The words coursed through him, cold and simple, as though the doctor were discussing the weather or the morning news, and Malcolm stilled, the full weight of their assault threatening to bring him down. Not an hour earlier, he had held his lost child in his hands, so small she did not even fill them, so precious he could not bear to return her to the maid who had brought her to him.
Instead, he'd sent the servant away, and sat in silence, holding the near-weightless body of his daughter, mourning her death. And her life. And all the things she might have been.
Knowing that, despite his virtually limitless wealth and power and position, he could not bring her back. And when he had been able to think beyond grief, he'd found solace in fury.
He would not lose them both.
Malcolm's gaze narrowed on the surgeon. "You misunderstand." He reached for the doctor, unable to stop himself. Lifting him by the lapels of his coat, the duke rained thunder down on the older, smaller, weaker man. "Do you hear me? She lives." The surgeon stuttered, and rage flooded Malcolm. He shook the doctor again. "My wife lives."
"I—I cannot save her if she will not be saved."
Malcolm let go, not caring that the surgeon stumbled when he hit the floor. He was already headed for Sera, coming to his knees at her bedside, taking her hand in his, loathing the cold in it, tightening his grip, willing her warm. He took a moment to look at her—she'd been gone for so long, and before that, he'd hated her too much. And before that, he'd been too desperate to notice what precisely he desired about her.
How was it that it took until now—until she was pale and still and on the edge of death—for him to realize how beautiful she was? Her high cheekbones and her full lips, and those sooty black lashes, impossibly long where they lay on her porcelain skin.
What would he give to have her lift those lashes? To look at him with those eyes that never failed to steal his breath, blue as the summer sky. He'd take them however they came—filled with happiness. With sorrow. With hatred.
He'd already given so much. So had she. What more did he have? What meager sacrifice could he offer? None. And so, in this, he would take without payment. He closed his eyes and pressed his lips to her cold fingers, limp and unmoving. "You shall live, Sera. If I have to pull you back from heaven itself. You shall live."
He stilled at the words, clear and emotionless, spoken from the door to the chamber. He did not turn to face the woman who stood there; he could not find the patience for it.
His mother's skirts rustled as she drew closer. "Haven."
Fury threaded through him at the title here, in this moment. Always a duke, never a man. How often had she reminded him of his place? Of his purpose? Of the sacrifices she'd made to ensure it for him? Sacrifices that made her one of the most feared women in Britain. A cut from the Duchess of Haven could ruin a girl before she'd even had a chance.
Not duchess. Dowager.
Malcolm stood, turning to face his mother, blocking her view of Seraphina. Suddenly, keenly, wanting her out of this room. Away from his wife.
He brushed past the older woman and the surgeon, pushing into the hallway beyond, sending maids scattering from their bent heads and hushed whispers. He swallowed the urge to bellow after them. To go
against decades of training in title and position.
"You are being dramatic," she said. The greatest of all sins.
His heart began to pound. "My child is dead. My wife nearly so." Her gaze did not warm. He should not have been surprised by the fact, and yet it made him want to rage. But dukes did not rage. Instead, he met her cool blue gaze and said, "Your grandchild is dead."
Heat threaded through him. "A daughter."
"Not an heir," she pointed out, with cool dismissal. "And now, if you are lucky, you can begin again."
The heat became fire, rioting through him. Clawing up his throat. Suffocating. "If I am lucky?"
"If the Talbot girl dies. The doctor says that if she lives, she will be barren, and so she shall no longer be of use. You can find another. Produce an heir. One with better pedigree."
His gaze narrowed, the words difficult to understand over the roar in his ears. "She is Duchess of Haven."
"The title means nothing if she cannot produce the next duke. That's why you married her, is it not? She and her mother set a trap. Caught you. Kept you with the promise of an heir. And now it's gone. I would be less of a mother if I did not wish you free of such a cheap woman."
He chose his words carefully. "In this moment, you could not be less of a mother. You are a cold, heartless b itch. And I want you gone from this house when I return."
She raised one elegant brow. "Emotion does not become you."
He left his mother then, because he did not trust himself not to unleash every ounce of his unbecoming emotions upon her.
He left his mother and went to bury his daughter in the cold January ground, all the while praying that his wife would live.
This excerpt ends on page 15 of the paperback edition.