A rosy complexion, promising health. Ten little fingers and ten tiny toes. Eyes the same blue-gray as the deep sea on a cloudy day. A tiny button nose that all of her relatives loved to pretend to steal. A cute little mouth just learning to give baby kisses. Cheeks built for receiving mummy’s kisses. A tummy prime for tickling. Arms and legs becoming strong enough to lift her up and carry her through the world. Hair a perfect mixture of blonde and gold. Perfect. Lynn’s baby girl was utterly, utterly perfect.
And yet Lynn knew that her baby still wasn’t good enough.
She stroked the fine baby hair with one hand, one finger curling around the little ear. Elise didn’t stir. She was such a good baby, already sleeping through the nights. Claire, holding her just this morning while Lynn’s siblings had run and played on the floor, Elise watching in half-terrified fascination, had confessed that Elise reminded her of nobody so much as Lynn herself when she was a baby. And Claire had looked so proud, so pleased when she said that!
But Claire, out of everyone, should know that the time for daughters who reminded one of their mothers was not now. The time for daughters was after one had already borne a son or two or three. Lynn was not a fool. She knew this. Why didn’t anyone else see it?
The fact that the Lord had given her such a perfect daughter whom Lynn couldn’t help but adore when what she needed, was the kingdom needed, was a son was only the punch line of the cruel joke.
But it didn’t matter. Elise was almost a year old now — or close enough. Lynn’s courses had been regular for months. Soon, a boy would come. Soon Lynn would have her duty done and she could allow herself to enjoy being a mother of a daughter, or at least not be wracked with guilt when she reveled in all the benefits that came with having a little girl.
“There are my two best girls.”
And then maybe Tommy would feel able to stop pretending to be just fine with the situation as it was, and he could get to enjoy being the father of a son.
As it was, Lynn could only try to mask her flustered face behind a kiss for the baby, so that when she looked up at Tommy it was with a composed smile. “Tommy.”
He grinned at her, that same grin that could outshine all the candles and put the sun to shame. However, he moved first to the other side of the cradle. “Asleep already? She didn’t want to wait for Daddy to come home?”
“You know we have to keep her a routine. Your mother says …”
“I know, I know.” Tommy pretended to sigh. “I swear, sometimes, between you and her, you’re out to ruin all my fun.” He winked at her, then bent down to kiss the baby. “She sure does sleep, doesn’t she?”
“Isn’t that for the better?”
“Well, yes, most of the time — just not now.” Tommy grinned at her, then he was on her side of the crib, kissing her. For a moment, Lynn was just able to collapse into his arms and forget that she even had troubles, never mind what they were.
But only for a moment.
Tommy rested his hands on her waist, holding her at half an arm’s length while he grinned down at her. “And how’s Mummy?”
“Our Princess didn’t give you any trouble?”
“Tommy!” Lynn laughed. “Half the time you call her an angel, and then you ask me if she’s been any trouble!”
“She is an angel. But she’s an angel who’s made up of one half of me, unless–” Tommy bit down on the rest of that sentence, guilt flashing across his face. He was probably remembering the last time he’d made that unless you have something you’ve been neglecting to mention, love joke. Lynn had overreacted and she knew it, but at least he hadn’t made the joke again.
“Anyway, she does have a bit of me in there, somewhere — it stands to reason. And it’s going to come out eventually. Just you watch.”
“I’m sure it will be only wonderful when it does.”
“Ha. I’ll remind you of that when it does.” Tommy winked, then glanced down at the crib and rubbed a little foot — for luck, maybe? It made as much sense as anything else.
“So,” Lynn asked, drawing her hands over the front of Tommy’s tunic, straightening it, “how was Daddy’s day?”
“Long,” Tommy sighed. “Checking up on the borders again.”
“You didn’t see anything … troubling, did you?” Lynn murmured, catching her lower lip between her teeth.
“Troubling? Other than the looks on the soldiers’ faces when Ambrosius and I showed up? Not really. But …”
“But?” Lynn breathed.
Tommy’s eyes narrowed, and she could see the thoughts behind them weighing, assembling, determining what to say and what not to say. She wouldn’t mention this to Tommy, but he looked just like his father whenever he was thoughtful. Maybe a son of theirs would look just like Tommy when he was deep in thought. “A bit of gossip, Lynn, from just over the border. Seems that Princess Viviette is finally in the family way.”
“Oh …” Lynn smiled sickly, trying to will away the sinking feeling she was starting to get whenever another lady was mentioned as expecting. Then she remembered Princess Viviette’s story — four years married, and not so much as a rumor! Goodness! It was practically a miracle. “Oh, Tommy, are you sure?”
“Sure?” He sighed. “I wish. It’s just a rumor at this point, love.”
“Oh … but …” She hesitated, as she always did when she came to comment on matters of state. Part of her still couldn’t believe that she was allowed, much less listened to when she tried. “But wouldn’t her having a baby be … good for us?”
“At this point? Who knows, love. I know I don’t. It depends on so many things …”
“Her having a boy,” Lynn replied matter-of-factly.
“Aye. I don’t know what effect a girl would have. Could be good or bad. But it’s a boy they need.” Then Tommy grinned at her and grasped her waist again. “We’re lucky, we are. We’re in no rush, eh?”
“No rush,” Lynn agreed, but something must have come through in her voice, for Tommy narrowed his eyes at her. “Er … unless …”
“Unless you want to be, of course …”
Her attempts at seduction were usually pretty pathetic, Lynn knew — she’d never really gotten the knack of it, though she’d been a married lady these eighteen months. Luckily Tommy didn’t take much seducing as a general rule.
Now, however, he was narrowing his eyes. “What are you meaning by that, love?”
“Oh …” Lynn tried to laugh. “Just that I was a little … lonely today …”
“Oh?” Tommy grinned, resting his forehead on hers, his strong hands stroking her sides.
“And I was thinking … goodness, I wish my Tommy was here, and not off inspecting the borders towers.”
“Well, your Tommy is here now,” Tommy chuckled.
“I noticed,” Lynn replied, trying to make her voice sound low and throaty, not high and giggly as it always threatened to do when she was trying to get him into the bedroom.
Tommy only smiled, grabbed her hand, and led her out of the nursery — then half at a run to their bedroom. Lynn couldn’t help the laugh that escaped her. It was almost like being a newlywed again.
And maybe, before the night was out, she’d have a baby brother on the way for her little girl.
But no sooner had they entered, the bedroom, grinned at each other, and Tommy put his hands back on her waist in preparation for lifting her onto the bed, then Tommy frowned. “Oh.”
She saw where he was looking — his upper arms, maille glinting in the candlelight. “Oh!” Lynn’s giggle was a bit more natural, this time. “Well, I don’t know about you, but I think my mood can survive getting changed the — the old-fashioned way.”
Tommy frowned again at the maille. “Aye. And so can I.” They had found out early on that attempting to pull each others’ clothes off when Tommy was in maille was likely to end in rips and tears to Lynn’s dresses at a minimum, scratches to Lynn’s skin and the fine wooden floors at a maximum. “Do you need your maid?”
“I should be fine,” Lynn smiled, and repaired to the wardrobe.
It would give her a moment to regroup.
“Tommy?” she asked as she threw the wide doors opened and pretended to be looking for her nightgown.
“Do you need your valet?” Lynn asked, looking half-over her shoulder.
“Not if you’re changing, I don’t.”
“Tommy! Don’t you trust me?”
“Trust you? Of course I trust you, love. It’s him I don’t trust.”
“Tommy!” Lynn laughed — at least, she thought he was joking. She hoped he was joking. She hoped he wasn’t honestly paying a man whom he didn’t trust not to violate her. No, Tommy had to be joking.
“Besides, I’m a Prince, I’m allowed to be selfish, and there are some things I honestly would like to keep to myself. Like the sight of you in your nightgown. Or not in your nightgown. I’m not picky.”
“Tommy! You know the women have seen me in it. With Elise, at the very least.”
“They don’t count.”
Good to know, that. “And speaking of Elise …”
“What about her?”
“Well … don’t you think it was time we started trying for a brother for her? Or a sister?”
Tommy didn’t answer. Not right away.
“… Lynn?” he asked after a moment that seemed to take an eternity.
“Didn’t Morgan say we should wait a year?”
“Well, yes, but …”
“I know you didn’t want to take her potions,” Tommy continued, “and that’s your choice, love, but … I don’t know. She’s the best medical authority we’ve got in the kingdom.”
“But … don’t we want our children to be close in age?”
“Not at the cost of your health.”
She knew that tone. It was the tone of finality. It wasn’t one Tommy employed often, but when he did, well. That was that. She knew better than to argue when a man used that tone.
Lynn sighed, then grabbed her nightgown and pulled her dress over her head. The nightgown was on in another trice, allowing her to start to unpin and brush through her hair. Maybe she should have just taken everything off and left it off, but somehow, now, it didn’t seem worth it. They would keep being careful until Elise turned a year old, and then they would finally get to try again — and who knew how long it would take until Lynn was finally able to hope, truly hope, for a boy? And then, if she had another girl …
Lynn was almost sucked into the depthless vortex opening up before her, but luckily a pair of strong fingers pinching her rear saved her from that. For the moment. She yelped and half-leapt into the air.
“Tommy!” Lynn gasped, a hand resting over her fluttering heart.
“Sorry, love. But it just looked so inviting, just waiting there for me …”
“You are a cad.”
“And you love it.”
Well. She couldn’t argue with that. And Tommy didn’t intend to let her.
His lips on her lips, her jaw, her neck — for a moment, she could almost forget, she could almost lose herself in her husband’s arms, not despair that whatever happened tonight, the beginnings of a baby probably wouldn’t.
When she and Tommy finally parted for air, Tommy was grinning at her, and it only took a minimal amount of coaxing for Lynn to smile in return.
It was still too much. Tommy noticed. And he frowned. “Lynn? Love? What’s the matter?”
“Oh, nothing! Nothing!”
He let her go. Lynn almost burst into tears.
“Lynn …” He was making it damned hard for her to keep this locked inside, his voice caressing her soul even as his hand caressed her voice.
Then he stopped talking. Damn it! He wouldn’t even give her an opening, something to latch onto, to claim that that was what bothering her. He didn’t want another baby yet; the last thing she wanted was to cry and make a fool of herself and act like a spoiled brat because she wasn’t getting what she wanted.
But they needed a boy!
“Oh,” Lynn finally smiled. “You — you always had Jessie. You know. A twin. I don’t think you … quite, you know, know how nice it is to have a sibling close to you in age. I just think … well, the sooner we start trying, the sooner we’ll succeed, you know?”
It was all she could do to keep smiling, to let her eyes grow a little unfocused, and to, above all, not study his face for the tiniest clue as to what he was thinking.
“So … you want to give Elise a little sister? So they can be two peas in a pod, like you and Clarice?”
“A brother,” Lynn blurted out. “Er … or a brother.”
Tommy only nodded once — the nod he only gave when he had just confirmed something he had long held to be true. Or he had long feared to be true. “You want a boy.”
“We need a boy.”
“Not today, Lynn. Or tomorrow. Or next month or, Wright willing, next year. My father is in perfect health, so am I, and even if we weren’t, there’s Kay. We’ve no reason to rush.”
“Yes, but …” Lynn started, and Tommy raised his eyebrows, expression open, inviting.
“But …” Lynn whispered, “don’t you want a boy?”
“Of course I do. Eventually. Whenever the Lord gets around to giving us one. Until he is, I’m happy with the girl we’ve got.”
He didn’t understand. Oh, he could afford to be happy with the girl they had — it wasn’t his job to provide the throne with an heir. That was Lynn’s job. That was her only job.
Why couldn’t he understand? He’d pulled out of her miserable home, shown her what love and laughter could truly be. He listened to her, treated her like another Sim. He’d made her a Princess, for Wright’s sake! She was in his debt to him and she knew it. She’d never deny it. But giving him a boy — she could start to repay that debt. It would never be enough, for what he’d done for her, but it would be a start.
All she wanted to do was do her duty, repay that debt, get on some kind of equal footing with him. Why did he half to make it so damned difficult?
“Lynn?” His hand reached out to caress her face again. “Sweetheart, what is it? Tell me.”
And now he was being coaxing! Not ordering, not demanding — just coaxing. If she said no, she didn’t want to talk about it …
Well, he’d let her not talk about it. But he’d be disappointed. And he’d worry. She’d see him looking at her sidelong when he thought she was occupied with other things, brows knit in a puzzled frown. He’d ask questions out of nowhere, questions that were supposed to get her off-guard and hopefully get enough clues to piece together an answer. He’d talk to other people about her: Jessie, his mother, maybe even her mother. He wouldn’t stop until he had figured out, sooner or later, what it was that was bothering her, and had fixed it.
Lynn felt her gaze drop. Tommy wrapped his arms around her and kissed her temple. He did nothing else, just holding her, rocking a bit from side to side as he did when Elise was fussy or cranky and just wanted to feel the arms of somebody who loved her around her.
“I want a boy,” Lynn admitted to his shoulder.
Tommy stepped back. “Do you?”
“Don’t–don’t you?” Lynn gasped. He couldn’t possibly — he couldn’t think that just Elise was enough, could he? That was madness!
He waved one hand. “What I want isn’t important. No, Lynn, listen,” when she tried to protest, “maybe — maybe that came out wrong. What I mean is — why? Why do you want a boy?”
“We need a boy,” Lynn mumbled through numb lips.
“Eventually, aye. But not right this second.”“I know not right this second –“ “No. Lynn, please, listen to me. Other than the dynasty and the throne and the rest of it — why do you want a boy?” Was he really going to make her admit this out loud? He understood — he had to understand, didn’t he? Did he really want to leave her with so little dignity as all that? “I — I — I don’t know,” she said finally, because it was less humiliating than telling him why. Tommy didn’t say anything. Somehow, that was worse than laughing at her, than patronizing her, than calling her a stupid woman who couldn’t even understand what it was that she wanted. When Lynn peeked up at him through her wet lashes, he was frowning a little, puzzled — but waiting. Definitely waiting. “It’s the one thing I can do for you, Tommy!” Tommy pulled back and blinked. “Eh?” “It’s — it’s my job, Tommy! How, how would you feel if I was stopping you from doing your job? From doing your duties–“ “Ah. Your duties.” “Of course my duties! I’m your wife! It’s my duty to present you with an heir! That’s — that’s the whole point!” “Lynn — Lynn, listen to me.” Tommy pulled her near him, and even though part of Lynn wanted to pull away and continue to rail at him, she stilled and came to him. “Children are part of your duties to me. Aye, and my duty to you. I shan’t deny that. But, sweetheart … how can you think that’s all you are? Your whole worth? You’re so much more than that.” “But … but I owe you so much,” Lynn whispered. “And how else can I repay you?” “Owe me? Owe me? Lynn, what on earth can you possibly owe me?” “You — you saved me,” she replied. “You loved me. You got me out of my–my father’s house. You made me a Princess! You married me! What don’t I owe you?” “You think you owe me for marrying you?” “Of course. You could have had any girl you wanted.” “And the only girl I ever wanted was you. Lynn, when you said you’d marry me, I never knew how I would repay you for that. You made me the happiest man on this earth.” Lynn stared at him, unable to comprehend. Yes, of course, he’d wanted her, but — but didn’t he understand? He could have had anyone. That he had somehow wanted her was more than she could even begin to understand, let alone be grateful enough for. He rested his forehead on hers and closed his eyes. He was thinking. Lynn wanted to bury her head on his shoulder, but she couldn’t — she had to wait. His eyes opened and there was something resolute in them. “Lynn, answer one question for me. Would a boy make you happy?” “Aye.” “Are you sure?” “You said one question.” “I lied,” Tommy grinned, and Lynn giggled. “Aye,” she replied. “Aye, I’m sure.” “And you want it as soon as possible? Risks aside?” “Aye.” Did he sigh? But before Lynn could determine that, he was smiling again and scooping her up in his arms. “Then, Lynn my love, if that’s what you want … “I’ll do my best to put one into you, Wright willing.”