“Is that what you truly want, Your Grace?” Minnie asked, sounding quite unsure.
Elizabeth didn’t blame her. She felt unsure herself. She stood in the gardens under a lovely gazebo, looking at the spread of food before her. She’d asked Minnie to prepare sandwiches for her afternoon tea, but had told her she had no appetite for any meat or vegetables. Only bread.
“Yes, I suppose it is,” Elizabeth murmured. She took in the spread of pastries before her, most of them bland. The thought of eating anything sweet made Elizabeth’s stomach churn.
Minnie stood back, fiddling with her fingers. “Miss Russel told me to make sure we followed your exact orders, but when you said you did not want any tea leaves, only hot water, I…”
Elizabeth could easily picture Patience sternly ordering the maids not to think too much about the odd request and simply do as they were told. Ever since Elizabeth had confided in her closest friend regarding her unusual appetite, Patience would only smile and appease her as best as she could, simply saying, “It will all be made clear soon, I bet.”
Elizabeth trusted Patience’s judgment, just as much as the other maids did. Ever since she married William, Patience had left the Gillet House to be by Elizabeth’s side and was promoted to housekeeper when they came to the countryside. This was one of William’s estates that had lost many of its employees due to the past Duke’s oversight, but things had already turned to the better in the past three years—which included Elizabeth’s and Patience’s friendship, despite their differing statuses.
“I understand your concern, Minnie,” Elizabeth said with a sigh. She sat facing the rose garden, which had quickly become one of her favorite spots to have tea. Rather than the lovely sight, however, Elizabeth was more interested in the meal she was about to have, her stomach grumbling. “To be perfectly honest, I cannot understand why I am yearning for such a tasteless meal. It is one thing to only crave bread, but to wish for hot water rather than tea is simply absurd.”
Minnie’s brows knitted together but she said nothing. She only watched as Elizabeth reached for her warm cup of water and lifted it to her lips. The heat that rushed through her was glorious and when she nibbled on a very lightly salted cracker, Elizabeth felt her mood lift.
“Thank you, Minnie,” Elizabeth sighed softly, letting the starchy snack melt on her tongue. “I can’t believe I am about to say this but this is quite delicious, even though it is just simple crackers.”
Minnie smiled a little, but still looked uncertain. Elizabeth’s request—once she’d made sure that was what Minnie wanted to do—was for the maid to travel to the countryside. Without hesitation, Minnie had said yes. Elizabeth was happy she did, even after three years. Considering she did not have many friends, having Minnie and Patience by her side was comforting. Especially in light of the long trips William would often take, which explained his absence for the past three weeks.
“My husband will be returning home today, correct?” Elizabeth asked conversationally, unable to keep the happiness from her voice.
“Yes, Your Grace, I believe so. Before dinner, I think.”
“I wonder what he will think of my odd tastes,” Elizabeth murmured under her breath, smiling. She missed William dearly, but had patiently awaited his return from London. He’d become quite attached to being busy, to constantly ensuring he bolstered their wealth. Elizabeth knew it had a lot to do with the actions of his father before he died, and didn’t mind it. Whenever they were together, William showered her in love and attention, as if he’d never left.
The past three years had been peaceful, after all that had happened. William had been quite upset at Nelson’s involvement in everything but hadn’t gotten a chance to take out his frustration on the actual person, considering he’d received a letter from Nelson stating he’d fled to America once he’d learned of all that had happened. Apparently, he’d realized just how dangerous the Shadow was and didn’t think it was wise to get too close to him. Of course, he hadn’t left without pilfering a few things himself. The memory made Elizabeth shake her head to herself.
They fell into silence, enjoying the gentle wind and the scent of the roses that followed. Elizabeth continued to eat her squares of untoasted, unbuttered bread, sipping her hot water here and there. She wondered if she was feeling a little ill, and that was what accounted for her lacking an appetite as of late, but she did not feel any worse for wear. Other than slight fatigue, Elizabeth felt perfectly fine.
Then, just at that moment, a wave of nausea rushed through her. The cracker she’d just picked up fell from her fingers and Elizabeth raised her fingers to her lips, the sickly urge growing stronger.
“Your Grace?” Minnie spoke up.
Alarm rushed through her. Elizabeth fought the wave long enough to mutter, “I think I’m going to be ill, Minnie.”
Fear seized Minnie’s features as Elizabeth rushed to her feet. She couldn’t think of anything other than getting to the manor. She could feel bile rising in her throat and as she rushed down the grassy path to the looming building before her, Elizabeth was afraid she wouldn’t make it.
“Your Grace?” came Patience’s shocked voice as Elizabeth raced down the hallway with her skirt clutched in one hand. She supposed she must look like quite a sight, running as quickly as she was, but Elizabeth didn’t care about that. She only cared to get somewhere private before this horrible feeling overtook her.
Minnie and Patience were right on her heels as Elizabeth rushed into her bedchamber, hurrying towards her chamber pot. Without hesitation, Elizabeth sunk to her knees and emptied the contents of her stomach in the small bowl.
“Minnie, send someone for the physician,” Elizabeth heard Patience say behind her, but then the rest of her words were drowned out by Elizabeth’s retching. A gentle hand rested on her back, stroking her gently as Elizabeth heaved and heaved, even though she’d long since run out of vomit.
Sweat dotted her temples when she was done. On unsteady legs, Elizabeth pulled herself to a stand, but staggered. Patience caught her easily and began to lead her towards her bed.
“You should lie down, Your Grace,” Patience told her. “I have sent for the physician, so rest until then.”
Elizabeth tried to say something, but her voice was too raw. Tired, she let Patience help her into bed, watching as the housekeeper pulled the covers over her. “This should not have happened today,” Elizabeth groaned, once she found her strength. “William is returning today. I cannot spend the night in bed.”
“I believe, Your Grace, that His Grace will not mind that you are ill,” Patience said, rather upbeat. Elizabeth frowned at Patience’s lack of worry, but Patience was already continuing. “I shall fetch a bowl of cool water to pat your forehead dry. I shall be just a moment.”
Elizabeth watched helplessly as Patience left the room, leaving her alone. Another groan bubbled up her throat. It was quite odd, truly. She hadn’t felt sick at all, but then the urge to throw up had seized her so strongly that she thought she might burst. Did it have anything to do with how she’d been eating as of late? Lack of meat—or anything with a taste, for that matter—might have upset her stomach without her noticing. Or perhaps her body was rejecting something she’d eaten for breakfast this morning. More and more suggestions filled her mind, but when the nausea began to rise again, Elizabeth forgot them all. She took to clutching her covers, hoping she wouldn’t have to vomit again.
At long last, Patience and Minnie returned. The latter was a worried mess, but Patience looked cool and collected as she came to Elizabeth’s side, sat in the chair by the bed, and proceeded to dab her forehead with a damp cloth.
“I bring good news, Your Grace,” Patience said in a light tone, wiping the sweat from Elizabeth’s brow. “His Grace has returned early.”
“Pardon?” Elizabeth gasped, almost sitting up. “He’s here?”
Patience laid a calm hand on her shoulder and forced her to relax. “His carriage was pulling into the driveway when I was passing the foyer. I believe he must have heard the news of your…illness by now.”
As soon as she said those words, Elizabeth heard thunderous feet echoing outside her door. A second later, William came bursting in, eyes frantic. He rushed to Elizabeth’s side the moment he spotted her, Patience having deftly moved out of the way in time. William caught her hand in his, sinking into the chair Patience vacated.
“Elizabeth, are you all right?” he asked desperately, searching her face. “What happened?”
“I don’t know,” Elizabeth told him. Happiness nipped at her at the sight of him but it was hard giving into that emotion in her state. “It happened so suddenly. I was having tea in the garden when, suddenly, I felt so ill that it felt as if I wouldn’t be able to contain it. I rushed to my chambers in time, but I fear it isn’t over.”
William only looked more distressed at that news. He looked over his shoulder at Patience. “Have you sent for the physician?”
“Yes, Your Grace,” Patience responded. “He should be here soon.”
William turned his attention back to Elizabeth, gripping her hand tighter. “Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.”
“I know,” Elizabeth said with a smile, even though she wasn’t sure herself. She only wished to relieve him of his worry, but she feared it wouldn’t be that easy. “In the meantime, how was your trip?”
“Sufficient,” he answered offhandedly. Vaguely, Elizabeth noticed when Patience and Minnie slipped out of the room. “I’ve secured decent connections with the Earl of Grangley.”
“Wonderful.” The nausea was abating. She wondered if it had anything to do with William’s presence, if she was distracting herself as much as she was hoping to distract him. “I’m very proud of you, William. I hope you know that.”
“There’s no need to talk as if these are your last moments,” he mumbled. “Save your energy for when the physician comes.”
“Is that what I’m doing?” Elizabeth asked with a laugh. “Perhaps it is because you are here now, but I feel much better. I might not need the physician at all.”
“Now, you’re just saying nonsense.”
Elizabeth laughed again and a smile broke through William’s creased brow. The physician didn’t reside very far from the manor, so Elizabeth knew he should be arriving at any moment. She was wondering how much time she would have alone with William when there came a knock on the door and Patience’s voice sounded, “Mr. Norton is here.”
The door opened and Mr. Norton swept in, all business. He rested his case on the side table, looking seriously at both William and Elizabeth. “Greetings, Your Graces. I came as quickly as I could.”
“We appreciate it, Mr. Norton,” William said, rising and moving out of the physician’s way. Now, someone else claimed the seat by Elizabeth’s side. “I just arrived myself so I am not completely abreast of the situation.”
“It would be best heard from Her Grace herself,” Mr. Norton said, leaning a little closer. “Have you eaten anything unusual as of late, Your Grace?”
Elizabeth thought about it for a moment before she shook her head. “It is unusual, but I find it hard to believe that it would be the cause of my sickness,” she explained. “For the past few weeks, I have not eaten anything sweet or savory, nor have I had any meat. The moment I see any of that, I lose my appetite.”
Mr. Norton’s brows shot upwards. William looked taken aback as well. “Why didn’t you say anything to me?” he asked her.
“It began after you left,” she told him. “Even just now, I was having tea with only hot water, unbuttered, untoasted bread, and salted crackers. And I was enjoying every bit of it.”
“Ah, I see,” Mr. Norton said. “Have you been noticing anything odd about your body? Perhaps, sensitive areas?”
At the question, Elizabeth flushed but nodded. “I did notice this morning that my bosom was quite tender. It almost hurt to get dressed.” Now, William was grinning from ear to ear. Mr. Norton was nodding his understanding. And Patience seemed to be hiding her smile. Elizabeth frowned. “Did I say something wrong?” she asked.
“Not at all, Your Grace,” Mr. Norton said. He stood, picking up his case. “I believe I’ve already grasped what has happened. It seems you are with child.”
The words slammed Elizabeth with full force, bringing a gasp to her lips. Disbelieving, she looked at William to see his eyes gleaming with happiness. “With child?” she echoed.
“Yes, today’s incident is a natural occurrence for such a state, though there are women who do not suffer from the same fate. But, I am certain. Your cravings, your sickness, and your tender bosom, are all signs that you will be bearing a child, Your Grace. And, based on what you have said, a month has already passed.” With a small smile, Mr. Norton bowed slightly. “Allow me to extend my congratulations to you both, Your Graces. I pray you the next few months will be easy and safe.”
“Thank you, Mr. Norton,” Elizabet whispered, still far too dazed to process anything.
As if Patience sensed that, she stepped up to lead the physician out, leaving Elizabeth alone with William.
For a few moments, they only stared at each other—one grinning and the other with her mouth hanging slightly open. And then Elizabeth let out a joyous laugh. “With child!” she squealed, already getting out of bed.
William met her halfway, wrapping his arms around her “We finally did it,” he sighed into her hair, embracing her tightly.
They’d been trying for years, but nothing had come to pass. Elizabeth had begun to give up on ever bearing him an heir, thinking herself to be barren. To learn of this, thinking they would never be blessed, filled her with such happiness that she could hardly contain herself.
Elizabeth tilted her head up and kissed him. They stood there for a few moments, usual heat curling through her, before they pulled away and simply smiled at each other.
No words needed to be said. Finally, they would have the family they’d always desired—unplanned like so many things in their love story.
Fate, they’d learned, was not one to be rushed.
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