Cartheans considered it rude to distract a congregation with the cries and squeals of squirming babies and moody toddlers. Sylvia generally avoided caring for her own children at all costs, and Eclatant had no shortage of nursemaids and nannies. Eleanor could see no reason for John-Caleb’s rosy, lace-bedecked presence.
The service droned on and John-Caleb, like any tired, hungry babe, began whimpering. Apparently he agreed with Eleanor’s assessment as to the inappropriateness of his attending a long, loud chapel service. Sylvia bounced him and made little shushing noises, but Eleanor had bounced and shushed two babies, and a few glances over her shoulder told her the Duchess had no talent for it. She was about to offer to hold the poor child herself when Gregory turned and held out his arms.
Eleanor’s stomach clenched as Sylvia handed the baby to him. Gregory, who had always had a surprisingly natural way with Ticia and Nathan, smiled into John-Caleb’s round face. The baby smiled back. Gregory faced the altar. “Look at the flowers, lad,” he whispered. “Blue, red, yellow…”
John-Caleb grabbed his pointing finger. He chewed on Gregory’s Fire-iron wedding ring. Sylvia laughed into her hand.
The king stared unblinkingly at the altar, but disapproval emanated from his royal bulk like heat from a dragonrobe. Ticia peered questioningly around her grandfather, and Eleanor could sense the weighty interest of the entire congregation. When the music ended a few whispers were suddenly loud.
Gregory had slapped Eleanor in the face at a picnic two years ago, and now he did the same with this insidious recognition of Sylvia’s son. Eleanor could already hear the consensus of the gossip mavens.
The boy must be his son…who can blame him when his own wife hasn’t provided him another heir…Cartheigh needs a prince…
Eleanor wanted to scream at those imaginary, catty women before they could spread their poisonous message. He has an heir in this row! Your princess!
Gregory rested the baby on his shoulder and rocked him. John-Caleb’s eyes drooped, and within minutes he was snoozing contentedly and drooling on the Crown Prince’s shoulder. King Casper whispered in Eleanor’s ear, “Tell him I said that’s enough.”
Eleanor spoke under her breath to Gregory. “Your father says that’s enough.”
“Enough what?” Gregory didn’t look at her or slow his rocking.
“Child-minding, I assume.”
Gregory snorted and the baby jumped in his sleep. Gregory patted his back and he quieted. He handed the child back to his mother. So content was he with Gregory’s ministrations that he never noticed. He slept quietly in her arms for the rest of the service.
Not so long ago everyone called Sylvia a hussy and the child a poor bastard.
As for the hussy in question, she shared knowing smiles with the doting, complimentary onlookers around her.
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