Today's Reading

Before he could speak, before he could shut her out, Sera stepped into the doorway, one hand at her heaving belly, the other on the jamb. "Haven." The name was all she could speak before she doubled over.

"He—" The boy stopped. "His Grace, that is—he is not in."

She looked up somehow, her eyes finding his in the dim light. "Do you know me?"

His gaze flickered to her swollen midsection. Back.

Her hand spread wide over the child there. "The heir."

He nodded, and relief flooded her, a wash of warmth. She swayed with it even as his young eyes widened, drawn to the floor beneath them.

Not relief. Blood.

"Oh—" he began, the remainder of his words stolen away by shock.

Sera swayed in the doorway, reaching for him, this virtual child who had been so very unlucky in his post that evening. He took her hand. "He is here," he whispered. "He is abovestairs."

He was there. Strong enough to bend the sun to his will.

That might have been gratitude if not for the pain. It might have been happiness if not for the fear. And it might have been life if not for what she suddenly knew was to come.

Get out. She heard the words. Saw his cold gaze when he'd banished her from his sight months earlier. And then, somehow...

Come here. That gaze again, but this time heavy-lidded. Desperate. Hot as the sun. And then his whispers soft and beautiful at her ear. You were made for me. We were made for each other.

Pain returned her to the present, sharp and stinging, marking something terribly wrong. As though the blood that covered her skirts and the marble floor weren't enough of a herald. She cried out. Louder than she would have guessed, as there was suddenly someone else there; a woman.

They spoke, but Sera could not hear the words. Then the woman was gone, and Sera was left in the darkness, with her mistakes and the boy, the dear, sweet boy, who clung to her. Or she to him. "She's gone to fetch him."

It was too late, of course. In so many ways.

She should not have come.

Sera fell to her knees, gasping through the ache. Sorrow beyond ken. She would never know their child. Dark-haired and wide-smiled, and smart as his father. Lonely as him, too.

If only she could live, she might love them enough.

But she was to die here, in this place. Yards from the only man she'd ever loved. Without ever having told him. She wondered if he would care when she died, and the answer terrified her more than all the rest, because she knew, without doubt, that it would follow her into the afterlife.

She clutched the boy's hand. "Tell me your name."

"Your Grace?"

She clutched his hand. "Sera," she whispered. She was going to die, and she wanted someone to say her name, not her title. Something real. Something that felt like it belonged. "My name is Seraphina."

The dear boy clung to her. Nodded. The knot in his too-narrow throat bobbing with his nerves. "Daniel," he said. "What shall I do?"

"My child," she whispered. "His."

The boy nodded, suddenly wise beyond his years. "Is there something you wish for?"

"Mal," she said, unable to keep the truth at bay. Unable to keep it from swallowing her whole. Just once more. Just long enough to put everything back to rights. "I wish for Malcolm."

The Duke of Haven threw open the door to the room where Sera lay, silent and still and pale, the force of the oak slab ricocheting off the wall startling those inside. A young maid gave a little cry of surprise, and the housekeeper looked up from where she held a cloth to Sera's brow.

But the Duke wanted nothing to do with the two women. He was too focused on the surgeon at his wife's side.

"She lives," Haven growled, the words filled with emotion he did not know he could feel. But then, she had always made him feel. Even when he'd been desperate not to.

The surgeon nodded. "By a thread, Your Grace. She will likely die before nightfall."

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