"Come on in here and have a seat," smiled the guard as he heaved to help Jacob through the front door of the manor.
"This will be fine," Jacob grinned a little breathlessly as he clutched the man's shoulder. "Just set me down on the steps for a minute. Try to keep it down though. I don't want my wife—"
Before he could finish the sentence, he found his eyes rolling helplessly upward. It was too late. He'd already been discovered, it seemed.
"What happened?" Serena's furious shout echoed from the door of the dining hall. She was beside them in seconds, hovering anxiously with fright.
"Serena," Jacob's eyes widened with a start as he tried to catch his balance. He let go of the guard's shoulder in haste, landing awkwardly on the bottom step with a slight thud. "It's nothing," he held his hand up in earnest. "I promise."
"Nothing," she pursed her lips. "Jacob, you're drenched! And, what did you do to your shirt? It's torn—" A loud gasp escaped her throat. She wedged herself in front of the guardsman to kneel at the foot of the stairs. "What happened," she repeated, horrified. Her hands were nervously clutching the shredded material, ready to rip it apart to see what injury he'd suffered.
"Oh, Serena," he moaned wearily. His hand rose to touch the side of her cheek. It made him sigh just a little. "It's really nothing," he promised. He offered her his most sincere smile then and raised his brows to stem her concern. "I just got a little carried away in training this morning."
God, she was so precious to him, he thought to himself rather helplessly. He adored the sight of her so completely.
Grasping his hand in earnest, unable to contain herself, she pierced his eyes in search of the truth. He was indeed wet and shivering, but his face was still full with color. His fair hair was already beginning to lighten back to its natural color in a mass of damp curls.
"Serena, it was it was just an accident. I was parrying with one of Caleb's trainee's and he got the upper hand at the last moment—but, you should have seen me today! I was really holding my own out there with them!"
Just a few months earlier, he could never have said such a thing. He was proud of how greatly his skills in combat were improving.
"Oh, Jacob," she whined. "Don't they make you where any protection out there? This is the worst time to take any chances with your health. If anything ever happened to you, I'd die. But, now with—"
"Serena, hush," he grinned, grasping the nape of her neck to calm her worried words. Feasting his adoring eyes on her hers, he promised, "Nothing is going to happen to me—not ever... Especially not now! I just got a little carried away out there today, but I'm fine. Really," he assured her.
"Really," she insisted, wanting so much to believe him.
"I've got all the reason in the world to watch myself out there now, don't I?" His question was asked with a bit of laughter, despite the ache in his chest. He could not contain the emotion he felt at the mere hint of what they'd recently discovered. His eyes held hers wordlessly and that brought a smile to both their faces.
Swallowing deeply to hear him acknowledge their baby, Serena couldn't help finding a swell of pleasure rise in her chest. Reaching up to take hold of his hand, she shook her head at him.
Jacob watched the fear in her eyes receding as new thoughts crossed her mind. It relieved him to see it. He had gained more than one bruise during the fight, but he wouldn't dare breathe a word about that to her. He preferred to distract her with thoughts of more pleasant things. He felt far too wonderful to regret any small mishaps on the field that day. Caleb would have been proud to see the strides he'd made in his training—even if he had taken a fall in the end of it.
"A boy or a girl," he burst out quite suddenly.
"Which did you say you hoped it was," he asked her with great enthusiasm.
"Jacob…" She answered, bowing her reddened face for a reason she couldn't name.
It was all that they'd ever hoped for, and now it was finally becoming a reality. They were now on their way to creating a family of their own after watching Caleb and Kyra with envy for nearly eight months. They couldn't have been happier to discover she was pregnant several days earlier.
"Serena," he promised, "in just a few days, my brother will return to his role here at the manor and I promise you, I'll retreat to my position of supervising, rather than participating in training. I just got a little caught up—"
"No more of that now, you hear me," she insisted. At once her eyes peered around, softening her voice when she remembered that they were not alone here in the hall. She had no desire to disrespect Jacob in the eyes of the guards. It had taken him too long to find a place among them as it was.
"Aye, Milady," he rumbled in good nature, fearlessly allowing himself to bow to her greater authority for the moment. In his eyes, the woman carrying his child deserved no less than his utmost respect, always.
"What do you imagine they will say when Caleb tells them," she blushed in wonder.
"Who? Blake and Cassandra," he asked. When she nodded, he answered, "They'll be every bit as pleased as we all were when Caleb and Kyra told us they were having a child."
"I'm so happy Cassandra is going to be coming back here for a visit when Blake takes his mother to London. I can't wait to see her again. I've got so much to tell her about."
"Dearest," Jacob began to laugh slightly.
"What," she frowned to hear the shortness of his breath when he spoke.
"I'm a little cold sitting here," he admitted. "Do you think we could continue this upstairs?"
"Oh, Jacob! Of course, I'm sorry," she giggled. He did look more than a little uncomfortable sitting there at the foot of the stairs, she realized.
"Serena," he stopped her then, taking her hand in his. He squeezed it reassuringly and whispered, "I love you."
It was all he'd ever have to say to bring her world to an earth shattering halt. No words could have ever thrilled her heart more to hear. Nothing could have made her happier.
"I love you too, Jacob," she whispered in return. "I really do."
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