THE DUKE'S LAST DANCE
He took her by the arm and started to lead her across the dining hall. Though there was no music, he hummed for her. It was not perfect, but it was better than waiting to dance with him again. His hands-on her waist and her hand were perfectly positioned; warm, and well worth the wait.
“You have never once let me down when we have danced, Catherine,” he said. “You are a wonderful woman.”
“I would not be your wife if you did not think that,” she teased. “And I would not have married you if I did not think the same of you.”
His cheeks turned bright red.
“I still wish to expand our family.” He changed the topic, but he knew there was nothing she could do about that. “What do you think about adopting a child from a poor family in need? We could adopt one from India; I am sure there are plenty of poor children who need a better family.”
“Or… we could wait…” Catherine hesitated, but she knew she would have to tell him sooner rather than later. She had found out only a week after he left, and she had never known how to write it to him.
This was news that had to be said now, while he was here with her. Personally.
“What do you mean, we could wait?” Nicolas frowned. “Catherine, I know how much you want to expand our family, too, but…” He could not finish his sentence. She knew why.
The news that they were most likely never going to have more children had broken both of them. In a way, they were still a little broken from it, but she had something she wanted to tell him before he made any assumptions.
“Your wish to expand the family is already coming true. I’m expecting, Nicolas,” she said. “I found out just a week after you left for India, and… and I did not want to risk telling you over a letter in case someone found out.”
Nicolas did not respond immediately. His face turned from bright red with a frown to his normal color and a wide smile.
“This is wonderful news!” He pulled her against him, throwing her off the melody. “Catherine, ‘tis a miracle! A wonderful, wonderful miracle.” He tilted her chin up to look at him. “I am glad you could not write it in a letter. This is news I want to hear in person.”
“I am glad you are so excited,” she replied. “I was hoping that you would be excited, but I did not know how excited.” She smiled at him, not sure what else to say.
He kissed her softly. She kissed back, holding him close against her. They were getting their wish. His wish, specifically, but there had always been a part of her that knew she wanted more than one child. She had grown up with Mr. Radcliff, and she had enjoyed it. Nicolas had always said he wanted a sibling and did not want to have an only child if he could help it.
When he pulled away from her, his smile was still wide as ever.
“I think the only other time I have seen you smile this widely was when I told you I was pregnant with Owen,” she mused. “You are incredibly happy to hear this.”
“I do not want Owen to grow up an only child,” he said. “I am strong in this conviction.” He then placed a hand on her stomach. “Have you told anyone else?”
“No, not yet. Not even my mother knows,” she said. “I was planning to tell her tomorrow, as to not take away from the festivities.”
“Good,” he said. “We will make the announcement together, and Owen shall have a sibling. Please, for the sake of our child, do what the doctor says if it comes to that.” He frowned. “I don’t want to lose this child.”
“Neither do I. The doctor has said that as miraculous as it is, I could have problems. I am to go in to see him again soon, and then he will tell me if I am as at-risk as I was in the last one. I would not be surprised if I must be bedridden for a good portion this time…” She shook her head. “Will you be going to India again soon?”
“Not if I can help it. I do not want to leave you alone this time,” he said. “You’re my wife, and this is our child. I will be here every step of the way to help you.”
“Thank you.” She smiled a little at him. “You are truly the best husband a wife could ask for.”
“No, you’re the best wife I could have asked for,” he said. “You have put up with so much, and I thank you for doing so.”
Her smile widened.
“Oh, hello,” her mother’s voice cut the silence. “I did not think you would be back until late, Nicolas. Owen was so excited and giggly when I picked him up. All he could say was that you were home.”
“Yes, he’s home a little earlier than we thought he would be, Mother,” Catherine said.
Then, her mother looked between her and Nicolas.
“What has happened? You are both positively glowing,” the countess said. “What news have you had?”
“I am expecting, Mother,” Catherine said. She could not hold it back any longer. It was something that demanded to be shared, and the good fortune would not hold itself back if she shared.
“That’s wonderful, Catherine!” The countess smiled. “Do you want a boy or a girl?”
“I do not think I have much say in this, as I have only wanted another child,” Catherine admitted. “What a miracle this child will be, and I will be happy with either a boy or a girl, Mother.”
“As will I,” Nicolas said. “We are expanding our family. That is all that matters to me.”
“What is expecting?” Owen spoke up, his little voice demanding to be heard. Catherine could only smile at her son.
“You’re going to be a big brother, Owen,” she said. “You’re going to have a sibling.” Though she did not expect him to understand what this meant, she knew he could tell that this made everyone happy.
He giggled and shrieked with happiness.
“Sibwing!” He tried to say the word properly, but he was unable to get the word properly.
This made everyone giggle, and there was nothing more he wanted than that. He continued to mispronounce ‘sibling’ all day long, and Nicolas and Catherine only beamed. They were glad that their son was so happy to have a sibling, though he barely understood what it meant for him and how his life would change now that he has to worry about a sibling.
At the small gathering of friends and family, everyone could tell that something was going on. Owen had not stopped saying ‘sibwing’ since he had found out about the word, and it worried everyone else. When Catherine and Nicolas shared the news, the rest of the party was happy for them.
They all knew, to one degree or another, how shattered they had been when they found out that the possibility of Catherine having another child was slim to none.
“Congratulations,” her father said. “I am glad to see that your prayers have been answered. If you two need anything while you are expecting, please do not hesitate to ask.”
“Thank you, Father,” Catherine said.
This was truly more than she could have expected of anyone here and knowing that her father was as excited as she was to know that she was pregnant again, that was more than enough for her. She also knew her father would happily be there to do anything they needed.
“We will be staying at Ashwood until further notice,” Nicolas announced. “I do not want to take you out to Gracemere in such a condition. That is what almost lost us, Owen.”
“I agree,” Catherine said. “We will be close, Mother, Father.”
“Would you be opposed to us dropping by later this week?” Mr. Radcliff’s voice interrupted the conversation. “My apologies; I got lost in work. What is going on? Why is everyone so happy?”
Catherine turned around and saw that her brother and Miss Juliet had finally made it. Owen walked over to him and hugged his leg, announcing ‘sibwing!’ over and over.
“Sibling…” Mr. Radcliff repeated the word properly, and then looked to Catherine. “Sibling?”
“I’m expecting,” she said.
Though this was officially the fourth time she had said it, her joy never left. She was excited to share this news.
Miss Juliet offered her a hug, while Mr. Radcliff sat there in shock.
“Yeah. We know,” Nicolas said. “’Tis a miracle, and one we are grateful for.”
“How long have you known, Catherine?” Juliet asked.
Catherine told her the story of knowing since Nicolas had been in India, but that was all she was willing to share at this point. She did not want to ruin anything by oversharing.
“This is wonderful news!” Mr. Radcliff finally said something. “Are you to stay at Ashwood until the child is born?”
“Yes, we will,” Nicolas said. “I believe that will be the best course of action. The best doctors are here in Town, after all.”
“Yes, I believe that is best,” Catherine echoed. “Gracemere can wait until I am well enough to travel.”
“A smart move,” her father said. “I would do the same if your mother fell pregnant again.”
“It is a stretch, my dearest,” her mother retorted with a laugh. “I have not been in my prime for a few years now. If I were to be expecting now, ‘twould be a miracle like that of the one Catherine is now experiencing.”
“The young child would be spoiled,” Mr. Radcliff observed. “You have no one else here to care for, Father.”
This got a laugh out of everyone, and eventually, the crowd departed to get some rest for the night.
As Catherine carried Owen to Ashwood, with Nicolas at her side, she could not help but wonder what this pregnancy would bring. She was worried that she would lose the child, that they would not be able to enjoy the miracle for longer than a few more months.
“What worries you, my dear?” Nicolas looked at her.
She looked down at Owen. After confirming that he was asleep, she shared her fears with Nicolas.
“Shh…” He shushed her after she finished. “Do not say such things. We will have another child, but we must be prepared to sacrifice to have the child. If you are put on bed rest, will you be able to handle it? You barely survived it with Owen.”
“I will do what I must to have this child, Nicolas,” she said.
Saying it aloud had a funny effect on her. She felt strengthened by knowing that she was able to say it aloud, say it looking Nicolas in the eye.
“Good. Then you have nothing to worry about,” he said. “Come. Let us get Owen to bed, and then get you to bed.”
“That sounds like a good idea.” Catherine nodded slowly.
Nicolas took Owen from her, and then told her to go get in bed. He would be up shortly after Owen had been put down in the nursery.
Catherine walked to their room quietly. Her hand trailed across the wall, and she knew that her children would grow up knowing Ashwood and Gracemere as well as she had come to know them after four years of marriage. They would get to know Camberton as she knew it growing up.
As she lay on the bed, one hand on her belly, she knew that this child, whatever the gender, was a miracle worth celebrating. She would do what she needed, and they would have a second child.
She fell asleep with a smile, quietly celebrating the child growing in her belly.
This is the end of my novel “The Duke’s Last Dance”. I hope that you enjoy it! Your effort to read it means a lot to me and I have to thank you for your love and support these difficult days!
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