Four Years Later…
“A messenger!” Lorraine called out. Seraphina looked up, shielding her eyes against the blinding sun. Indeed, a rider was heading their way. She recognized the livery as that of Lord Alderbridge and jumped up at once.
“It must be news of the baby!” She reached toward Lorraine, the two women clasping hands.
“Let us find out! Would the Marquess of Treadmore like to accompany me?” Lysander peered down at their son. At almost four years old, Gregor reached well past Lysander’s knee, but he still enjoyed being picked up and carried around, much to Seraphina’s chagrin.
“Yes, Papa,” the boy cried and lifted his arms. Lysander scooped him up and, with the child on his hip, rushed toward the messenger.
“Mama, me too!” Henrietta cried out raising her hands up to Seraphina. She knelt down and lifted the girl up to her hip and brushed some of her unruly auburn-colored curls out of her face.
“How will I manage with three of them?” Seraphina shook her head at the thought. Beside her, Lorraine laughed, a hand on her rounded belly.
“If I manage with five, and soon six, you will manage with three when the time comes,” she paused and then winked. “When will the time come?”
Seraphina smiled and placed a hand on her own, still flat, stomach. “Come winter. I hope to go into confinement at Emberborough this time around, not at London.”
Lorraine frowned. “I thought you liked having Cynthia near for the births of the children.”
Seraphina smiled. It was true, having her sister with her during the difficult task of childbirth had been a blessing, especially since their mother would have been no comfort whatsoever, even if she had been willing.
“I am sure she will join us wherever I choose to go into confinement, just as she has for Mary.”
I am ever so grateful Cynthia is the kind, generous soul she is. Even as Head Mistress of the Asylum, she still ensures we are taken care of and attended to in our hour of need.
Lysander returned then, an envelope in hand. He gave it to Gregor who rushed toward Seraphina.
“Here you are, Mama. Is it from Aunt Mary? Has she had her baby?”
The letter was indeed from her sister. Seraphina smiled as she studied her sister’s neat handwriting. Even though she was a woman of one-and-twenty now, she still wrote as though she were a child.
“She had a boy,” she announced to Lysander and Lorraine who each gasped in delight. “They have named him August, after my Father.”
She thought of how delighted her father would be upon discovering that his newest grandson was named after him.
“I am sure Lord Alderbridge is delighted as well. I shall send him a message,” Lysander said. He and Mary’s husband had engaged in a lively exchange of letters for several years now. What had begun as a nostalgic exchange about their joined experience at school had developed into a good friendship. One that also included Liam, who was presently returning from a ride with his eldest son.
“Liam!” Lysander called out. “Alderbridge is a father, at last!”
Liam dismounted his horse, handing the reins to his son who took the horses back to the stable.
“Indeed? Well, at last he can join us when we spend an evening at Brook’s, bragging about our heirs.” He ruffled his nephew’s hair as he sat beside Lorraine, gently stroking her cheek.
“Who would have thought Alderbridge would one day become our relation?” Liam grinned.
“Who would have thought one day the Keswicks and the Camdens would be relations?” Seraphina laughed.
“Indeed,” Lysander smiled before growing serious. “Do you think your Father has become rather fond of my Mother?”
Seraphina shrugged. “It seems that way. They do spend a lot of time together.”
Indeed, the Dowager Duchess of Emberborough had been spending much time at Vallant Castle. At first, Seraphina had assumed it was simply because the older woman had spent so much time dreaming about the Castle that she wanted to spend time there before it was too late. But now, she was beginning to suspect it was rather to spend time with her father, the Duke of Oxshire.
The two had grown fond of one another, often spending time drinking brandy and engaging in conversation when the families were together.
She’d even seen them engage in a dance or two both during the Season and whenever there was a dance held at the Castle.
To be sure, their interaction was nothing if not respectable. Her Father was a married man, after all. A married man who never saw his wife, since she’d relocated to Bristol full time. But a married man all the same.
And her mother-in-law was a woman who, while much changed, still cared about her reputation.
“Sera?” Lysander gently called her name. She hadn’t realized how lost in thought she’d been.
“Yes, My Love?”
“I asked if it is something we ought to bring up to them.”
She thought for a moment and then shook her head.
“I should think not.”
“I agree,” Lorraine said, laying back, eyes fixed at the summer sky. “They are both growing old, let them enjoy one another’s company. We do not know how much time they might have left.”
A concerned expression crossed Liam’s face. “Speaking of time, how is ol’ George? Has he recovered from his spell?”
Seraphina shuddered at the memory of her beloved George. She had found him toppled over in the stable a few weeks prior, complaining of a terrible pain in his chest. The physician, summoned at once, had prescribed rest, something George was thoroughly opposed to.
However, Lysander had not taken no for an answer and sent George off to Scotland, for a long overdue visit to his sister to recover.
“He is recovering well. Eager to return, as per his latest letter. Fortunately, the young man he has been training to assist him seems capable of running the estate in his absence.”
“I cannot imagine George not busy all day. I am certain I have not seen him be idle a single day in his life,” Seraphina smiled as she thought of the kind, yet gruff former groom. “I shall write him, next time you do. It may cheer him up some.”
Lysander smiled and stroked her cheek.
“That will be wonderful indeed.” He nodded toward the letter in her hand. “What else did Mary write?”
“Faith, I almost forgot to read the rest,” Seraphina shook her head at her own scatterbrain-ness. She quietly read the rest of the letter, smiling at her sister’s gushing description of the new baby, of Lord Alderbridge’s tenderness, and of Cynthia’s cheerful companionship.
She relayed the news to her companions and was about to fold the letter up and tuck it away when she noticed a small arrow on the bottom and turned the page. There, on the back of the second page, was another, shorter letter, this one from Cynthia. She read it quietly to herself and then laid the pages down on her lap, a shudder running down her spine.
“What is it, Sera? You have paled. Are you unwell? Shall I fetch a glass of ale or tea?” Lorraine sat up and placed a hand on her cheek. She clasped her hand and shook her head.
“No, my Dear, I am well. It is just…there is news. From Harry.”
She closed her mouth and bite her tongue, looking around the group. Every mouth hung open at the revelation. Lysander especially appeared shocked.
It had been almost four years since they’d last heard from Harry. There had been rumors that he’d been seen in Scotland, then in France, and as far away as India. But that was all they’d been. Rumors.
Now, in her very hand, she held proof of Harry’s whereabouts.
She reached out and held Lysander’s hand, feeling him squeeze hers as anxiety took ahold of him.
“It is from Cynthia. She says that Harry showed up at the Asylum the day she departed for Cheshire to attend to Mary. He wanted to speak to her.”
Lysander frowned. “I did not think Harry knew Cynthia. Any of your family, really.”
It was Liam who spoke up. “Not that difficult to find out. Besides, the newspapers have reported about the miraculous end of the most epic feud in the realm several times over. He likely read about it all in there.”
“Whatever the case,” Seraphina interrupted. “He showed up, asking her to help him redeem himself. He told her he’d spent the last two years in Scotland, working at a foundling’s hospital. Says he’s been trying to better himself by working with the poor, just like she did. He is now working at a foundling’s hospital in London.”
Lysander stared ahead, still holding her hand. “What is it he came to see Cynthia for? What does he want her to do?”
Seraphina rubbed her lips together. “He asked her to tell you, and Liam, that he is sorry for all he has done and that he is thankful that you gave him the chance to better himself. That he cursed you at the time for not just having him sent to the gaol or the colonies. But that he found purpose in life, thanks to your kindness. And he hopes one day you may find it in your hearts to forgive him. That we all may forgive him.” She swallowed and looked from Lysander to Liam and back. “He’s given her his address.”
She handed him the separate piece of paper Cynthia had included. He took it out of her hand and threw it into the air. The wind caught a hold of it and carried it off.
“Lysander!” Liam exclaimed as he got up and retrieved it. “Do not be so rash. You may change your mind one day.”
He shook his head. “I think not.”
Liam sighed and was about to say more when Lorraine rose and took him by the arm.
“My Darling, why don’t we take the children inside? It is getting chilly.”
Liam considered this for a moment and then gave a nod. “Very well. Come, Henrietta, how about a ride on Uncle Liam’s shoulders?”
The little girl squealed with delight as he lifted her up and walked toward Horlock Castle, joined by Lorraine and the boy.
Lysander stood and took a few steps, stopping near the fountain at the edge of the garden. Slowly, Seraphina followed him and wrapped her arms around his waist from behind. She rested her head against his back.
“All these years I thought about what I might do if he returned. If I’d welcome him. If I’d hate him. If I could forgive him. I always pushed the thoughts away, thinking it would never happen. Now that it has, I do not know what to do.”
“You do not have to make any decision now. Let us ask Cynthia to see if she can make inquiries into his claims. See if they are true. If he really has changed. If so, then maybe you can write to him when you are ready. Or not. You have no obligation.”
He turned, placing his hands gently on her shoulders.
“What am I supposed to tell Mother? I fear this may put her in a terrible place, upset her once more.”
Seraphina licked her lips and nodded. “Perhaps we should say nothing yet. She has blossomed these past few years as she has come to terms with the loss of Harry and Henrietta. Perhaps we ought to let time be the judge of what we are to do. For, only time will tell if Harry has truly changed, and if he can be forgiven. There is no need to make decisions right now. We have time.”
He sighed and pulled her toward him, caressing her hair.
“You are right. As always, you are right. There is time. Perhaps in a few days, or weeks, when Cynthia can find out more information, I will feel more comfortable in making a decision.”
Seraphina glanced up at him. “You know that whatever conclusion you arrive at, I will support you. As I always have.”
He smiled at her. “You have. And I hope you feel as though I have done the same for you. For I want to be the sanctuary, the rock for you that you have always been for me. Ever since the first time we met.”
She stroked his cheek with one hand and ran her other through his long hair.
“You are my safe place. There is nowhere I would rather be than with you. No matter what else happens out in the world, you are my safe harbor, and you always will be. No matter how stormy the seas ahead.”
“Oh, my Sera, how blessed I am to have found you.” He kissed her gently. “I know that with you by my side, there is nothing too difficult to face.”
“And that is where I will be for all of my days, beside you.”
They kissed once more; their lips warm from the afternoon’s sunshine. They linked their hands and walked back toward Horlock Castle to join their children whose voices they could hear across the lawn. Together, they went toward the sound, knowing that this was what truly mattered. Their family. Their happiness. Their love.
One last thing before you go!
I am now on Bookbub so don't forget to follow me there, for new releases and updates! ♥