When Celeste screamed for the third time in as many hours, Thomas could no longer stand idly in the hall. Ignoring Baldwin’s comforting hand upon his shoulder, he threw the door open, rushing to his wife’s side.
The red buds he had impulsively plucked from the greenhouse threw a sweet fragrance into the air. Etlingera something or other, old Roger had supplied before trimming the stems and arranging them in a crystal vase. As if he cared about the latin name of some stupid flower. Celeste did, though.
The bed drew his attention. There, Celeste labored to birth their son, his heir. Her breath, ragged gasps through clenched teeth, sent his shoulders back. Thrusting out his chest, a gleam in his eye, Thomas walked to the bed. Celeste grabbed his hand, even as Dr. Arrington’s wife tried to usher him out.
“No, my lord, you mustn’t be here. This isn’t for men,” she said, tugging at the sleeve of his shirt.
“Nonsense, Mrs. Arrington. If my husband wishes to be here for the birth of our son, then be here he shall.” Celeste’s voice, weak from pain, slithered over his skin, filling the air.
“There is nowhere I would rather be, wife.” Thomas let out a boom of laughter. He felt taller, stronger – he was ready to take on the world. His son would be here soon – a son of worthy of a princess.
Celeste’s grasp tightened around his large hand, squeezing until his cry of pain echoed hers. Pulling in a breath of air, Thomas encouraged his wife. “That’s it, Celeste. Not much longer. Right doctor?”
“Hard to say, son. First births can be long. Your own mother labored over thirteen hours with you.”
Thomas reeled. Thirteen hours of this? It had only been three, and he could already feel Celeste flagging next to him. flashing a smile at his wife, he said, “Well, my wife is strong. She assured me so just last night.”
Two hours later, Dr. Arrington placed a red-faced infant into his arms. When those tiny eyes opened, Thomas was spell-bound. This was his son. His.
“Looks just like you did, my boy. Congratulations. What name do you give him?” Mrs. Arrington asked, helping Celeste sit up so the bed linens could be changed around her.
“Duncan. He shall be known as Duncan Hildebrand Hughes,” replied Thomas, staring down into his wife’s steel grey eyes, reflected in the face of his heir. “Is that not so, Celeste?”
His son. Oh, he must show his father. Holding the babe close, Thomas darted across the hall, thrusting his father’s unlocked door open with the gentle bump of a hip.
“Father, I would like to present you with Duncan Hildebrand Hughes, the fourteenth Viscount of Egerton. Duncan, this is your grandfather, the ninth Marquis of Blacke.” Thomas knelt by his father’s wheeled chair, one hand reaching to nudge his father when there was no response.
“Father?” Thomas’ voice rose. His father refused to answer him. Hands trembling, Thomas called for a maid to take the babe so he did not drop him. Lifting his father’s clammy hand, Thomas found no pulse. Sweat broke out, dripping down his face. “Dr. Arrington! Doctor, please come quickly. My father – my father needs you. Now!”
Dr. Arrington rushed to his side. Checking for a pulse, the doctor said, “I’m sorry, my lord. He is gone.”
“He – he cannot be gone, Arrington. He did not get to meet the heir.” Thomas slid to the ground, still grasping at his father’s hand. Tears fell from closed eyes. He had finally done something worthy of his father’s praise, and he was being denied even that.
Damn the old bastard. Damn him.
“Come, my lord. Your wife is asking for you.” Gently, the elderly doctor helped him to his feet.
Swiping the tears away, Thomas returned to his wife’s side. A smile of satisfaction crossed his face upon seeing their boy swaddled in her arms.
His son. His heir. A tiny bundle of perfection. His.