Bridgerton: The Duke and I: Chapter 21

The Duke of Hastings is back!


Simon didn’t speak as they slowly rode home. Daphne’s mare had been found munching contentedly on a patch of grass about twenty yards away, and even though Daphne had insisted that she was fit to ride, Simon had insisted that he didn’t care. After tying the mare’s reins to his own gelding, he had boosted Daphne into his saddle, hopped up behind her, and headed back to Grosvenor Square.

Besides, he needed to hold her.

He was coming to realize that he needed to hold on to something in life, and maybe she was right—maybe anger wasn’t the solution. Maybe—just maybe he could learn to hold on to love instead.

When they reached Hastings House, a groom ran out to take care of the horses, and so Simon and Daphne trudged up the front steps and entered the hall.

And found themselves being stared down by the three older Bridgerton brothers.

“What the hell are you doing in my house?” Simon demanded. All he wanted to do was scoot up the stairs and make love to his wife, and instead he was greeted by this belligerent trio. They were standing with identical postures—legs spread, hands on hips, chins jutted out. If Simon hadn’t been so damned irritated with the lot of them, he probably would have had the presence of mind to have been slightly alarmed.

Simon had no doubt that he could hold his own against one of them—maybe two—but against all three he was a dead man.

“We heard you were back,” Anthony said.

“So I am,” Simon replied. “Now leave.”

“Not so fast,” Benedict said, crossing his arms.

Simon turned to Daphne. “Which one of them may I shoot first?”

She threw a scowl at her brothers. “I have no preference.”

“We have a few demands before we’ll let you keep Daphne,” Colin said.

“What?” Daphne howled.

She is my wife!” Simon roared, effectively obliterating Daphne’s angry query.

“She was our sister first,” Anthony growled, “and you’ve made her miserable.”

“This isn’t any of your business,” Daphne insisted.

You’re our business,” Benedict said.

“She’s my business,” Simon snapped, “so now get the hell out of my house.”

“When the three of you have marriages of your own, then you can presume to offer me advice,” Daphne said angrily, “but in the meantime, keep your meddling impulses to yourselves.”

“I’m sorry, Daff,” Anthony said, “but we’re not budging on this.”

“On what?” she snapped. “You have no place to budge one way or the other. This isn’t your affair!”

Colin stepped forward. “We’re not leaving until we’re convinced he loves you.”

The blood drained from Daphne’s face. Simon had never once told her that he loved her. He’d shown it, in a thousand different little ways, but he’d never said the words. When they came, she didn’t want them at the hands of her overbearing brothers; she wanted them free and felt, from Simon’s heart.

“Don’t do this, Colin,” she whispered, hating the pathetic, pleading note of her voice. “You have to let me fight my own battles.”


“Please,” she pleaded.

Simon marched between them. “If you will excuse us,” he said to Colin, and by extension, to Anthony and Benedict. He ushered Daphne to the other end of the hall, where they might talk privately. He would have liked to have moved to another room altogether, but he had no confidence that her idiot brothers wouldn’t follow.

“I’m so sorry about my brothers,” Daphne whispered, her words coming out in a heated rush. “They’re boorish idiots, and they had no business invading your house. If I could disown them I would. After this display I wouldn’t be surprised if you never want children—”

Simon silenced her with a finger to her lips. “First of all, it’s our house, not my house. And as for your brothers—they annoy the hell out of me, but they’re acting out of love.” He leaned down, just an inch, but it brought him close enough so that she could feel his breath on her skin. “And who can blame them?” he murmured.

Daphne’s heart stopped.

Simon moved ever closer, until his nose rested on hers. “I love you, Daff,” he whispered.

Her heart started again, with a vengeance. “You do?”

He nodded, his nose rubbing against hers. “I couldn’t help it.”

Her lips wobbled into a hesitant smile. “That’s not terribly romantic.”

“It’s the truth,” he said, with a helpless shrug. “You know better than anyone that I didn’t want any of this. I didn’t want a wife, I didn’t want a family, and I definitely didn’t want to fall in love.” He brushed his mouth softly against hers, sending shivers down both of their bodies. “But what I found”—his lips touched hers again—“much to my dismay”—and again—“was that it’s quite impossible not to love you.”

Daphne melted into his arms. “Oh, Simon,” she sighed.

His mouth captured hers, trying to show her with his kiss what he was still learning to express in words. He loved her. He worshipped her. He’d walk across fire for her. He—

—still had the audience of her three brothers.

Slowly breaking the kiss, he turned his face to the side. Anthony, Benedict, and Colin were still standing in the foyer. Anthony was studying the ceiling, Benedict was pretending to inspect his fingernails, and Colin was staring quite shamelessly.

Simon tightened his hold on Daphne, even as he shot a glare down the hall. “What the hell are the three of you still doing in my house?”

Not surprisingly, none of them had a ready answer.

“Get out,” Simon growled.

“Please.” Daphne’s tone didn’t exactly suggest politeness.

“Right,” Anthony replied, smacking Colin on the back of the head. “I believe our work here is done, boys.”

Simon started steering Daphne toward the stairs. “I’m sure you can show yourselves out,” he said over his shoulder.

Anthony nodded and nudged his brothers toward the door.

“Good,” Simon said tersely. “We’ll be going upstairs.”

“Simon!” Daphne squealed.

“It’s not as if they don’t know what we’re going to do,” he whispered in her ear.

“But still—They’re my brothers!”

“God help us,” he muttered.

But before Simon and Daphne could even reach the landing, the front door burst open, followed by a stream of decidedly feminine invective.

“Mother?” Daphne said, the word croaking in her throat.

But Violet only had eyes for her sons. “I knew I’d find you here,” she accused. “Of all the stupid, bullheaded—”

Daphne didn’t hear the rest of her mother’s speech. Simon was laughing too hard in her ear.

“He made her miserable!” Benedict protested. “As her brothers, it’s our duty to—”

“Respect her intelligence enough to let her solve her own problems,” Violet snapped. “And she doesn’t look particularly unhappy right now.”

“That’s because—”

“And if you say that’s because you lot barged into her home like a herd of mentally deficient sheep, I’m disowning all three of you.”

All three men shut their mouths.

“Now then,” Violet continued briskly, “I believe it’s time we left, don’t you?” When her sons didn’t move quickly enough to suit her, she reached out and—

“Please, Mother!” Colin yelped. “Not the—”

She grabbed him by his ear.

“Ear,” he finished glumly.

Daphne grabbed Simon’s arm. He was laughing so hard now, she was afraid he’d tumble down the steps.

Violet herded her sons out the door with a loud, “March!” and then turned back to Simon and Daphne on the stairs.

“Glad to see you in London, Hastings,” she called, gifting him with a wide, brilliant smile. “Another week and I would have dragged you here myself.”

Then she stepped outside and shut the door behind her.

Simon turned to Daphne, his body still shaking with laughter. “Was that your mother?” he asked, smiling.

“She has hidden depths.”


Daphne’s face grew serious. “I’m sorry if my brothers forced—”

“Nonsense,” he said cutting her off. “Your brothers could never force me to say something I don’t feel.” He cocked his head and pondered that for a moment. “Well, not without a pistol.”

Daphne smacked him in the shoulder.

Simon ignored her and pulled her body against his. “I meant what I said,” he murmured, wrapping his arms around her waist. “I love you. I’ve known it for some time now, but—”

“It’s all right,” Daphne said, laying her cheek against his chest. “You don’t need to explain.”

“Yes, I do,” he insisted. “I—” But the words wouldn’t come. There was too much emotion inside, too many feelings rocking within him. “Let me show you,” he said hoarsely. “Let me show you how much I love you.”

Daphne answered by tilting her face up to receive his kiss. And as their lips touched, she sighed, “I love you, too.”

Simon’s mouth took hers with hungry devotion, his hands clutching at her back as if he were afraid she might disappear at any moment. “Come upstairs,” he whispered. “Come with me now.”

She nodded, but before she could take a step, he swept her into the cradle of his arms and carried her up the stairs.

By the time Simon reached the second floor, his body was rock hard and straining for release. “Which room have you been using?” he gasped.

“Yours,” she replied, sounding surprised that he’d even asked.

He grunted his approval and moved swiftly into his—no, their—room, kicking the door shut behind him. “I love you,” he said as they tumbled onto the bed. Now that he’d said the words once, they were bursting within him, demanding a voice. He needed to tell her, make sure she knew, make sure she understood what she meant to him.

And if it took a thousand sayings, he didn’t care.

“I love you,” he said again, his fingers frantically working on the fastenings of her dress.

“I know,” she said tremulously. She cupped his face in her hands and caught his eyes with hers. “I love you, too.”

Then she pulled his mouth down to hers, kissing him with a sweet innocence that set him afire.

“If I ever, ever hurt you again,” he said fervently, his mouth moving to the corner of hers, “I want you to kill me.”

“Never,” she answered, smiling.

His lips moved to the sensitive spot where her jaw met her earlobe. “Then maim me,” he murmured. “Twist my arm, sprain my ankle.”

“Don’t be silly,” she said, touching his chin and turning his face back to hers. “You won’t hurt me.”

Love for this woman filled him. It flooded his chest, made his fingers tingle, and stole his very breath. “Sometimes,” he whispered, “I love you so much it scares me. If I could give you the world, you know I would do it, don’t you?”

“All I want is you,” she whispered. “I don’t need the world, just your love. And maybe,” she added with a wry smile, “for you to take off your boots.”

Simon felt his face erupt into a grin. Somehow his wife always seemed to know exactly what he needed. Just when his emotions were choking him, bringing him dangerously close to tears, she lightened the mood, made him smile. “Your wish is my command,” he said, and rolled to her side to yank the offending footwear off.

One boot tumbled to the floor, the other skittered across the room.

“Anything else, your grace?” he asked.

She cocked her head coyly. “Your shirt could go, too, I suppose.”

He complied, and the linen garment landed on the nightstand.

“Will that be all?”

“These,” she said, hooking her finger around the waistband of his breeches, “are definitely in the way.”

“I agree,” he murmured, shrugging them off. He crawled over her, on his hands and knees, his body a hot prison around her. “Now what?”

Her breath caught. “Well, you’re quite naked.”

“That is true,” he concurred, his eyes burning down on hers.

“And I’m not.”

“That is also true.” He smiled like a cat. “And a pity it is.”

Daphne nodded, completely without words.

“Sit up,” he said softly.

She did, and seconds later her dress was whipped over her head.

“Now that,” he said hoarsely, staring hungrily at her breasts, “is an improvement.”

They were now kneeling across from each other on the massive four-poster bed. Daphne stared at her husband, her pulse quickening at the sight of his broad chest, rising and falling with each heavy breath. With a trembling hand, she reached out and touched him, her fingers lightly skimming over his warm skin.

Simon stopped breathing until her forefinger touched his nipple, and then his hand shot up to cover hers. “I want you,” he said.

Her eyes flicked downward, and her lips curved ever so slightly. “I know.”

“No,” he groaned, pulling her closer. “I want to be in your heart. I want—” His entire body shuddered when their skin touched. “I want to be in your soul.”

“Oh, Simon,” she sighed, sinking her fingers in his thick, dark hair. “You’re already there.”

And then there were no more words, only lips and hands and flesh against flesh.

Simon worshipped her in every way he knew how. He ran his hands along her legs and kissed the back of her knees. He squeezed her hips and tickled her navel. And when he was poised to enter her, his entire body straining against the most all-consuming desire he’d ever felt, he gazed down upon her with a reverence that brought tears to her eyes.

“I love you,” he whispered. “In all my life, it’s been only you.”

Daphne nodded and although she made no sound, her mouth formed the words, “I love you, too.”

He pushed forward, slowly, inexorably. And when he was settled fully within her body, he knew he was home.

He looked down at her face. Her head was thrown back, her lips parted as she struggled for breath. He grazed her flushed cheeks with his lips. “You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” he whispered. “I’ve never—I don’t know how—”

She arched her back in response. “Just love me,” she gasped. “Please, love me.”

Simon began to move, his hips rising and falling in time’s most ancient rhythm. Daphne’s fingers pressed into his back, her nails digging into his skin every time he thrust further into her body.

She moaned and mewled, and his body burned at the sounds of her passion. He was spiraling out of control, his movements growing jerky, more frenetic. “I can’t hold on much longer,” he gasped. He wanted to wait for her, needed to know that he’d brought her bliss before he allowed himself his own release.

But then, just when he thought his body would shatter from the effort of his restraint, Daphne shook beneath him, her most intimate muscles squeezing around him as she cried out his name.

Simon’s breath stopped in his throat as he watched her face. He’d always been so busy making sure he didn’t spill his seed inside of her that he’d never seen her face as she climaxed. Her head was thrown back, the elegant lines of her throat straining as her mouth opened in a silent scream.

He was awestruck.

“I love you,” he said. “Oh, God, how I love you.” Then he plunged deeper.

Daphne’s eyes fluttered open as he resumed his rhythm. “Simon?” she asked, her voice tinged with a touch of urgency. “Are you sure?”

They both knew what she meant.

Simon nodded.

“I don’t want you to do this just for me,” she said. “It has to be for you, too.”

The strangest lump formed in his throat—it was nothing like his stutters, nothing like his stammers. It was, he realized, nothing but love. Tears stabbed at his eyes, and he nodded, utterly unable to speak.

He plunged forward, exploding within her. It felt good. Oh God, it felt good. Nothing in life had ever felt that good before.

His arms finally gave out, and he collapsed atop her, the only sound in the room the rasp of his ragged breathing.

And then Daphne smoothed his hair from his forehead and kissed his brow. “I love you,” she whispered. “I will always love you.”

Simon buried his face into her neck, breathing in the scent of her. She surrounded him, enveloped him, and he was complete.

Many hours later, Daphne’s eyelids fluttered open. She stretched her arms above her as she noticed that the curtains had all been pulled shut. Simon must have done that, she thought with a yawn. Light filtered around the edges, bathing the room with a soft glow.

She twisted her neck, working the kinks out, then slid out of bed and padded to the dressing room to fetch her robe. How unlike her to sleep in the middle of the day. But, she supposed, this hadn’t been an ordinary day.

She pulled on her robe, tying the silken sash around her waist. Where had Simon gone off to? She didn’t think he’d left the bed too long before she had; she had a sleepy memory of lying in his arms that somehow seemed too fresh.

The master suite consisted of five rooms altogether: two bedrooms, each with its own dressing room off to the side, connected by a large sitting room. The door to the sitting room was ajar, and bright sunlight streamed through the aperture, suggesting that the curtains inside had been pulled open. Moving on deliberately quiet feet, Daphne walked to the open doorway and peered inside.

Simon was standing by the window, staring out over the city. He’d donned a lush burgundy dressing gown, but his feet were still bare. His pale blue eyes held a reflective look, unfocused and just the slightest bit bleak.

Daphne’s brow wrinkled with concern. She crossed the room toward him, quietly saying, “Good afternoon,” when she was but a foot away.

Simon turned at the sound of her voice, and his haggard face softened at the sight of her. “Good afternoon to you, too,” he murmured, pulling her into his arms. Somehow she ended up with her back pressed up against his broad chest, gazing out over Grosvenor Square as Simon rested his chin on the top of her head.

It took Daphne several moments before she worked up the courage to ask, “Any regrets?”

She couldn’t see him, but she felt his chin rub against her scalp as he shook his head.

“No regrets,” he said softly. “Just . . . thoughts.”

Something about his voice didn’t sound quite right, and so Daphne twisted in his arms until she could see his face. “Simon, what’s wrong?” she whispered.

“Nothing.” But his eyes didn’t meet hers.

Daphne led him to a love seat, and sat, tugging on his arm until he settled in beside her. “If you’re not ready to be a father yet,” she whispered, “that’s all right.”

“It’s not that.”

But she didn’t believe him. He’d answered too quickly, and there’d been a choked sound to his voice that made her uneasy. “I don’t mind waiting,” she said. “Truth be told,” she added shyly, “I wouldn’t mind having a little time just for the two of us.”

Simon didn’t say anything, but his eyes grew pained, and then he closed them as he brought his hand to his brow and rubbed.

A ripple of panic washed over Daphne, and she started talking faster. “It wasn’t so much that I wanted a baby right away,” she said. “I just . . . would like one eventually, that’s all, and I think you might, too, if you let yourself consider it. I was upset because I hated that you were denying us a family just to spite your father. It’s not—”

Simon laid a heavy hand on her thigh. “Daphne, stop,” he said. “Please.”

His voice held just enough agonized emotion to silence her immediately. She caught her lower lip between her teeth and chewed nervously. It was his turn to speak. There was obviously something big and difficult squeezing at his heart, and if it took all day for him to find the words to explain it, she could wait.

She could wait forever for this man.

“I can’t say I’m excited about having a child,” Simon said slowly.

Daphne noticed his breathing was slightly labored, and she placed her hand on his forearm to offer comfort.

He turned to her with eyes that pleaded for understanding. “I’ve spent so long intending never to have one, you see.” He swallowed. “I d-don’t know even how to begin to think about it.”

Daphne offered him a reassuring smile that in retrospect, she realized was meant for both of them. “You’ll learn,” she whispered. “And I’ll learn with you.”

“I-it’s not that,” he said, shaking his head. He let out an impatient breath. “I don’t . . . want . . . to live my life j-just to spite my father.”

He turned to her, and Daphne was nearly undone by the sheer emotion burning on his face. His jaw was trembling, and a muscle worked frantically in his cheek. There was incredible tension in his neck, as if every ounce of his energy was devoted to the task of delivering this speech.

Daphne wanted to hold him, to comfort the little boy inside. She wanted to smooth his brow, and squeeze his hand. She wanted to do a thousand things, but instead she just held silent, encouraging him with her eyes to continue.

“You were right,” he said, the words tumbling from his mouth. “All along, you’ve been right. About my father. Th-that I was letting him win.”

“Oh, Simon,” she murmured.

“B-but what—” His face—his strong, handsome face, which was always so firm, always so in control—crumpled. “What if . . . if we have a child, a-a-and it comes out like me?”

For a moment Daphne couldn’t speak. Her eyes tingled with unshed tears, and her hand moved unbidden to her mouth, covering lips that had parted in shock.

Simon turned away from her, but not before she saw the utter torment in his eyes. Not before she heard his breath catch, or the shaky exhale he finally expelled in an attempt to hold himself together.

“If we have a child who stutters,” Daphne said carefully, “then I shall love him. And help him. And—” She swallowed convulsively, praying that she was doing the right thing. “And I shall turn to you for advice, because obviously you have learned how to overcome it.”

He turned to face her with surprising swiftness. “I don’t want my child to suffer as I have suffered.”

A strange little smile moved across Daphne’s face without her even realizing it, as if her body had realized before her mind that she knew exactly what to say. “But he wouldn’t suffer,” she said, “because you’ll be his father.”

Simon’s face did not change expression, but his eyes shone with an odd, new, almost hopeful light.

“Would you reject a child who stuttered?” Daphne asked quietly.

Simon’s negative reply was strong, swift, and accompanied by just a touch of blasphemy.

She smiled softly. “Then I have no fears for our children.”

Simon held still for one moment more, and then in a rush of movement pulled her into his arms, burying his face in the crook of her neck. “I love you,” he choked out. “I love you so much.”

And Daphne was finally certain that everything was going to be all right.

Several hours later, Daphne and Simon were still sitting on the love seat in the sitting room. It had been an afternoon for holding hands, for resting one’s head on the other’s shoulder. Words hadn’t been necessary; for both it had been enough simply to be next to the other. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and they were together.

It was all they needed.

But something was niggling at the back of Daphne’s brain, and it wasn’t until her eyes fell on a writing set on the desk that she remembered.

The letters from Simon’s father.

She closed her eyes and exhaled, summoning the courage she knew she’d need to hand them over to Simon. The Duke of Middlethorpe had told her, when he’d asked her to take the packet of letters, that she’d know when the time was right to give them to him.

She disentangled herself from Simon’s heavy arms and padded over to the duchess’s chamber.

“Where are you going?” Simon asked sleepily. He’d been dozing in the warm afternoon sun.

“I—I have to get something.”

He must have heard the hesitation in her voice, because he opened his eyes and craned his body around to look at her. “What are you getting?” he asked curiously.

Daphne avoided answering his question by scurrying into the next room. “I’ll just be a moment,” she called out.

She’d kept the letters, tied together by a red-and-gold ribbon—the ancestral colors of Hastings—in the bottom drawer of her desk. She’d actually forgotten about them for her first few weeks back in London, and they’d lain untouched in her old bedroom at Bridgerton House. But she’d stumbled across them on a visit to see her mother. Violet had suggested she go upstairs to gather a few of her things, and while Daphne was collecting old perfume bottles and the pillowcase she’d stitched at age ten, she found them again.

Many a time she’d been tempted to open one up, if only to better understand her husband. And truth be told, if the envelopes hadn’t been closed with sealing wax, she probably would have tossed her scruples over her shoulder and read them.

She picked up the bundle and walked slowly back to the sitting room. Simon was still on the couch, but he was up and alert, and watching her curiously.

“These are for you,” she said, holding up the bundle as she walked to his side.

“What are they?” he asked.

But from the tone of his voice, she was fairly certain he already knew.

“Letters from your father,” she said. “Middlethorpe gave them to me. Do you remember?”

He nodded. “I also remember giving him orders to burn them.”

Daphne smiled weakly. “He apparently disagreed.”

Simon stared at the bundle. Anywhere but at her face. “And so, apparently, did you,” he said in a very quiet voice.

She nodded and sat next to him. “Do you want to read them?”

Simon thought about his answer for several seconds and finally settled on complete honesty. “I don’t know.”

“It might help you to finally put him behind you.”

“Or it might make it worse.”

“It might,” she agreed.

He stared at the letters, bundled up by a ribbon, resting innocently in her hands. He expected to feel animosity. He expected to feel rage. But instead, all he felt was . . .


It was the strangest sensation. There before him was a collection of letters, all written in his father’s hand. And yet he felt no urge to toss them in the fire, or tear them to bits.

And at the same time no urge to read them.

“I think I’ll wait,” Simon said with a smile.

Daphne blinked several times, as if her eyes could not believe her ears. “You don’t want to read them?” she asked.

He shook his head.

“And you don’t want to burn them?”

He shrugged. “Not particularly.”

She looked down at the letters, then back at his face. “What do you want to do with them?”



He grinned. “That’s what I said.”

“Oh.” She looked quite adorably befuddled. “Do you want me to put them back in my desk?”

“If you like.”

“And they’ll just sit there?”

He caught hold of the sash on her dressing robe and started pulling her toward him. “Mmm-hmm.”

“But—” she spluttered. “But—but—”

“One more ‘but,’” he teased, “and you’re going to start to sound like me.”

Daphne’s mouth fell open. Simon wasn’t surprised by her reaction. It was the first time in his life he’d ever been able to make a joke out of his difficulties.

“The letters can wait,” he said, just as they fell off her lap onto the floor. “I’ve just finally managed—thanks to you—to boot my father from my life.” He shook his head, smiling as he did so. “Reading those now would just invite him back in.”

“But don’t you want to see what he had to say?” she persisted. “Maybe he apologized. Maybe he even groveled at your feet!” She bent down for the bundle, but Simon pulled her tightly against him so she couldn’t reach.

“Simon!” she yelped.

He arched one brow. “Yes?”

“What are you doing?”

“Trying to seduce you. Am I succeeding?”

Her face colored. “Probably,” she mumbled.

“Only probably? Damn. I must be losing my touch.”

His hand slid under her bottom, which prompted a little squeal. “I think your touch is just fine,” she said hastily.

“Only fine?” He pretended to wince. “‘Fine’ is so pale a word, don’t you think? Almost wan.”

“Well,” she allowed, “I might have misspoken.”

Simon felt a smile forming in his heart. By the time it spread to his lips, he was on his feet, and tugging his wife in the general direction of his four-poster bed.

“Daphne,” he said, trying to sound businesslike, “I have a proposition.”

“A proposition?” she queried, raising her brows.

“A request,” he amended. “I have a request.”

She cocked her head and smiled. “What kind of request?”

He nudged her through the doorway and into the bedroom. “It’s actually a request in two parts.”

“How intriguing.”

“The first part involves you, me, and”—he picked her up and tossed her onto the bed amidst a fit of giggles—“this sturdy antique of a bed.”


He growled as he crawled up beside her. “It had better be sturdy.”

She laughed and squealed as she scooted out of his grasp. “I think it’s sturdy. What’s the second part of your request?”

“That, I’m afraid involves a certain commitment of time on your part.”

Her eyes narrowed, but she was still smiling. “What sort of commitment of time?”

In one stunningly swift move, he pinned her to the mattress. “About nine months.”

Her lips softened with surprise. “Are you sure?”

“That it takes nine months?” He grinned. “That’s what I’ve always been told.”

But the levity had left her eyes. “You know that’s not what I mean,” she said softly.

“I know,” he replied, meeting her serious gaze with one of his own. “But yes, I’m sure. And I’m scared to death. And thrilled to the marrow. And a hundred other emotions I never let myself feel before you came along.”

Tears pricked her eyes. “That’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

“It’s the truth,” he vowed. “Before I met you I was only half-alive.”

“And now?” she whispered.

“And now?” he echoed. “‘Now’ suddenly means happiness, and joy, and a wife I adore. But do you know what?”

She shook her head, too overcome to speak.

He leaned down and kissed her. “‘Now’ doesn’t even compare to tomorrow. And tomorrow couldn’t possibly compete with the next day. As perfect as I feel this very moment, tomorrow is going to be even better. Ah, Daff,” he murmured, moving his lips to hers, “every day I’m going to love you more. I promise you that. Every day . . .”


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