how desperately she had wanted children, and he had married her, knowing full well that he would not give her any.

But, he told himself, you warned her. She'd known exactly what she was getting into.

Simon, who had been sitting in his study, tossing that stupid rock back and forth between his hands since supper, suddenly straightened. He had not deceived her. Not truly. He had told her that they wouldn't have children, and she had agreed to marry him, anyway. He could see where she would feel a bit upset upon learning his reasons, but she could not say that she had entered this marriage with any foolish hopes or expectations.

He stood. It was time they had another talk, this one at his behest. Daphne hadn't attended dinner, leaving him to dine alone, the silence of the night broken only by the metallic clink of his fork against his plate. He hadn't seen his wife since that morning; it was high time he did.

She was his wife, he reminded himself. He ought to be able to see her whenever he damn well pleased.

He marched down the hall and swung open the door to the duke's bedroom, fully prepared to lecture her about something (the topic, he was sure, would come to him when necessary), but she wasn't there.

Simon blinked, unable to believe his eyes. Where the hell was she? It was nearly midnight. She should be in bed.

The dressing room. She had to be in the dressing-room. The silly chit insisted upon donning her nightrobe every night, even though Simon wiggled her out of it mere minutes later.

“Daphne?” he barked, crossing to the dressing room door. “Daphne?”

No answer. And no light shining in the crack between the door and the floor. Surely she wouldn't dress in the dark.

He pulled the door open. She most definitely wasn't present.

Simon yanked on the bellpull. Hard. Then he strode out into the hall to await whichever servant was unfortunate enough to have answered his summons.

It was one of the upstairs maids, a little blond thing whose name he could not recall. She took one look at his face and blanched.

“Where is my wife?” he barked.

“Your wife, your grace?”

“Yes,” he said impatiently, “my wife.”

She stared at him blankly.

“I assume you know about whom I am speaking. She's about your height, long dark hair…” Simon would have said more, but the maid's terrified expression made him rather ashamed of his sarcasm. He let out a long, tense breath. “Do you know where she is?” he asked, his tone softer, although not what anyone would describe as gentle.

“Isn't she in bed, your grace?”

Simon jerked his head toward his empty room. “Obviously not.”

“But that's not where she sleeps, your grace.”

His eyebrows snapped together. “I beg your pardon.”

“Doesn't she—” The maid's eyes widened in horror, then shot frantically around the hall. Simon had no doubt that she was looking for an escape route. Either that or someone who might possibly save her from his thunderous temper.

“Spit it out,” he barked.

The maid's voice was very small. “Doesn't she inhabit the duchess's bedchamber?”

“The duchess's…” He pushed down an unfamiliar bolt of rage. “Since when?”

“Since today, I suppose, your grace. We had all assumed that you would occupy separate rooms at the end of your honeymoon.”

“You did, did you?” he growled.

The maid started to tremble. “Your parents did, your grace, and—”

“We are not my parents!” he roared.

The maid jumped back a step.

“And,” Simon added in a deadly voice, “I am not my father.”

“Of- of course, your grace.”

“Would you mind telling me which room my wife has chosen to designate as the duchess's bedchamber?”

The maid pointed one shaking finger at a door down the hall.

“Thank you.” He took four steps away, then whirled around. “You are dismissed.” The servants would have plenty to gossip about on the morrow, what with Daphne moving out of their bedroom; he didn't need to give them any more by allowing this maid to witness what was sure to be a colossal argument.

Simon waited until she had scurried down the stairs, then he moved on angry feet down the hall to Daphne's new bedroom. He stopped outside her door, thought about what he'd say, realized he had no idea, and then went ahead and knocked.



----