Miranda blushed deep crimson. "Turner, please," she begged.
He looked down at her. "Do you want me to go?"
"Yes. No. I don't know."
He put his hands on his hips and faced his mother. "I think I should stay. It's my child, too."
"Oh, very well. Just go over to that corner and stay out of the way." Lady Rudland waved her arms, shooing him away.
Another contraction gripped Miranda. "Eeeengh," she moaned.
"What was that?" Turner shot over to her side in a flash. "Is this normal? Should she be- "
"Turner, hush!" Lady Rudland said. "You're going to worry her." She turned down to Miranda and pressed a damp cloth to her brow. "Pay him no mind, dear. It's perfectly normal."
"I know. I…" She paused to catch her breath. "Could I get out of this dress?"
"Oh, goodness, of course. I'm so sorry. I forgot all about it. You must be so uncomfortable. Turner, come here and give me a hand."
"No!" Miranda exclaimed sharply.
He stopped short, and his face went cold.
"I mean, either you do it or have him do it," Miranda told her mother-in-law. "But not both."
"That's the childbirth talking," Lady Rudland said soothingly. "You're not thinking clearly."
"No! He can do it if you want because he's…seen me before. Or you can do it because you're a woman. But I don't want you seeing me while he sees me. Don't you understand?" Miranda gripped the older woman's arm with uncharacteristic force.
Back in the corner, Turner suppressed a smile. "I'll let you do the honors, Mother," he said, keeping his voice flat so that he didn't burst out laughing. With a sharp nod, he left the room. He forced himself to walk halfway down the hall before letting laughter take over. What a funny little set of scruples his wife had.
Back in the bedroom, Miranda was gritting her teeth against another contraction as Lady Rudland peeled off her ruined dress.
"Is he gone?" she asked. She did not trust him not to peek in.
Her mother-in-law nodded. "He won't bother us."
"It's not a bother," Miranda said, before she could think the better of it.
"Of course it is. Men have no place during childbirth. It's messy, and it's painful, and not a one of them knows how to be useful. Better to let them sit outside and ponder all the ways they should reward you for your hard work."
"He bought me a book," Miranda whispered.
"Did he? I was thinking of diamonds, myself."
"That would be nice, too," Miranda said weakly.
"I shall drop a hint in his ear." Lady Rudland finished getting Miranda into her nightgown and fluffed the pillows behind her. "There you are. Are you comfortable?"
Another pain gripped her belly. "Not. Really," she squeezed between her teeth.
"Was that another one?" Lady Rudland asked. "Goodness. They are coming very close together. This may be an uncommonly fast birth. I do hope Dr. Winters arrives soon."
Miranda held her breath as she rode through the wave of pain, nodding her agreement.
Lady Rudland took her hand and squeezed, her face scrunching in empathy. "If it makes you feel any better," she said, "it's much worse with twins."
"It doesn't," Miranda gasped.
"Make you feel any better?"
Lady Rudland sighed. "I didn't think it would, actually. But don't worry," she added, brightening a bit. "This will all be over soon."
* * *
Twenty-two hours later, Miranda wanted a new definition of the word soon . Her entire body was wracked with pain, her breath was coming in ragged gasps, and she felt as if she just couldn't get enough air into her body. And the contractions kept on coming, each one worse than the last. "I feel one coming," she whimpered.
Lady Rudland immediately mopped her brow with a cool cloth. "Just bear down, sweetheart."
"I can't…I'm too…Bloody hell!" she yelled, using her husband's favorite epithet.
Out in the hall, Turner stiffened as he heard her cry out. After getting Miranda changed out of her soiled dress, his mother had taken him out of earshot and convinced him that everyone would be better off if he stayed out in the hall. Olivia had brought two chairs out from a nearby sitting room and was diligently keeping him company, trying not to wince when Miranda yelled out in pain. "That sounded like a bad one," she said nervously, trying to make conversation.
He glared at her. Wrong thing to say.
"I'm sure it will all be over soon," Olivia said with more hope than certainty. "I don't think it could get much worse."
Miranda yelled out again, clearly in agony.
"At least I don't think so," Olivia added weakly.
Turner let his face fall into his hands. "I'm never going to touch her again," he moaned.
"He's never going to touch me again!" they heard Miranda roar.
"Well, it doesn't look like you'll have much argument from your wife on that point," Olivia chirped. She nudged his chin with her knuckles. "Buck up, big brother. You're about to become a father."
"Soon, I hope," he muttered. "I don't think I can take much more of this."
"If you think it's bad, just think how Miranda must feel."
He leveled a deadly stare at her. Wrong thing to say again. Olivia shut her mouth.
Back in the birthing room, Miranda was holding her mother-in-law's hand in a death grip. "Make it stop," she moaned. "Please make it stop."
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