Dorinda and the Doctor(10)

By: Sabrina Jeffries

But he knew only too well that nothing could really soothe Dorinda. Her hurt ran deeper than he could reach. God, why hadn’t he recognized the source of it sooner? He should have seen the signs—her comments about doctors, her vacillating responses to his advances . . . the fact that she’d earlier recited every sort of half-baked cure used to treat barrenness.

With a groan, he fumbled for his handkerchief, alarmed by the tears spilling down her cheeks. “There, now, don’t go on so.” At least she was letting him hold her, even though he was an oblivious dolt. At least she trusted him enough to show him her aching heart. He pressed his handkerchief into her hand. “Steady on, sweetheart, take a breath. You’ll make yourself sick.”

“Oh, w-what does it m-matter?” she managed as she pulled back from him, dabbing at her face with his handkerchief. “I’m that h-horribly useless thing to a man—a w-woman who can’t b-bear children.”

The pain in her words struck him to the heart. He caught her hands in his. “Anyone who thinks that a woman is good for only that is a fool. I certainly don’t think any such silly thing.”

Though she eyed him skeptically, she didn’t yank her hands away. “Every husband wants a wife who can bear him sons.” She dragged in a shivering breath. “Why do you think I visited so many doctors? Edgar would have done anything to ensure that I carried his child.”

He choked back the words, More evidence that he was an arse. This was probably not the moment to make that point. “Yes, but I’m sure he valued you for your other fine attributes.”

“If he did, I saw no evidence of it,” she said bitterly. “Before he died, that was all he could talk about—my ‘flaw.’”

“That is not a flaw in you,” he growled, wishing he could go back in time and thrash the hell out of her late husband. Instead he settled for trying to undo some of the damage the arse had done. “It’s just . . . part of life. And he was a fool if he cared only about your ability to give him children. A good wife is worth far more than that.”

She stared at him with reddened eyes. “He wasn’t alone in his thinking. Every doctor he sent me to felt the same.”

“Then they were fools, too. And obviously not very attentive to the lessons they’d surely learned in their practice of medicine.”

That made her blink. “What lessons?”

“I’ve been present at a number of birthings, sweetheart. And in the few tragic cases where a man was forced to choose between the life of his unborn child and the life of his wife, he always chose his wife.” He squeezed her hands. “Always.”

She stiffened. “Because a wife can produce more babies.”

“No. Because a man carefully picks the woman he wishes to be his companion for life. He can’t get that from his children. So given the choice between the real woman of his heart and a potential child of his blood, he will choose his heart over his blood every time.”

“Not every man,” she said, though there was more uncertainty in her voice now. “Not Edgar. I think he would have tried any cure, no matter how outrageous, no matter what it did to me, as long as it got him his heir.”

The very thought of what she must have gone through trying “any cure” chilled him to the bone. “That wasn’t about children; that was about pride and money. If he only cared about those, then he didn’t deserve you.” He caught her head in his hands. “Because if I had a woman as fine as you for my wife, I swear I would never torment her with astringents and purges and mare’s milk.”

Her eyes went wide, confirming the sort of dubious remedies her husband and his quacks had been subjecting her to. It made him want to howl.

It made him want to show her what he already saw—that she was so much more than a brood mare.

“You don’t know what you’d do if you were desperate,” she pointed out. “No matter how much I protested, there was always another doctor who gave him new hope that I could be fixed, who offered new guaranteed cures. So if you and I were married for years and I still hadn’t managed to—”