When she returned home, the footmen grumbling as much as Evans as they carried in box after box, Isabella found a letter from Ainsley Douglas waiting on the hall table. Mac had not yet returned, and Isabella hastened to her own chamber to read it.
She read the missive twice through and kissed it. "God bless you, Ainsley, my old mate," she said, and tucked the letter into her bosom.
When Mac returned home with a sleeping Aimee in his arms, he found Isabella in the nursery. Miss Westlock had to settle some affairs, so Mac carried Aimee up to put her to bed himself.
Isabella stood at the window in the nursery, staring out at the fading afternoon, stroking the golden hair of a huge doll sitting on the window seat. Mac laid the sleeping Aimee in her cot, covered her with a blanket, and went to Isabella.
Isabella didn't turn. A chance ray of afternoon sunlight touched her face, and the sorrow he saw there broke his heart.
Mac touched her shoulder. "Isabella."
Isabella turned to him, her eyes wet with tears. She opened her mouth as though to excuse her crying, but the words didn't come. Mac opened his arms, and Isabella walked straight into them.
Memories flooded back to Mac as he gathered her against him. Don't remember. Don't let it hurt.
But memories were merciless things.
As clear as yesterday, he saw himself walking into Isabella's bedroom in the Mount Street house after she'd miscarried their child. Mac had been falling-down drunk, despite Ian's best efforts to keep him sober.
In the train from Dover to London, Mac had kept a flask of whiskey at his lips in attempt to erase the horrible pain tearing at his insides. He'd never felt anything like it, not even when his mother had died years earlier. He'd never been close to his mother, had barely known her. His father had kept the brothers isolated from the fragile duchess, the old duke's jealousy extending even to his sons. The duchess had died because of that obsessive jealousy.
Mac's grief for his mother was nothing to what he'd felt when Ian finally got it through Mac's head that Isabella had lost their child and was in danger of dying herself. Malt whiskey didn't dampen Mac's guilt and grief a fraction, but he kept pouring it down his throat in desperate attempt.
He'd charged into the house and up the stairs to Isabella's bedroom. He remembered finding Isabella on a chaise drawn up to the fireplace, her red hair hanging loose, her face wan. She'd looked up with red-rimmed eyes as Mac staggered in.
He'd made it to the chaise before collapsing to his knees and burying his face in her lap. "I'm sorry." His voice had come out a croak. "I am so sorry."
He'd expected to feel better at any moment. Any moment now, she'd stroke his hair and whisper that it was all right
. That she forgave him.
The touch never came.
Mac had realized in the bleak weeks afterward what a heartless, selfish bastard he'd been. He'd been puzzled and hurt when Isabella hadn't caressed him and relieved his pain. He'd looked up to find her eyes stark and glittering, her face so white it might have been carved from marble. Mac had tried to gather her into his arms, but he'd been so drunk he'd fallen to his hands and knees to be sick on the carpet instead.
Ian, who rarely showed emotion of any kind, had dragged Mac up and out of the room, scowling in fury.
Bellamy had cleaned up Mac while Ian watched in anger. "Isabella cried for you," he said. "So I looked for you. I don't know why she wants you. You are drunk all the time."
Mac had no idea why either. When he felt better, Mac sought out Isabella again, knowing he needed to doubly apologize.
He'd found her in the nursery, her hand on the carved cradle they'd picked out together when they first learned that Isabella was increasing.
Mac came up behind her and slid his arms around her, resting his cheek on her shoulder. "I can't tell you how sorry I am," he said. "That this happened, that I wasn't here, that I'm a drunken lout. I think I'll die if you don't forgive me."
"I imagine I will forgive you," Isabella had answered, stroking one finger across the cradle's polished wood. "I generally do."
Tension eased from Mac's shoulders, and he buried his face in her fragrant hair. "We can try again. We can try for another baby."
"It was a boy."
"I know. Ian told me." He kissed the curve of her neck, closing his eyes against a wave of pain. "Maybe the next will be a boy too."
"Not yet." Isabella's answer had been so quiet Mac almost missed it.
Mac thought he understood. She would need time to heal. Mac's knowledge of women's ailments came from his models-he knew they could not pose fully unclothed during their courses, and they sometimes couldn't work for weeks after giving birth or having a miscarriage. They resented the time they couldn't work, because they needed the money. Some of them brought their babies with them to the studio, because they couldn't afford to hire someone to take care of them, and the models often didn't have husbands or even faithful lovers. Mac never minded the little ones, and they seemed to like him.
"When you are ready, tell me," Mac had said to Isabella, caressing her cheek. "Tell me, and we'll start again."
Isabella pulled away from him, her green eyes burning in her white face. "Is it that easy for you? This child didn't live, but that's fine, we will simply try for another?"