Charming the Prince Part 25

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Epilogue.

Bannor's trembling hand was hovering between his rook and his queen when a woman's shrill scream tore through the castle.

"G.o.d's blood!" he swore, slamming his mighty fist down on the table. Both chessboard and pieces went flying.

Hollis surveyed his fallen men with a dour expression. "I do believe I might have actually won that game."

Bannor rose from his chair, raking both hands through his already disheveled hair. "How can you expect me to concentrate on some ridiculous game, when my wife is being subjected to the most monstrous of tortures?"

Hollis shrugged. "It never seemed to bother you when Mary or Margaret was giving birth."

"I was in France, you idiot. And besides," he added, prowling the tower like some great wounded animal,"I had no idea 'twas such an ordeal. I thought the babes just sort of shot out"-he waved his hand-"like missiles from a catapult."

Hollis rolled his eyes. "Perhaps if we spoke of something else." He fished about for a cheerier topic. "So how is that stepbrother of Willow's doing?"

It was Bannor's turn to roll his eyes. "He still refuses to leave the dungeon. He's terrified I'll throw him to the children again."

Hollis chuckled. "I'll never forget the night they dragged him back to the castle. He had all of those tiny little arrows poking out of his back."

Bannor grinned. "When he punched Hammish in the nose, he never expected the lad to laugh in his face, then b.u.t.t him in the stomach. Of course, 'twouldn't have been so painful if Hammish hadn't been wearing an iron kettle on his head at the time."

"Ah, but it was seeing Edward all wrapped up in that mangy pelt that finally broke his spirit. Stefan thought he was a real bear!"

Both of the men were roaring with laughter when another scream wafted through the window, this one even more heart-wrenching than the last.

Bannor hesitated for the briefest second, then went racing for the door. Hollis beat him there. It took the steward three tries, but he finally managed to slide the bench in front of the door and throw himself in front of the bench. "Fiona threatened to have my head if I let you walk out of here. You heard what she said. The birthing chamber is no place for a man."

"From the sound of it," Bannor growled, " 'tis no place for a woman either."

"Weren't you the one born with an almost inhuman tolerance for pain?"

"My pain, not hers." s.n.a.t.c.hing a sword down from the wall, Bannor planted its tip against Hollis's bobbing Adam's apple. "I wouldn't let one of my men march into battle alone, would I? Especially not if I was the one who gave the order that sent him there."

Hollis sighed and lifted his hands in surrender, wise enough to know when he'd been bested. Bannor heaved the bench out of the way and dragged open the door.

"I told Fiona we should have chained you up in the dungeon," Hollis muttered as he fell into step behind him.

"Oh, no, you don't!" Netta cried, flinging her arms across the doorway of the south tower as Bannor came storming up the stairs. "You can't go in there, my lord. 'Tis not seemly."

Since Bannor couldn't very well hold a sword to the throat of a woman who was over six months pregnant, he whirled around, seeking his steward's a.s.sistance. "She's your wife. Appeal to her reason."

"She's also a woman," Hollis teased, winking at Netta. "She doesn't have any reason."

He expected Bannor to growl and bl.u.s.ter. He did not expect him to drop to one knee and tenderly enfold Netta's hand in his own.

"Hey!" Hollis tapped him on the shoulder. "As you just reminded me, she's my wife."

"And a kinder and more compa.s.sionate helpmeet is not to be found in all of England." Bannor gave Netta a look from beneath his sweeping dark lashes that had been known to melt even the sternest of hearts. "Which is why I know she would not be so cruel as to deny a wife her husband's comfort during this time of travail."

Hollis gritted his teeth, only too aware of his wife's lingering weakness for Bannor's charm.

"Well, I suppose 'twouldn't hurt to let you steal a peek at her," Netta whispered, a becoming blush creeping into her cheeks. "As long as you promise not to tell Fiona I was the one who let you in."

Bannor pressed a fervent kiss to the back of her hand. "You have my oath on it. I'll tell her 'twas Hollis who did the deed."

Before Hollis could protest, Bannor had swept open the door. He retreated just as quickly when an earthenware pitcher shattered against the door frame. They all ducked when the matching basin followed, its flight accompanied by Willow's outraged shriek.

Bannor exchanged a shaken look with Hollis, not sure what to make of the unexpected attack. "Do you want me to go away, sweeting?" he called, timidly poking his head around the corner of the door frame.

"No," Willow wailed, stretching out her arms to him. "I want you to stay."

"She wants me to stay," he whispered, a grateful smile curving his lips. As he tiptoed into the chamber, Netta gently closed the door behind him.

'Twas the bloodiest and most exhausting battle Bannor had ever fought. But when it was done, and Fiona laid the squirming bundle in his wife's arms, his heart surged with a triumph beyond anything he'd ever known on the battlefield.

He smoothed Willow's sweat-tangled hair away from her face as they both gazed down into the angry, red face of their baby daughter with pure adoration. "Before you came into my life," he said, "I believed that G.o.d had abandoned me. Now I know that He has blessed me beyond measure."

As if to confirm his words, Netta threw open the door, allowing his other children to come creeping into the tower, one by one.

"Might we see her?" Desmond shyly asked, holding Beatrix's hand.

"I wants to pway wif her," Mary Margaret demanded, clutching a headless doll in her arms.

"Don't let Hammish hold her," Kell quipped. "He might be hungry."

While the children were laughing, another man slipped into the tower. Sir Rufus of Bedlington had ignored his wife's shrill protests to journey to Elsinore for the birth of his first grandchild. He ducked his head and gave Willow a sheepish look, unsure of his welcome.

Bannor eyed him warily, but Willow smiled and stretched out a hand to him. "h.e.l.lo, Papa. I'm so glad you could come."

He took her hand and brought it to his lips. "I was hoping you'd give this stubborn old fool a chance to prove he can be a better grandfather than he was a father. And I know I don't deserve it, but I wished to entreat a boon from you."

He leaned down to whisper something in Willow's ear. As she nodded, a joyful smile broke over his face.

Relinquis.h.i.+ng her papa's hand, Willow caught hold of Bannor's sleeve. "Papa has requested that we name our new daughter after my mother. Do you have any objections?"

Bannor chuckled. "Not unless her name was Mary or Margaret."

"Don't be a silly goose. My mother was French." A mischievous spark lit Willow's eyes as she crooked a finger at her husband. Bannor leaned over, then groaned aloud when her whisper reached his ears.

He straightened. Drawing in a bracing breath, he held out his hands. Ignoring their p.r.o.nounced tremble, Willow gently laid the babe across his palms and gave him a heartening smile.

"Boys and girls," he said, turning around. "I would like to present to you your new sister"-he rolled his eyes-"Marie Marguerite."

As the children gathered around, oohing and aahing over their new sibling, Bannor gazed down at the child, dizzied by a rush of pride and love. He'd never held anything quite so tiny. Or fragile. Or squirmy. Or b.l.o.o.d.y.

Noticing his deepening pallor, Fiona gestured to Hollis and plucked the babe from his arms. And not a moment too soon.

For just as Sir Hollis shoved a chair beneath him, Lord Bannor the Bold, pride of the English and terror of the French, fainted dead away.

About the Author.

USA TODAY bestseller Teresa Medeiros has well over three and a half million copies of her books in print. She was recently chosen one of the Top Ten Favorite Romance Authors by Affaire de Coeur magazine and won the Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice Award for Best Historical Love and Laughter. A former Army brat and registered nurse, Teresa wrote her first novel at the age of twenty-one and has since gone on to win the hearts of critics and readers alike. Teresa currently lives in Kentucky with her husband, Michael, and four lovably neurotic cats. Writing romance allows her to express her own heartfelt beliefs in faith, hope, and the enduring power of love to bring about a happy ending.

Charming the Prince Part 25

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Charming the Prince Part 25 summary

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