"It's all right, Turner," Olivia said soothingly, cautiously touching his shoulder. "You have every right to be over-wrought."
"No I don't. Not when she needs me to be strong for her." He strode back into the room and sat back down next to his wife. "I don't matter right now," he muttered, swallowing convulsively. "Nothing matters but Miranda."
A bleary-eyed housemaid entered the room with some candles.
"Light them all," Turner ordered. "I want it bright as day in here. Do you hear me? Bright as day." He turned back to Miranda and smoothed his hand over her brow. "She always did love sunny days." He caught himself in horror and looked frantically at his sister. "I mean- she loves sunny days."
Olivia, unable to watch her brother in such a grief-stricken state, nodded and quietly departed.
A few hours later, Lady Rudland entered the room carrying a small bundle wrapped in a soft pink blanket. "I brought your daughter," she said softly.
Turner looked up, shocked to realize that he had completely forgotten about the existence of this tiny person. He stared at her in disbelief. "She's so small."
His mother smiled. "Babies usually come that way."
"I know but…look at her." He reached out his index finger to her hand. Tiny fingers grasped it with surprising firmness. Turner looked up at his mother, amazement at this new life clearly written on his bleak face. "Can I hold her?"
"Of course." Lady Rudland settled the bundle in his arms. "She's yours, you know."
"She is, isn't she?" He looked down at the pink face and touched her nose. "How do you do? Welcome to the world, puss."
"Puss?" Lady Rudland said in an amused tone. "What a funny nickname."
Turner shook his head. "No, it's not funny. It's absolutely perfect." He looked back up at his mother. "How long will she be this small?"
"Oh, I don't know. For a little while, at least." She crossed over to the window and pulled the drapes halfway back. "The sun is starting to come up. Olivia told me that you wanted some light in the room."
He nodded, unable to take his eyes off his daughter.
She finished fussing at the window and turned back to him. "Oh, Turner…she has brown eyes."
"She does?" He looked back down at the baby. Her eyes were closed in sleep. "I knew she would."
"Well, she wouldn't want to disappoint her papa on her first day out, would she?"
"Or her mother." Turner looked over at Miranda, still deathly pale, then hugged this new bundle of life closer to him.
Lady Rudland glanced at her son's blue eyes, so like her own, and said, "I daresay Miranda was hoping for blue eyes."
Turner swallowed uncomfortably. Miranda had loved him so long and so well, and he had spurned her. Now he might lose her, and she'd never know that he realized what a stupid ass he'd been. She'd never know that he loved her. "I daresay she would," he said in a choked voice. "She'll just have to wait until the next one."
Lady Rudland caught her lip between her teeth. "Of course, dear," she said consolingly. "Have you given any thought as to names?"
He looked up in surprise, as if the idea of a name had never occurred to him. "I…No. I forgot," he admitted.
"Olivia and I thought of some pretty names. What do you think of Julianna? Or Claire. I suggested Fiona, but Olivia didn't like it."
"Miranda would never allow her daughter to be named Fiona," he said dully. "She always hated Fiona Bennet."
"That little girl who lives near Haverbreaks? I never knew."
"It's a moot point, Mother. I'm not naming her without consulting Miranda."
Lady Rudland swallowed again. "Of course, dear. I'll just…I'll just leave you now. Give you some time alone with your family."
Turner looked at his wife and then at his daughter. "That's your mama," he whispered. "She's very tired. It took a lot of her strength to get you out. I can't imagine why. You're not very big." To demonstrate his point, he touched one of her tiny fingers. "I don't think she's even seen you yet. I know she would want to. She would hold you and hug you and kiss you. Do you know why?" He awkwardly brushed away a tear. "Because she loves you, that's why. I'd wager she loves you even more than she loves me. And I think she must love me quite a bit because I haven't always behaved as I should."
He stole a glance at Miranda to make sure she hadn't woken up before he added, "Men can be asses. We're silly and we're stupid and we rarely open our eyes wide enough to see the blessings that are right in front of our faces. But I see you," he added, smiling down at his daughter. "And I see your mother, and I hope her heart is big enough to forgive me this last time. I think it is, though. Your mama has a very big heart."
The baby gurgled, causing Turner to smile with delight. "I can see that you agree with me. You're very clever for being just a day old. But then again, I don't see why I should be surprised. Your mama is very clever, too."
The baby cooed.
"You flatter me, puss. But for the time being, I'll let you think I'm clever, too." He looked over at Miranda and whispered, "Only the two of us need to know just how stupid I've been."
The baby made another baby noise, leading Turner to believe that his daughter must be the most intelligent child in the British Isles. "Do you want to meet your mother, puss? Here, why don't we introduce the two of you." His movements were awkward, for he had never held a baby before, but somehow he managed to settle his daughter in the crook of Miranda's arm. "There you go. Mmmm, it's warm there, isn't it? I'd like to trade places with you. Your mama has very soft skin." He reached out and touched the baby's cheek. "Not as soft as yours, however. You, little one, are quite astonishingly perfect."
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