His Christmas Countess(5)By: Louise Allen
‘A stupid accident in Edinburgh. I’d been staying with a friend in the New Town and the place is covered in building sites. Some fool of a labourer dropped a plank on me. I was out cold for a couple of days and in no state to move much after that, but there’s nothing broken.’
He closed his eyes and she did the same. She let herself drift off, reassured. She was safe while he was there.
The night passed with intervals of sleep interrupted by increasing waves of contractions. At some point Kate was conscious of simply abandoning herself to Grant Rivers, to the competent hands, the confident, reassuring voice, the strength of the man. There was no choice now, but her instincts told her this was a good man, and if she was mistaken, there was nothing she could do about it. As time passed, on leaden feet, her trust grew.
She held on to his fingers, squeezing until she felt his bones shift under her grip, but he never complained. He was going to deliver her baby, he was going to save her so she could hold her child in her arms. He was her miracle. She was tired beyond anything she had ever experienced, this was more difficult than she could have imagined and she seemed to have been in this place for years. But it would be all right. Grant Rivers would make it all right.
* * *
It was taking too long. Kate was exhausted, the light was dreadful and he had no instruments. He knew full well that if there were complications, he did not have the knowledge to deal with them.
As dawn light filtered through the cobwebbed windows, Grant took a gulp of the neat whisky, scrubbed his hands over his face and faced down the fear. She was not going to die, nor was the baby. This time, at this crisis, he could save both mother and child. There was no decision to be made about it, no choice. He had only to hold his nerve, use his brain, and he would cheat death. This time. He stretched, went out to check on the horse, then saw the tree growing at the back of the bothy and smiled.
‘Talk to me, Kate. Where do you come from, why are you here, alone on Christmas morning?’
‘Not alone.’ She opened her eyes. ‘You’re here, too. Is it really Christmas?’
‘Yes. The season’s greetings to you.’ He showed her the little bunch of berried holly he had plucked from the stunted tree and was rewarded with a smile. Hell, but she looks dreadful. Her face was white and lined with strain, her hair was lank and tangled, her eyes bloodshot. She was too thin and had been for some time, he suspected, but she was a fighter.
‘How old are you?’
‘Talk to me,’ he repeated. ‘Where are you from? I live just over the Border in Northumberland.’
‘I’m from—’ She grimaced and clutched at his bruised hand. ‘Suffolk. My brother is a...a country squire. My mother died when he was born, my father was killed in a hunting accident a few years ago. He was a real countryman and didn’t care for London. Henry’s different, but he’s not important or rich or well connected, although he wishes he was. He wanted me to marry well.’
A gentlewoman, then, as he had thought. ‘You’re of age.’ Grant wiped her face with a damp cloth and gave her some more of the warm watered brandy to sip. It should be hot sweet tea, but this was all he had.
She was silent and he guessed she was deciding how much to tell him, how much she trusted him. ‘He controls all my money until I marry with his blessing. I fell in love and I was reckless. Naive. I suppose I had a very quiet, sheltered country life until I met Jonathan.’ She gave a twisted shrug. ‘Jonathan’s...dead. Henry said that until I had the baby I must stay at the lodge near Edinburgh that he inherited from an uncle, and then he would... He said he would find a good home. But I don’t trust him. He’ll leave my child at a workhouse or give her to some family who won’t love her...’ Her voice trailed away. ‘I don’t trust him.’
It wasn’t the entire story. Kate, he was certain, was editing it as she went along. He couldn’t blame her. This probably happened all the time, well-bred young women finding themselves in a difficult situation and the family stepping in to deal with the embarrassment, hoping they could find her an unsuspecting husband to take her off their hands later. It was a pity in this case, because Kate, with her fierce determination, would make a good mother, he was sure of that.
He settled back against the wall, her hand in his so he would know when another contraction came, even if he drifted off. He was tired enough to sleep without even the usual nightmares waking him, but Kate’s fierce grip would rouse him. How much time was this going to add to his journey? Charlie knew he was coming and he was a sensible boy for his age, but he’d been through too much and he needed his father. He needs a mother, too.