She knew it’d be painful.
She knew to expect a laborious, bloody ordeal from the very start – beginning with the inconvenient nausea to the aches in her feet – up to the mess that came with her water breaching, followed by intense contradictions.
She had hoped she could handle it.
After all, she mentally prepared for months.
Yet, into the fifth hour, she was bewildered why her vocal cords hadn’t shattered after she screamed from what seemed like the thousandth time. Her sheets were soaked; her flesh was clammy and hot from her own sweat; and her hair had webbed all around her hair, frayed and loose from its neat pins she had ornately made in the early morning.
It happened so quickly. One moment she feels heavy with child – knowing any day would come – and biting bit the nervous jitter that came with certain motherhood. She was more excited than scared. She wanted this her entire life, almost having succumbed with the disappointment it likely wouldn’t come true, until spinsterhood was dashed from her future in the form of her husband, Anthony Bridgerton.
But their child was not ordinary child.
She had adopted the role of a Viscountess. That meant she was burdened with the heavy responsibility of delivering an heir – and a spare – and continue the legacy; Benedict certainly voiced his apprehension of attaining the title if something went awry.
That was not her primary motivation.
Title or not, she wanted to hold her child. She wanted to be a mother. She wanted to persist in life with purpose near and dear to her. She had looked after Edwina until her own husband assured Kate that he’d take over such important duties; now she devoted her attentiveness to her own children, determined to have as many as God willed her to have. She’d like at least three.
If she lived to see the first.
The dreadful thought slipped into her mind more than once in the latter hour, feeling herself battered beyond humanly possible as the labor seemed to never end.
It brought terrible memories of her mother. Some that prompted her to cry and shriek as she begged for her child to come now, willing anything to hasten the process. A moment of intense agony – the worst! – she’d bear it if it meant giving her beloved son or daughter a chance to live.
Let them live. Give her the time to bear another. She couldn’t die. She couldn’t cost the life the child.
She bellowed louder than ever as her bones felt like they cracked. The whole house must have heard her. She hated to worry Anthony but human nature was impossible to resist when her body felt as if it were being torn apart. Why did God permit for women to feel such torment?
She held a hand over her forehead, desperately wailing as she wished it were someone else’s soothing her. Damn her physicians and societal constrictions; Anthony had been barred from her chambers, told the scene was too insensitive for him to witness. To his credit, he fought and demanded entry; his mother held him back.
The only time – just a mere moment – Kate uncharacteristically hated her mother-in-law. How desperately she wanted his hand to hold. She wanted to curl on her side and see reassurance in his eyes, anything to give her strength she seemed to be drained of as the last hours took their toll on her feeble form.
She would not die. She would prove him wrong. She would set the example. She’d fight time itself; tooth and nail, breaking bones – anything – just to assure him time was not their decider. She would do that and deliver their longed-for child, proving she could and would make another.
They’d be a family. They’d have something to look forward to for the rest of their days.
She made a fist with her free hand and plunged it into the damp mattress, knowing her flesh stained something red when blood and other fluids were absorbed in its sheets and beyond. God knew she could smell the scene; the strong metallic and salty smell was pungent.
“Keep upright,” someone instructed. She was nudged upwards again by a sympathetic attendant and she wished she had the strength to shuffle closer to the headboard for support. She felt stiff and heavy; every muscle in her body cried out in protest. Her arm shook and she was tempted to fall backwards again. A feminine hand ensured it wouldn’t; bless the midwife.
Charlotte – her name was Charlotte. Young and understanding; too young to bear children herself, by the looks of it. Yet, her steady hand was firm on her spine and she murmured soothing sounds that Kate couldn’t quite decipher in the midst of her pounding ears and deafening thoughts. She was a beacon.
“You’re so close,” she said. God help her – such words seemed like a lighthouse on the foggy coast.
Kate felt her head tip back and some of her hair went with it. The rest stuck to her face.
One moment she’s complaining about the pain in her back from such low-bearing weight – apparently, sign of a boy; coupled with her visible radiance that her brothers-in-law noted. The next, she mused with a terrible contraction, stifling her nose in the most unflattering manner – the next she’s hunched over the hutch of their dining room, rendered immobile by the sensation of no doubt a small body preparing itself for the world.
She took two teacups with her. The shattering of glass had alarmed Anthony who was not far behind her with the rest of the set. Finding her leaning on the hutch with a vice grip alerted him she was due in that moment; she could not make out words – just grunts as the pain grew too great for her to see straight.
Now, she’s in her designated bed – the one that grew dust for the half year they resided in their new abode. She had no need for her own bedroom when she and Anthony were content sharing his – theirs – it was their bedroom.
A scream made its way out of her mouth before she recognized the sound, propelled forward she felt a surge of sharpness dig itself into her lower halve. Her nails dug into the sheets. Her eyes shut closed and all she saw was black. Her teeth snapped closed and she felt the pressure of her jaw pop.
Focus. Focus. Instincts drove her to continue the motion. Push – no, don’t waver – hold, hold, hold…
“Keep going!” Charlotte urged passionately. It was a miracle Kate even heard her over her own inhumane sound.
She had no choice – her body was acting in its own accord. Her knees trembled and she felt her legs slick with some sort of substance.
But she knew something was passing – someone was passing though.
She remembered her wish to feel the worst ordeal, hold it as long as she could, if it meant seeing her child sooner. She would see it through. This was happening. This was happening!
Terror encapsulated Anthony has he was held down into the chaise. One shoulder was enclosed by Colin who did not dare make a jest. It was serious – the fact he winced when Kate raised another hair-raising shrill asserted such a dire realization within him. The other was his mother, rubbing anxiously into the fabric of his finer coat.
She had done this eight times – yet the look on her face was apprehensive. It solidified Anthony’s worst fears – that Kate’s delivery was not an easy one, nor a normal one. Violet Bridgerton would not be as concerned as she looked if that was not the case.
Surely, he was seeing things, or reading more into it. It could be she was pained she could not comfort Kate in her more troublesome time. Physicians only. Any more would cause more stress. No need for an audience.
Mary was a days’ ride away; Edwina fast behind her.
Were their calculations wrong? The doctor said she’d deliver in a weeks’ time.
Gregory cried. He was only fourteen. He was two when their mother gave birth for the final time. He was not aware of the severe procedure nor her cries – Violet was dignified in her last labor of love, grunting lowly so she need not worry her kids. She was experienced.
Kate was not. This was her first. Hopefully not her last.
Gregory heard the entire thing, finding refuge in their mother who stirred uneasily.
“Why isn’t she crying?”
He shook off Colin and stood with an abruptness. He noted the sudden stillness; no longer snared with frightful shouts that had caused him utter panic for the latter part of the afternoon.
“What’s happening up there?” He ended in a roar, running ahead and up the stairs with a fury of a man who – as the worst thought came to mind – pleaded to God that he was did not listen to his wife’s last moments. Time was of the essence and he bulldozed ahead, never heeding to the protest of his family who urged him to reconsider until the doctor came to fetch him.
To his surprise, as he lashed at the door guarding his wife, he spied Gregory at his heel.
It was unlocked and he trampled though, prompting the inhabitants to part to make way.
“Oh my God…” Gregory whispered in fright.
The entire room was in disarray. The bed unmade, practically shambles, and stained an awful color he knew to be blood, and a slickness on Kate’s flesh as her arms and below her knees were in full view. The white gown she adorned had all but mended to her skin, rippled and discolored.
One doctor was still at the foot the bed, gathering his tools. The others were collecting garments, cloth – anything that needed washing – and urged Kate to move up so they may pull the tarnished sheets from under her. They would not subject a Viscountess to sit in filth.
Gregory held a hand to his mouth and luckily a pot was nearby for him to hack into, emptying his stomach contents just as rapidly. A physician raised a finger to chastise but was rendered silent by Anthony’s darkened glare, opting to scurry off with a head ducked low.
“Kate, Kate, Kate,” he spilled in a panic; his mouth moved just as hastily as his feet did, pushing aside anyone who did not step aside in time.
Her eyes met his – thank God she moved! She was in a sitting position, alive. Alive! Her head had swiveled and he could recognize her face behind the glistening layer of moisture that had settled on her cheeks, her brow, everywhere it seemed. Her hair was slick and flat on her face.
His hand had parted what he could of it with his palm. Her cheeks were red – thank goodness. She was alive. There was color. There was a smile! She smiled. Her eyes… they were bright. They were bright and big and brown and…
“You’re okay, my love,” he kissed her hands incessantly, bringing them to his lips and clutching them like a life preserver. He nuzzled into it, squeezing his eyes and basking in the warmth of her hand. Warm, damp but warm, and moving. Strong in his hand as she squeezed.
“I am more than okay,” she said hoarsely. She had a slow time leaning but she did, pressing her forehead to the crown of his head. He was kneeling on the floor, paying no mind to his own clothes despite knowing the bed was soiled with an assortment of substances – notably, blood. He could still smell it. It made him nauseous. Not enough to compel him to follow Gregory’s example.
“What’s that?” his brother asked meekly.
“Your nephew,” she said. The happiness was palpable in her voice.
Confidently. Sweetly. As if she was cooing a nursery rhyme or tending to a bruise the younger kids had fixed upon themselves after a spat.
“Nephew…” Anthony repeated, blinking. He stirred and looked up, meeting her eyes. They were enlightened. They were just as vivid and expressive as he remembered them. They held so much depth and emotion and he felt nothing but peace and contagious joy when she finally dared him to look up at the bundle in her arm.
How could someone who looked like they went through a trial seemed so empowered and content? How could she be at so much ease, he pondered with great admiration.
One strong arm held the boy while the other was given to her husband, consoling him– the two most important men in her life, next to Newton, of course.
“So much for terrorizing you with a girl,” she teased with the same, awe-spiring grin of hers. Her arm rocked the pink faced infant. “A boy will have to do – I’m sure he’s going to be a devil like just yourself.”
His hand still held hers hostage, refusing to break, while the other raised to shape around the infant’s face. The baby made small noises and shuffled in his fresh bindings, not yet opening his eyes though his mouth moved ever so slightly.
“He has hair,” Anthony observed in a hush, amazed.
“Too much,” she joked. Her eyes never left his. “Reminds me of you.”
“But it’s your color,” he mused adoringly. The two side by side, he noted affectionately as he hovered over both – oh yes, he determined with great pride, the boy would be in his mother’s image. He’d love him more for it. He was a slave for those big, brown eyes that captivated him so. His boy would only have to ask and Anthony would make it his mission to see it through with the upmost priority.
Her hair was slick; her skin glistening; those eyes – bright and alert and assuring…
He would burn this image of his beloved Kate to memory for the rest of his life. He’d see it again. He knew it would – this would not be their only child. Yet, the first time, the first breath he took upon finding her safe, sound, and alive – and more importantly so, strong and so full of love – that was something that could not be replicated, to the exact detail.
He’d save this moment. His first born. Her brilliant eyes and tender smile. All the air he was holding came out in a hefty exhale.
“I love you,” he ushered hastily, knowing those words failed to encapsulate the tremendous emotions he felt surging within in.
“I love, you, too,” she brought his hand to her lips. A mirthful smile grew upon her face. “Now, are you going to stand there like a lovestruck fool or are you going to going to hold your son?”
The laughter that came from her lips rung in his mind like the sweetest melody.
“Hello. You gave me a fright,” he whispered when she adjusted the infant in his arms. He cradled his son delicately, daring not to move besides a soft sway. Gregory pried to his right, peaking at his nephew. Anthony even tilted him for Gregory to see better.
He wanted to make proper introductions but his mind numbed; did they decide a name?
“Edmund, Edmund Bridgerton II,” Kate spoke matter-of-factly. “Just as we agreed upon.”
As if he couldn’t love that woman any more than he did. He simply beamed, loss for words. She remembered and voiced what had vanished in his mind in a moment of pure bliss. She was his reason. She was his foundation. Her hand hovered over their son – their son, he could say that forever without growing old of it.
“Gregory, could you let mother know we’re okay?”
The boy nodded.
“Are you okay, Kate?” Gregory had to ask, scared when he remembered how she looked. She didn’t seem in the best condition.
“I’m fine,” she assured tenderly. She wanted to pat his cheek but he was too far to reach, obstructed by Anthony himself.
“You can hug her after,” Anthony assuaged, identifying the boy’s need for physical reassurance, and the urgency which he felt to reach Kate. “Right now, she’s a bit sore. Let’s not make her move more than she needs to. She’ll be bedridden for a while.”
“Okay,” Gregory murmured and then made haste downstairs.
“Are you happy?” she asked curiously. God knows why! He was elated.
“I am relieved,” he confirmed, feeling at ease. Her presence calmed him – odd, since any other encounter usually riled or excited him. For now, he was blessed for the reprieve.
“That you have a son?”
“That you are alive,” he prioritized with heavy emphasis. His eyes bore into hers. He knew was exposing himself but she saw through him anyways. “You terrified me. You sounded as if you would not make it. I was plagued with the worst thoughts. Forget dying young – I could not withstand the burden of being widowed! I was all too happy to…”
Let her live. Even if the child didn’t. Just let her live. We can heal from that. I could not, would not, survive without her.
He could not dare venture into another marriage in pursuit of an heir. It would be tedious and void. His life would be nothing but a shell. Let Benedict resume the role. Let Anthony grieve. He would be another man altogether. He’d have half a foot in a grave, eagerly waiting to join her. This – this was what love did; what damage it could inflict on one’s soul.
But how could he think such things when his son, healthy and sound, and their shared pride and joy, was in their arms – already treasured.
Kate would kill him if she knew he was willing to condemn their child to a wickedly short fate for her own benefit. She’d never forgive him. He scarcely forgave himself for being so weak in the moment. He’d apologize a thousand times in the form of spoiling his boy with the best life Anthony could provide. He would not be forsaken.
“Happy to what…?”
“Besides the point,” he shook off with a rapid shake of his head. “So long you are here, with me, to raise our son, and hopefully more, I am relieved.”
He sounded as if he was rid of a great weight on his shoulders. The risk of widowhood had passed – unless infection spurred but he would ensure she had the best care. She would not succumb to further injury or a consequence of it. He was certain of it. He’d spare no expense.
Her smile was small but loaded. It was as if she read his mind – he would not be surprised if she did.
“You have more than just me to help rear him,” she ascertained.
“He needs his mother,” an exceptional one, just as he knew Kate would be.
“He needs his father,” she pressed the importance of. She emphasized her point by squeezing his arm. He thought of his own and his eyes burned. He tried to blink the excessive moisture away. What would Edmund the elder think of this, surveying from the comfort of his favorite halls? Likely congratulate them both and then snipe something dry, to catch laughter from them as a whole. “And brothers. And sisters.”
“Not too soon,” he cut in aptly. His voice softened significantly, ashamed of his tone. His eyes pleaded. She understood wordlessly.
“Later,” she agreed optimistically.
She needed time to heal; to regain her strength. He would subject her to another trial so soon after the first. His screams would haunt him and he made note to love and hold her more tenderly these next few months to come. He hated to think she was brutalized by his doing – enduring something terrible at the behest of her duty as a wife to bear him an heir.
She was more than just a sow. He did not want to measure her as just a staple of the household primed for productivity. She was more than that.
She was his everything. He could not afford to lose her. Not now. Not ever. She would outlive him – he’d ensure it.
God, he was lucky. She had just been through what sounded like Hell; Yet, she was so proud, and so enduring she already envisioned going through it again, and again after that. The love she felt for him – for their child – for their future children, it was almost too great to bear.
He felt choked up.
What did he do to deserve her?
“Help me, God, if the next is a girl, I will be ruined,” he jested lightly.
She didn’t hide her amusement and that sound was music to his ears.
“I like the symmetry of that,” she commented with the same soothing tone she appealed to Gregory. “Daphne expects a girl somewhere down the line for you to face your reckoning.”
He choked back a laugh that almost sounded like a sob.
A girl – a delightful, devilish girl like her mother. She’d run the house and he’d be helpless do retain control once she claimed her reign. She’d be her own little princess. Or would she take after him? That’d be worse – she’d be a diamond of the first water and he’d be up to his neck in troublesome suitors. She’d be something regardless; he was in a world of hurt the day she decided to behind her first season.
That would come later. Now, he seized, would be the moment of just beginning their roots.
Their children would be so loved. The quiet comfort of the countryside would do them well. Kate flourished in such scenery. He’d make it easier for her. The sunshine would heal her and she’d be able to bask under the rays. She was the most beautiful then. Besides now, when all he saw was the best wife a man could ask for.
The day Miles was born, it was swift. Her experience primed her and she was determined to hasten the labor. He was complicit in her venture. Neither wanted to wait more than necessary. No sooner did her water break, he cried so loud, the staff need not alert her husband who was already charging through the door.
The windows were purposely left open. She would not be confined to a closed, sticky room. He had heard her pains – and the wails of a child – and the horse he rode was the fastest of breed, fortunately.
“The spare,” she teased, soothing the infant’s chestnut hair – a boy after his father’s image.
“Do not jest,” he said with a crack in his voice. The love and adoration in his eyes as he swayed with his second son brought more thumps to her heart. She felt comfortable in a fresh bed, now that she was certain the bleeding had come to a stop. She would not sleep anywhere else but their marriage bed.
He sat on the side of it, bringing his son closer to kiss his forehead.
“Can I have my daughter now? I feel outnumbered.”
“Hush, woman,” he all but sobbed.
She gloated and gleamed.
“I still intend for a Charlotte but for now, do you think Miles will suit him?”
“Anything you want,” he gushed, taking her face with one, strong hand, and enrapturing her with a long overdue kiss. She was declared a Goddess in his eyes: not one but two boys! With such swiftness regarding the latter. A pattern implied the third would come without haste. They were all but in the third year of their marriage.
The infant wiggled between them and let out a wail.
“We will have out hands full with this one,” she mused happily even though his lips all but smothered hers.
“He has his mother’s many opinions,” he provided with the most bashful expression.