A warm body belonging to her husband, Norman Octavius Kinsley Duke of Horenwall, pressed against hers from behind, while she was looking out on the winding Cher river. They were staying at a quaint cottage in Savonnières, France and the thick night had blanketed the house and the river. The only way she could see the water at all was because of the fireflies dancing over it.
“I doubt there is anything remotely fascinating about the dark waters of the river, my love.”
“And I do not think you had to whisk me off to France the moment the register was signed,” Mrs. Rosaline Kinsley, Duchess of Horenwall, huffed sweetly. “For God’s sake Norman, the man did not even get to say Amen at the last prayer before you threw me over your shoulder and ran with me to the carriage.”
“What riveting imaginations you have, my lady,” Norman grinned unrepentantly, “I did not throw you over my shoulder. What do you take me for? Hm? A Scottish Highlander on a rampage?”
“With how brutish you act sometimes, I have no doubt,” Rosaline smiled and turned in his arms, “But I must admit, the city of Paris is beautiful. Why did we leave again?”
“Because we spent four months there and the Loire Valley is much more peaceful,” Norman added, “And moreover, my father had connections here, so it is much easier to enjoy the luxury. I made you a promise to give you want you did not get growing up.”
“And you have,” Rosaline smiled, “You’ve also taught me to waltz do the quadrille, and to refuse food in fluent French.”
“And now, I want you to see the magnificent gardens of Château Villandry.”
“Château Villandry?” Rosaline tightened her robe and sat in a thickly padded loveseat by the fire. Norman’s arm wrapped around her shoulder and tugged her closer. “Why do I suspect a villain in entangled in that tale somewhere?”
His blue eyes glimmered by the firelight, “The name is peculiar but, no, there isn’t. The history is rather bland in my opinion. In the year fifteen thirty-two Jean Le Breton, the Minister of Finance for France had been in charge of a number of fortresses including the Chateau of Chambord that stood in Villandry. When he arrived, he had the old feudal fortress razed to the ground, except for the keep, where the defeated Henry the Second of England had signed a peace treaty with King Philip Augustus of France, two days before he died.”
Languidly reaching over the side table, Norman took up a glass of rich red wine and held to her to sip. “If you want to know about scandals, dear Rosaline, there is a riveting one where after the death of her husband King Henri the second, Catherine de Medicis demanded that king’s mistress Diane de Poitiers exchange their castles.”
Rosaline nearly choked on her wine. After swallowing she gaped, “Beg your pardon? The Queen knew about his mistress?”
“Love,” Norman smiled, “every king who lived on this earth has had a mistress and they were all known to the queens.”
“A deranged and debauched lot they are,” Rosaline huffed.
“I could not agree more, so the queen swapped her drab Chaumont overlooking the Loire for Diane’s more modernly elegant Chenonceau stepping across the Cher. She lived there until she died.”
“And I thought our English kingdom had the worst scandals,” Rosaline sighed as she laid her head on Norman’s chest, “Speaking of, have you gotten any word of Miss Fawcett? It has been almost a year now.”
With one hand carding through her thick dark hair, Norman replied, “I have not and furthermore, I do not wish to. But I suppose the child must be born by now. From what I know, they are now living on a paupers’ budget. Miss Fawcett tried to get a husband but no one would dare marry a ruined woman with a child and all investors are avoiding them like the plague. Her scandal is killing them off.”
“All investors?” Rosaline asked.
“Well, those who have a grain of common sense,” Norman grinned, “And when it is known that the Ogbents crossed me, the hopefuls will flee.”
“How did I not know you could be devious?” Rosaline shook her head.
“I have many layers, my love.”
“Can you believe that six, seven months in, the dukedom of Horenwall has not recovered from the sudden break of your engagement?” Rosaline said while twiddling with the tie of Norman’s robe.
“I believe that they still have not digested that I married you instead of her,” Norman dryly replied, “Which is why I whisked us out of there as soon as I could.”
“But I still worry,” she said, “Are you sure the dukedom can hold up with you gone?”
“Mr. Dodge is extremely capable and what he cannot do, my mother can,” Norman said, “I even named Belthyne to take care of all legal matter, so we have no worries there.”
Her eyes dimmed, “I hate it that Lord Edgehill is still not talking to you because of me.”
“Evan made his bed, he can surely lie in it,” Norman said, “Rosaline, friends will come and go, yes, it hurt to lose him, but my mind is not a devastated as it would be if I had lost you.”
With that, he offered her the drink once more and was a little surprised when she refused. Rosaline then sat up with her lip being nibbled between her teeth.
Slightly concerned, Norman took her hand. “I know that look, Rosaline, what are you not telling me?”
“What is it, love?” Norman asked as his concern grew with every passing breath, “You know you can trust me.”
“I do trust you,” Rosaline smiled, “I could have never gotten a better husband.”
“So, what is it?”
Reaching over she took his hands and quietly said, “Do you recall this morning when we went riding and I had to stop because I felt nauseous…”
He nodded, “It’s been happening a few days and…” he paused at the pleading look in her eye and the gears in his mind finally spun in the right direction, “Rosaline, my love…are you …are we …?”
Eyes sparkling, she nodded, “I suspected for a while, but I am sure today.”
“Good God!” he breathed and hugged her tight, “why on this God-given earth did you agree to go riding when you’re increasing—with my heir, no less?”
“Why do you think it’s a boy?”
“My bloodline, love,” the Duke replied, “This first child is always a boy. Or do you doubt the scintillating mishmash of English blood and the mix of whatever magic potion the Italians gave my feeble forefather to drink?”
“I feel it is a boy too…Norman,” she giggled and then asked, “what are you doing?”
The Duke had slid out from under her and after making sure she was secured on the divan, went to shut the windows tight. “We are going back home this week. Gads, I should have seen it. You shouldn’t be feeling this cold night air. You should be resting, taking mineral baths, drinking juice instead of wine, having wholesome food instead of eating bonbons and brioche —”
“Norman!” she giggled, “Please tell me that you’re not going to be like this for the rest of my term… are you?”
He shot her a disbelieving look, “Has four months of marriage not taught you anything? Like this? Love, this is only the beginning. You know how I get when I get passionate about something. This is nothing.”
“Come here,” she ordered and when he came, he sank to his knees in front of her, “Listen to me and listen well, I will be fine during my term and I will appreciate if you look out for me but it— if— you dare to hover over me like a parent, I will have no qualms sending you to Coventry.”
“You would not dare,” Norman interjected with narrowed eyes.
“I do so,” she replied and kissed him.
Eight Years Later
“Mr. Colden,” Norman greeted at the door as he stepped into the house while tugging off his riding gloves. Instantly, a blur of black hair and breeches assaulted his legs. His seven-year-old son Jonathan was latched onto him like a barnacle on a ship.
Scooping up the black-haired and blue-eyed boy into his arms. “Jonathan, what have I told you about running away from your mother?”
“I didn’t stay with Mother,” the boy said. “It was Grandmother and me today. After my lessons, we played games, ate sweet buns and she told me about grandfather.”
“He’s right, Norman,” the Dowager Duchess of Horenwall said as she descended the stairs. The older woman was still as regal as a queen and the silvery strands in her hair showed it.
“Be that is it may,” Norman said, “Can either of you tell me where to locate my troublesome wife?”
“Was it the kitchens?” the Dowager Duchess mused
“The library?” Jonathan frowned.
“Perhaps it was the workroom…or the music room or the stables,” the older woman added, “You know Rosaline, she always has a bee in her bonnet. Especially when she gets good news. A letter from Mrs. Caddell arrived this morning.”
“I know,” Norman said half-heartedly. “But she is six months along with my child. She should be resting, not on her feet all day.”
“You know your wife is not one to sit around all day doing nothing!” his mother scolded. “Norman, the lady is used to working, idleness is a sin to her.”
“And her on her feet all day is worrying on me,” Norman sighed. “Let me find her then. Jonathan, stay with Grandmother until I come back.”
Where could Rosaline be? The kitchen was empty though a maid told him Her Grace had just finished setting the menu for the next week. She was not in the library though a footman told him he had stacked a pile of books for her. The workroom, where Rosaline still tutored Miss Moore, was empty.
“Where is she?” he asked out loud.
He checked the garden which was empty, and then, huffing under his breath, he strode to the stable. Near the entrance, he heard Rosaline’s cooing, and rolling his eyes spotted her feeding Goliath with one hand and the other was resting on her belly. The horse was carefully chewing, but the second he stepped in the horse whinnied loudly.
“Norman,” she said with a flush, “you are home.”
“And you should be resting,” the Duke said while softly prying the half-eaten apple from her hand and dropping it into Goliath’s stall.
“Please come to the house, Rosaline,” he said, “I know you like to be busy, but my peace of mind cannot bide it.” Dropping his hands to her hips he pressed his forehand to hers, “I worry, you know that.”
She huffed, “Very well.”
Halfway toward the house, she nearly tripped over a clump of grass and suddenly she was in Norman’s arms
“Norman,” she said breathlessly, “what are you doing?”
“I’m carrying you out of here.”
“I noticed. But I have legs, I can walk.”
“Not as fast as I can.”
“You are insufferable,” she teased while he strode through the manor, not paying mind to the maids who snickered behind their hands or the footmen who openly smirked. Carefully taking the stairs to their bedroom, he entered, and only then did he let her down.
“Gads,” Norman said as he deposited Rosaline on their bed and took her hand, “Duchess, in case you have are not aware, you are the most—”
“— stubborn and inf—” her eyes were rolling while she began to quote him.
“I get to end it this time,” Norman said kindly with a loving smile, “You are the most stubborn and infuriating creature I have ever met and…I love every irritating, headstrong, frustrating bone in your body. I will cherish you to the day I die.”
“Good,” Rosaline said while pulling him down to kiss him, “Because I love you too.”
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