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MY FEET HURT, my back is sore, and I’m so tired I can’t walk straight… but I’m happy.
No, I’m more than happy. I’m complete. I’m so full of joy that it feels like my heart can’t possibly hold it all.
Charlie leads me away from the Great Hall and up to his—well, our—bed chambers. My wedding dress is sticking to me and the sweat gathers between my shoulder blades. My heart soars and my cheeks hurt from smiling so much.
His arm is strong and supportive around my shoulders.
I lean into him with a sigh. “The wedding was perfect. Thank you for making it private.”
“Of course,” Charlie answers. “That’s what I wanted too. After everything that happened with my father, I didn’t want to have a camera stuck in my face all night. I just wanted to celebrate us—the way it’s always been. You and me, and the people that mean something to us.”
“We can release some photos to the press tomorrow—keep them happy.” I smile at him. “I know the press has already asked you for more information.”
“The people want to see their new Queen.”
My heart flutters and a smile drifts over my face. “That’s a sentence I never thought I’d hear.”
“You’re going to hear it a lot more times in your life.” Charlie looks at me as his eyes shine. “I love you.”
We walk arm in arm to our bedroom, kick off our shoes, and collapse into bed. I’m so tired that I don’t think I can even manage to take my dress off. Charlie’s shirt is open, but he’s still fully clothed too. My belly looks huge as I stare down at it, running my hands over the bump.
Charlie reaches over and intertwines his fingers with mine. “Not too long now.”
“He’s due in two weeks.”
His hand squeezes mine and I lean into him. The baby kicks, as if responding to us. Charlie chuckles, pressing his lips to my abdomen.
“He’s going to be good at sports, I can tell.”
“Well, with a mother like me…” I try to laugh, but it comes out as a croak. I’m too tired. My eyelids are already heavy, and the weight of Charlie’s body in bed next to me is making me sleepy.
I feel him move around, and he helps to take my dress off. I fall asleep not long afterward.
I WAKE UP WITH CHARLIE’S leg thrown over mine, and his arm across my chest. The baby is kicking. The weak winter sunlight is streaming through the window, and I can tell it’s going to be a cold day outside.
But when I glance down at my finger where my wedding band glimmers, the cold doesn’t matter. Nothing matters, because I have everything I could possibly want, right here in bed with me.
Charlie stirs beside me and lets out a sigh. “I slept so well,” he groans. “I don’t want to get up yet.”
“So don’t,” I chuckle. I nuzzle into his shoulder. We lie there for a while, drifting somewhere between wakefulness and sleep.
“Did you see Damon and Dahlia?” Charlie asks after a time. His hand is running up and down my spine, lulling me into a peaceful sort of daze.
“What do you mean?”
“They were giving each other the eye last night,” Charlie says. “They disappeared together at one point.”
My eyes spring open and I push myself up to lean on my elbow. “They did?”
“You didn’t notice?”
“No! When was this?”
“Right before dinner started.”
“I can’t believe I missed that. Do you think…”
Charlie grins. “I don’t know. I’ve never seen Damon with a girlfriend, but then again, I’ve never seen him look at anyone the way he looked at her.”
“Can you imagine? Oh, that would be perfect!”
Charlie’s smile slips the tiniest bit, and I wonder what he’s thinking about. Maybe Damon has a dark side I don’t know about, or maybe he’s worried that Dahlia might not be welcome by the people of Farcliff, considering her past. Maybe he’s thinking of his own mother, and Tabitha Raventhal’s relationship to her.
I lie back down on his chest and shake the thought away. Maybe the two of them just went for a quiet walk together. Maybe they hooked up, and it was a one-time thing. Just because I got married yesterday doesn’t mean that everyone else is in love too.
“Damon likes her,” Charlie says, reading my thoughts.
“He likes Dahlia?”
He grunts in agreement. “I could tell way back when she came to the castle for dinner. You know, when I was trying to pretend like I didn’t know you?”
“Oh, how times have changed,” I laugh. “Look at you now.”
“Now I can’t get enough of you,” he growls. He kisses me, and then kisses my baby bump, and we laze in bed for another hour more.
“PUSH!” THE NURSE coaches Elle through labor, and I’m trying my best to be supportive.
Elle is red-faced and sweaty, blowing air out of her mouth as her eyes focus on something on the far wall. People are talking, the doctor is saying something, Elle is grunting.
I’m standing beside her, trying not to wince as she crushes my hand in her vise-like grip. Pain shoots up my arm but I grit my teeth and stand there, trying to be as supportive as I can.
It’s a blur.
Elle grunts, moans through her teeth, and finally lets out a roaring scream. My eyes water as she crushes my hand a bit harder.
“That’s it,” the doctor says, nodding in encouragement. “Almost there.”
I can’t focus on anything. Elle is in pain, I’m in pain, and in mere seconds, I’m going to be a father. I can’t breathe. My knees start to quake.
The baby is right on time—wanting to come out exactly on his due date of December 4th, two weeks after our wedding.
The wedding seems like a distant memory now.
Everything seems like a distant memory. The edges of my vision are starting to go black, with dots clouding in toward the center of my eyes as I try to focus on staying vertical.
“Stop pushing now,” the nurse says, and Elle’s grip on my hand relaxes a bit. My vision clears, and I take the first full breath I’ve managed in a few minutes. Elle inhales shakily, and I brush hair off her brow. I lean over to press my lips against her forehead before grunting.
“Sweaty,” I hear myself saying as I wipe my mouth on the back of my hand.
Elle swings her eyes to mine, and my blood turns to ice. Never in my life have I ever seen Elle look at me with such venom. Her lips twitch into a snarl but before she can say anything, it’s time for her to push again.
I think the bones in my hand snap, she grips them so hard.
I fold at the waist, catching myself on the bed as pain shoots through my arm. It’s nothing compared to the pain she’s feeling, I try to remember, but I can hardly breathe.
The seconds tick by, each of them lasting an eternity. I’m starting to panic. Is everything okay? Is this how it’s supposed to happen?
Elle is in so much pain, it hurts me too. Her face is redder than I’ve ever seen it, and she’s making noises I didn’t know she was able to make.
Everyone is talking at once.
My ears are ringing.
Once again, I feel unsteady and my vision is starting to fade. I don’t have much time. I need for this to be over, or else I need to get out of this fucking room—but at the same time, I can’t leave Elle.
I suck a breath in through my teeth as I lose the feeling in the hand that Elle’s crushing. Each breath takes effort.
And then, all of a sudden, it’s over. Everyone relaxes.
My eyes widen, my vision clears, and I look down at the doctor, holding my son.
All I can see is blood. Blood covering the baby, blood between Elle’s legs, blood on the hospital gown. They warned me there would be blood and amniotic fluid, but they didn’t warn me that it would look like a fucking crime scene.
I think I’m going to throw up. Or pass out.
“Would you like to cut the umbilical cord?” The doctor looks at me and a nurse presents me with a pair of sharp-looking shears… that they want me to use in close proximity to my newborn son?
No fucking way.
I still can’t feel my hand, and I’ve lost my voice. I shake my head weakly, unable to utter a sound. Elle says something, but it sounds like she’s underwater.
I’m definitely going to puke.
My knees knock together as the nurses and doctor work around us. I try to breathe in, but everything is becoming harder. My vision is darkening by the instant.
I stumble to the side.
Vaguely, I hear someone shout, “We have a fainter!”
And then everything goes dark.
WHEN I WAKE UP, I’m lying in a hospital bed in the hallway outside Elle’s room. A nurse is standing next to me. She’s and older woman with a no-nonsense demeanor.
“You didn’t think to warn us that you were going to faint in there?” she tuts.
“I didn’t know.”
She shakes her head. “Everyone knows when they’re about to faint. Come on, give me your arm, I’m taking your blood pressure.”
“The baby—” I try to sit up.
“The baby is fine. Lie down.”
I consider reminding her that I’m her King, but for some reason I think her response would be the same. She takes my blood pressure and jots down the numbers on a chart. Then she looks at me with pursed lips.
“Can you sit up?”
I nod, lifting myself up. My head is ringing.
“Good,” she says. “Sit there and don’t move until I tell you to.”
“You’ll see your son in a minute, Your Majesty. Right now, I want to make sure you don’t fall over and split your head open, okay?”
She stares me down until I nod, and I stay seated outside the door. A couple of seconds later, I hear the cries of an infant, followed by Elle’s voice trying to soothe it.
My heart leaps into my throat.
I know what the nurse said, but I can’t help it. I slip off the edge of the hospital bed and pause, making sure my legs still work.
When I make it to the doorway, Elle is holding our son in her arms, smiling and cooing down at him. She’s still red in the face, sweaty, and her gown is covered in blood…
…and she’s gorgeous.
I shuffle into the room and find a chair next to her bed. Her eyes are shining when she looks at me, and a smile stretches over her lips.
“Little Charlie,” she whispers, turning her eyes back to our baby.
I’ve never felt anything like this. I reach over and touch my baby’s skin for the first time, and my heart feels like it’s exploding.
Happiness, euphoria—and an absolute, gut-wrenching fear that I’m going to mess this up.
But the baby’s fingers curl around my thumb, and my heart flips again.
“How are you feeling?” Elle asks, fighting the grin off her face. “Didn’t take you for a fainter.”
“I blame your grip on my hand. Snapped every bone I have.” I flex my hand and look at my wife, and we both start chuckling weakly. Neither of us has the energy to really laugh.
“I’m sorry for anything I said or did during labor,” Elle says, nudging my shoulder.
An exasperated sigh sounds out behind us. The nurse is standing in the doorway. “Didn’t I tell you to stay in your bed, Your Majesty?” She shakes her head. “Men—they’re all the same.” The nurse walks over to the other side of the bed and starts fiddling with the instruments that are monitoring Elle.
I point to the baby’s arm, where baby Charlie’s skin is purple and bruised. “What’s that?”
“Your wife just pushed this little boy out of her vagina. The baby gets banged up coming out,” the nurse explains, not deigning to look at me. “I’ve seen cone heads, black eyes, full-body bruises. The little Prince had it easy.”
She takes Elle’s blood pressure, and then puts our son in the bassinet by the bed. I can see it in Elle’s face that she doesn’t want to let him go, but the exhaustion is lining her face.
I intertwine my fingers in hers and lay my head back on my chair. She curls up on her bed and is asleep in an instant.
The nurse wheels the bassinet over to my side of the bed. She places little Charlie beside me and nods at me. “He’s beautiful,” she says softly so as to not wake Elle up. “Congratulations, Your Majesty.”
Her eyes soften, and she loses all the harshness she had a minute ago. Babies do that to people.
My eyes fill with happy tears and I nod, reaching my other hand over to brush my son’s head. “Thank you,” I smile.
The nurse leaves the room without another word and I sit there, one hand intertwined with Elle’s, and the other holding our son—Farcliff’s new heir—and my heart feels so full of happiness, it shouldn’t be allowed. After everything that’s happened to me, I’ve ended up here with a wife, a baby, and a kingdom to care for.
And I’ve never felt so happy. Looking at the two people I love most in the world—Elle and my son—I know I wouldn’t want it any other way.