The Gathering Storm (The Jacobite Chronicles Book 3)(6)

By: Julia Brannan



“I’m sorry,” Caroline said into Beth’s ear. “This isn’t a good introduction to him. He’s normally quite placid.”

“Yes,” said Beth doubtfully. “Anthony said he was a very quiet child.”

The cries stopped abruptly, replaced by a loud burp and an ominous sound that Caroline recognised immediately. She leapt up, just in time to see a copious trickle of white liquid emerge from the child’s mouth and pour thickly down Sir Anthony’s immaculate royal-blue back.

“Oh, God!” said Caroline. “I’m sorry. I’ll get a cloth.”

“It’s all right, my dear. Stop apologising, it’s natural,” he reassured her. “There, there now, that’s better, isn’t it?” he crooned to the child, whose cries had subsided to whimpers now the source of pain had gone. Its face was changing slowly from red to pink. The baronet continued to pace slowly round the room, crooning to his charge, unfazed by the mess on his coat. He used the proffered cloth to carefully wipe the child’s mouth and chin.

“Er…we came to invite you to a dinner party,” Beth said, eyeing her husband with continued amazement. She had never seen him with children before, had no idea he was so accustomed to them.

“Oh,” said Caroline, “you’re throwing a party! Of course I’ll come. I’m not sure about Edwin though. He’s virtually living at Parliament at the moment, with the French crisis.”

“No, it’s actually Isabella’s dinner party, but she wants you to come.”

“Does she?” Caroline asked. “Really?”

“Well, she doesn’t have any objections, anyway,” Beth revised. “But I want you to come. You have to come. She’s throwing it for me and Anthony, and you can’t imagine the people she’s invited.”

“I think I probably can,” Caroline said with a grimace.

“Please, you must come. I’ll need some respite from the endless questions about my affair with King Louis, and the duel. I assume you know about the duel?”

“As much as I need to, yes. Yes, I’ll come,” Caroline replied, looking at Sir Anthony. He had stopped pacing now, and the baby had ceased crying completely, his eyes drooping, ready for sleep.

“There you are,” Sir Anthony smiled, placing the child in his startled wife’s arms, before straightening and carefully removing his coat. He eyed the damage, which had now soaked into the expensive satin. Caroline winced.

“Oh, I think that can be cleaned,” he said carelessly, hanging the somewhat smelly item over a chair in the far corner of the room, before coming back in shirtsleeves and waistcoat to take a seat adjacent to his wife.

Beth was sitting preternaturally still, the infant held awkwardly in her arms. Now relieved of wind and excess milk, he did actually look rather cute, she thought, with smooth rose petal skin and a tiny pursed mouth. His ears were like little shells, but his eyes were more green than blue. She smiled, and looked up from the baby to see Caroline and Anthony watching her with amusement.

“He’s not a bomb, my dear,” said Sir Anthony. “He won’t explode if you make a sudden move.”

“I don’t know,” said Caroline. “He might. He seems to spend half his life exploding, from one end or the other. If he suddenly screws his face up, prepare yourself.”

“He is beautiful, isn’t he?” Beth said, with such astonishment in her voice that Caroline burst out laughing. “I’m sorry,” Beth said, blushing. “I didn’t mean…”

“That’s all right, I’m not so easily offended. He is ugly when he’s crying. And I should have expected your reaction anyway, Beth.”

“You should? Why?” asked her friend.

“Because one thing you two have in common is unpredictability. Men are usually very uncomfortable with babies. I should have expected, therefore, that Anthony would be relaxed with them, but it still came as a surprise. Whereas women are usually accustomed to children and know exactly what to do. But you look as though you’ve never held a baby before in your life. Have you?”

“Yes,” said Beth, a little put out. “Once or twice. But you’re right. I haven’t had many dealings with babies. I didn’t have any younger brothers or sisters, or any other relatives with children, as you know. I like them, but I’m a bit frightened of them, too, to be honest.”

“Whereas I had three younger sisters,” said the baronet smoothly. “And I lived in France for a time. The French are very child-orientated.”

Beth thought of a marble headstone in an icy country churchyard in Switzerland, and then of a baby Angus with slate-blue eyes and ridiculous eyelashes, and a fuzz of fair hair, gazing mischievously up at his eight-year-old brother, anticipating the volatile, action-packed years to come.

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