Tender the Storm(136)

By: Elizabeth Thornton

Zoë had every confidence in Rolfe, and so she told him. For the first little while, he behaved heroically. Without warning, however, at a most inopportune moment, Rolfe fainted dead away. Two stalwart footmen were summoned and conveyed their master's inert form from Zoë's chamber. The dowager and Salome demonstrated that they were made of sterner stuff. It was they who delivered Rolfe's son.

Much later, when it was all over, and Rolfe, fully recovered, was allowed to return to his wife's room, like any new parents they gazed in rapt astonishment at the miracle they had created.

"He's perfect," breathed Rolfe.

"And as bald as an eagle," pointed out Zoë. She had expected a thatch of dark hair like her own. "And did you ever see eyes so blue?"

Rolfe grinned. "I'm afraid he's going to take after me. Shall you mind very much, my love?"

"I don't mind so long as the next one takes after me." She yawned hugely.

Rolfe's grin faded. "Zoë," he said, "you can't ask me to go through that again."

"Was it so very bad, my darling?" she asked solicitously, and brushed an errant lock of blond hair from his brow.

"I fainted!" He looked shamefaced. "I've never fainted in my life before."

"It can happen to the best of us," allowed Zoë generously.

"You must think I'm a veritable coward."

Zoë brought her head up from the pillows and kissed Rolfe lingeringly. "You're no hero," she agreed, her eyes soft with love, "but you are no coward either. You are simply a man, my darling, and in some things women are superior. You'll just have to accept it. Next time, you'll do better."

She drifted off to sleep with a secretive little smile turning up her lips. She was pleased with him, and Rolfe could not understand the reason for it.

"There won't be a next time," Rolfe promised his sleeping wife with feeling. He meant it.

Time proved him a liar. Rolfe was to discover that he was not immune to his wife's persuasions.

Having babies, he told Zoë a year later, was the most harrowing experience of his whole life.

Exhausted from her labors, Zoë smiled languidly up at him and promised, "You'll do better the next time, dear."

Rolfe groaned. Salome laughed. The dowager gently rocked Rolfe's second son in her arms.

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