“Black is horrid on you, my darling.” Davin Barlowe, Viscount Kerse, er, now Earl Burnley, assisted his wife from the carriage, tucked her arm into his. He’d been used to being Kerse for so long, every time someone called out Burnley, he found himself looking about for his father and wondering what crazy stunt he had initiated. But, alas, his father was gone and Kerse had since resumed the earl’s title.
His adorable wife, Philomena, chuckled, but it was weighted with breathy pants due to her heavily impregnated form. “Then perhaps you should have told your father that before he decided to die, forcing me into mourning.”
“The stages of life, I fear.”
Heslin opened the door of Burnley Hall just as they reached it. It was an odd feeling to realize Davin no longer had to skulk about or hide any potential weapons from the old earl and the madness that had confiscated his mind years before.
Philomena stepped over the threshold and tripped nearly hitting the floor with her knees but for both his and Heslin’s quick reaction. “Oh, my,” she whispered, followed by a heart-stopping shrill squeal that would haunt Davin for the rest of his natural life.
“Davin…” she panted in short raspy exhales. “I-I’m frightened.”
“Good God. It’s time,” he breathed, noting the paleness of her face. His stomach clenched in abject terror. He’d dreaded this moment as much as he’d longed for it. There was no time for panic and he swept her up in his arms and hurried for the stairs. A gush of water broke over his arm, saturating his and Phil’s evening clothes. “Heslin, send for the midwife. Quickly. I suppose we must notify Lord and Lady Staunton as well,” he added as an afterthought.
“Thom, too,” Phil huffed out.
No one had seen Phil’s twin Thomasina since the night Davin and Phil had married at the new year and he didn’t hold out much hope now—well, that wasn’t quite true. If anyone was resourceful, it was Lady Thomasina. She was like a cat with twelve lives. Yet, the twins were uncanny when it came to one another, in their thoughts and their actions, and perhaps Thomasina would come through for her sister. “We’ll do our best, darling. First things first. We must make you comfortable.”
Davin carried his wife to her bedchamber. Her maid stood beside an already turned down bed, clutching Phil’s night rail between whitened knuckles. With his assistance the two of them managed to change Phil’s dress amid another two contractions that terrified the life out of him.
He lowered himself beside his wife and took her hand. “I don’t suppose you consulted one of your fortune tellers on the outcome of this ordeal,” he said with a lightness he didn’t think he’d quite pulled off.
Her fingers squeezed his and harsh breaths had her leaning forward. “S-she… s-said… it… would… hurt. S-she spoke the t-truth.”
The door swung wide. Lady Staunton rushed in. “Oh, my poor, poor child.” She glared at Davin. “You, sir, must vacate at once. It is not seemly for you to be here.”
He rose from the side of the bed. “Now see here—”
But Phil still had hold of his hand. “It’s all right, my love,” she whispered. “For a few minutes.”
He looked into her haunted eyes and fear snaked his spine.
“Go,” she said.
With compressed lips, Davin quit the chamber. He had a twin sister to locate.
“Well, I never!” Lady Staunton said.
Phil closed her eyes, even as another pain gripped her from the inside out. She could still hear her mother ranting about Thom and Thom’s lack of obedience of their parent’s dictates. Not for the first time did Phil wish she was more like her twin. She tuned out her mother which wasn’t that difficult considering the pain that held her enthralled. Blood pounding her ears.
“Surely, you’ve heard from her. Thomasina would never go so long to not reach out to you.”
“I-I haven’t heard from h-her since my w-edding night.” Phil squeezed her eyes shut through another bracing pain and gripped the covers in her fists.
Her lady’s maid, Edie, appeared at her side with a basin of water she set on the bedside table. She dampened a cloth and dabbed it on Phil’s forehead and above her lip. It was blessedly cool.
“How dare you block my daughter from me!” Lady Staunton hissed.
Edie went to stand back but Phill grabbed her hand. “Mother. If you c-can’t be civil to my m-maid, I insist you l-leave.”
“Lady Staunton,” Davin said from the door, “Your husband requires your presence.” He came to the bed and took the cloth from Edie. Dipped it in the water and laid it at Phil’s neck, then across her chest. “The midwife is here, darling.”
The midwife moved forward and placed flattened hands on Phil’s swollen stomach.
Phil gripped Davin’s wrists. “Please, don’t leave,” she whispered.
“Never,” he whispered back, brushing her lips with his.
“That is out of the question, my lord,” Lady Staunton said. She turned to Phil. “Of course, I’ll remain at your side during this trying time. Your sister is gone, Philomena. Likely dead. It’s time you realized that.”
Tears sprang to Phil’s eyes. “I-it’s not true. I-I would know it.”
Davin glared at her mother. “That is quite enough, Lady Staunton. I shall remain by my wife’s side.”
“It’s time, my lady.” The midwife moved to the foot of the bed. “I must raise the coverlets, my lady. Are you certain you wish for your husband to remain? It’s not customary.”
“I’m staying,” he said, coinciding with Phil’s breathless “Yes.”
“What do I do?” he asked the midwife.
“Hold her hand. Encourage her to breathe and to follow my directions. That is most important.” With a piercing gaze at Phil, she said, “Do not push until I instruct you to, milady. No matter how difficult it is to not. Wait until I give you leave.” She snapped her fingers at Edie. “Call for hot water and find clean linens.
The chamber door opened then slammed on Phil’s mother’s angry exit.
Fear stole the breath from Phil.
“Breathe, darling. Breathe.”
Phil’s eyes flashed to her husband. What if this was the last she ever saw of him? “I-I don’t want to d-die.”
“You will not die. Do not even speak such a thing. I will breathe the life in you myself.” The statement was issued harshly and Phil realized his fear was as great as her own.
How shocking to have such a rational thought in that instant—
“Now! Push, milady. Now!”
“Scream, darling. Please, give me some sign that you are with me.”
But Phil didn’t have the strength in her. The damp cloth dotted her face.
A cry split the chamber, but Phil was almost certain it wasn’t her own.
“I have her, my lady,” Edie said. “You have a daughter.”
“Thank God,” Davin breathed. “Bring her to me.”
Edie handed her off and Davin cradled the bundle with an awe in his eyes that had Phil blinking back more tears. “What shall we call her, my love?”
“Mary Thomsan. I-I wish to name her for Thom.”
“It’s perfect.” His whisper caressed her cheek.
The wonder of it all hit Phil. “I-I’m alive.”
He smiled. “Yes.”
“Might I hold her?”
“Of course. After all, you did all the work, my love.” A second later, Phil was looking down into a tiny, wrinkled face. Amazement filled her, followed by a sadness that her sister wasn’t there to share the moment with her.
“Milady, we must clean you up. You are unfit for visitors,” Edie said softly.
“Take little Mary-Thom to her grandparents,” Phil said to her husband. “B-but don’t let them h-hold her. The only reason Papa remembers my name is because Thom has been gone for so long. And, Mama—” she shuddered. “I don’t wish for an accidental drop. Erg. I’m horrible, aren’t I?”
“Of course not, love. If you hadn’t said it, I would have. Mary-Thom and I shall return within fifteen minutes.” He shot Edie and the midwife a pointed look.
The midwife grinned, exposing a gap of two front missing teeth. “She’ll be presentable by then, milord.”
Phil’s eyes drifted close, her thoughts riotous. I’m a mother. Oh, Thom, please stay safe. I miss you. I know you aren’t dead. I would know. I. Would. Know. Please, come home.
Her husband feathered his lips over hers. “Fifteen minutes, my love.”
The midwife’s cackle bounded through the chamber. “I suspect her ladyship won’t even notice your return.”
“I suspect you’re right,” Davin said.
It was the last thing Phil heard, the smile and pride in his voice, as she sunk into a deep slumber. Her sister would be home soon. She just knew it.
I hope you enjoyed this interim story that ties between Kathy L Wheeler’s stories from Volume 2 to the new Volume 3 coming out December 5th.
The buy links for the previous books can be found by clicking on the cover images below.
Also, note this is intended as an epilogue to The Kerse Who Saved Christmas and a prologue to The Other Side of the Christmas Shilling.
One last thing to note: Gaming Hell Christmas: Volume 3 is available for pre order right now for a special price that goes back to regular price on December 5th 2023
Kathy L Wheeler
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