"Have you seen your wife in the past week?" she demanded.
"No, I don't believe I ha- Oh, wait a minute." He took a sip of brandy. "I passed her in the hall a few days ago. Tuesday, I think it was."
"She is over eight months' pregnant, Nigel."
"I assure you, I am aware."
"You are a cur to leave her alone in her time of need."
He took another swig. "Just to make things clear, she left me alone, not the other way around. And don't call me Nigel."
"I'll call you whatever I damned well please."
Turner raised his brows at the first use of profanity he'd ever heard escape his mother's lips. "Congratulations, you've sunk to my level."
"Give me that!" She lunged forward and grabbed the glass out of his hand. Amber liquid splashed out onto the desk. "I am appalled at you, Nigel. You're just as bad as when you were with Leticia. You're hateful, rude- " She broke off when his hand wrapped around her wrist.
"Don't ever make the mistake of comparing Miranda to Leticia," he said in a menacing voice.
"I didn't!" Her eyes widened in surprise. "I would never dream of it."
"Good." He let go of her suddenly and walked over to the window. The landscape was as bleak as his mood.
His mother remained silent for quite some time, but then she asked, "How do you intend to salvage your marriage, Turner?"
He let out a weary breath. "Why are you so certain that it is I who need to do the salvaging?"
"For the love of God, just look at the girl. She is obviously in love with you."
His fingers gripped the windowsill until his knuckles turned white. "I've seen no indication of that lately."
"How could you? You haven't seen her in weeks. For your sake, I hope you haven't killed whatever it was she felt for you."
Turner said nothing. He just wanted the conversation to end.
"She is not the same woman she was a few months ago," his mother continued. "She was so happy. She'd have done anything for you."
"Things change, Mother," he said tersely.
"And they can change back," Lady Rudland said, her voice soft yet insistent. "Come dine with us this evening. It's terribly awkward without you."
"It will be far more awkward with me, I assure you."
"Let me be the judge of that."
Turner stood straight, taking a long, shaky breath. Was his mother right? Could he and Miranda resolve their differences?
"Leticia is still in this house," his mother said softly. "Let her go. Let Miranda heal you. She will, you know, if you'd only give her the chance."
He felt his mother's hand on his shoulder but he did not turn around, too proud to let her see the face of his pain.
* * *
The first pain squeezed her belly about an hour before she was due to go down for dinner. Startled, Miranda put her hand on her stomach. The doctor had told her that she'd most likely deliver in two weeks. "Well, it looks like you're going to be early," she said softly. "Just stay in through supper, would you? I'm actually hungry. I haven't been for weeks, you know, and I need some food."
The baby kicked in response.
"So that's the way it's going to be, is it?" Miranda whispered, a smile touching her features for the first time in weeks. "I shall strike a bargain with you. You let me get through dinner in peace, and I promise not to give you a name like Iphigenia."
She felt another kick.
"If you're a girl, of course. If you're a boy, then I promise not to name you…Nigel!" She laughed, the sound unfamiliar and…nice. "I promise not to name you Nigel."
The baby was still.
"Good. Now, let's get ourselves dressed, shall we?"
Miranda rang for her maid, and an hour later, she descended the stairs to the dining room, holding the railing tightly all the way down. She wasn't sure why she didn't want to tell anyone that the baby was on its way- perhaps it was just her natural aversion to making a fuss. Besides, except for a pain every ten minutes or so, she was feeling fine. She certainly had no wish to be confined to her bed just yet. She just hoped the baby could manage to restrain itself through dinner. There was something vaguely embarrassing about childbirth, and she had no wish to learn why firsthand at the dining room table.
"Oh, there you are, Miranda," Olivia called out. "We were just having a drink in the rose salon. Join us?"
Miranda nodded and followed her friend.
"You look a little odd, Miranda," Olivia continued. "Are you feeling well?"
"Just large, thank you."
"Well, you'll be shrinking soon."
Sooner than anyone else realized, Miranda thought wryly.
Lady Rudland handed her a glass of lemonade.
"Thank you," Miranda said. "I'm suddenly very thirsty." Heedless of proper etiquette, Miranda downed it in one gulp. Lady Rudland didn't say a word as she refilled the glass. Miranda drank that one almost as quickly. "Do you think supper is ready?" she asked. "I'm dreadfully hungry." That was really only half of the story. She was going to deliver the baby at the dining room table if they tarried much longer.
"Certainly," Lady Rudland replied, slightly taken aback by Miranda's eagerness. "Lead on. It's your house after all, Miranda."
"So it is." She quirked her head, took hold of her stomach as if that might hold everything in, and stepped out into the hall.
She walked right into Turner.
"Good evening, Miranda."
His voice was rich and husky, and she felt something flutter deep in her heart.
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