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Chapter 37

"Matthew? Is everything all right?" Mary clutched the receiver.

"Yes, darling! Everything's fine. I told Carson to be sure to tell you that, when he went to get you."

"He did, he did. It's just . . ." She started to choke up. "It's just, I've been thinking of you all day long today, my darling. . . and remembering that day, and what came after." The memories had come flooding back: getting the news; the awful waiting; seeing him brought in, reading the tag, cutting off his clothes. All of it so real again. And she had been cold, so cold, and at just the same moment as when it had first happened, a year before. Why? It was just another day, and yet it wasn't.

"I knew you would be, dearest, and that's why I'm calling. So you could hear me and know, I'm all right. And I think it's harder for you, so I needed to hear you, too, and know you're all right."

Mary exhaled heavily. "I am now. And you? Be honest."

"Besides worrying about you, I've had my moments today, of course. Mostly thinking of William. But really and truly, I'm fine."

"How can you think about what happened to you and be fine?" she sniffed, wiping her eyes.

"Because," he said softly, "a year later, I have your love, which gave me back my life and sustains me every day."

She squeezed her eyes shut and suppressed a sob.

"Mary? Darling?"

"I'm here. Oh, Matthew, thank you for calling. Hearing you has made all the difference. I'm all right now. I love you so much."

"So very much." There was a pause, then, his voice scraping: "Only ten more days."

"That's nothing," she whispered.

"Nothing," he agreed. "I'm almost home."

.

It was dark, moonlight streaming through the crack in the curtains, when he opened his eyes. "It wasn't a dream," he whispered.

She took his hand, kissing it. "Not a dream."

His fingers traced her lips. Then with a smile and a sigh, he fell back asleep.

.

No, it wasn't a dream. But it had felt like one when, after getting himself—getting himself—down from the train car, Bates and Robert hovering close by, of course, he had looked up and around the crowded York station platform and seen a flash of red. Seen her, seen Mary, working her way toward him. He had set off without a word, unwilling to wait. But he quickly realized that the crowd was too much for him, he'd couldn't risk being knocked down. So he did wait, balanced on his sticks, finally holding both in his left hand and extending his right arm, folding her in an embrace as her arms encircled him. They stood silently as travelers passed around them.

"Mary! What a happy surprise!" Robert exclaimed coming up, smiling broadly, then nodding to Trent, the chauffeur tipping his cap as he waited at a discreet distance.

"Yes, darling, such a surprise!" Matthew looked down into her face, fuller than the last time he'd seen her, her cheeks rosy. "You must be feeling much better."

Mary gave him a look. "Of course, I'm better." Today. At least for right now. "What have I been telling you?"

He kissed her forehead. "It's wonderful," he murmured, pulling her to him again.

"We need to get you into your chair, sir," Bates stated.

Matthew looked up, "No, I can get myself to the car. You and Trent go ahead and start getting everything sorted."

He made it to the car. That hadn't been a dream, either. But as he settled himself, then leaned back against the seat with a sigh, he couldn't quite believe it. As disastrous as the previous train trip had been for him, this one had gone like clockwork and ended with him sitting in the back of the Daimler with Mary.

Mary cupped his face, giving him a concerned look. "You have lost more weight."

Matthew raised an eyebrow. "What makes you say it like—has your father written you that?"

Mary looked chagrined, then pursed her lips and lifted her chin. "Maybe." Then she raised an eyebrow. "And has Mama been reporting to you about me?"

Matthew's mouth tugged up. "Maybe." And they both burst out laughing.

Trent and Bates arrived with the wheelchair. After strapping the chair to the car, Bates got in the front seat, while Trent held the back door for Robert. Matthew and Mary sat up, and Mary slid over as Robert climbed in.

Mary took her gloves off, then took Matthew's hand, their fingers immediately twining tightly. It wasn't long before they were both asleep, heads resting together.

.

No, it wasn't a dream.

The second time he awoke, it was still dark. He watched Mary sleeping, her face serene, her chest rising and falling. He breathed deeply, her scent like a drug itself. Carefully, he moved an arm and rested his hand on her belly. Almost immediately, she smiled and brought her hands to cover his, finally turning and opening her eyes.

"Hello," she murmured.

"Hello." He gave her a rueful smile. "I didn't mean to wake you."

"How are you feeling? Do you need more laudanum?"

"No, actually, I'm all right. How are you feeling."

"I never feel sick in the middle of the night." She kissed his forehead. "But, I do need to relieve myself."

He watched her go, pulled her pillow to him and buried his face in it, then pushed up and started to get himself onto his side, letting the hot water bottles slide off his back. Maybe he should stay longer on his stomach, but he was feeling remarkably fine—his back pain was tolerable, he wasn't noticing any spasticity in his legs—and he needed, desperately needed, to make love to his wife.

Mary reentered the room and stopped. "Oh, should you be doing that?"

"Yes, I should," he said, his voice low. "Would you open the curtains, so I can see you?"

Mary pulled the curtains back, and moonlight flooded the room. She stood facing him, her sheer gown following the curves of her body. Wordlessly, she pulled the nightgown over her head, then slowly turned as he drank in her swollen breasts and her slightly curved belly.

He gazed at her, the reason for the changes in her body leaving him unable to speak. Making a kind of choking sound, he held out his arm, and she climbed up next to him, lying back, so he could see her fully.

His fingers gently caressed her breasts, then came to rest on her stomach, noticeably rounder and firmer since they had last been together. "Oh, my love," he finally managed. "You're so beautiful."

She turned on her side, facing him, with a laugh. "You may not think so in a few months."

He shook his head, brushing her lips. "I can't wait."

Their mouths opened first gently, then hungrily, as their need for each other exploded. Their bodies pressed together, and Mary felt his arousal, a small cry escaping her as the urge of her own desire intensified.

She began undoing the buttons of his pajama top, as he began to lav her ear, then kiss his way down her jaw and neck to the place where her heart beat in her throat. He stopped long enough to shrug his way out of the top, then they both went to work undoing the tie to the bottoms and tugging them down.

At last, with a groan, they were flesh against flesh, their hips moving together. They kissed again, hard and deep, Matthew moving a hand up and down her inner thighs until Mary breathed, "Oh, please," and, finally, he began to pleasure her ache.

She gasped, her eyes closing, and her back arched, then she took his head and brought it to her breast. "It's all right," she whispered. "I'm not that tender."

With a moan, he began gently to lav and kiss her breasts, still pleasuring her, her whimpering growing louder, her response to his touch urging him on.

Finally, he rolled her onto her back, pushing up as she took him, guiding him, and they both groaned as he entered her, moving slowly at first, then faster and deeper as he felt her reaching her peak.

Mary arched up against him as she shattered, crying out, and then again, as his thrusts became more urgent, his hips bucking, until with a grunt, he released and was soaring.

They both collapsed and sighed, breathing heavily, each drowning in the other. He still filled her, she still throbbed, so he held her hips, moving against her, thrusting, until with a wail she came once more.

"Oh, God, oh God, oh God," she murmured into his neck as they held each other, and he moved against her yet again, until with a small sob she fell back, her eyes closed, her lips parted, every other breath a small moan.

His mouth pulled up in a smile, as he watched her floating. At last, with a shuddering sigh, she opened her eyes.

"I love you so much," she whispered, tracing his jaw with a finger, then closing her eyes.

He kissed her tenderly. "So much."

After a bit, she roused herself and looked at him with concern. "Your back, though. Don't be stoic—do you need more laudanum?"

Probably, yes. But he didn't want to lose a minute of the ten days he had with her, one of them already gone. "I'm fine for now," he assured her with another kiss. "I'll take more aspirin."

"Well, but—" she inhaled sharply and brought her hands to her belly, her eyes widening.

Matthew pushed up, looking at her with alarm. "Mary, what is it?"

She inhaled again, her face breaking into a smile, and took his hand, placing it on her stomach. "I've been feeling a fluttering for a while. Mama said it was the first sign of the baby kicking. I didn't write you, because I could hardly believe her at first, but I saw Clarkson a few days ago, and he said it's true. It's been getting stronger, and then this morning, I thought I felt a kick! And just now, I did, again! I'm sure of it!"

"Darling!"

She frowned, concentrating, and moved her hands again. "I don't think you can feel it, yet." She gasped again, then laughed happily. "No, not yet. I couldn't feel that one with my hand, either." She took his hand and placed it where hers had been. "But here, right here, is our baby!"

"Oh, my love," he smiled, his eyes filling. Who needed drugs, when he had bliss?

.

Martha Levinson took a sip of tea, her brows drawn together, her eyes like flint. "Do explain again how exactly you are related to us, Matthew." She sat back, her mouth pursed, and waited.

Matthew shifted uncomfortably. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his mother stiffen perceptibly. He looked at Mary, who rolled her eyes. It was going to be a long three days.

.

Mary had been sick early that morning, much to Matthew's distress, but after lying down again, she managed some salted wafers. Eventually, she had felt like eating, so they had both breakfasted in bed. Then Mary had bathed, while Matthew did stretching-only exercises with Bates, followed by his own long soak in the tub. After he was dressed, he wheeled himself to their sitting room, where Mary was sitting at his desk, writing Sybil about the baby's kicking activity.

She looked up and smiled. "Good, you're in your chair."

"I am now, but I won't be, when we all go out to greet your grandmama."

"Now don't push yourself, or you'll be worn out for the dinner party tonight," she admonished, capping her pen and setting the letter aside. Then she smirked. "Of course, we can always excuse ourselves early from tea, pleading that we need to rest. It will certainly be true."

"True, but rather a cowardly plan. I'm in!" he laughed, holding out his hand.

Mary rose and took it as she settled herself on the settee next to his chair.

Matthew kissed her hand, then rubbed his thumb across her fingers. "How are you feeling, darling?"

"All better, now," she smiled.

"If you're up to it, I was wondering if we have time for a visit to Mother before your grandmother arrives? Or I could go alone." They had stopped at Crawley House on their way from York, his mother coming out to the car for a hug and kiss, but only that, as he needed to be put to bed.

"Actually, we do—Grandmama's not due until mid-afternoon. So, yes, let's go. We won't have much chance to talk with her at tea."

Matthew raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Mother? Coming to tea?"

Mary nodded. "Oh, yes, she's planning to be here for Grandmama's arrival as well. You know, your mother met her that last time she came, in the fall of 1914, before it became too dangerous to make the crossing. 'A last trip for who knows how many years,' she told us. Grandmama never believed the propaganda that the war would be over quickly."

Matthew frowned slightly. The visit was after he had left, and it hadn't occurred to him that his mother would have met her then. But, of course, she would have been invited to dinner and tea, probably more than once, and, of course, she would have accepted.

"Your mother told me that she's always admired the way Grandmama isn't overawed by the whole set-up here," Mary continued. "And I'm sure that's true, but I imagine what she really wants is to see her and Granny go at it," she laughed.

"You know you're right about that," Matthew agreed with a grin.

Mary shook her head, "But I'm afraid she'll have to wait—Granny told Papa that she isn't coming to welcome the 'Queen of Sheba,' as she refers to her, that she'll pay homage at the dinner party tonight."

They both chuckled, and Mary rose. "I'll ring your mother to make sure she's home, then have Trent bring the car around."

After a pleasant visit with Isobel and lunch with the family, Mary and Matthew retired to their sitting room until Anna came to tell them that the family was assembling.

"Prepare yourself," Mary warned, only half joking. She carried his sticks, as he wheeled himself out into the hallway.

At the end of their corridor, he set the wheelchair brake and moved to the edge of his seat.

"You're determined, then?" Mary asked, frowning.

Matthew smiled up at her and held out his hand for his sticks. Holding both in his left hand, he pushed up on the armrest with his right, quickly standing, adjusting the arm cuffs and his grip and finding his balance.

Mary shook her head wonderingly, a happy smile lighting up her face. "You did that so much more easily than when you were last here," she said softly. "I mean, I can see it."

He leaned in and kissed her cheek. "I'm getting better every day, darling."

They entered the Great Hall to find a bustle of activity as family and servants gathered to form the receiving line. Mary and Matthew greeted Isobel as everyone started filing out, and found their places just as a large, gleaming, red car appeared and roared up the long drive.

Alfred opened the door, and as Martha Levinson, magnificent in silk, beads and feathers, stepped out, Matthew had to bite his cheek: Violet's moniker was quite appropriate.

She accepted the hand Alfred offered, then paused on the running board, taking them in. "Come war and peace, Downton still stands, and the Crawleys are still in it!"

Robert and Cora exchanged a look, then moved to greet her.

.

Matthew set his tea cup down, then cleared his throat and smiled. "Yes, well, the relationship is rather distant, I'm afraid. My great-great-grandfather was a younger son of the third Earl."

"My, I'm going to have to write that down," Martha said pointedly, "so I can study it."

Robert drew his brows together as he accepted a cup from Carson, who then continued to set out cake and sandwiches with Alfred. He was already getting a headache. Exhaling, he turned from the table and took his seat. He smiled, hiding his irritation, and said pleasantly, "Look at our page in Burke's. You'll find Matthew there."

"Good. Because I would so like to understand why he gets to inherit my late husband's money."

"I know it's funny, isn't it," Matthew tried gamely.

"Not everyone shares your sense of humor." Martha stated flatly, her eyes boring into Matthew's.

"I meant, funny as in odd. Not humorous. It isn't, I agree." He decided to stop.

"Grandmama, what difference does it make? We're married now." Mary offered with a shrug and a smile.

"Lucky for you," Martha returned dryly. "The woman's lot."

Mary raised her chin. "I'll have you know that Matthew and I are partners with Papa in the estate. We three make decisions together."

Martha raised her eyebrows, looking from Matthew to Robert, who both gave a nod. "Really? Well, will wonders never cease. It seems so strange to think of the English embracing change." She shook her head and sipped her tea.

.

"There you are!" called Edith. She took Anthony's best man by the arm and, leaving Anthony and Martha, pulled him to meet Mary and Matthew, as they entered the already-crowded drawing room. "This is Anthony's cousin Frederic."

It hadn't occurred to them that their arrival would cause a bit of a sensation among the county dinner guests, almost none of whom had seen Matthew since their own wedding. Of course, everyone knew that Matthew had gone to London for treatment and was now getting around on sticks, and after Mary's stay in hospital, everyone knew Mary was pregnant—if they hadn't been told directly, the county servants' gossip network kept them up to date. But the animated conversation dropped to a hushed murmur as they took in Matthew, actually standing next to Mary, whose drop-waisted dress just managed to conceal her changed form. After a moment, the noise level returned to what it had been.

It was rather a crush, though, for a few minutes, while several guests, after Edith and Frederic had moved on, came forward to greet Mary and Matthew, sincerely happy but too polite to comment directly about Matthew's remarkable recovery, observing only, "So good to see you!" or "How well you both look!" waiting for them to provide details, and trying not to stare at his sticks and his braced shoes. The women gave Mary knowing looks, then pulled her aside to offer advice privately.

And, of course, Sir Gerald Copley and his wife Mavis would have droned on about everything and nothing until Carson announced dinner, if Robert, catching a desperate look from Mary, hadn't come and rescued them.

"Well, that was unexpected, although I suppose it shouldn't have been," Matthew said, exhaling, as they left Robert to bear up alone under the Copleys' small talk.

"Yes, Mama warned me that all the ladies would want to describe their own birthing horror stories."

"Darling!" Matthew looked at her in alarm.

"It wasn't too bad, although the night is young," Mary laughed. "Mostly it was advice about getting through the nausea, and I'm open to trying anything." She looked him up and down. "You need to sit."

"Yes, I'm afraid I do." He swung himself over to a nearby Sheraton armchair against the wall, and Mary helped him lower himself. He sat back with a sigh.

"We can send for your chair," Mary stated, her eyes concerned.

"I'll be fine. I just need to rest a moment. You go mingle."

"No, I'll—," she started.

"No, no, go on. I'm fine here, I'll join you in a bit." When she still hesitated, he added with a smirk, "I like looking at you when you walk wearing that frock—it . . ." He paused, reaching out and pulling at the skirt of the pale green dress, embellished with teal and silver beads. "It swishes so nicely," he finished, drawing the word out.

She brushed a lock of hair off his forehead. "It does, does it? Good." She kissed her gloved finger and pressed it to his lips, and then turned, and as Matthew's gaze followed her in appreciation as she made her way among the guests, her hips swaying, holding her arms just so, he remembered watching her at their own pre-wedding dinner. Only months ago, yet it was another life. He couldn't help picturing her growing body under the loose dress . . .

"Matthew!"

His reverie broken, he looked up, startled to find Martha, swathed in black velvet, rhinestones, diamonds, and pearls, approaching him.

"Mrs. Levinson," he nodded with a smile, reaching for his sticks. He started to get himself up, but Martha patted his shoulder.

"Now don't even think of getting up. And please, call me Martha," she smiled, as he sat back.

Alfred passed, carrying a silver tray of cocktails. He offered the tray to Martha, then lowered it to Matthew. "Sir?"

"Thank you." Alfred moved off, and Matthew smiled up at Martha. "I haven't figured out how to negotiate my sticks whilst holding a drink."

"Now, that is a problem!" She turned and called out, "Albert!"

Alfred looked over his shoulder and came back. "It's Alfred, ma'am."

She pointed to a chair a few feet away. "Alfred, please get that chair over there and put it here next to Mr. Crawley's."

"Yes, ma'am." Alfred set his tray down on a side table, and brought the chair over.

"Thank you," Martha nodded, sitting down next to Matthew. "That's better." She held her glass up, "Cheers!" They clinked glasses. She took a sip of her cocktail, as did Matthew. He smiled, while bracing himself for another round about the money.

Martha returned the smile. "Matthew, you must forgive my inquisition this afternoon. The money, you see, will always be a sore point."

Matthew had not expected this. "I understand, and I assure you, I completely agree."

Martha laughed and took another sip of her drink. "Oh, yes, I know. After you and Mary left us, the rest of the family, including your mother, made sure I understood in no uncertain terms just what a reluctant heir you were, how unfair you thought the entail was, and that you tried to find a way to undo it."

Matthew nodded. "Yes, that's true. Unfortunately, I wasn't successful."

"Well, I'm glad to know you tried." Martha leaned closer and lowered her voice. "Now, tell me, entre nous. What do you think of Edith's fiancé?" They both turned to watch Edith and Anthony talking with Mary, his cousin, and Anthony's sister and brother-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Chetwood.

Matthew took a sip of his drink. "His war record speaks for itself, but completely aside from that, Sir Anthony is a good man," he replied firmly. "He and Edith make each other very happy. Edith will be quite well provided for—Loxley is by all accounts a model of estate management. I'm happy for them, and so is Mary."

"But I gather Robert and Violet are not," Martha replied.

"Yes, that's true, and I'm sure you've been told the reasons." He wouldn't repeat them—life as a nursemaid, an old man's drudge. "I think Robert, at least . . . well, he told Anthony that, if it's what Edith wants, he's happy, if she's happy. Not the same thing, of course, as being happy about the marriage. But Violet can't get over that she has only herself to blame. She brought them together again over tea, not knowing, until he arrived, about his injury." He frowned, shaking his head. "She's made it clear, she regrets her role.

Martha gave a kind of cackle. "Yes, Edith told me."

Matthew considered for a moment. "Do you know, it was quite the opposite with Mary and me. Robert and Violet were fine, even rejoiced for us; it was Cora who struggled when we first announced our intention to marry—and I really couldn't blame her, given my circumstances at the time. But she came around very quickly, after the initial shock, she's been very supportive. I'm sure she has had her qualms about Edith and Anthony, as well, but I guess after Mary and me—." He broke off as a thought occurred to him, and his mouth quirked. "Poor Cora! I'm sure she never imagined, when she married into the English aristocracy, that her daughters would end up marrying two cripples and an Irish chauffeur!"

Martha goggled at him, then they both burst out laughing.

"No," Martha gasped, wiping her eyes. "I'm sure she did not!"

Matthew grinned and inclined his head, holding her eyes and adding, "And nor did you!" And they were off again.

"No, nor did I!" Martha caught her breath, sipped her drink, then looked at him. She smiled and nodded, as if in approval. "When circumstances allow it, you must bring your family across the ocean for a visit."

Matthew eyes widened in surprise, then he smiled. "Thank you for the invitation. I'm hopeful that that would be possible, one day."

Before Martha could respond, Mary approached carrying a cocktail.

"Well, I'm very pleased to see you two getting along so well!" Mary observed, smiling while raising her eyebrows and giving Matthew a questioning look. "I brought you a drink, darling, but I see you've been taken care of." She turned to Martha. "Grandmama?" she inquired, holding out the glass.

Martha downed the last bit of her cocktail, set the glass down next to her chair, and accepted Mary's offering. "Thank you, my dear. Ah, look!" Granny had just entered the drawing room. "Here, you sit with your husband—I must greet the Dowager Countess!" She rose and made a beeline to Violet.

"Well," Mary observed, as she sat down, "you seem to have redeemed yourself."

"Apparently so—we've been invited to visit," Matthew replied, his mouth tugging up.

Mary's eyes widened. "Really? That's quite a reversal from this afternoon."

"You needn't look so amazed at my charming ways, darling," he grinned. He took a sip of his drink, then gestured with his glass, and they both turned to watch as Martha approached Violet.

"Ah ha ha!" Martha cried effusively, setting her drink on Thomas's tray as he passed and clasping her hands together. "Violet! At long last!" She held out her arms, folding Violet, who stiffened visibly while managing a small smile, in an embrace that was not reciprocated.

Martha stood back and gave Violet an appraising look. "Oh, dear, I'm afraid the war has made old women of us both."

"Oh, I wouldn't say that. But then I always keep out of the sun," Violet observed smugly.

Martha took Violet's arm and started walking. "Now, I must hear how you played matchmaker to our granddaughter and her fiancé."

"I don't know what you mean," Violet huffed.

"Now, now, don't be modest. So clever of you to invite them to tea, neither of them knowing the other was coming. So romantic! I want every detail!"

Violet pressed her lips together as they moved out of earshot.

"Your grandmama does know how to twist the knife!" Matthew chuckled.

"She does indeed." Mary paused for effect. "Edith put her up to it."

"Did she? Good for Edith!"

"Actually," Mary smiled wickedly, "it was my idea!"

They both shook with laughter. "Oh, dear God, I love you, darling!" Matthew said, kissing her hand.

When they caught their breath, Matthew reached for his sticks. "Shall we?"

"Yes." Mary rose, taking his drink from him. He pushed himself up and adjusted his sticks. "Oh," he smiled, "there's mother!"

They made their way to Isobel.

"Hello, Mother!"

"I hope you two got some rest this afternoon," Isobel smiled, kissing Matthew's cheek, and then Mary's.

"We did, thank you," Matthew replied. "I'm quite recovered from the train." That was pretty much true.

"I'm so glad." She fell silent, smiling, although her eyes glistened, and she blinked back tears, as she took him in.

"Mother?" he inquired, his face growing concerned. "Is everything all right?"

She shook her head. "Don't mind me. I'm just not used to seeing you standing, and I just can't get enough of it!" she laughed.

Matthew's throat got tight, and he could only manage to smile and give his head a small shake.

"I know the feeling," Mary said softly.

Isobel turned to Mary. "And how are you this evening, my dear?"

"Very well—at the moment, at least." she laughed. "Looking forward to dinner."

And just then, Carson appeared and announced that dinner was served.

.

After drawing the covers down, Bates pivoted Matthew from his chair, and lowered him carefully down to the bed, while Mary sat at her dressing table and watched.

When the episodes of vertigo at the beginning of his recovery had started, she had insisted she stay in her bedroom while he was gotten in and out of bed, and after the vertigo had abated, she continued to stay, always wearing a tightly-tied robe, of course. She, Matthew, and Bates agreed that it was silly for her to go back to waiting in the sitting room.

His last visit home, Matthew had been getting himself to bed, but he wasn't there yet this visit, this long night coming the day after his train trip.

They had excused themselves shortly after the men had rejoined the ladies, and when they got to the entrance to their corridor, Matthew had practically collapsed into his chair. Then, to her consternation, he wouldn't let her help push him.

You shouldn't be doing this in your condition. You're too far along.

Dr. Clarkson says I can still do anything I did before I was pregnant, except ride.

He wasn't thinking about your pushing me. You didn't ask him about that, did you?

Not specifically, no.

Well, until you do, I don't want you pushing me.

Fine, I'm calling Bates. And she had left him to ring.

He hadn't objected—he was thoroughly worn out.

"Thank you Bates, we can take it from here," Matthew nodded with a smile, as Bates stood back, leaving him sitting on the edge of the bed.

Bates gave him a skeptical look, but inclined his head. "Let me know if there's anything you need, sir."

They watched him withdraw, then Mary rose and came to Matthew, running her fingers through his hair.

"Are you sure you can do this by yourself? You don't have to prove anything—I know you can."

Matthew pulled her to him and kissed the top of her head.

"I know I don't have to prove anything to you. If I'm honest, maybe I do need to prove to myself that I can finish putting myself to bed, even after such a long day. And," he added, when she started to protest, "I feel much better after getting out of the braces, and Bates worked wonders with my stretching exercises and massaging my back. But really, I just want," and he kissed her tenderly, "every moment" another kiss, "I can have with you," kiss, "alone."

Mary cupped his face and gave a small laugh. "All right, then. Show off."

Grinning, he reached back and pulled until his legs were completely on the bed, then reached back once more, turning himself so that he was positioned correctly. He still needed to lift his legs manually to properly straighten them. Then he looked at Mary with a smile and a shrug. "Nothing to it!"

"I know better." Mary said shaking her head. "But I must admit, I'm impressed!" Then she frowned. "On your back, not your stomach?"

"It's really my legs that are bothering me—I've never had the braces on anywhere near as long as I did today." He pulled one of his pillows from behind him. "Could you fetch the pillows off my bed? Propping my legs up usually helps." He bent his legs a bit and started shoving the pillow under his thighs.

Mary returned quickly. "One under each leg?"

"Yes, exactly, turned the long way." When they had everything adjusted, he lay back, one thin pillow under his head, and sighed. "That's ticket. Thank you, darling."

Mary pulled up the covers. "You over did today."

"Perhaps a bit." He reached up and tapped her nose. "Don't look like that. I'll stay in my chair most of the day tomorrow, so I'm rested for the wedding. And speaking of overdoing . . ." He raised his eyebrows, as she yawned.

"Perhaps I did, too," she laughed, going around the bed and climbing in next to him, settling on her side, propped on an elbow. "At least, I didn't feel sick at dinner."

He looked up at her and caressed her face. "I wish I could make it go away."

"I know, darling." She laughed, "I wish you could, too!"

He moved his hand to her belly. "How's the baby tonight?" he asked softly.

"Pretty quiet." She turned and lay back against the pillows. "He's usually more active when I'm on my back. Hmmm." She frowned and shifted a bit.

"Or she," Matthew smiled.

"Or she." She shifted again. "But I think it's a 'he,'" she said decisively.

"Think" or "want" it to be a boy? Matthew wondered silently. He really didn't care for himself, but he knew the pressure Mary had to be feeling after seeing what her mother had gone through.

"Mother knows best," he smiled, lightly rubbing her stomach. "Feel any little feet?"

She shook her head, frowning. "Not—oh!" Her eyes widened. "There you are!" She felt with her hand, then moved Matthew's, her face illuminated by her smile. "You still won't be able to feel anything yet, but he's right . . . yes, here, right here." She covered his hand with hers. "Golly, it's like he just woke up!"

Matthew smiled happily. "Hello, little one," he whispered.

.

Anna made one last adjustment to the diamond wedding tiara, then smiled at Edith in the mirror. "There you go m'lady."

"Thank you, Anna. I love what you've done with my hair," Edith responded, turning her head from side to side. "Dora tries, but she just doesn't have your touch."

Anna smiled with pleasure, then asked, "Ready?"

"Yes," Edith nodded, her face glowing, "very ready."

Anna brought her veil over, carefully attaching it to the tiara as Mary and Cora spread and fluffed the tulle. When Anna finished, Edith stood up and turned to her mother and sister.

"Just lovely, m'lady," Anna pronounced.

Cora took Edith's hands. "Oh, Edith. You're a vision."

There was a knock on the door, and O'Brien poked her head in, addressing Cora. "They're ready for you, m'lady."

Cora kissed Edith's cheek. "All the best, darling girl! I'll see you soon!"

As she left, Anna turned to Edith. "Will there be anything else you need, Lady Edith?"

"No, thank you, Anna."

She turned to Mary. "M'lady?"

Mary shook her head. "No, I'm fine."

"Then I'll get myself ready," she smiled. "They'll be holding the wagonette for me."

Edith and Mary watched her go, then faced each other.

"Edith," Mary said softly, "you're beautiful."

"Thank you," Edith smiled, then added, "I'm glad things are better between us now."

Mary nodded. "I am, too."

Edith started to tear up. "If only Sybil were here."

"Yes," she agreed, dabbing at Edith's eyes with her handkerchief, then squeezing her hand. "Matthew and I are so happy for you."

"I know you are," Edith smiled. Her eyes filled again. "And that means a great deal, especially with Papa and Granny still against us." But before Mary could respond, she recovered, her smile returning. "But, truly, it doesn't matter what they think. We know it's right; that's all that counts."

"That's the spirit!" Mary affirmed. She shook her head, smiling. "You just wait until you see the look on Anthony's face when he sees you for the first time. You'll remember that more than anything else about the ceremony. At least, I do."

Edith sighed happily. "I can't wait—I do remember Matthew's face when he saw you."

Dora knocked and looked in, "His lordship is waiting, m'lady."

The sisters exchanged a quick hug and kiss, as Dora took up the long dress train, and then they carefully made their way downstairs.


The next chapter will pick up the day after the wedding. Thank you so much for reading and reviewing! You're the best!