Phoebe had been secretly dreading this dinner for weeks. She loved her Aunt, truly she did, but the woman was a challenge to deal with, and a nightmare to contend with once she got her mind wrapped around something, and lately that something had been the topic of Phoebe's pregnancy or lack there-of.
Since Christmas, the woman had been harboring on Phoebe, about the importance of an heir, about the sense of duty a woman has. Luckily Monty had whisked her away before it got any worse, but now, having her over for dinner, it would be a constant onslaught of inquiries and jabs that Phoebe would have to endure.
Her stomach churned at the thought, and she nearly vomited when she heard a knock at the front door. Monty gripped her hand beside her, and pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead.
Phoebe gave him a small, but wavering smile.
Lady Eugenia entered with a flourish, her caked on makeup making her appearance even more menacing, her dress seemed out of the 18th century, regal, and royal, and upon entering the dinner room she immediately requested for a glass of champagne. After drinking it fully, she briskly walked over to Phoebe and Monty.
"Oh, Monty, Phoebe dear, I am so very glad you invited me to dine with you tonight. I did wonder if it was for a special… occasion though?" Her Aunt's eyes flitted to Phoebe's stomach. Phoebe's smile drooped. If her Aunt was anything, blunt would be a good word to describe her. She never beat around the bush.
"We haven't seen you in so long, Lady Eugenia. We simply wanted to see you again," supplied Monty, kissing her hand, and bowing to her.
Eugenia twisted her lips in disappointment.
"You saw me at Christmas, heaven knows that was only two months ago, Montague!" She turned away from him, and focused on Phoebe. "There's no need to lie about having me here!"
Phoebe felt herself shrink under her Aunt's gaze. She knew Eugenia meant no harm, that she was only trying to look after her niece, but by God Phoebe wished she wouldn't.
"And how are you, Phoebe dear?" she asked.
Phoebe swallowed. "Just fine, Auntie."
Eugenia's eyes narrowed. "You seem pale, child."
"Just a bit fatigued, perhaps. It's been a long day."
"How so?" Eugenia inquired, taking another glass of champagne as they crossed from the parlor to the dining room, with Monty in tow.
"I've been working on my gardens, I finally got some new seeds to plant," Phoebe said brightly. She always took such pride in her plants.
"Well, goodness knows darling, if you put your energy into more… shall we say… fruitful activities… you may not need those gardens to keep you company. This house is so big, and so wonderful, and five or six so children should keep you plenty busy."
Eugenia went to sit down. Phoebe paled.
"Five or six?" she repeated in shock.
"A Countess such as yourself should always have more than one, just in case. Besides, don't you want a fruitful household, my child?"
Phoebe's mouth opened but nothing came out. Her Aunt could be quite brazen when she's had too much champagne, and she definitely had already had her fill.
"Auntie, please, this isn't such appropriate conversation."
Eugenia scoffed. "Alright, alright, my dear. If you're that insistent, I'll stop."
Phoebe breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you." She sat down next to her Aunt, feeling much better now that the questioning had stopped.
"Is it Monty, my dear? Is he- well you know some men just can't-" Eugenia started, seeing as Monty had disappeared into the hallway to talk to his butler about some instance involving how much alcohol Lady Eugenia was allowed to have for the rest of the night, (ie. none).
"Aunt Eugenia!" Phoebe gasped, coloring almost immediately. "Stop this at once!"
"You've been married for a year and a half now, with nothing to show for it, there must be something my child!" Eugenia insisted. "I am simply looking out for your well being."
"Monty and I's marriage is fine. We're fine." Phoebe whispered back, hearing Monty coming into the room.
Eugenia was about to press it, but Monty came in, and thankfully she shut her mouth.
The first course came, and Phoebe found that she had no appetite. She moved her food around her plate like a child, and avoided looking at her Aunt. Monty squeezed her hand underneath the table.
Monty, thank God, kept the conversation going. He endured Eugenia's rants about Uncle Adalbert, and the others, and even the occasion inquiry on Monty and Phoebe's friend, Mrs. Lionel Holland, and why she hasn't seen her in a while, after all, the woman was such a beauty and had such a taste for talent in high society life, Eugenia had half expected her to make a boom in society. Monty merely replied that Lionel Holland was gravely ill, to which Eugenia scoffed and claimed that Sibella could do, much, much better.
"Why hasn't Mrs. Holland had any children as of yet? Such a beautiful woman, and yet Mr. Holland is rather… old… I gather she'd get on it while her husband is still living. After all, she can't inherit a thing if he dies now," Eugenia started.
"I don't know the inner workings of their marriage, Lady Aunt," Monty said stiffly.
"But she's so beautiful, she'd have the most darling children. As would you two, there's no doubt about that. Beautiful children," remarked Eugenia. Phoebe nearly spit out her water.
Monty bit his lip.
"Have you been to the symphony lately?" he asked her, changing the subject.
"I didn't like the symphony when I was younger, why would I ever start liking it now?" Eugenia quipped back.
The room was quiet. Phoebe glanced up at Monty. Monty glanced back at her, giving her a sympathetic look.
"I love you," he mouthed to her, which made her smile softly to herself.
The rest of dinner passed by slowly, which more comments coming from Eugenia. Phoebe mostly stared at her plate the whole night, not eating a thing.
When it came time for her to leave, Phoebe had never been more relieved.
Putting on her fur wrap, Eugenia said goodbye to Monty, kissing his cheek, and telling him to please telephone Mrs. Holland so that she can see the wonderful woman.
She then turned to Phoebe. She cupped the woman's cheek.
"I am sorry if I was a bit too brazen tonight. At my age, one stops waiting for the right moment, and just does it in fear of time running out. You know I care about you, my precious child. You and I are the only ones left. I just want our legacy to live on," Eugenia kissed her cheek, and then gave her a small, sad smile.
"I do expect, though, by next Christmas, to at least hear some news of a little one on the way…" she added.
Phoebe resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "I think it's time for you to go home, Auntie."
Aunt Eugenia bowed her head in acknowledgement. "Perhaps you're right. Though, please do invite me over for tea another time. I should like to see your gardens, my darling Phoebe."
Phoebe nodded, just as Monty laced an arm around her.
They waved goodbye to her as she left in her carriage. Once she was gone, Phoebe sighed heavily into Monty's chest.
"Next time we're inviting Sibella as a buffer, so that she isn't solely focused on me," she murmured. Monty nodded in agreement.
"Yes. That's a brilliant idea."
He kissed her head. "Please don't let her get to you. It's fine that we haven't-"
"She isn't getting to me. I'm just tired of hearing it over and over again," Phoebe muttered.
"I know. But it'll happen soon enough."
She lifted her eyes towards him. She kissed him suddenly.
"How about we try now?" she asked softly.
Monty smiled, whisking her into the bedroom without another moment's hesitation.