Twelve

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Chapter Twelve

 

Located in what remained of the original castle, Edward’s study door loomed, ominous and medieval, much like the duke himself. Phoebe dragged a long breath into her lungs, squashing the overwhelming desire to flee. This must be done. She couldn’t hide her secret from Edward forever. Best to have it out now—or so she was trying to convince herself.

Sarah grabbed Phoebe’s hand and squeezed hard. “I am coming with you. There is no way I am leaving you to speak with Edward alone.”

“I agree,” Mrs. Condon interjected. “His Grace is a good man, but he has the devil’s own temper.  I’ll come as well.”

Phoebe nodded weakly, unable to conjure even the shadow of a smile at their show of support. She’d spent the last hour telling Sarah and Mrs. Condon the whole sordid tale of her affair with James. They’d been compassionate and supportive—as friends should be—but Phoebe could well imagine Edward’s murderous tirade. Steeling her courage—fallen woman or no, she was still a Landon and refused to cower—she rapped on the study door. “Edward,” she called. “It’s Phoebe. I need to speak with you right away.” Without waiting for an answer, she swung the door inward.

Edward slouched over his desk, pouring over an overwhelming stack of documents, brow furrowed in concentration. He glanced up with a look of mild irritation, but bade her enter anyway. “What is this about, Phoebe? I am extremely busy.” He turned back to his document, dipping a quill in ink and proceeding to sign his name to the bottom of the page.

Trembling with shame and fear, Phoebe clutched Sarah’s hand so hard the other woman winced. “Edward, I…” the words escaped her, leaving her voice a mere rasp. She cleared her throat, steeling her courage. “Edward, I-I am with child.” There. She’d said it. The truth was out—most of it in any case. She resisted the urge to look away, and braced for the tirade to come.

Dead silence ruled the air.

Drawing a tentative breath, Phoebe debated repeating herself. Had Edward even heard?

He finished signing the document and proceeded to sand the ink. The line of his jaw set like concrete and the muscles in his neck tensed like iron. Phoebe gulped. He’d heard, and he was practicing a great show of restraint. He set his work aside and stood, striding to the window at the far side of his study.

The silence ensued. It was more than she could bear. She’d prepared herself for anger. She wanted anger—deserved anger. Anything but this deafening quiet.

“Edward?” Phoebe asked softly.

“Has a physician confirmed your condition?”

“No.”

“The signs are unmistakable, Your Grace,” Mrs. Condon interjected, her tone matter-of-fact and soothing.

Edward nodded, continuing to stare through the window. After a moment he glanced down at the floor, and his shoulders slumped in defeat. “I am afraid to broach the next question.” Finally he faced Phoebe, sadness and hurt brimming in his dark eyes. “To whom should I defend my sister’s honor?”

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