"I trust you are well," he said.

She nodded, trying not to look at him. She'd spent the last month training herself not to melt into a pool of desire and longing every time she saw him. She'd learned to school her features into an impassive mask. They all knew he had devastated her; she did not need everyone to see it every time she walked into a room.

"Excuse me," she murmured, stepping past him toward the dining room.

Turner caught her arm. "Allow me to escort you, puss."

Miranda's lower lip began to quiver. What was he trying to do? Had she been feeling less confused- or less pregnant- she probably would have made an attempt to wrench herself from his grasp, but as it was, she acquiesced and let him lead her to the table.

Turner said nothing during the first few courses, which was just as well for Miranda, who was happy to avoid all conversation in favor of her food. Lady Rudland and Olivia tried to engage her in conversation, but Miranda always managed to have her mouth full. She was saved from responding by chewing, swallowing, and then murmuring, "I'm really quite hungry."

This worked for the first three courses, until the baby stopped cooperating. She'd thought she was getting quite good at not reacting to the pains, but she must have winced, because Turner looked sharply in her direction and asked, "Is something wrong?"

She smiled wanly, chewed, swallowed, and murmured, "Not at all. But I really am quite hungry."

"So we see," Olivia said dryly, earning herself a reproving stare from her mother.

Miranda took another bite of her chicken almondine and then winced again. This time Turner was certain he'd seen it. "You made a noise," he said firmly. "I heard you. What is wrong?"

She chewed and swallowed. "Nothing. Although I am quite hungry."

"Perhaps you are eating too quickly," Olivia suggested.

Miranda jumped on the excuse. "Yes, yes, that must be it. I shall slow down." Thankfully, the conversation changed directions when Lady Rudland drew Turner into a discussion of the bill he'd recently supported in Parliament. Miranda was grateful that his attention had been engaged elsewhere; he'd been watching her too closely, and it was getting difficult to keep her face serene when she felt a contraction.

Her belly clenched again, and this time she lost her patience. "Stop that," she whispered, looking down at her middle. "Or you will certainly be Iphigenia."

"Did you say something, Miranda?" Olivia asked.

"Oh, no, I don't think so."

Another few minutes went by, and she felt another squeeze. "Stop that, Nigel," she whispered. "We had a bargain."

"I'm certain you said something," Olivia said sharply.

"Did you just call me Nigel?" Turner asked.

Funny, Miranda thought, how calling him Nigel seemed to upset him more than her leaving the marriage bed. "Of course not. You're just imagining things. But I vow I am tired. I believe I shall retire, if none of you minds." She started to stand up, then felt a rush of liquid between her legs. She sat back down. "Perhaps I'll wait for dessert."

Lady Rudland excused herself, claiming that she was on a slimming regime and could not bear to watch the rest of them eat their pudding. Her departure made it more difficult for Miranda to avoid the conversation, but she did her best, pretending to be engrossed in her food and hoping no one would ask her a question. Finally, the meal was over. Turner stood and walked over to her side, offering his arm to her.

"No, I believe I'll sit here for a moment. A bit tired, you know." She could feel a flush creeping up along her neck. Good heavens, no one had ever written an etiquette book concerning what to do when one's baby wanted to be born in a formal dining room. Miranda was utterly mortified and so scared that she could not seem to pick herself up off the chair.

"Would you like another serving?" Turner's tone was dry.

"Yes, please," she replied, her voice cracking.

"Miranda, are you certain you're feeling well?" Olivia asked as Turner summoned a footman. "You look quite odd."

"Get your mother," Miranda croaked. "Now."

"Is it…?"

Miranda nodded.

"Oh my," Olivia said with a gulp. "It's time."

"What time?" Turner asked irritably. Then he glimpsed Miranda's terrified expression. "Holy bloody hell. That time." He strode across the room and scooped his wife into his arms, oblivious to the way her sodden skirts were staining the fine fabric of his jacket.

Miranda clung to his powerful frame, forgetting all her vows to remain indifferent to him. She buried her face in the crook of his neck, letting his strength seep into her. She was going to need it in the hours ahead.

"You little fool," he murmured. "How long have you been sitting there in pain?"

She chose not to answer, knowing that the truth would only earn her a scolding.

Turner carried her up the stairs to a guest bedroom that had been prepared for the delivery. By the time he had laid her down on the bed, Lady Rudland had come rushing in. "Thank you so much, Turner," she said quickly. "Go summon the physician."

"Brearley has already taken care of it," he replied, looking down at Miranda with an anxious expression.

"Well, then, go keep yourself occupied. Have a drink."

"I'm not thirsty."

Lady Rudland sighed. "Do I need to spell it out for you, son? Go away."

"Why?" Turner looked incredulous.

"There is no place for men in childbirth."

"There was certainly place enough for me beforehand," he muttered.


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