I do not own Garden of Shadows or any of its characters, likenesses, or places. They belong to V.C. Andrews.

Throughout the course of history, it has been believed that the birth of a child is a joyous and therefore celebrated occasion. There was nothing in my budding relationship with my new son or my marriage to a wonderful man that would doubt such claims. Always had I been the type to look at a cloud and be able to see its silver lining, even on the grayest of days.

But not now. Now, the weeks leading up to this moment had been painted nothing but gray. No longer was there a silver lining.

I stripped the silken robe from my body and let the rose pink garment crumple around my ankles. There I stood before the floor-length mirror, absorbing every last flaw my post-pregnancy body had to offer. Flaws that glared back at me like my stepdaughter's cold, gray eyes each time I entered a room. It was easy to ignore such things when you had access to an escape route: Whether it be to room (after all, Foxworth Hall had more than its share of rooms) or in the imagination. But how could I flee when the subject of my distress would follow me, regardless of where I went or how far I ran?

It was such a silly, trivial thing. Truly, the modifications to my body were minor compared to other women who'd born children. I felt foolish for ever believing that everything would return to normal the moment I'd had Christopher. But almost three weekshad past since then, and still I looked four months pregnant. I was so ashamed of this that I'd taken to making love to my husband only in the darkness. A request he'd favored—after all, he never denied me anything—but one that invited thoughts of suspicion. Especially when he'd gone to lovingly stroke and kiss my abdomen, a gesture I'd responded to by gently pushing him away. It had broken my heart to result to such drastic measures, and I worried that I'd left him with the impression that I now knew what everyone else did. That Garland was too old for me, that he looked ridiculous leading such a young woman along by the arm in public. Of course such thoughts had never even crossed my mind, though my actions had most surely stated otherwise. It was so easy to picture the hurt look on his face. And yet, he never gave me any indication that what I'd done had upset him.

I was behind the closed door of the suite Garland and I shared, standing before the floor-length mirror. My breasts were terribly swollen and tender to the touch, but my husband was always so gentle with each and every caress he administered. Nevertheless, it wasn't my breasts that had reduced me to wallowing through the depths of self-pity. It was another part of me—the part of me that had carried our beautiful, golden-haired son for nine months. My abdomen, which was still so puffy even weeks after his birth. Judging from a rational point of view, the change wasn't so noticeable. A small part of me would even go as far as to call it sort of cute. Especially when I pivoted sideways, which was the best angle to go with when examining oneself. I just wasn't used to seeing something so out of place on what was an otherwise slender frame.

And Garland—what would he think? He hadn't even seen me without clothing on since I'd delivered Christopher. Deep down, I knew it was absurd to think I could ever disappoint my husband. A husband who had been nothing but kind and loving and absolutely wonderful long beforehe became my husband. While my heart told me that Garland would never, ever stop loving me for something as trivial as physical change, my mind stated otherwise. The very thought of this fear coming true brought tears to my eyes, and I buried my face in my hands just as I heard the door behind me creak open.

I jumped, for I was naked from the waist up. Oh, why hadn't I thought to lock the door before deciding to disrobe? Quickly, I retrieved my robe from the floor and held it up in front of myself like a shield before spinning around. When I turned, however, I saw that it was only Garland, and the racing fear of my heart slowed to a calm, steady beat. He was standing in the doorway, gazing at me with the same love and devotion in his eyes he'd had the day I accepted his marriage proposal. In one arm he held a bouquet of two-dozen red roses, while in the other he balanced a heart-shaped box of what I presumed were chocolates. Suddenly, I felt all of the fear and uncertainty inside me melt away like those chocolates surely would if kept in a suite as warm as ours. Here I was, standing in the middle of a room in nothing but my panties, makeup smudged from my tears, holding my robe in front of myself, as if I had every reason in the world to be ashamed. But how could I be when my husband was standing there, looking at me in that special, funny, adorable, Garland-like way only he could?

Maybe it was the toll my childish concerns had taken on me, or the relief upon realizing how unlikely it was that any of them would ever come true. Whatever it was, it was the cause of the tears that, at that very moment, burst forth from my eyes like a flood through a barricade. A loud sob ruptured through my throat then, forcing Garland to relinquish his gifts so that he could sprint across the room to my side.

"My darling, what is it?" he demanded. His always unruffled tone transformed into a panic, as his gentle fingers braided through my chestnut locks in a desperate attempt to calm me. "Are you ill?"

I shook my head, my voice too choked by sobs for me to form any sort of comprehensible response.

"Is there something wrong with the baby? Is Christopher—"

"No!" I hadn't intended to yell, or give my husband any indication that I was upset with him for suggesting such a thing. I simply wanted to ensure the fact that I would be heard. "No, he's fine."

"Then what is it that has reduced you to such a state of distress?"

I did my best to answer, but when I tried my sobs got in the way and I choked on my words. Garland assured me not to worry, that we would discuss it all in detail later on and that for now I should rest. He swept me into his arms and covered my face in kisses. He told me how happy he was to be home following what he described as 'a long, monotonous day at the offices with Malcolm'. Garland then led me back across the room and helped me into bed.

"I'm going to ask Mrs. Wilson to make you some hot cocoa," he said, once he'd finished tucking the comforter around me. "And afterward I'll come right back."

Sniffling, I extended the hand on whose wrist was attached the gold bracelet he'd given me for my twelfth birthday. He caught my hand before I had reached his, smiling at me and then at the piece of jewelry on my wrist.

"I can't believe you still wear this." Garland's cerulean blue eyes returned to meet my own. "Wouldn't you prefer if I bought you something that's a little more grown-up? After all, this is meant for a little girl—and you're a young woman now, my love."

He was right about that. "I know I am. But I would never think of trading this bracelet for any other. Besides, you gave it to me, remember? That, above all else, is what makes it so special, and the whole reason why I wear it every day."

This pleased Garland, for he leaned forward and kissed me on the lips. They were now as puffy from my crying as my stomach was from Christopher's birth. I felt my cheeks flush as I imagined for a moment Garland kissing that part of my body. Just like he'd done when I was pregnant. Perhaps he saw in me something that concerned him, for he raised his hands and pressed both palms to my cheeks. Then he took one hand and laid it across my forehead, searching for a fever I assumed. When he felt nothing, he smiled, obviously relieved, and ended his examination by kissing me on the tip of my slightly upturned—and now somewhat pinkish—nose. Afterward, he retrieved the gifts he'd bought me and set them carefully down on the nightstand so that I'd have something to enjoy during his absence. Next, he exited the room—but not without the promise to return shortly.

"Until then, my love," he said, and closed the door softly behind him.