Three Years Later…
Vincent stood up on the turret of Ilderton Castle, the winter wind whipping around him. Clouds swelled on the horizon, filling the air with the faint hint of oncoming snow. From here, he could hear the distant sound of music coming from the ballroom far below. A Christmastide celebration, thrown by his beloved wife. Although, she had not invited the usual swathes of high society. Instead, she had invited the staff, the locals of Buckley Moor, and the newly settled inhabitants of Ilderton Village.
It was one of things he adored most about his wife. Though they had reintegrated themselves into society, they still preferred to be apart from it. And Olivia had ensured that the locals had come to respect the Kingham name, as they had once done, before the tragedies had struck, taking away his entire family.
At her insistence, a new mill had been built on the site of the old one, at Ilderton Village. The rogues and wretches who had resided there had been given a choice—remain and take employment at the new mill or vacate the premises. The majority had accepted the offer of work, their unemployment being the sole reason they had sunk into such depravity in the first place. And new life and new success had blossomed in that once-dilapidated town. Children now ran in the streets, and wives cooked and chattered to neighbors, and those men who had had nothing, had been given a purpose again.
She is extraordinary.
He closed his eyes to the cold wind and listened to the jaunty strokes of a violin drifting on the breeze.
“My love?” His eyes shot open and he turned as a figure emerged through the hatch nearby. “I thought I might find you here.”
“Olivia!” He rushed toward her in sudden alarm, helping her out onto solid ground. “Goodness, you should not be up here in your condition.”
She chuckled. “I am with child, I am not an invalid. You worry too much.”
“I do not worry nearly as much as I ought to,” he replied, with a reluctant smile. “I fear Violet is becoming as wayward as her mother. I had to help her down from a tree, only this morning. And I do not know that Hetty is a particularly good influence.”
Olivia lifted her hands to Vincent’s face. “Our daughter is not wayward, she is independent of spirit. It will serve her well during her life, if she can keep hold of that.” She rose up on tiptoe and kissed Vincent softly, his body relaxing as he sank into that familiar, wondrous sensation of her lips against his. “As for Hetty, I am afraid there is little you can do. Lexie and I have planned it for as long as we have known each other, that our children would come to be the best of friends, as she and I are.”
Vincent shook his head. “This castle shall be full of children, if the two of you have your way. How can it be that you are both with child within a few months of one another, yet again?” He laughed, wrapping his arms about his wife.
“Another scheme of ours, my love.” She nestled into his chest, the two of them gazing out at the winter landscape together.
“At least I do not have to worry about the boys. They seem far more sensible than their sisters.” Vincent kissed the top of Olivia’s head, feeling overwhelmed by his love for her. In the three or so years they had been married, it had never waned. And he hoped it never would, for she had brought him more joy than he had ever thought possible.
In a twist of fate, which Vincent wholeheartedly believed his wife and her friend had schemed, both Olivia and Miss Holland—now Mrs. Sampson—had given birth to daughters within months of each other. The two mischievous darlings, Violet and Hetty, whom Vincent adored, despite his misgivings about Hetty’s irreverent influence upon his dear Violet. Indeed, he firmly believed that it was Hetty who had coaxed Violet up the tree that morning.
A year later, Olivia and her friend had both given birth to sons—Vincent’s sweet boy, Albie, and Sampson’s counterpart, Jack. The two boys, Vincent had no doubt, would come to be as thick as thieves. Already, they played together in a way that Vincent admired, and he hoped it would manifest in a friendship that would last for the rest of their lives. For he and Sampson had developed a firm friendship since the troubles that had plagued Ilderton Castle, what felt like a lifetime ago. Forgiveness had not come easily, but Vincent was glad to have been given it. Otherwise, he knew he would not have a lifelong comrade, whom he could rely upon for all things.
Olivia peered up at him. “You wait until they are older. Then, they shall begin to cause their troubles. You mark my words.”
“Perhaps. I have come to learn that you are rarely wrong in such matters.” Vincent held her tighter. “What do you think we shall have next? A daughter or a son?”
Olivia tilted her head. “I sense it may be a daughter.” She turned in his arms. “Actually, I wanted to ask you something, if we are blessed with another daughter.”
“You did?” He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, though the wind tried its hardest to dislodge it again.
She nodded. “I wondered if we might call her Vivienne.”
Vincent’s heart swelled and broke, all at once. It was a poignant question, especially here, upon the rooftop where she had fallen to her death. His sister was never far from his thoughts, though he was no longer plagued with nightmares, as he had once been. Thanks to Olivia, and her presence beside him at night, they knew better than to haunt him.
“I… I think she would have liked that,” he said, at last. “And I think she would have adored our children, and you, and everything you have done for me and our home.”
Olivia shook her head. “I could not have done any of it without you, nor would I have wanted to.” She held his face in her hands. “Once upon a time, I thought I would never know love, and I would exist in solitude for the rest of my life. I thought I would be a burden to my brother, and that my mother and father would, one day, leave this world worrying about me. You changed all of that, because you opened your heart to me.”
“How could I not?” He kissed her again, unable to help it. “You were made to be loved. I was merely fortunate enough to be loved back, by you. How is George, by the way?”
Oliva smiled. “He is the life and soul of our Christmas gathering, and I believe there shall be some broken hearts before the night is through.”
“I am pleased he decided to stay with us,” Vincent said, for he had struck up a close friendship with Olivia’s brother. Having both endured the hardships and horrors of war, they could understand the experience in ways that no one else would. It had bonded them instantly, to the point where George now spent most of the year at Ilderton Castle.
“He will have to return to Ashington Manor soon, though. I shall be sorry to see him go.” Olivia sighed. Her mother and father were impatient to have George at home, so he could begin to learn the necessary skills required of an Earl. At present, he continued to make excuses, but Vincent and Olivia both knew he would not be able to hide from his responsibilities forever. They had a way of catching up to a person.
Speaking of which, her new life in the North had brought a surprising conclusion to a painful mystery that she had never expected to be solved. After the birth of her beloved Violet, a letter had appeared at the castle in a hand she vaguely recognized. Within it, she found an apology that she did not think she would ever receive.
Henry had heard of her marriage to Vincent and had read of their happy news in the papers. He explained that he had not known whether a message from him would be accepted or welcomed, but he had decided to write regardless.
In the letter, he detailed what had happened on the day of their wedding. He told her that, though he had cared for her a great deal, his heart had belonged to another—the daughter of a blacksmith, whom he had discovered to be with child only two days prior to the wedding. He had not thought it fair to ensnare Olivia into his predicament, nor had he thought it fair to the woman he loved, to wed another and leave her to raise their child alone. As such, he had absconded. And now, he had found himself wed to the blacksmith’s daughter and cut off from his inheritance, though the truth had been kept secret from the upper echelons.
However, he could not have apologized more profusely in his letter, for the injuries he had caused Olivia, stating that, had he known that her reputation would be so grievously stained, he would have been less cowardly and announced her innocence in the event. He ended by wishing her well and declaring that he would make amends for what he had done. Sure enough, an announcement had appeared in the papers, absolving Olivia of any wrongdoing, and revealing the truth of Henry’s situation.
She had been grateful for his words, and for exonerating her, at great personal cost to himself. And she had replied to his letter, wishing him well in return, and offering monetary assistance should he find himself in dire circumstances, which he had duly refused, saying she owed him nothing. Finally, he was learning how to be responsible. As for the unpleasant memory of her first wedding day, she found she no longer thought of it with a bitter heart, for if Henry had not jilted her that day, then she would not have found the utter contentment that she enjoyed at Vincent’s side. Fate worked in mysterious ways, but she was glad that it had intervened to bring her here, where she was safe and sound within the unyielding warmth of her husband’s love.
“Then let us enjoy having a full castle, while we can. And let us look forward to the arrival of little Vivienne, if we are to be gifted with another beautiful daughter.” Vincent fought back tears as he embraced his wife, wishing that his sister could be here to celebrate life with them. Truly, he wished they could all be here—the family he had lost—so they could witness the happiness and the new family that he had gained in their absence.
He would always miss them, even when his hair grayed and he entered the winter of his life. And he would always carry the injuries of their loss. However, with Olivia in his arms and his children to fill his heart to bursting with love, those wounds had faded to scars which only ached from time to time. They would never truly disappear but, thanks to Olivia, he had learned to live with them. It was only on such nights as this, when he felt overwhelmed with gratitude, that he felt their absence more keenly.
“Are you crying, my love?” Olivia raised her hand to his cheek and brushed away the tears that had fallen. “Is something the matter?”
He smiled sadly. “I do not feel as though I deserve this much joy.”
“You deserve it, my love, more than anyone I know. You have struggled and you have fought, and you have torn your heart to pieces in your suffering. This is your reward, for all the pain you have endured. Love heals almost everything, and time heals the rest.” She kissed him tenderly. “Through you, your family’s legacy lives on, and, as such, they will never be forgotten.”
“I do not know what I would do without you.” He pulled her closer.
She smiled against his shoulder. “You do not have to find out, for our love is more powerful than anything. It is greater than any curse, and it will see us blessed for the rest of our days, which will be plentiful.” She lifted her head up and looked out at the snow clouds. “We have sown the seeds of happiness and longevity in the garden of our union, and we will watch them grow and blossom for years and years to come. And when we pass into the Kingdom of Heaven, where we will wait for one another, those we have touched in our lives, and those we have helped, and those we have shown kindness to, will remember us long after we are gone.”
“Do you truly believe that, my love?” he whispered.
She took his hands and wrapped them around her, her back pressed to his abdomen. “With all my heart. We have dispelled the Kingham Curse because we gave it no power, and we chose to bring light back into the darkness that once shrouded this castle. Now, our home is full, and our hearts are full, and they will never lie empty again.”
The surety in her voice gave Vincent the courage to believe in her words. He had lost so much and gained so much, and though he would always have moments in which he worried for the safety of those he loved, he believed more in Olivia than in any curse. She had already proven that she could overcome anything.
As he held onto her, the icy wind nipping at their cheeks, the first flakes of snow began to fall from the bruised clouds. A gentle, frosty kiss, as if the heavens themselves were giving Vincent the assurance he needed that their troubles were over.
Smiling, he smoothed his hand across the swell of Olivia’s stomach, where their child grew contentedly… and found he could not wait until spring came again. And the spring after that, and the spring after that, sharing the rest of his years with the woman he loved. The woman who had defeated a curse, had helped him learn to love, and had looked past the damaged exterior to see the good that resided within him.
In her loving glow, a gargoyle had become beautiful, and a broken man had been pieced back together again.
And this, darling Olivia, is the true power of 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! ♥