Trenton: Lord of LossBy: Grace Burrowes
This book is dedicated to all of the lonely lords and ladies
“How long before the baby moves?” As Elegy Hampton, Viscountess Rammel, put that question into words, her world became more a wonderful place—also more frightening.
She poured her guest another cold glass of lemonade but left her own drink untouched. Something as prosaic as a glass of lemonade did not belong in the same moment with Ellie’s question.
“A few weeks yet at least, closer to a few months probably,” Mrs. Holmes replied. “You’re not that far along, my dear, and every case is different.”
I am with child. The drowsiness, the delicate appetite—even the lemonade tasting a bit off—the sense of Ellie’s body being out of balance was not grief, but, rather, the very opposite of grief.
“Nine months seems like forever,” Ellie said. “I suppose it could be worse.” Horses took eleven months, poor things.
“Nine and a half months for most.” Mrs. Holmes’s expression was beatific, a serene complement to snow-white hair and periwinkle-blue eyes. “That last half-month can seem as long as the first nine. Perhaps it’s the Lord’s way of ensuring mothers start off schooled to patience.”
Oh, please, let’s not bring Him into the discussion. Ellie and the Lord had not enjoyed cordial relations of late. Though having a baby…
She wanted to cry and laugh. Oh, Dane. Thank you, damn you. Thank you.
“Patience has never been one of my strong suits,” Ellie allowed. Since her husband’s death, the very air had acquired an unhappy weight, making movement, breath, thought, everything a greater effort and solitude a particular torment.
Yet now, Ellie was impatient to have the sunny, serene morning room to herself.
“You’ll manage,” Mrs. Holmes assured her. “But Miss Ellie? You’ll forgive my bluntness if I suggest you occupy yourself with cheerful endeavors. Mourning must be given its due, but excessive fretting isn’t good for the baby.”
“Fretting?” Ellie had done nothing but fret since Dane’s death.
“I will help you bring this baby into the world, and a certain directness of speech should characterize our dealings,” Mrs. Holmes went on, though Dottie Holmes had never needed excuses for direct speech. “His lordship was a fine young man, and he should be mourned by his family, but you’re young, you were a good wife, and you’ve much of your life ahead of you.”
“I do mourn him,” Ellie said, hoping it was true, though the words had the same off flavor as the too-sweet, too-tart lemonade.
“Of course you do.” Mrs. Holmes patted Ellie’s hand with fingers made cool by the chilled glass. “Nobody doubts you were devoted to him, and now you must devote yourself to the child. His lordship has been gone nearly two months, and when you are here at home, you might consider putting off your blacks, going for the occasional easy hack around the property, and enjoying the condolence calls when they start up in earnest.”
How was she supposed to enjoy condolence calls, when the pleasure of even a glass of lemonade was in jeopardy? Ellie hadn’t been able to venture to the stables for nearly a month after Dane’s death, and she loved the very scent of the horse barn.
“You want me to ride when I’m carrying?”
“As long as your habits fit. Don’t take stupid risks, Miss Ellie, and stay active. You’ll carry better if you get fresh air, keep moving, and indulge yourself a bit.”
Dane had excelled at getting fresh air, staying in constant motion, and indulging himself—more than a bit.
“I hate black,” Ellie murmured, running her thumb down the side of her glass.
A lady ought not to hate anything, and the conduct of widows was supposed to put them only slightly lower than the angels.
Sad, angry angels.
“Black doesn’t flatter much of anybody,” Mrs. Holmes agreed, helping herself to a slice of lemon cake that, to Ellie, also had no appeal whatsoever. “Clearly, black for mourning was devised by men, who are much more at home in dark and forbidding colors. Have something to eat, dear, so I won’t be self-conscious about seconds myself.”
Thirds, at least.
“Of course.” Ellie put a slice of cake on her plate. I am having a baby. I am having a baby. I am having a…baby. Women died in childbirth all the time. “I’m to take exercise and sneak into half-mourning, and what else?”
“Your digestion may act up from time to time.” Mrs. Holmes nibbled her sweet complacently. “Your breasts might be sore. You’ve no doubt noticed a tendency to nap and heed nature’s call more frequently. That’s all normal. You’ll be losing your waist soon, if you haven’t noticed your dresses fitting more snugly already—your boots and slippers, too. Some lightheadedness isn’t unusual, but it passes.”
“I’ll go barefoot,” Ellie said, her hand going to her middle. Dane would have been horrified to hear her. In his way, he’d been a proper old thing—with her. “I went barefoot a great deal in summer as a child.”
“And you’ll have a child to love.” Mrs. Holmes beamed confidently. “A reminder of his lordship and the happiness of your marriage.”
Ellie already had a child to love, and what happiness she’d found in her marriage was of the tempered variety. Still, she hadn’t been entirely miserable, and Dane should not have fallen from his horse at the age of twenty-eight. He was—had been—a bruising rider.
When sober. He’d claimed he rode even better when drunk—and he’d been wrong. Ellie regretted his death, but even before his passing, she’d reconciled herself to missing him and missing what their marriage might have been.
She was having a baby, and above all else, Ellie wanted solitude to savor this realization. “Another glass of lemonade, Mrs. Holmes?”
“Not for me, my dear, but drink as much as you please, particularly in this heat.”
“I like summer.” Ellie especially enjoyed feeling wet grass between her toes first thing in the morning and leaving her windows open to let in the bird song. “I like the lighter clothing, the long days, and the soft breezes. I like the sturdy young beasts finding their confidence in the mild weather. The nights are rife with the scent of the flowers and fields, and the mornings are lovely.”
“You’re an expectant mother,” Mrs. Holmes replied around a mouthful of cake. “You should be in love with life.”