Claiming the Duke – Extended Epilogue


Even a character, a scene, or anything. You could say no if nothing bothered you.
It can be a character, a scene, or anything that made the book better for you.

Three years later


The rolling hills of the Scottish highlands seemed endless, and the blue sky appeared farther away than in England, Chloe thought as she looked up, birds soaring through the air. She took a deep breath, tasting the cleanness of the air.
The warm Scottish sun bathed the garden in a golden glow as the group sat together, basking in the joy of their reunion. Alicia and George’s children, Edmund and Elizabeth, played nearby, their laughter filling the air like the sweetest melody. Lady Christianna’s little girl, Amelia, toddled around, her curious eyes taking in the world around her. Beside her was Chloe’s own child, a little boy, taking in the world with large eyes.
Nestled against Fraser, Chloe felt a flutter in her belly, a tender reminder of the precious life growing inside her.
Christianna’s gaze met Chloe’s, a knowing smile gracing her lips. With a gentle hand on her own rounded stomach, Christianna whispered, “Isn’t it grand we are with child at the same time?”
Chloe nodded, her eyes shining with a mixture of anticipation and gratitude. “Yes, Christianna,” she replied softly. “We have both been blessed, although I worry Adam will find it a little too much.”
“He will manage,” Christianna said and waved a hand dismissively, glancing at her husband, who stood a distance away, conversing with the innkeeper. They were all staying at a little inn in the Scottish Highlands to celebrate the wedding anniversary of George and Alicia. While the scandal of their running away was no longer talked about, they had decided to remain in Scotland, where they were afforded both anonymity and respect. Chloe rather enjoyed this, as she liked coming to visit them in the north.
This time, they had been joined by Christianna and her husband, both eager to escape the London Season which was in full swing.
As the conversation flowed, Alicia’s current endeavors as a companion in the laird’s household became the topic of discussion. Alicia beamed with pride and delight as she shared.
“The laird and his wife are truly wonderful people. However, the recent debut of the lady’s younger sister was quite eventful, to say the least. Finding a suitable husband for her will be quite the challenge.”
Chloe chuckled, her memories of the spirited young girl resurfacing. “Ah, I remember her well,” she remarked. “Her fiery nature will certainly make the task a formidable one. But I have faith that the right match will be found in due time.”
As her friends chattered on, Chloe’s gaze shifted from one face to another, taking in the love and happiness that radiated from each person present. She huddled closer to Fraser, his presence a comforting anchor amidst the merriment.
“We have been truly blessed, haven’t we?” Fraser mused, his voice filled with a mix of awe and gratitude. His eyes glimmered with love as he watched their little son, Alfred, tumbling on the lawn with the other children.
Chloe’s heart swelled with affection as she observed their playful son. “Alfred surely seems contented,” she murmured. “I can hardly believe he is almost three already.”
Fraser’s gaze softened, and he pressed a gentle kiss to Chloe’s cheek. “And soon, he will have a sister to share his adventures with,” he whispered, his voice brimming with tenderness.
A smile graced Chloe’s lips, and she glanced toward her parents, who were eagerly awaiting the arrival of their next grandchild. “They can hardly contain their excitement,” she shared, a touch of warmth in her voice.
Contentment enveloped Chloe, filling her like a warm embrace. Fraser’s voice broke through her thoughts, bringing news of his and her father’s latest business venture. “I received a letter from Mr. Waverly,” he announced, a note of satisfaction in his tone. “Our latest endeavor is going remarkably well.”
Chloe’s eyes sparkled with delight, her heart swelling with pride for her parents’ success. “I am pleased to hear that,” she replied, her voice filled with genuine happiness. “Father is so happy not to have to worry about debt anymore, and my mother surely has never held her head higher.”
Fraser’s expression brightened, his eyes shining with excitement. “Indeed. Say, I have a mind to have a larger Christmastide celebration this year,” he declared, his voice brimming with anticipation. “What do you think? Your mother is eager to plan it.”
“Christmastide?” George interjected, a note of surprise in his voice. “But we’ve only just passed Easter!”
Alicia laughed, her voice melodic and light. “Oh, George, it is never too early to plan for Christmas,” she teased, a mischievous glint in her eyes.
Fraser nodded in agreement, his smile infectious. “Indeed,” he affirmed. “We shall gather together, all of us, and celebrate the joy of the season. It will be a time of love, laughter, and cherished memories.”
Christianna clapped her hands, her laughter echoing through the garden. “I wholeheartedly agree!” she exclaimed, her eyes sparkling with excitement. “It will be a splendid occasion, and if your mother is in charge, an expensive one.”
They chuckled, for they all knew this to be true when Chloe turned to Alicia and George.
“You’d come, would you not? It would not be a true celebration without you.”
“Indeed, enough time has passed since your scandal,” Christianna added. Alicia and George exchanged a glance before Alicia answered.
“I should think so. The children could see their grandparents.” George nodded.
“Indeed, I dare say I am looking forward to it.
Chloe looked around at the faces that had become her extended family, her heart overflowing with love and gratitude. “Finally,” she whispered, her voice filled with a deep sense of peace. “All is as it should have been. We are happy, united, and nothing will ever tear us asunder again.”
“That is quite right, Chloe,” Fraser whispered into her ear and kissed her temple. “All is as it should be.”
And as their laughter mingled with the gentle breezes, Chloe knew that this gathering, this moment, would forever be etched in their memories as a testament to the enduring power of love, friendship, and the bonds that held them together.

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Once More, My Duke – Extended Epilogue


Even a character, a scene, or anything. You could say no if nothing bothered you.
It can be a character, a scene, or anything that made the book better for you.

Two years later

The lights of London were as beautiful as she remembered. Lucretia breathed in a deep inhalation of the night air, watching the city’s flickering lights from the balcony of the estate of Lady Cromwell.
Arms snaked around her, and she laughed and relaxed into them. “Warren…”
His deep laugh sounded in her ear. “You do know the ball is actually inside. The view might be lovely, I’ll grant you…” He pressed a quick kiss to her head. “But the party is still inside.”
“I know it, truly, I do.” Lucretia laughed softly and leaned into the quiet strength of his touch. “It is only that returning to London society has been far more tiring than I expected.”
She had been made welcome enough, she supposed. Certainly, there had been no shortage of invitations to various balls and parties.
“It will get easier. Besides, is this not what you wanted, to rejoin society and make the rounds, now that no one will dare snub you for your situation or your past? You have certainly been talking about the London season often enough.” Warren’s voice was soft.
There was a time when she would have agreed with him or put on a brave face and pretended to agree with him because it was the sort of thing one might expect of the wife of the Duke of Argyll. But she and Warren had promised each other honesty in their marriage. And in any case, she had sworn that she would not raise her daughter to put more stock in appearances and social position than honest relationships, not by word or by example.
She sighed and leaned into Warren’s arms. “I thought it would be, but it is not.”
“Not. I miss Bath. I miss the quiet sounds of the city where we have made our home. I miss our little estate by the river, where the city turns into the country, and there is nothing there for miles to disturb us. I miss our friends and family there. I have lost my taste for the glamour of London life, if ever I truly had it.”
Warren laughed. “Well, in that case, the solution is simple.” He gently turned her to face him. “If you miss our home in Bath, then to Bath we shall go. We can go make our excuses to our host and hostess, and then we shall go home, pack up our household, and be on the road before the sun rises. And we can be back in our little country estate by supper time tomorrow or earlier.”
“I…but there is Patience to think of. What if she is upset?”
“She will recover. She has not had time to become enamored of London. And in any case, it is many years yet before we have to worry about her coming out ball or her first season. And perhaps she will not want to leave Bath either. But even if she wishes a season in London…well, perhaps we shall both be better prepared for London by then.” Warren shrugged easily.
“I just want her to be happy. I should not want her to be restless or bored.” Lucretia swallowed, once again faced with the nebulous fears that seemed to catch her off guard when she thought about her daughter. “I do not wish her to feel deprived or unhappy.”
“And I doubt she will. If she does, I have no doubt that she will find something to occupy her. She is, after all, as beautiful, intelligent, and lively as her mother.” Warren grinned. “And besides, she shall have her Aunt Eleanora to coddle her and make much of her.”
Lucretia smiled. “I cannot be sure of that. Have you not heard? Eleanora has recently become enamored of a young man from the ton, and he seems determined to court and win her.” She smirked and reached up to stroke his cheek. “Rumor has it, it is quite serious.”
“All the more reason for us to return to Bath, in that case.” Warren heaved a dramatic, put-upon sigh. “No doubt, I shall have to do something to make sure my cousin does not get into too much trouble with whatever fellow has caught her attention and her fancy this season.”
“Well, if you are sure…”
Warren laughed softly and bent to press his forehead against hers. “Lucretia, my darling, my love, I want only your happiness. If returning to Bath is what makes you happy, then that is what I want.”
Lucretia stared up into his shining emerald eyes.
People would talk if they returned to Bath now, only days after having arrived. No doubt, gossip would be thick, with rumors of all kinds swirling around the ton who would imagine every kind of scandal, secret, or fault between them. That was the way London society worked.
She no longer cared. She had learned what truly mattered, and it was not the shallow opinions of noble ladies or their husbands.
She smiled and stretched up to kiss her husband softly on the lips. “Let us go home, my love.”
Let the ton say what they would. She had spent enough time on their whims. She was happy. And that was all that mattered to her and to Warren.
They were happy.

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Her Rake of Hearts – Extended Epilogue

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July, 1809

The Helios Lyttleton Agency was booming. Adrian had stopped working as a Bow Street Runner, since every case that came to the office asked for him specifically. The very public arrest of Lord Edwin Cambell, Earl of Montrose, had captured the attention of all of England. Everyone wanted Adrian Rawdon and his wife on their case now. King George had even bestowed the title of Viscount on Adrian, which now made Rebecca a Viscountess.

In order to keep the Runners afloat, and his sanity intact, Rebecca suggested he open a private practice. He had been more than happy to take over the rent and all legalities at the Helios Lyttleton Agency. Frank, too, was happy–he wanted nothing more to do with detective work. He and his wife Eliza were even thinking about moving to the country, and they’d take his mother with them.

Everything was coming up roses.

Rebecca stood in front of the small, unadorned headstone marking the grave of her dear friend Sally. They’d not been able to recover her body, but Rebecca insisted on a headstone. She’d purchased a small plot with her new money as Viscountess, and figuratively laid Sally to rest at the top of the hill. They buried her diary, letters, and lily necklace, which she was so fond of. It was something, at least, and Rebecca visited the gravesite every week.

“Hello, my dear friend,” Rebecca whispered, kneeling in front of the headstone and placing a bouquet of fresh lilies in front of it. “I miss you so much. I wish you were here with me now.”

A gentle breeze brushed against Rebecca’s cheek as if in response to her words. She closed her eyes and breathed the crisp, clean air, letting the cool air wash over her. She smiled as she recalled their times together, their shared laughter, and their whispered secrets. But those memories were now tinged with sadness, with the knowledge that Sally had been brutally taken from her.

Even though Lord Edwin was behind bars, awaiting trial for his heinous crimes, Rebecca still felt a sense of unease. The knowledge that he had been capable of such violence, of taking the life of someone so dear to her, still haunted her.

She opened her eyes and looked up at the sky, watching the clouds drift lazily. Sally had always loved looking up at the sky, pointing out the shapes of the clouds and telling stories about the constellations. Rebecca smiled again, imagining Sally up there among the stars, looking down on her with a fondness that transcended death.

“Thank you, Sally,” she whispered. “Thank you for everything.”

The breeze picked up again, blowing stronger this time, and Rebecca let a tear slip from her eye. She had never been particularly emotional before this. This entire year had been one of the most emotional of her life, and she’d probably cried more times in the fall and winter of 1808 than she had ever.

The sky darkened as thunder rumbled overhead. Rebecca sighed and stood up, brushing the grass from her petticoats. She needed to return to the office and help Adrian. Every day, new cases arrived, requiring the hiring of additional staff. Former military men, women with a knack for puzzles, and all manner of clever individuals were applying at the Helios Lyttleton Agency. Rebecca had insisted on women being allowed to work as detectives rather than just maids or secretaries. She also demanded that they be paid the same as men, to which Adrian did not object. Most of London thought it was odd, but she liked it. Women who had to work for a living, in whatever capacity, had her respect, and she was happy to give them that chance.

As she walked up the steps, noticing the sign swaying in the breeze, she heaved a deep sigh. There was a long line out the door. She squeezed past, excusing herself, and saw Adrian at the front desk. When he saw her arrive, his eyes lit up with love, and he excused himself.

“One moment, please, gentlemen. I must consult with my wife.”

“I did not mean to leave you in such a rush,” she said, feeling a little guilty.

“It is nothing I cannot handle. Although, we do need to hire more staff quickly,” he agreed.

“Yes. You and I will need to take less investigations soon,” she said, reflexively placing a hand over her stomach.

Adrian looked at her, brow furrowed in confusion.

“What? Whatever do you mean?”

“Darling,” Rebecca said breathlessly, “I’m with child.”

Adrian looked down to where her hand lay over her stomach, then back up to her eyes. He grinned, as broadly as he had when she’d accepted his proposal earlier that year. Then he whooped and laughed, picking her up and twirling her in the air.

“I cannot believe it! We are to be parents,” he said, setting her back down and resting his forehead against hers.

“Indeed, we are,” she said with a laugh.

“Excuse me,” came a small childish voice from below.

Rebecca and Adrian broke apart quickly, and looked down to see a small child, probably no more than seven or eight, holding a newspaper advertisement of the office.

“Yes, darling? How can we help?” Rebecca asked, crouching so she was eye level with the little girl.

“My sister’s gone. Can you help me find her?”

Rebecca looked back at Adrian, who nodded.

“Of course, little one. That’s what we’re here for,” she said in a soothing voice.

And thus, the game was afoot once again.

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The Duke’s Convenient Bride – Extended Epilogue

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A few months later

“I want to get down.”

Edmund laughed as Diana buried her head in his coat. “Why? The view is beautiful.”

“It’s too high. Edmund, what if the balloon falls? I want to get back on the ground right now. This was a bad idea.”

Edmund chuckled again. “Well, we can’t just descend. The balloons don’t work like that, Diana. So, you might as well enjoy the view.” He bent to kiss the top of her head, smirking as the wind blew her hair against his lips. “Come on, love. I’ve got you. You’re safe enough.”

After a moment, Diana shifted to look up again. Edmund loosened his grip enough for her to turn, then pulled her back against his chest.

After a moment, Diana relaxed just a bit. “It is beautiful.”

Below the balloon, the world spread out in a panorama of color, highlighted by the glow of the rising sun behind them. Just above them, the clouds shone like spun gold. A crisp wind blew around them, guiding the brightly-colored balloon through the sky.

The last few months had been wonderful. Following the wedding, he and Diana had embarked on a tour of the Continent, following the suggestions of her brother, Joseph. They’d explored the mountains of the Alps, the canals of Vienna, and the churches of Rome. They’d gone on a taste-testing exploration of the vineyards of France and watched the bullfights in Spain.

They’d explored wherever the whimsy took them, traveling by boat and carriage, sometimes even walking or riding.

Diana had sent home trunks of new dresses for herself and Hattie, wines and beer for her former guardian, and other trinkets.

Edmund had bought clocks—German, French, Swiss, Spanish, and Italian—everything from small pocket watches to wall clocks.

He’d half expected Diana to protest after the tenth clock he’d purchased, but she only laughed, toying with the chain of the pocket watch that she had worn every day since their formal engagement. She’d been more than willing to accept his hobby, laughing and saying it was a better indulgence than bar fights and liquor.

He had more clocks than he’d ever use and likely more than he’d ever be able to finish repairing in his lifetime. But he was happy, and that was all Diana cared about.

After several minutes, Diana looked up at him. “Where shall we go next?”

He grinned. “Back to England, I should think. Did I tell you about the letter I received from Uncle Phillip this morning?”

“No, why?” Diana twisted to look at him more fully. “What has happened?”

Edmund smirked at her. “It seems my uncle Phillip’s been doing a bit of courting since we married and went to gallivant around Europe. His suit’s been accepted, and now he’s engaged to a Miss Hattie Wynn.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful!” Diana’s delighted laughter rang in his ears. “After the wedding, we’ll be family at last.”

“Though she won’t be your sister. She’ll be your aunt.”

Diana scoffed. “As if that matters. I’ve learned that family is the most precious thing in the world, no matter what the relation. And I, for one, shall be happy to have another family member to speak with and attend next season’s events with.” She gave him a look. “Is there anything else you have neglected to tell me?”

Edmund kissed her again. “Well, Mother has been asking about when an heir will be on the way, since I’ll be taking the ducal title when we return.” He offered Diana a mischievous smile. “I got the impression she rather thinks there ought to be a child already.”

“We have been practicing to produce one, though I suspect that is not something we should tell your mother.”

Edmund tipped his head. “I could always send her a letter, telling her there is a child on the way.”

“Edmund!” Diana swatted him. “Telling your mother false stories in your letters was exactly how everything that happened between us started.”

“I know.” He smirked. “That is why I was considering another letter. The best thing that ever happened to me started because of that letter. Who knows what might come to pass?”

“You cannot truly think that is a good idea.” Diana stared at him. “Not after everything.”

“Perhaps not.” Edmund shrugged. “But if I could, I would do nothing else.”

Diana’s eyes were brighter than the sunrise as she smiled at him. “Nor would I.”

In the light of the rising sun, Edmund kissed the love of his life. And for the first time in his life, he felt truly whole and at peace.

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A Duke’s Diamond in the Rough – Extended Epilogue

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October 1815

Edinburgh, Scotland

The smell of books, old and new, was always a welcome comfort to Percival. It was familiar to him and bespoke of intellect, academia, and creativity. That is partly why he so adored the library in the house that he and Aileen shared as husband and wife.

But here in a bookshop, it was a different story. Here, he was not alone, especially not on today of all days. Today he was doing a poetry reading at Dougal’s Fine Reads as part of the tour to promote his new volume. With Aileen’s help, he had finally done it–had finally published some of his dearest writings. Even Lord Byron had written Percival a note that said, “not bad.” It was high praise coming from such a famous name.

Several pairs of eyes looked up at him expectantly, all gathered to hear the famous author read the poems as they were meant to be heard.

Percival took a deep breath, then opened the book to the first page.

“To my wood nymph; my forest fairy, my perpetual inspiration,” he read. Aileen beamed at him from the back of the crowd, dressed in green and flowers, true to his moniker for her.

“In a forest so lush and serene,” he began to read.

The crowd was enraptured. He took requests for specific poems, and when they had all heard their fill, they asked him about the writing process or where he got his inspiration. Percival entertained them all with grace and candor, and when the last eager listener finally left the bookshop, it was nearly night.

“Well,” Aileen said, her hands on her hips, “we ought to get back to the inn. That was quite a lot of visitors.”

“Indeed! How wonderful is that?” Percival said excitedly, grasping both of her shoulders.

“I am happy for your success. I just… I miss home. I cannot wait to go back.”

Percival’s expression softened. This journey had partly been a tour for his new volume of poetry but they’d done sightseeing, made love on various balconies in Greece and Italy, and enjoyed excellent food and wine. They’d also done quite a lot of work to promote his poems throughout the Continent and Great Britain. Aileen had not shown weariness until this last leg of the trip in Scotland. She had also left behind her little botanical shop, which she was loathe to do, but she loved Percival more than her plants.

“I know. But your father has excellent staff running it, and our own staff is managing the house well enough. You mustn’t worry.”

“I am not worried, only fatigued. But not enough to poison your tea,” she said with a wink.

Percival grinned at this little show of humor from his wife.

“I’m sure even I can identify the poisonous plants now. Perhaps I have developed an immunity about which you are uncertain.”

“Unless you just told me about said immunity,” she said with a raised eyebrow.

He smacked his lips and looked down at the floor.

“Ah, yes. Good point. But… I trust you.”

“And I trust you,” she said, bopping the tip of his nose with her fingertip. He loved that even after two years of marriage, they were still playful and witty with each other. So many couples lost the shine after a year, or even just a few months, but not them. Aileen had managed to conquer his heart, a feat many in the ton thought impossible. Then again, Aileen was an impossible sort of woman. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.


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What a Duchess Wants – Extended Epilogue

Two years later…

Will lay by the water’s edge and trailed his hands in the stream. It was a lovely warm day, and he was looking forward to a swim.

“Are you ready yet?” he asked over his shoulder.

“Not long,” Rose assured him.

“You can’t keep a man waiting forever, you know.”

“He’s greedy,” Rose laughed. “What can I say? At least we know where he gets it from.”

Will rolled over onto his back and looked at his wife, sitting with her back against their tree, nursing their son. The sunlight streamed through the trees over her head, casting a lovely dappled pattern all around them both.

“One day, we will have to tell him the story of all of this,” Will said.

“We might leave some bits out,” Rose laughed.

“I thought you said we would have no secrets,” Will smiled.

“Only from him,” she laughed again. “For propriety’s sake.”

“Do you miss living here?” Will asked, watching the scudding clouds.

She was already shaking her head. “I don’t miss anything as long as I am with you.”

Will turned a sultry gaze on her.

“I believe it is my turn,” he said, noting his son had fallen asleep mid-feed.

“Will!” She laughed, kicking out at him with her feet as he crawled towards her like a crocodile. “You’ll disturb the baby.”

“Then, put him down, woman. His time is up.”

“Hello!” The shouted greeting came through the trees.

“We’re over, here.” Rose shouted.

Will collapsed down on his stomach and banged his fists on the grass overdramatically. “Dammit,” he cursed, as Rose was still laughing.

“Better now than five minutes later!”

She stood up, holding the baby in her arms.

“Speak for yourself,” he ground out as he grabbed for her ankle. She deftly avoided him.

“Mary,” she called. “This way.”

“We should have blindfolded them all two years ago,” Will said to the grass.

Tara and Theo came hurling through the trees, screaming with delight, with Jacob and Mary close behind. They jumped on Will, who started tickling them mercilessly. Mary was balancing her toddler on her arm.

“Happy Anniversary,” Mary exclaimed as Jacob set down their picnic basket. The children left Will to rush to see the baby.

“Careful,” Mary cautioned, then she stopped dead as she saw the infant lying in Rose’s arms and raised a hand to her mouth.

“Oh! Rose. Look at him. Look at you!” She kept looking from the baby to his mother and back again. “He’s so sweet and peaceful. I can’t believe it.”

“You would if you were in our home at two o’clock in the morning,” Will said, coming to put an arm around his wife.

“Don’t listen to him, Mary. One peep out of the baby, and he is at his side before I have even had the time to get to my feet.”

“What have you decided to call him?” she asked, gently moving part of the blanket away so she could see him better.

“Ben. Benjamin Browning, For Will’s father.”

“Of course. It’s perfect. Can I hold him? Let’s swap.”

Rose took her twenty-month-old niece and handed over her two-month-old son.

“I can’t believe it either, Mary,” Rose confided. “But the way Will is going, we will have ten before you know it.”

“I don’t hear you complaining, my love,” Will ran his fingers through the hair at the nape of her neck.

“Will! Will.” Tavy held her arms out for her uncle, and Will took her gladly, but then she demanded to be put down to run after her sister.

Jacob stood up from the picnic basket and slapped Will on the back.

“So, how are you enjoying fatherhood?”

Will grinned ruefully at him. “Let’s just say it’s inconvenient at times.”

“It’s been two years. You can’t be newlyweds forever.”

“Where does it say that?” Will asked in mock surprise.

Then it was Jacob’s turn to laugh. “Who am I kidding? I’m still mad about her.” He looked over at Mary. “But please don’t give her any ideas about a fourth.”

“When are John and Charlotte getting here?” Mary asked.

Will shook his head. “I still can’t believe she chose him over me.”

Rose punched him in the arm. “Well, I am rather glad she did.”

“As far as I understand, you chose Rose over her,” chided Mary.

“Dear Mary,” Rose said, hugging her sister. “Always the peacemaker.”

“What? It’s true!”

“Of course it is,” Will insisted, kissing Rose.


The four adults turned as they heard a call from across the fields.

“Seriously. He can never find it.” Will said and went out of the clearing to wave John in. He and Charlotte were picking their way across the field towards him. As the pair grew closer, Will realized there was something very different about Charlotte. John was being very attentive, and Charlotte was laughing uproariously, her face positively glowing. And then it struck him.

“Are you with child?” Will asked Charlotte as they came within five feet of each other.

“And a good afternoon to you too, Mr. Browning,” his friend said, feigning indignance.

“No, seriously,” Will stopped her with a hand outstretched. “Tell me now. Am I right?”

Charlotte smiled sweetly, and John looked cock-a-hoop.

“Just call me Papa,” John said, and Will whooped with delight.

“What is all the noise about?” Mary came around the tree, and Will told her, and for the next five minutes, there was a total melee in Will and Rose’s clearing; as parents laughed, children screeched, and a tiny baby woke up realizing he had been short-changed. Will stood looking at the people around him, wondering how different his life had become; from the alienated existence of a single man, to being just one spoke in a greater wheel of life, full of happiness, excitement, and surprises. He knew which one he preferred.

He also knew that they would keep coming back here every year on the anniversary of their wedding until Ben would have to bring them in their bath chairs.

The story of Will and Rose was in the trees, the leaves, the grass, the stream—in the very fabric of everything he could see around him right now. They belonged to this place, this town, these people, and however far away their paths might take them, there would always be one little place of England forever theirs.

The End

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Marquess of Seduction – Extended Epilogue

Eighteen months later…

 “Do be careful, Thomas,” Emily called. The little boy chased after a little corgi Emily and Michael recently acquired.

Imogen looked up and smiled as Thomas chuckled.

“He is quite safe. He is under the watchful eye of Mama and Papa and the Dowager Duchess.”

She nodded with her chin towards her parents and Colin’s mother, all of whom were walking nearby, their eyes fixed on the little boy.

“I suppose. I think because I am with child again, I feel more cautious. It is peculiar how being with child changes one’s view of the world. I know he is perfectly safe, but I still feel worried so often,” Emily said and placed her hand on her rounded stomach.

Imogen beamed as she nodded. “Indeed, I found I did not feel like myself either. During the first half of it, I was more elated than usual and the second half found me in a rather rotten mood. Poor Colin, he had to be content with a wife who was—”

“Just as wonderful as always, if slightly more irritable.” Colin interrupted as he and Michael approached and sat beside them.

“Oh, Colin, that is why I married you. You always know when to flatter me, even when it is not true. But I know I was rather horrid to you,” Imogen acknowledged while her son squirmed in her arms.

Colin shook his head and placed one hand on hers as she cradled the baby. “On the contrary. I found your firey demeanor reminiscent of the early days of our courtship. He kissed Imogen’s cheek and her heart swelled as she looked from her husband down to the little bundle in her arms. Their son, Robert, had been born two months prior and today was the very first day she had dared to bring him out of the house.

They were hosting her parents and Colin’s widowed mother at Darlington Manor. She had to admit that having both her mother and mother-in-law nearby to assist her with the child had greatly eased her worry about being a first-time mother.

Of course, she had Emily living just across the lake but since she was in the sixth month of her second pregnancy, she had not wanted to trouble her too much.

And, as it turned out, the Dowager Duchess was well-versed in childrearing. Imogen had no idea how she had such knowledge. Colin and his brother Thomas, like most well-to-do children, were raised by governesses and nurses. Anyone who saw the Dowager Duchess with her grandchild, on the other hand, would have thought she was born to swaddle and burp a child.

In contrast to the conventions of high society, Imogen and Colin had decided to forgo the use of a wet nurse and a governess. Instead, they intended to raise their son and any other children they might be blessed with on their own.

“Michael, why can you not flatter me the way Colin flatters Imogen?” Emily said; interrupting the pleasant silence.

Michael grew pale in the face as he stammered, much to the amusement of Emily and Imogen.

“Old chum, you ought to know by now when your wife is teasing you,” Colin laughed, and Michael relaxed.

“Oh, of course she is,” he muttered. Emily looked at Imogen and Colin.

“I find a little teasing from time to time greatly eases the mood. But I will confess I have been rather difficult to please these last couple of weeks.” She patted Michael’s hand with a tender smile. “However, my dear husband has greatly eased my irritability by supplying me with endless sweetmeats from the spring festival.”

Imogen’s eyebrows shot up. “The festival has already begun?”

Michael nodded. “Indeed. Yesterday. I saw your friend, the palm reader. She sent her very best wishes and wondered when you might call on her.”

“Oh, Imogen, I wonder what she has to tell you. Maybe she will foretell another child,” Emily said, only half-joking.

The previous year Imogen and Colin had gone to the spring festival to see Miriam, and the woman had, quite without prompting, predicted both birth and death in the family.

Imogen already knew that Miriam was frighteningly accurate, so it had not come as a terrible shock when the former Duke of Dellington died from a heart attack not two months later. What had come as a shock was that she was with child, for she’d assumed it would be Emily.

She and Colin had tried for a child almost since their wedding day but to no avail. As she looked down at her perfect sleeping baby, she could hardly believe how lucky she had been. She knew that Colin would never have left her or mistreated her just because she could not have a child but being able to carry one to term had been one of the most satisfying and joyous events of her entire life.

Since the birth, she had found it increasingly difficult to part with the baby but being overprotective seemed to run in the family, as evidenced by Emily’s present fretting over her son. He ran towards his grandparents in his little yellow skeleton suit, his blond hair flying behind him.

“Michael,” Emily said, “help me up, please. I wish to follow Thomas.”

“Dear, your parents and Colin’s mother are watching him.”

Emily scowled at her husband. “They are elderly and cannot be trusted to run after a two-year-old. Please, do not be difficult.”

Michael looked at her open-mouthed, and Emily swiftly snapped her lips together. Then she shook her head and dropped her shoulders. “Do you see? I fly into a frenzy at a moment’s notice.”

“At least you know those moods will pass once you have your child.” Imogen encouraged her sister because she knew this to be true.

“Indeed. I wish it were that time already. Seeing you with your little one makes me long to hold one in my arms again.” Emily beamed, and then she and Michael walked toward their parents and little Thomas.

“Poor Michael. I do not know who this has been harder for, him or Emily.” Colin said with a smirk.

“You imply pregnancy is as hard on a gentleman as a lady?” Imogen asked with tension in her voice.

Colin raised his hands as if to calm her but she broke into a chuckle and leaned her head against Colin’s. “I was just teasing you. I am grateful that my moods have not been as volatile as hers. Poor Emily. She suffered from all of the maladies that could possibly occur. Swollen ankles, fainting spells.” She shook her head. “I have been blessed.”

Indeed, she had been. Aside from the last couple of months where she had been prone to burst into tears, her pregnancy had been easy.

“We both have, haven’t we, Colin? Can you believe our life? Isn’t it marvelous?”

“We have a beautiful home, your sister and my dearest friend are nearby, I have made peace with my mother and your parents could not be happier. On top of that, the scandal that marred our early days has long been forgotten.”

The last couple of years had indeed been remarkable. Nevertheless, there were days when Imogen could not quite believe her luck. She had been unhappy for so long that waking up without that horrible sense of dread pushing down upon her chest seemed like a gift every day. Robert squirmed in her arms, diverting her attention.

“May I?” Colin asked and stretched out his arms. Carefully she transferred the wriggling bundle into his arms and watched as he beamed down at his child.

“Isn’t he perfect? Just perfect.” Colin said and then addressed their son. “I ensure you have a wonderful life and know you are loved every day,” he murmured to the little one and Imogen’s heart almost melted in her chest. The love that she saw Colin bestow on their son every day made her fall in love with him even more, something she never thought possible.

While her parents had loved her, Colin had never experienced the tender loving care that parents were supposed to show their children. And yet it came naturally to him.

He did everything he could to assist with Robert. He awoke in the middle of the night to soothe, comfort, sing, and even tell him stories. There were stories about his journey to China and his daring ride through the forest on Prometheus. And tales of Imogen and their adventures over the last few years.

When he looked up at her, she saw his eyes were glistening with tears.

“I long for the day when he shall be old enough to learn archery and horseback riding. Would you consider the age of three too young?”

Imogen giggled. “I dare say it will be. Perhaps a pony? We can speak to Michael of this. After all, he has the largest breeding operation in southern England.”

“Indeed. I look forward to it. And perhaps in the future, Robert will have a little sister, and we’ll teach him to look after her just like you and Emily always looked after one another. And perhaps a little brother.”

“For a man who did not care whether he had an heir or not, you are certainly planning for a large family now.”

“Not an heir,” he stated sternly. “I did not care about an heir, and I still do not. It is true – had we not been blessed with a child, I would still consider us blessed. Yet his presence has brought so much more joy.  And having more children will only increase that joy. After all, we have many a house to fill.”

It was true. While they had sold the vineyard and the London house, they had kept the Edinburgh cottage, and their estate had only grown now that Colin was duke. Colin’s mother remained at the Penningbrick home and was in charge of their country seat, but he had control over other holdings. They didn’t use them very often.

When they did travel, they usually returned home after a few days because they missed Darlington Manor. Kent represented home to them, and it served as a sanctuary and safe haven.

Robert quieted in his father’s arms, and Imogen placed her head against Colin’s shoulder, peering down at the little boy.

“He has brought us such joy. And I believe you are right. We ought to give him a brother or sister. Or both. Faith, Colin. I can picture it now. Darlington Manor full of children, full of happiness.”

“I can see it too. We have been lucky, Imogen. We have been blessed, and we continue to be,” he said.

“We ought to call on Miriam,” Imogen said. “Not to pose more questions – but to thank her. For if she had not given me that clip, we might never have seen the signs.”

“I agree,” Colin said. “We ought to go this afternoon. After all, our love truly began at the fair and she was a big part of that.” He let out a sigh and looked across the lake at their family. “To think it all started with a palm reading.”

“And to think it grew into this. Our happy family united, at peace, and with a future bright before us.”

Imogen allowed tranquility to wash over her and, with Colin by her side, she breathed in the fresh air and smelled her son’s sweet scent. She realized that the life she’d always imagined was now right there – all around her.

The End

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The Rake’s Seductress – Extended Epilogue

Two years later

“Don’t run too far away!” Calum called out to his son, Henry, just after Kathy had sounded the gong for hide and seek.

Kathy was standing next to him, and she laughed, patting his arm. “You have grown soft in your old, fatherly age, Calum? Henry will be perfectly well on his own. Iris is with him. Iris adores that boy.”

Calum nodded, watching as his dark-haired young son waddled away with his pudgy hand in Iris’. “Yes, I suppose I have grown too parental. It’s rather difficult watching your young child do something you never thought they’d do. I suppose Annabelle and I always expected that he would remain a baby forever.”

“Ah, but what is the fun in that? If they are forever a baby, then you and your wife cannot have the alone time that you need, that comes with your children growing up. Speaking of your wife, you need to go and play the game. There is a prize for the winners!” She wandered off to go speak to Jeremy and Lady Daisy, who had become the new Duchess of Tidendale only a year before.

Calum found Annabelle speaking to her mother as they watched the goings-on. “Come, are we not also going to hide with the others? Henry is off with Iris. We can’t let Jeremy have it easy.”

“Right enough.” Giggling, she took his hand, and they raced off into the gardens.

It was a perfect spring day, and it was the second of Kathy’s spring parties that they’d attended since their marriage. A promise was a promise, after all.

“I know just where to go,” Calum said, pulling her back towards the far side of the house, through the overgrown shrubbery until they reached the secret door to the underground passages.

“Ah, I thought we weren’t children, Calum, as you are always reminding me each year I think to take us here,” Annabelle said in a sly voice, leading the way to the door which opened easily, despite the loud noise it made.

“Yes, well, acting young can sometimes be fun. So I’ve learned in my old age,” he said with a grin, and her laughter filled the dark passageway as they slipped inside.

“You are hardly old, Mr. Spencer, but I shouldn’t wish to compliment you too thoroughly. You know very well just how handsome you are and have even grown in handsomeness.”

“Is that so?” he asked, sliding up behind her to wrap an arm about her slim waist and pull her close. She shrieked in surprise, but her laughter settled as she leaned back against his shoulder.

In a soft, seductive voice that always brought his body to attention, she asked, “It seems there was an ulterior motive for you bringing me down here, dear husband.”

“And what would those motives be?” His hands began to move, sliding around her waist and over the swell of her breasts above her stays, making her gasp.

“To seduce me most ashamedly. When we are meant to be playing a game.” She wiggled out of his touch and raced into the dimly lit secret room, which once had been a place of play, the first place they’d made love two years before.

“We are playing a game,” Calum said, leaning against the doorframe, eyeing his lovely wife with unashamed lust. “We are keeping ourselves from being found by Jeremy, who is most annoying when he wins. He could never find these passages than when we were children, and he will never find them now, even if we use them as hiding places every year. So,” he added, walking forward while a smirking Annabelle backed up against the wall, “I say we use our time wisely. We will wait a lifetime for him to find us, so we will need to eventually make ourselves known when the time is right.”

He leaned down at the place where her neck met her shoulder and breathed in her lovely floral scent, which always reminded him of a lovely spring day.

“I suppose that makes sense,” Annabelle replied breathlessly.

He always knew just what to do to take her breath away, and when he dipped his tongue into the depression of her clavicle, she shivered. As he expected, her hands moved to wrap around his neck, and he leaned back to look down at her.

It had only been two years since their marriage, but at the same time, he felt like it had been a wonderful, blissful lifetime. He had everything he ever wanted, and even though his business had flourished in the last two years, that meant nothing compared to the woman in front of him.

Annabelle had grown in both beauty and confidence since their marriage. It was like the light that had been inside of her but hidden away was now free to shine as brightly as it wanted. She was bold, opinionated, strong, passionate, and she didn’t care any longer what people thought. She made friends so easily because all were drawn to her light. When his hand touched her cheek, he said, “You are the love of my life, Annabelle. I want nothing more than to be with you forever and ever.”

“That is a good thing,” she teased. “For you already promised it.”

“Minx,” he replied, kissing her to stifle her laughter. She kissed him back, drawing him closer with her hands and pressing her lovely breasts against his chest. A low groan sounded in his throat as she sucked on his lower lip, only proving just how much of a minx she was.

She laughed as he leaned down to lift up her skirts. “You will be the end of me, Annabelle. I cannot contain myself when I am with you.”

“Good. I wouldn’t want you to.” She reached out to fumble with his breeches, but he handed her skirts, and he unbuttoned himself, freeing his rigid length.

“I had this thought,” he said as he leaned down to kiss her. He pushed his length along her center, eliciting a moan as he teased her. “While Henry’s lovely, and we love him dearly, I think it’s time we begin to start on making another child. What do you say?”

Annabelle said nothing but smiled and lifted a leg to wrap around his waist.


There was something about life with Calum that made Annabelle feel bold and beautiful like nothing could stop her. She wrapped one leg around his waist, and grinning, he lifted up the other. He pushed her against the wall, and once he was centered over her entrance, he pushed into her, bringing another loud moan from her lips.

His hands gripped her buttocks as he moved in and out of her. They had done this so many times and yet each time felt new and fresh, as if she was discovering some unexplored part of him. Her legs tightened around his waist, drawing him even deeper, making a rough sound of desire escape him.

She pulled him to her, kissing him as he thrust even deeper into her. This was the very spot where they had made love for the first time, but now, there was no cold, harsh reality on the other side of that door.

“So beautiful,” he whispered in her ear. “I love you, Annabelle.”

“And I you,” she said, as he dipped his head to kiss and nip at her neck. Her fingertips trailed through his dark, tousled hair as she tried to keep her pleasure from bursting into climax too soon. But she couldn’t stop it. His steady, persistent rhythm sent her over the edge. She let out a cry, leaning her head back against the cold stone wall as Calum continued to plunge into her without ceasing.

Her trembling limbs struggled to hold onto him, but he held tightly to her as he came to his own pleasure, spilling inside her as she shook. Slowly, he set her down, and her skirts fell back around her legs again. She gripped the wall, trying to catch her balance. Her other hand went to her forehead, and Calum laughed.

“Have I set you off-kilter, my love?” He was grinning all the while he buttoned up his breeches.

“That was exactly your hope, was it not?” she said, her mouth turning up at the corners.

“It most certainly was. Now we have passed the time rather pleasantly, I say,” Calum answered.

Annabelle rolled her eyes at Calum’s smug face, but she also loved it. Even though she knew that he loved her more than anyone else, she still had loved him first, had wanted him first, and so she knew he always felt a little smug about that. He knew just what to do with a kiss when he wanted her to melt and beg for him to make love to her. She thought it would fade over time, but it only got stronger each day they were married.

“So we have, Calum, and so we should probably go above in order to see how Henry has fared in the game, and if Jeremy and Daisy are at odds again about who found the most people.”

She turned to go, but Calum stopped her, leaning against her again, his hands on either side of her head.

“Why would you like to rush off, my love? There is still plenty of time.” He leaned down to kiss her, and even though she’d just climaxed in a perfect frenzy of pleasure, her body wanted him again.

Pulling away, she looked down at his breeches. “What do you mean? There will not be time for that again.”

“No, but there is still plenty more that can be done.” He lifted her skirts again, and she closed her eyes when he felt his strong hands on her legs, moving slowly upward.

Just his touch made her desire for him grow, and she felt love, wanted, and safe when his hands were on her. He knew just how to use them as well, moving tantalizingly slowly, looking up at her as he made his way up her gown. She breathed out in frustration, making him laugh.

“You are teasing me on purpose,” she said, biting her lip at the way she ached for him.

“Of course, my love. As I said, we have the time. And I do love to tease you when I have the opportunity to.”

She shook her head and then gasped when she felt his mouth between her thighs.

Her center was aching and throbbing from just having been gloriously filled by him, but it was soothed by the gentle touches of his lips and tongue. Unable to say anything else, she leaned back against the wall, and he pulled one of her legs to rest over his shoulder. Unconsciously, she began to move her hips against the movement of his mouth, and she heard a guttural tone of need from inside him.

Her need grew and grew until it burst again, sending sparks of light behind her eyes as she grabbed his head, pressing it against her while she trembled. She pushed him away a little when her center grew too sensitive for his touch. When he stood again, his expression was smug once more.

“Now, we can go,” he said, offering her his arm while Annabelle still tried to right herself.

When she regained her balance, having floated back to earth, they made their way out of the passage.

“That way will not get me with child, you know,” she said as they walked out into the light of the afternoon.

“Of course, I know that, but it gives you pleasure. I do not make love to you or give you pleasure for the sake of children, my dear. I give it to you for your sake because I am hardly in your company for a few minutes at a time without wanting to hear you cry out my name as loudly and beautifully as you did just down there.”

Annabelle giggled and shushed him as they were soon to be joined by others. Calum slid a firm, strong arm about her waist as they joined the others to find out the winners of the game. When they walked up, little Henry spied them and rushed toward them, Iris smiling after him. Annabelle nodded at her old friend, who had become so much to her in the last two years. Iris herself had also gotten married, but she still stayed in their employ, having risen to head housekeeper. But Henry was her special charge. Not even the nurse saw him as much as Iris.

“Papa!” Henry cried when he got closer, and Calum leaned down to pick him up and swing him around.

“How did you fare, little man?” he asked, and Henry giggled when his father tickled him.

Annabelle leaned her head against his arm, drinking in the blissful scene before her. This was heaven.

Her daze of happiness was interrupted by the angry sound of her brother calling across the crowd, saying, “And yet again, Mr. and Mrs. Spencer are the winners. We can never find them!” Daisy laughed and pulled on his arm to stop him from being such a menace.

Annabelle turned to catch Calum’s eye, and they both burst into laughter. “I suppose it is a good spot to hide after all,” she said softly. “For myriad reasons.”

“Shall I name them aloud for all to hear?” Calum asked as they walked forward to receive their prize.

“Do not!” Annabelle replied, nudging him into submission.

“Then promise me we will go there next year and the next. I rather enjoy the special place.” He put Henry down to run off towards Jeremy.

“Yes, Calum. For that and for so many other things, I promise. Besides, we can’t have Jeremy thinking he’s getting good at hide and seek, now can we?”

Grinning, Calum shook Jeremy’s hand and accepted his prize. “No, my dear, we most certainly cannot.”

The End

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Lady Emilia or Mr. Wight – Extended Epilogue

Two Years Later

This portrait is not going particularly well.

Emilia had to stifle a laugh as her paintbrush flicked across the canvas another time. It didn’t seem to matter how many times she urged her sitter to sit peacefully and perfectly still for her, it was not going to happen. The result was a portrait that was full of movement, showing the sitter already trying to clamber down from the stool on which they were sat.

“Miranda? What did Mama say?” Emilia said in a sweet voice as she peered over the top of the canvas. The little girl still tried to clamber down from the stool as she turned innocent eyes up to her mother. Emilia laughed, knowing there was nothing so innocent really about her daughter. She was sweet in nature, but as fond of mischief and adventure as much as her parents were.

The result was Emilia would have to go on the hunt for her daughter, discovering the toddler had given the nanny a slip, meaning Emilia would have to hunt under furniture and in cupboards for where Miranda had decided to hide today.

“Sit?” Miranda guessed, smiling up at Emilia. The little girl was still learning to talk, but she had grasped enough to utter some words. “Down.” Miranda’s next word was coupled with her toppling from the stool completely, dropping to the rug on her rear with her legs outstretched. It was such a short stool that the distance had been no great thing at all, but Emilia pushed her paints away regardless and hurried to her daughter, checking she was well.

“Oh dear, a little bump?” she asked as Miranda made little grabbing movements in the air with her hands, asking to be picked up. “There we are,” Emilia said, taking her daughter in her arms and lifting her into the air before placing a warm kiss to her cheek. Miranda squealed at delight at the kiss then pointed to the floor again.


“You seem to have mastered that word more than anything.” Emilia laughed and put down her daughter. “Now, will you sit calmly for Mama so she can finish your picture?”

Miranda chewed her lip in thought for a minute, then nodded.

“Good, off you go.” As Emilia urged her daughter to climb onto the stool another time, clearly, Miranda was not so keen on being settled yet. Instead of returning to the stool, she discarded the small spindle toy she had been holding onto and wandered around the room, with the clear intent of finding another toy. “You are going to mess up my picture,” Emilia said with delight, following her daughter to make sure she did not fall as she ran quickly between the toy chest in her nursey and a rug on which more toys were laid out.

Miranda plopped onto the floor on her rear and scrambled forward on her hands and knees, picking up each toy in turn.

“What about this one?” Emilia asked, proffering a toy forward, each in turn. She started with a wooden carved figure, but Miranda shook her head, making a small harumphing noise from her lips in protest. As Emilia offered one toy at a time, she looked around the selection, realizing how much of it was full of the gifts her family had bestowed on them.

There was a small puppet house that Laurence had gifted to them, complete with string puppets bought by Grady and Marianne. At the back of the selection, there was an array of Dutch dolls, many of which had been gifted by Christian. It seemed every time he came to the house, he would bring a new doll for his niece to play with and she loved him for it. More often than not she would be found sitting in his lap, demanding he played with her and the dolls. Christian, fortunately, appeared to delight in the games as much as she did. Finally, sat boldly in the middle of the rug was a rocking horse, the wood painted in great detail.

Miranda inched toward it on her knees and patted the wooden mane.

“Horsey,” she said with a little laugh as if the horse would respond to her.

“Yes, horsey,” Emilia agreed, loving that her daughter was learning more and more words. That particular horse had been a gift from Montgomery and Miss Manning, and Miranda had barely left it alone since it had arrived. Emilia was just beginning to think her daughter would insist on dragging the horse into the picture, and change the composition entirely when Miranda’s hand slipped from the rocking horse to another figurine.

This one was also a horse, but small and carved out of wood, painted delicately in the continental style. Miranda grabbed tightly onto the horse and embraced it, as if it were the very object of her affections, then she wandered back across the room, in the direction of the stool with Emilia behind her.

“There now, have you made your final choice?” Emilia asked as Miranda nodded heartily. “Good. Now see if you can impress Mama and sit still for a few minutes.” She helped Miranda onto the stool and then hastened to her place at the easel, muttering to herself. “If it lasts one minute, I will be impressed.”

As she retook her seat, she was thrilled to see her daughter’s face on the canvas was slowly taking shape. The perfect mix of her and Robert, she bore Emilia’s light brown eyes, and the same cheekbones as Robert, with dark hair curling by her ears, springing up into tight curls.

As Miranda fussed over the wooden horse, Emilia painted it into the canvas, wondering when Robert would return home to see what progress she was making. She was certain he would be delighted to know that the toy their daughter had chosen to sit with was the very one he had gifted to her the day before.


Robert’s footfall was quiet as he crept toward the open door of the nursery, for he wanted a stolen moment watching Emilia and Miranda together. He was not disappointed, for neither had heard his approach, allowing him to watch the two of them together.

Miranda was fussing over the wooden horse he had bought for her, sat on a stool, and making babbling sounds at the horse as if they were speaking in their own language together. Emilia was sat behind the canvas, with that usual intent look that creased her brow and made her light brown eyes so active.

He couldn’t help admiring the two of them together, loving the sight when Emilia pleaded with their daughter to sit still, but Miranda would refuse outright.

“I’m beginning to think she doesn’t sit still just to play with you,” Robert said with a laugh, watching as his words made Emilia jump and turn around in her seat to face him. She smiled widely as soon as she saw him, encouraging him to stride into the room and bend down to kiss her lips.

“I am sure she does,” Emilia said as he stood straight once more. “She is as mischievous as you are.”

“Me? I am a pure innocent.”

“You realize the irony of that statement?” Emilia laughed and turned round to paint the canvas again. “You were the one who suggested I painted her in the first place. I am sure you knew what a fidgeting sitter she would be.”

“Well, maybe I cannot resist the idea of being mischievous,” he whispered in Emilia’s ear as his gaze turned on the painting. It was exquisite, and alight with movement. Their daughter in the canvas had her hands in the air holding onto the horse with joy, and her lips were parted in such laughter that Robert could imagine the painting coming to life, laughing of its own accord.

“Pa!” Miranda called out, about to climb down from the stool again.

“This will never work,” Emilia said with a sigh.

“Maybe I should sit with her.” Robert hurried across the room and picked up his daughter in his arms, loving how she squealed in delight. “Now, is that sitting still?”


“It is her new favorite word, I am sure of it,” Emilia called from the other side of the portrait.

“Down, you say? Down it is.” He sat on the child-sized stool and pulled Miranda into his lap.

“You look rather amusing with your legs so lanky over the stool,” Emilia said, sitting back to look at them both.

“If it is a way to make her still, I’ll happily do it.” Robert sat with his arms around Miranda as she played with the toy and sat in his lap.

“How did it go? At the academy?” Emilia asked, pausing with her paintbrushes in the air.

“Well. Very well in fact.” Robert sat taller with a smile, recalling his conversation with Sir Tippington. “They agree with me that we should have an exhibition entirely dedicated to Mr. Wight’s efforts. What is more, you have an offer from Somerset Gallery.”

“I beg your pardon?” Emilia cried, nearly dropping a paintbrush. She snatched it from the air before it could fall and drop paint to the floorboards.

“They wish to buy one of your paintings. Well, Mr. Wight’s paintings.” He laughed at the idea as Emilia jumped to her feet and squealed in joy. He loved the sight of seeing her so happy. He liked to think that he had supported her career as much as he could, but he knew it was all to her own merit that she was doing so well. His support had little to do with it; it was to her talent and hard work. “You deserve it, Emilia. Which reminds me, do you ever wish to paint in your own name?”

His question made her pause in her celebrations.

“I do not know,” she confessed, turning her gaze down to the canvas. “I like being Mr. Wight. People judge me as they judge other artists, they do not think to bring the fact I am a lady into the equation. Maybe someday, I could reveal the truth. When I’m old and grey, I’ll undo my sideburns and throw off my top hat in public, revealing that Mr. Wight is really the Marchioness of Wellington, and the art world has been conned. What do you say?”

“I like the idea greatly. I look forward to seeing Sir Tippington’s face the day you do it. Though something tells me he’ll need more than just that cane to keep standing when he discovers the truth.” He laughed when he turned his eyes down to Miranda in his lap, startled to find she had stopped playing.

Her hand was curled around the wooden horse, but her head was resting in his chest with his arms around her, and her eyes were closed. She was sleeping soundlessly, with her curls mussed and her breath escaping her slowly.

“Peaceful at last,” Robert whispered.

“That is it.”

“That’s what?” Robert asked, looking up from his daughter to his wife. Emilia was suddenly alive with activity, snapping up her sketchbook and pencil, hurrying to draw the two of them together.

“That is the finer portrait, Robert.”

“Why? Because she is sitting still at last?” he asked, teasing and watching as Emilia brushed him off with a humored wave of her hand.

“No. Because it has the two of you in it. Look down at her again, as you were doing.”

He did as she asked, sitting quietly and holding onto the daughter he loved so much for many minutes. When Emilia eventually lifted the sketchbook, revealing a quick sketch she had done, he felt his heartbeat harder at the image.

“It is indeed nearly perfect.” He knew what would make it perfect. He needed everyone in it that he loved, to surmise the happy life he now had.

“Nearly?” Emilia asked in disappointment.

“It needs you in it too.”

The End

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This Beast Holds a Title – Extended Epilogue

Three years later…

“Oh, Alice, they have been talking for almost an hour now. Do you think it a bad sign?” Christine fretted as she paced up and down the porch of Alice and Silas’s country home. The girl—or rather, the young woman—perched on a chair at the large round table where the family still often congregated to take their meals.

Alice sat beside her sister-in-law and placed a hand on her back. “Don’t fret too much, Christine. You know how Silas is around Henry. The two of them talk about one thing and then another and then another, and before they realize it, they’ve yarned away the hours.”

Christine nodded, but the worry remained on her face. It was understandable, of course. Christine had quietly admired Henry Lancaster, the son of a local diamond merchant, from afar for almost a year before confessing her feelings to Alice. Upon discovering that Christine was not just suffering from a case of calf love, Alice had taken matters into her own hands.

She had arranged a ball at their home for the local community and ensured Henry Lancaster and his entire family attended. Of course, since she’d been with child at the time, she’d taken advantage of both her mother and Aunt Blythe’s help. They’d eagerly granted their assistance, and the ball had been a smashing success—and the first of what had become an annual event.

Of course, the ball hadn’t just been a success in and of itself. It had had the desired effect when it came to Christine as well. The couple had danced together not just once, but twice—unheard of in society’s circles, as usually when one danced with one partner more than once, it was a declaration of one’s intentions.

And Henry Lancaster’s intentions had been clear. He’d asked Silas’s permission to court Christine, and the two had embarked on a brief but enchanting courtship. One interrupted only when Henry had been called to serve in His Majesty’s Royal Navy. Separated for more than a year, Christine had whiled away the hours by working on her accomplishments. By the time Henry had returned earlier that year, she’d become skillful with watercolors and had learned to play the harp.

Alice doubted that either activity would prove useful as a Navy officer’s wife, but she didn’t begrudge her sister-in-law the entertainment. After all, Alice still enjoyed sitting in the cabin in the woods with her books whenever she could. These days that wasn’t often, as with two small children, her time was often limited and—

“They’re coming out!” Aunt Blythe called in an excitable voice as she hastened out of the French doors and into the garden.

Christine gasped and jumped up. “They are? How does Silas look? Pleased?” Alice grinned and took Christine’s hand. The girl had been at sixes and sevens ever since Henry, who’d been back from his deployment at sea for six months now, had gone into Silas’s study to make an offer earlier that morning.

Alice already knew what Silas’s answer would be. He adored Henry and would certainly not stand in the way of their young love. Alice had told Christine as much, but her sister-in-law had a habit of fretting even when she didn’t need to.

“Delighted,” Aunt Blythe announced, and a moment later, the delighted gentlemen exited the doors and joined the waiting ladies in the garden.

Christine gripped Alice’s hand so tightly she worried her bones might break, but she couldn’t complain. She’d done the same thing to Christine the previous year when she’d given birth to her son, George. Now, as then, the outcome of an intensely stressful period was wonderful, because Henry beamed at her. His bright green eyes sparkled when he approached Christine.

Silas stopped at the top of the stairs while Henry walked on toward his beloved.

“Well, Alice, it seems we have a wedding to plan!” he announced with a gleaming grin. Aunt Blythe clapped her hands together while Christine yipped in delight.

“A wedding, how lovely! And when, pray, shall this joyous event take place?”

She looked at the young couple while Alice made her way to Silas, whose hand was already outstretched to take hers.

“As soon as possible,” Henry said, and Christine nodded.

Aunt Blyth shimmied her shoulders at this and took the two of them by the arms as she led them to the table. “Well, then. Let us sit and discuss the joyous event. Say, Alice, where is your mother? I know she will wish to help us with the planning, do you not think so?”

“I am certain,” Alice replied. “She is with the children, but I shall fetch her.”

“I’ll accompany you. I will gladly host the wedding and pay for everything. However, I am a poor planner, Henry,” Silas confessed and chuckled while Henry nodded.

“I can already see that it would be best for me to allow the ladies to plan the entire event,” he replied.

“A clever man you picked, Christine, clever indeed,” Silas replied while Alice shook her head with a smile.

They entered the coolness of the manor, and she noted how Silas dabbed his scarred skin with a handkerchief. She knew the heat always troubled his burned skin, and right now, in the middle of August, the sun could be relentless.

“Shall we take the children into the library and open the windows?” she asked and linked her arm under his. He flashed a bright smile and nodded.

“That would be lovely.”

After almost four years of marriage, Alice no longer had to ask or comment when it came to what helped and what hurt Silas’s scars. She already knew. Sitting in with the windows open, allowing a breeze to enter and caress his skin rather than irritate it. As they ascended the staircase toward their children’s chambers, she resolved to bring cool water to their chamber that night to cool his skin when they went to bed. This, combined with his usual potions, worked wonders for his irritable skin.

“Christine seems happy,” she said, and he gave a small nod.

“As is Henry. I can’t tell you how delighted I am to have him for a brother-in-law. He is truly a lovely chap, and his family are upstanding people.”

“But?” Alice asked. She knew Silas’s tone, and there was certainly something in it.

“But it will not be seen as a good match by our fellow lords and ladies of high society,” he said. “They will consider Henry beneath our touch.”

Alice shrugged. This might have been a problem if Christine had any desire to reside in London or partake in any of the activities in the city. But she didn’t. While her coming-out ball and the Season that had followed had been filled with trips to London, Christine had soon tired of the atmosphere and the marriage mart. And since meeting Henry, she’d hardly left the country at all. Henry equally adored Hertfordshire and was unlikely to wish to leave.

She reiterated this to Silas, who shrugged. “I suppose you are right. I simply worry about her. Do you suppose that will ever stop?”

Alice shook her head. “I should think not. She and I might only be sisters by marriage, but I worry about her all the time as well. Although I will say that while Henry is not noble by birth, he is certainly of noble character.”

He grinned at her. “That was rather poetic. You ought to try your hand at writing poetry sometime, dearest.”

A peal of laughter escaped her, and she shook her head. “I should think not. There is but one poet in this family, and for a good reason. I dare say I…”

“Are you talking about the new tome?” Alice’s mother asked as she stepped out of Rose’s room with George in her arms and Rose beside her. “When is it going to be available? Lady Solenshire has questioned me about it, as has Lady Harriet.”

At the mention of her old friend, Alice’s shoulders grew stiff. She’d seen Harriet a few times while in London, but their friendship had never quite recovered, given how Harriet had turned from Alice after her marriage to Silas.

“In January,” Silas replied. “And I trust that you have kept to our agreement?” he tilted his head to one side while Alice’s mother winked at him.

“The mysterious, unnamed nobleman, yes. I remember. Nobody shall know the name of the author. Although I must confess, it is awfully difficult to keep this to myself. I would love nothing more than to tell all the world that my son-in-law is a celebrated poet.”

Alice smiled grandly because she could understand her mother’s sentiments well. She too wanted to tell all the world that her husband was not only a respected member of the House of Lords, a hero who’d been injured while attempting to save his father, but also a gifted poet who’d published two poetry books in as many years, with a third to follow soon. Alas, he remained shy when it came to his poetry, and nobody but the gentleman who published his work knew his true identity.

“I know it is a difficult secret to keep,” Silas said, jest in his voice. “And I appreciate your efforts. Now, your company is desired by my aunt and Christine.”

The dowager duchess’s eyes grew wide. “Faith, are they planning the wedding? I shall tend to them at once.” She bent down and pinched Rose’s cheek. “Grandmother will take you on our walk later, yes?”

“Yes, Grandmother,” Rose replied.

Alice’s mother rose to her full height again and handed George over to her. Suddenly, her face lit up.

“Alice,” her mother exclaimed. “I almost forgot. Have you heard the news?”

“News?” Alice asked and took George from her mother.

“I read it in the London Gazette just this morning. Lord Morendale is getting married as well.”

Alice drew her eyebrows together and looked at Silas; however, given his aversion to gossip of any kind, he’d already turned his attentions toward Rose. He was presently busy following her into her chamber and toward her rocking horse.

“I no longer read the scandal sheets, Mother. You know this,” she replied, a little vexed.

“It wasn’t in the scandal sheets,” her mother defended herself. “But in the regular paper. Apparently, he is getting married to another friend of yours. Lady Francine.”

Alice blinked, for Lady Francine was at least twenty years younger than Lord Morendale. Then again, Morendale hadn’t succeeded in finding a wife for some years now, and Lady Francine had been declared on the shelf more than once by various publications.

“Well, I suppose that is rather fortunate for him, is it not?” Alice replied, not wishing to start a quarrel with her mother.

“It is, although I will say, her match will not be anything like yours,” she winked and smiled broadly at Alice and Silas.  “The two of you have found something truly remarkable and rare. Love.”

With that, she left the two of them alone to tend to their children. Silas shook his head as he watched her leave.

“If anyone had told me four years ago that the Dowager Duchess of Avonwood would ever consider it fortunate that her daughter married a man like me, I would have called them a liar to their face.”

“Not just you, my dear. Not just you. She has changed a lot since my cousin was removed from her life,” Alice said and rocked George in her arms. Truly, her mother was a different woman now that she did not spend as much time in London. And with Pierce forever banished to Newgate Prison, she knew her mother and their entire family would be safe from his unpleasant influence.

“Shall we go to the library? I am rather warm myself,” Alice said and Silas nodded, gratitude in his eyes.

“Library?” Rose asked. “Read?”

“Yes, dear. I will read to you,” Alice said, delighted that her daughter had as much of a passion for books as she and Silas did. Together, the four entered into the library, and while she and George settled into the armchair near the open window, she watched Silas and Rose pick out a book.

The library had expanded a great deal and now included a great many books suitable for children, as well as several more volumes of Silas’s poems. He still wrote with regularity, but kept the more personal poems from being published. Alice smiled as her eyes fell on one leather-bound book, which contained love poems dedicated to her.

She watched her husband and as she did, she marveled once more at just how fortunate she’d been to find him. He was truly a gift, and even though she had not realized it upon their first meeting, he was made for her—just as she was made for him. It was true, they quarreled at times, as most couples did, but theirs were never serious arguments. Too similar were they in their way of thinking.

They understood one another so well that even if they disagreed, they could still see the other’s point of view and thus, even their most unpleasant moments always ended up bringing them closer. Yes, Silas was not just her husband, he was her best friend.

“A sixpence for your thoughts,” he said teasingly, referencing one of their first conversations. He took a seat in the chair beside her, Rose on his knee.

“It is nothing, dear. I was just thinking how lucky I am to have you. To have this. All of this. Thank you for giving me this life,” she said, surprised at the slight quiver in her voice.

Silas took her hand and gently kissed each of her fingers. “It is I who has been blessed, and I who ought to thank you. I never thought I could be so happy again. But I am. And I have been for a long time, thanks to you. I love you, beautiful Alice.”

“And I you, Silas, my love.”

And then, he let go of her hand and opened the book as their son slept in her arms and Rose squealed with delight. Alice leaned back and listened to the sound of Silas’s voice as he read to them all and in her heart, the now familiar sense of peace and contentment settled once more.

This was her life. And it was truly a blessed one.

The End

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