‘ Second Son ’

by A. K. Naten

For disclaimers, etc., see Intro




A fortnight passed since the stinging argument with her husband, and Gwynneth had once again retreated inside herself. Having learned her lesson about being outspoken, the young woman spent most of her time either cooped up inside her own room, or climbing up to stand in the open tower, where she would linger and stare blankly out over the Manor’s surrounding countryside.

Everyone had noticed the downtrodden demeanor and defeated attitude of the Marchioness, for it had been apparent for some time. The young woman who had, at first, been such a breath of fresh air now seemed sullen and painfully withdrawn. Indeed, the Lord and Lady who had once seemed so happy and content with each other now appeared aloof and obviously uptight when in the same room together.

Rumors abounded that the noble marriage was in trouble for some reason, but no one could fathom what the reason might be. Things were going well at Weldon, and they were expecting a child; what trouble would that bring about? No one knew, but it was obvious that something had gone awry.

When the Lord and Lady were in each other’s presence, they barely made eye contact nor spoke to one another. Lord Anton made a point of keeping himself occupied with various outdoor activities while Lady Gwynneth hid herself away inside the castle’s thick walls.

Gwynneth’s pregnancy seemed to be coming along fairly well, but many thought she appeared pale and too thin. The physician, Victor, was concerned about her eating habits, as well as her entire well-being. He often questioned Gwynneth’s ladies maid, Alice, who dutifully told him whatever she could. Alice was equally concerned, so she talked to Victor willingly, hoping that he could help her distressed Lady.

Alice unhappily told Victor that Gwynneth barely spoke to her, nor anyone for that matter; she mostly just sat and stared, her eyes full of pain and tears. Alice would have her favorite foods made up, in hopes of enticing her to eat, but when the meals were presented, Gwynneth hardly touched it. She would just look blankly at the food, occasionally taking a bite here and there, but ultimately pushing it away, scarcely eating a thing.

The maid also reported that Gwynneth complained of not sleeping well. She claimed to have dreams and nightmares that kept her awake at all hours of the night. She never gave much detail about the dreams, only that they were very strange and left her feeling unsettled. She did admit, once, that she felt very lonely and desperately missed her husband’s once-loving presence, not only in her bed, but in her day-to-day life as well.

Alice almost felt like she was betraying her Lady by revealing such information, but Victor assured her that it was vital for him to know as much as possible in order to help Gwynneth. And Gwynneth, Alice knew, desperately needed help.

Having gathered all this information and seeing Gwynneth’s poor health with his own eyes, Victor finally decided that he needed to call attention to the matter before it was too late.


The elderly physician had traversed the entire expanse of the fortified manor searching for Anton. Finally finding someone to point him in the right direction, he walked outside for quite a distance until he came upon the Marquess and some of her fellow knights. The small gathering of warriors were sparring with each other out in an open field, the clash of their swords clanging louder as Victor reached the grassy clearing where they skirmished.

The old man watched Anton for a moment, marveling at her skill and obvious strength. It was no easy feat to fight handily with a heavy steel sword, but Anton made it look as though it were nothing. Victor thought that it was no wonder no one suspected she was not a man; she sparred as if it were an actual foe and her life depended on his utter defeat.

Anton and her opponent circled each other, the young Lord moving with careful steps as her friendly opponent grinned and taunted her amiably. Anton held her sword at the ready, parrying swiftly whenever her opponent made a move or took a swipe at her. And then, when an opening occurred, she’d react with a lightning-fast response. Her wrist would quickly swivel the hilt of the sword and her arms would heave the mighty weapon over her head, slicing it through the air with deadly accuracy and forcing her opponent backward as he tried to deflect the force of the blow. Over and over she would repeat this, her blows raining down harder and harder until she at last drove her opponent to his knees. The young man cried out in frustrated defeat as Anton’s sword finally knocked his out of his hands. Both warriors were huffing and puffing for air, their bodies completely spent.

Anton lowered the tip of her sword so that it pointed at her foe’s bobbing throat, “Yield?” She rasped heavily through clenched teeth, sweat streaming down her unflinching face.

Her opponent nodded his head, acknowledging his Lord’s dominance, his teasing grin long since disappeared, “Aye,” he panted, “Yield, Milord.”

The other men who were gathered whooped and clapped their approval at the battle as Anton lowered her weapon and offered her hand, helping the young knight to his feet.

“Gods above! You fight like the Devil himself, Milord!” the young man said, shaking his head in astonishment.

Anton laughed at the comment and clapped him on the back, “You’re a fine warrior, Harold, and a very worthy opponent. Bravo to you.” She turned and walked away, leaving the other men to talk amongst themselves.

Richard, a friend and fellow knight who had served the House of Weldon for many years approached Anton, smiling broadly. “’Tis good to see that married life hasn’t softened you any, Milord.” Richard taunted gently. He and Anton had been friends and allies for a long time, and they had always enjoyed an easy camaraderie.

Anton reached for a pail of water and helped herself to a cup before answering. “Well my friend, though my marital experience has been rather brief, I believe I can safely say that it isn’t marriage that makes you soft. It’s over-indulgence and indolence.” She grinned at her friend and took another gulp of water.

Richard chuckled and nodded, “Very true words, sire. I’m quite sure that after today, none of these men shall think you indolent in any way whatsoever.” The knight and the Marquess laughed together.

As Victor walked past the men toward Anton, he had to smile inwardly at their murmured comments. If only they knew that the Devil who’d apparently just bested every one of them was a woman.

Victor at last reached Anton, finding her and one of her comrades gulping down cup after cup of water. He smiled as he came to stand behind them, “Quite the display you put on, My Lord. Do you often make it a habit to trounce your own men so thoroughly?” The old man’s voice was teasing.

Anton finished off her water and turned, “We’re practicing, Victor. It keeps all of us sharp and saves us from indolence... right, Richard?” She said, tossing her friend a knowing smirk.

Richard smiled, “Indeed, Milord.”

Victor grinned as well, glad to see a smile on the face of the Marquess for a change. “Begging your pardon, My Lord, but might I have a word with you?” His voice took on a more serious tone as he looked at Anton.

Anton lifted a grimy shirt sleeve and dragged it across her sweaty, dirt streaked face. “Of course.” She turned to her friend, “Richard, would you leave us please?”

“Certainly, Milord.” Richard nodded dutifully and walked back to the group of men.

“What brings you out here, Victor? Need someone on whom to practice your surgical skills?” Anton quipped.

“Not quite, My Lord, although, judging from the way you were fighting, I’m surprised someone isn’t injured.”

“We were sparring, Victor, not fighting.”

“Yes, yes, sparring.” Victor waved dismissively. “Having at sport is fine and good, but you’ve been at this every single day for, what? ...at least an entire fortnight.” he said, looking at Anton knowingly.

“What does that matter?” Anton sniffed, tossing the water cup back into the empty pail.

“Well,” Victor cleared his throat uncomfortably, “while you’ve been occupying yourself out here, there’ve been some things happening back at the castle which I daresay must be brought to your attention.”

Anton propped her hands on her hips, “What ‘things’?” Her tone indicated annoyance and impatience.

“Well, mostly your wife, My Lord.” Victor hesitated, “She’s quite unhappy.”

Anton sighed in response. “I know she’s unhappy, Victor.

“Yes, but it’s more than just ‘unhappiness’, Anton.” Victor reached out to grasp Anton’s upper arm, silently demanding her full attention. “She isn’t eating, she isn’t sleeping... she’s listless and so dreadfully pale.” The physician shook his head, “It’s extremely dangerous for her to carry on this way; the baby’s health and well-being is suffering, as is her own.”

Anton frowned, regarding Victor seriously, “What do you mean?”

“Gwynneth has gained virtually no weight, and she’s well into her fifth month of pregnancy. She should be growing plump and full, but instead, she’s thin as a whippet.”

“Well, then... see that she’s given more to eat!” Anton spat, feeling exasperated.

“She gets plenty of food served to her... she simply won’t eat it. She just sits and stares... and weeps.”

Anton let out another distressed sigh and ran her hand through her sweat-soaked hair. “Well what am I supposed to do about it? I can’t make her eat or sleep! I can’t force her to do anything she doesn’t desire to do! If she wishes to let herself waste away, how am I to prevent that?!” Anton’s voice grew louder and more impatient.

“You must make amends with her.” Victor said, looking squarely into Anton’s eyes. “The two of you must overcome these obstacles that have been thrown at you and find a way to bring your relationship back onto stable ground.” Anton made a noise of disgust and turned her head away, but Victor gripped her arm again, forcing her to lock eyes with him. “Listen to me, Anton.” The older man was insistent, “She’s got herself worried sick, to the point where she’s dreadfully unhealthy! The two of you must heal things, before it’s too late! You must find some way to make peace and come together again!”

Anton shook her head slowly, “That isn’t possible Victor, and you know it.”

“Why not? Why can’t you at least try to get over this hurdle? It isn’t her fault—”

“It isn’t my fault either!” Anton shouted.

The old man fought back, “No, it isn’t, but she’s the one being made to suffer the most, isn’t she?!”

“How is her suffering any greater than mine?!” Anton roared suddenly. “She hurts, she weeps, she wallows in misery – so do I, Victor!” She pounded a hand against her chest and then nervously flicked her gaze over to her men, realizing with embarrassment that they had turned to see what the commotion was.

Both Anton and Victor stood in silence for a moment. Finally Victor closed his eyes and drew a deep breath before speaking quietly. “Anton... all I ask is that you try. Try to make amends... try to at least interact with Gwynneth... let her know that you’re still there for her, and that you still care. You do still care, don’t you?” He bored his eyes into Anton’s, demanding a truthful answer.

The Marquess drew a deep breath and turned her gaze away, letting it travel across the countryside. “Yes,” she said, her voice almost a whisper as she closed her eyes, “...Yes, I do.”

“Then go to her.” Victor’s voice was gentle and pleading. “She needs you so.”

Anton gave a soft snort, “She doesn’t need me. After what I’ve done and said to her, she can’t possibly want anything to do with me.”

Victor shook his head, “You’re wrong about that.” Anton turned back and looked at him, her eyebrows knitted together. “You’re quite dreadfully wrong.” the physician said with finality.

Before Anton could say another word, a young man on horseback came galloping up to them. “Milord! Milord!” He shouted as he drew near. “Lady Gwynneth,” he said, gulping for air as he jumped off the horse and stumbled, “Lady Gwynneth has taken a fall!” He gasped the words, and Anton’s heart plummeted to the bottom of her stomach. “She’s hurt, Milord... you need to come quickly!”

Anton and Victor exchanged panicked looks, and quick as a flash, the Marquess leapt onto the horse. Anton wheeled the beast around and kicked him mercilessly in the flanks, urging him back toward the Manor with the greatest speed possible.

Arriving back at the castle courtyard, Anton dismounted and sprinted inside, immediately being directed by a waiting servant. She spotted a circle of a half-dozen people huddled around the fallen Lady and frantically ran toward them.

“Out of the way! All of you, out of my way!” The Marquess shouted, pushing and elbowing everyone aside.

Looking down, Anton’s heart nearly broke at the sight of her wife lying on her back, unconscious, a trickle of blood leaking down her face from a gash just above her right eyebrow.

Alice knelt on one side, dabbing a cloth against the cut while Lady Marina knelt on the other side.

“S-She won’t wake up,” Alice said as she looked up, her voice fraught with fear.

“She’s just unconscious!” Lady Marina immediately snapped at the maid. Looking up at Anton, the Marquess could plainly see the uncertainty in her mother’s eyes as her mask of control slipped just a bit. Anton’s stomach churned at the thought that her wife might be gravely injured. “Where is Victor?” Marina demanded.

“Get Victor in here, now!” Anton shouted to the perplexed onlookers around her. Someone mumbled an acknowledgement and took off to retrieve the physician. Anton turned back and quickly knelt down, scooping her arms underneath Gwynneth’s limp body.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Marina squawked as Anton stood up with the blonde in her arms.

“I’m taking her upstairs.” Anton barked back, “I hardly think it shall do her any good to lie on this cold, hard floor, shall it?”

A loud groan silenced everyone. Anton stilled her movements and looked on wide-eyed as Gwynneth’s eyes fluttered and slowly opened.

Everything was blurred as Gwynneth blinked and blinked and fought to make out the voices and faces in front of her. When at last she could see clearly, the sight of her husband’s visage so close to her made her heart leap.

“W-What happened?” she mumbled, glancing from Anton to her mother-in-law.

“You fell down the stairs,” Lady Marina blurted – a little too harshly, apparently, based on the warning glare Anton shot her.

“You must have hit your head; you were unconscious.” Anton said, speaking gently, “You’ve cut yourself too.” she added as her eyes flickered to the still-bleeding brow.

Gwynneth looked at her husband in confusion, wondering why he was so dirty and drenched with sweat. A wispy memory of the dream that’d been torturing her every night entered her throbbing head, and she frowned at the way the recollection seemed to merge with the current reality.

Just then, Victor appeared, winded and breathing loudly. “My Lord, let us take her to her chambers so that I might have a look at her.”

Anton nodded and looked down to lock eyes with Gwynneth again, “Hold on to me now,” she said as she began to make her way over to the stairs that lead up to her wife’s room.

As they began the slow, careful ascent up the stone stairway, Gwynneth tightened her grip around Anton’s neck, bringing herself closer to him. She didn’t mind the fact that his shirt was nearly soaked through completely. She could smell the distinct tang of his sweat-coated body, and for an instant, it reminded her of the way he smelled after they’d had an intimate encounter, particularly the lengthy and energetic kind. She closed her eyes and dreamily recalled what it felt like to touch her lips to his. Clinging to him now, Gwynneth could feel the firmness of his chest and the taut muscles of his arms as they flexed and tightened around her body. She squeezed her eyes shut, greedily absorbing every sensation and nuance, for she knew not when, or if, she might ever feel any of them again.

Finally reaching their destination, the Marquess walked inside and laid Gwynneth down on her bed very carefully, making sure the young woman’s head didn’t get jostled too much. Anton withdrew her arms, reaching out to carefully fix Gwynneth’s dress where it had ridden up on her. Victor, Marina and Alice all swooped in, surrounding the injured young Lady as the doctor began to examine her. Gwynneth closed her eyes and remained quiet after Victor looked at her pupils and started feeling all around her head for lumps and bumps. Anton stood behind Victor and watched every move the elderly physician made, her face frowning and her forehead creasing with tension as she waited for the official pronouncement. As Victor hit a particularly sore spot on her head, Gwynneth let out a yelp, her face contorting in pain.

“I’m sorry, my dear,” Victor said, patting her hand.

Tears welled in Gwynneth’s eyes, and as Victor continued to examine the rest of her body, her gaze wandered up until it collided with her husband’s. She was amazed to watch the look of intensity on his face quickly soften and change into one of gentle concern. As Anton gave her a slight nod and whispered, “It’s alright,” the floodgates opened. Tears began streaming down Gwynneth’s cheeks as the reality of what’d happened and the pain began to register at the same time.

By that time, Victor had scooted further down Gwynneth’s body and was running his hands all over her petite frame, squeezing and prodding with his fingertips in his search for injuries. Gwynneth winced again as he felt along her hip, and Anton couldn’t stand it any longer.

She stepped around Victor and came to stand against the edge of the bed, right beside Gwynneth’s head. “Must you be so rough with her, man?” The Marquess snapped with irritation, scolding the doctor.

“I need to see if anything’s fractured or broken, My Lord,” Victor calmly explained, continuing with his examination. “I’m nearly finished.”

“Well hurry it along! Can’t you see that she’s in pain?” Anton motioned toward her wife’s tear-streaked face.

Victor glanced at the Marchioness, who had now turned her face away in embarrassment, then looked back at Anton, fixing the Marquess with a sad, knowing expression. “Yes, My Lord.” He then reached out, grasping the edge of Gwynneth’s dress as he started to lift it up, but stopping himself short. “Oh, uh, I need to...,” Victor hesitated and looked up at Anton, inclining his head toward Gwynneth’s abdomen. “I need to listen...”

Anton frowned at him and shook her head, “Yes, yes!” She waved her hand impatiently, wondering why in the world he was asking her for permission.

Victor scowled and made a face, tipping his head toward Gwynneth and silently trying to send a message that the Lady might become more upset if he looked any further.

Anton immediately got the gist of the message, and she leaned down toward her wife. “Gwynneth,” she called out softly. “Victor needs to have a listen with the baby... is that alright?”

The young woman still had her head turned away, but she mutely nodded her consent.

Anton reached down and patted her hand, “Alright... he’ll be done soon.” She turned and nodded to Victor, and the physician discreetly began to lift the heavy dress.

When Gwynneth’s swollen lower abdomen was exposed, Victor laid his ear upon it and listened carefully. Anton let her hand rest atop Gwynneth’s hand the whole time, and when the side of Victor’s face first touched the Lady’s skin, she flinched and her hand turned to grasp hold of her husband’s.

Anton glanced at Gwynneth’s face, noting the flush that raced across her cheeks. The Marquess couldn’t imagine what the poor thing was going through, and she truly felt badly for her. All she could do was reassure her with a gentle squeeze of her fingers.

At last Victor pulled away, lowering Gwynneth’s dress again and quickly standing up and away from the bed. “Well, everything sounds alright, as far as I can tell,” he pronounced. “Aside from several nasty bruises and a sore noggin, you should be fine.” He directed his comments to Gwynneth, who had turned her head back and looked somewhat sheepishly at the doctor. “You gave us all quite a scare, My Lady.”

Gwynneth lowered her eyes, her face blushing again, “I’m sorry.” She whispered softly.

“Don’t apologize, My Lady, just promise me that you’ll take better care of yourself.” Victor’s voice was kind rather than scolding. “You need to eat... you need to keep your strength up and put some weight on this body.” He pointed to her stomach, “and on that body too. You shan’t be able to climb any stairs at all if you don’t.” Gwynneth didn’t look up, she merely nodded in mute acknowledgement. “Very well,” Victor said, turning his attention to Anton. “I shall call on her later to check on things, hmm?”

The Marquess nodded and released her wife’s hand so she could shake the physician’s. “Thank you, Victor.” The elderly man disappeared out the door, leaving the room suddenly quiet and uncomfortable.

“Well, now that that’s over with, I trust you can handle things from here.” Marina said, interrupting the silence and addressing Alice.

The handmaid glanced over at Anton, who gave no indication of whether he planned to stay or go, then came back to the Marchioness Dowager. “Yes, Milady. I’ll take care of her.”

Marina nodded and turned to look at Anton expectantly. The Marquess had been watching her wife, waiting for her downcast eyes to look up and tell her what she was thinking, perhaps. When the silence became obvious, Anton looked up at the two waiting women.

“Yes, well,” she began, clearing her throat, “I believe I’m in desperate need of a hot bath.” She earned a tiny smile from Alice but nothing from her wife. “After that, perhaps I’ll stop back.” She added, looking again to Gwynneth to see if she would give her approval, or disapproval. The soft, youthful face remained expressionless, however, so Anton just turned and slowly walked out the door.




It was some time until Gwynneth finally managed to get some peace and quiet in her chambers. She’d been barraged by the events and emotions of the afternoon, and people kept stopping by her room to check on her and bring her things. She was glad to finally have some solitude so she could sort through the thoughts and feelings that’d been plaguing her all day.

Mostly what plagued her was the attitude and behavior displayed by her husband. The way he’d spoken so caringly to her... the way he’d held her and reassured her... what did it all mean? Was his attitude toward her changing? Could all this mean that Anton still cared? If he didn’t care, would he have acted the way he did, so concerned and careful? Or was he just being polite because he felt pity for her? She didn’t know. Thinking about it so much made her already-injured head throb painfully, so Gwynneth finally conceded to her fatigue and allowed herself to fall into an uneasy sleep.


It was very late when Anton finally made her way back toward Gwynneth’s chambers. She’d been thinking about anything and everything since leaving her wife earlier in the day, her thoughts primarily centering on how unfairly she’d been treating the young woman.

It had taken something like Gwynneth hurting herself and putting the fear of God into everyone, but Anton now realized how much, and how unnecessarily, she’d been punishing her wife.

Victor had been right about Gwynneth, as usual. She did not look well, and her misstep and fall down the stairs proved just how weak and unstable she’d let herself become. Whether or not her self-neglect was intentional or a side effect of the stress and unhappy conditions she’d been living in, Anton didn’t know. All she knew was that it all had to stop – everything. The cold war of silence between them, the blame, the anger, the guilt... all of it had to cease before they both went mad.

Anton believed that Gwynneth was innocent of any wrongdoing, yet she admittedly had still been penalizing the poor blonde. It wasn’t Gwynneth’s fault that Aldred did what he had done, but it had been so hard for Anton to get over and move past it that she ended up punishing Gwynneth anyway. Striking her, screaming at her, avoiding her... all of it was punishment for a crime Gwynneth never wanted to commit, yet could not avoid being forced into. Aldred was the one Anton was truly angry with, but he was dead, and there was nothing Anton could do about it, nor about what had happened. She needed to accept that, and, she needed to accept the fact that Gwynneth was going to have this baby, period. If she needed justice to be served, she would simply have to be satisfied with thinking that perhaps Aldred got what he deserved in the end.

Anton vowed to change her relationship with her wife. She’d been so cruel and callous to the lovely young woman who had once captured her heart. Hitting her, scaring her to death with mad ravings, treating her like she was an outcast... all of it would stop, and it would stop now. Even if she no longer cared for her wife, she still knew it was just wrong to treat her the way she’d been. And Anton still cared about Gwynneth... she still cared quite deeply.

Arriving at Gwynneth’s door, Anton knocked very softly, wondering if perhaps her wife was asleep by now. Receiving no reply, Anton opened the door very carefully and peeked her head inside. Gwynneth was lying on the bed, her eyes closed, her lips parted slightly as she slumbered. Anton smiled at the beautiful sight and figured she should probably leave the poor exhausted woman alone, but seeing the angelic face so relaxed and at ease changed her mind. After all, she rarely had the opportunity to observe her so blatantly.

She walked into the room and came to stand beside the bed, watching silently as Gwynneth’s chest moved up and down, her button nose and rosebud lips drawing in air and breathing life into her body... her body, and the body of the child she carried within. Anton stared at her wife’s covered abdomen for a moment, contemplating the slightly mounded area that seemed to almost beckon her. She had never really taken a good look at Gwynneth’s burgeoning belly, not even secretly. She had been so busy avoiding the blonde altogether that she’d avoided even glancing at the spot where the baby so obviously dwelt.

Overcome with a sudden urge to touch Gwynneth and begin righting all wrongs as soon as possible, Anton sat down carefully on the edge of the bed, bringing herself as close to her wife as she could without waking her. Gwynneth was asleep when Anton reached out to gently touch her now-bandaged forehead, but as soon as her fingers made contact, the Marchioness awakened abruptly.

Blue-green eyes shot open and Gwynneth gasped aloud as her sleep-fogged vision took in the apparition of a dark-haired man leaning over her. A memory instantly exploded unbidden in her mind; a horrid recollection of Aldred and the way he used to creep into her room unannounced and...

“Shh, shh,” Anton hushed, “It’s alright... it’s alright.” She said, patting the blonde’s hands where they had grasped the covers and drawn them up to her chin. Seeing Gwynneth’s frightened reaction filled Anton with additional shame. Her wife was so petrified, and here she was, wanting to touch her so badly.

Gwynneth’s eyes finally focused and when she saw pale blue staring at her, she recognized her husband. Anton smiled and reached up to gingerly brush some fair hair aside, further reassuring that she meant no harm. But Gwynneth’s heart continued to pound as her sleep-addled brain tried to figure out what in the world her husband was doing in her room, and why he was touching her.

“How are you feeling?” Anton whispered.

Gwynneth hesitated a moment before answering. “Better, thank you, My Lord.” Her voice was quiet and raspy and she continued to grip the bed sheets while shifting herself into a sitting position.

Anton just nodded and continued to stare for a few moments, unable to think of anything else to say. She felt the heavy silence and suddenly hated the painful distance between the two of them more than ever. They used to be able to talk so freely, so openly. And now things were strained and stilted as they sat in mute discomfort, averting each other’s eyes and struggling for something to say.

Unable to withstand awkwardness of the moment, Anton stood abruptly and turned, taking a few steps away from Gwynneth’s bed. After a brief moment of contemplation, she turned and faced her wife.

Gwynneth felt the weight of her husband’s intense gaze as it found and held her, and she felt a tingle of fear course through her bones.

“Gwynneth,” Anton began quietly, “I... I’m dissatisfied with the way things have been proceeding.”

The Marchioness just stared at her husband, holding her breath and wondering where he might be going with the conversation.

Anton felt herself fumbling for words as she struggled to express what she wanted without sounding like a fool. She frowned and tried again, “What I mean is... I dislike the way things have become... the way we have become.” She glanced at her wife, who just continued to stare with wide, wary eyes. Sighing and running a hand through her hair, Anton walked a few paces away before turning back to her wife. “I’m unhappy with things being so strained between us, Gwynneth.” Her voice was low and quiet. “I want to change it, but I’m not sure that I know how.”

Gwynneth’s mouth opened a bit, but she just continued to stare. She truly didn’t know what to say. For her husband to actually say what she’d dreamt of hearing him say was a welcome, though unexpected, balm to her ravaged heart. Tears immediately began to burn behind her eyes and Gwynneth swallowed hard and blinked to keep them at bay.

Anton took a step closer toward the bed, “What I do know is that we cannot continue like this. It’s not good for either one of us... most particularly you.”

Gwynneth sat up straighter in her bed as she watched her husband step carefully closer.

“I’m tired, Gwynneth. I’m tired of hurting and feeling anger and resentment. It’s madness, and it needs to stop... I want it to stop.” Anton whispered emphatically.

Gwynneth could scarcely believe what she was hearing, but she managed to nod her head in agreement. Her voice was raspy and quiet when she finally spoke, “I-I want that too, husband. I know we can’t ever be as we once were, but I’d like to try to make things better, at least.”

Anton stared at her and nodded her head slowly, “Yes, I’d like that too.”

With that, Anton came up to the side of the bed and sat down very close to the nervous blonde. Gwynneth shifted uneasily, her eyes never leaving her husband’s.

Moving slowly, Anton reached out and caressed a lock of her wife’s golden hair before cupping a soft cheek in her hand. “I’m sorry that I hurt you.” The words were whispered quietly, sincerely, and Anton prayed the apology would be accepted.

Gwynneth heard her husband’s gentle words and his unspoken request for atonement, and her chin trembled as his clear eyes held hers while he apologized. Only able to nod, she silently forgave him for everything that had gone wrong.

They stared at each other for a moment, seemingly lost in thought, or perhaps too afraid to act on the feelings that both felt bubbling up inside.

Finally, giving in to what she’d been thinking and feeling for too long, Anton hesitantly leaned forward and kissed her wife.

Gwynneth’s heart leapt as her husband’s soft lips pressed against hers, but before she could fully react, Anton broke them apart. Looking at each other for just a moment, Gwynneth watched as Anton’s eyes dropped away from hers and traveled downward. She drew a quick, quiet breath as she felt one of his hands come to rest on her covered abdomen. Not only was this the first time Anton had touched her swollen belly, it was the first time he’d acknowledged the baby without being upset or angry.

They sat there on the bed in silence, Anton’s hand gently pressing against the rounded protrusion while Gwynneth’s fears and worries began to rear their ugly heads once again. What if Anton wants to make amends and bring their life back to normal but can’t? What if he tries to accept the child but is unable? What if he decides he doesn’t want any part of the baby, or of the woman who brought it into the world? Gwynneth closed her eyes and begged her heart, and her head, to calm down and cast the ugly thoughts aside. A soft caress to her cheek broke her reverie, and when she opened her eyes, Gwynneth was met by her husband’s intense, sky-colored gaze.

Anton could read the uncertainty on Gwynneth’s face, and she gave her a faint smile, hoping to encourage her. Touching and feeling the swell to her wife’s abdomen was something she’d been thinking about for quite awhile, and although it was covered up, Anton considered the move to be a step in the right direction. For too long the baby had merely been something to be talked – and argued – about. Actually feeling it and acknowledging its presence would help to drive the message home that it was a living, breathing thing, and that it did exist in the here and now.

The Marquess and Marchioness stared at each other again, their eyes tracking all over one another’s faces, thinking and wondering so many things. Gwynneth marveled at the naked emotion she saw on her husband’s face; it was an emotion she couldn’t identify, but she thought it encouraging, still. Anton, on the other hand, wondered again how she managed to keep herself away from someone so incredible and beautiful, both inside and out.

Leaning in once more, Anton gave in to her wants and kissed her wife again, but this time, Gwynneth gladly returned it. It was only a matter of moments until hands reached up to tentatively touch and caress... only moments until fingers threaded through hair and cupped faces and urged bodies closer together... only moments until the kisses deepened and emotions began to swirl and swell and threaten to ignite passions that had been impatiently lying dormant.

But, before things got out of hand, Anton twisted her lips away and broke them apart. Breathing heavily, she took a moment to rest her forehead against her wife’s so that both of them could regain their composure and slow their racing hearts.

It would be so easy to give in to their hedonistic desires. It would be so easy to forget everything that’d happened and just let the rest of the world fall away. But they both knew they couldn’t do that. It would be too much too soon.

No matter how much they wished otherwise, things were different now. They were different, and their relationship was changed. To simply let their sexual feelings rage uncontrollably and take over for a few blissful hours would be a mistake.

There were apologies to be made, hurt feelings to be mended, realities to be acknowledged, and lessons to be learned. They needed to right wrongs and rebuild a relationship that had been shattered, and they needed to do all of this slowly.

When Anton finally looked up at Gwynneth, her lips were still reddened and her flushed cheeks silently said that she’d enjoyed their brief sport as much as Anton had. But, knowing that it would be best to just leave before she did something unwise, Anton pushed herself further away from her wife.

“I... I should go.” Anton’s voice was hushed and strained as she struggled to get the words out.

Gwynneth merely nodded at him, too emotional to respond and too overwhelmed to grasp everything that had just happened.

Anton stood up, but before she walked away, she leaned down and placed one last kiss upon her wife’s lips. “Goodnight my wife,” she whispered.

Moist, jade eyes looked back up, “Goodnight my husband.”

...To Be Continued...

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