“Can you believe you have been married for two years, Dowding?”
Oliver laughed at Darnerton as they walked ahead of their wives.
“It has truly been a wonderful two years. And now that you have a house so close, I am sure that we will be spending even more time together over the next two years and beyond.”
Darnerton’s business had been booming even more than Oliver’s. He and Margaret had purchased a country house near Oliver and Priscilla.
“Indeed. With Margaret and Priscilla becoming such good friends, and the baby on the way, I’m sure we won’t ever be too far. It will be difficult to keep Margaret away from the child. She loves babies.”
“Don’t most women?”
Now Darnerton laughed. “Yes, my friend. I think they do. Personally, I prefer when the children grow up a bit.”
Oliver nodded. “Don’t tell Priscilla, but me too.”
Both gentlemen laughed as they continued to walk down the road. Oliver wasn’t exaggerating when he said it had been a wonderful two years. He was still madly in love with Priscilla, the distillery had almost doubled in size, and Jamie was at the top of his class at school. Now, they had a new baby on the way, too, and their family would be fully complete.
Darnerton, too, had a very prosperous life, and since Oliver and Priscilla were married, most of Lord Kenley’s business associates had started to work with Darnerton. Once they learned that Lord Kenley was convicted of his crimes and would be sent to prison, they needed another established businessman to work with. Darnerton, for many of them, was a natural choice.
Meanwhile, Lord Kenley lost everything after his conviction, and Oliver had been able to purchase back all of the land that he had sold to Lord Kenley for the lift. Thanks to this amazing financial windfall, he was able to expand, which was also helped by Darnerton’s business dealings. Basically, he told everyone he did business with that Oliver created the best whisky in the area, and in turn, the people came.
“Have you seen Lord Bennett recently?”
“I have. We just had dinner with Lord and Lady Bennett, in fact. I am going to hire him full time to handle all of my accounts. The distillery is simply too large to do it all on my own.”
“I can certainly understand that. Will it give you more time to spend with the family?”
“Yes, it should. I definitely don’t want to make the same mistakes I made with Jamie in this new baby’s life. I realize that I wasn’t a good father to him as he was growing up. I provided for him, of course, but I wasn’t there as a real father should be. Priscilla taught me that soon after she was hired, and it was one of the things that made me fall in love with her.”
“Being a father isn’t easy, Dowding. Believe me, I know from first-hand experience. But Jamie is growing to be a wonderful young gentleman. He is very smart, he has a great personality, and he is fun to be around. You did a fine job, I’d say.”
“I appreciate that, Darnerton. It means a lot coming from someone like you. Someone who understands. I just hope that I can be an even better father to this new child who is coming into our lives. Jamie understands that it was more difficult for me when he was young, but now, with Priscilla, we can give our baby a stable family.”
“Say nothing of it, Dowding. I think a stable family life is what you all need. None of you have had an easy road of it, though things have certainly improved.”
The two gentlemen came upon a large structure. It had two large doors at the front, and it extended out into a vacant field.
“Dowding, is this the field that you got back from Lord Kenley’s estate after he was convicted?
“It is…” Oliver said with a smirk, standing by the door to the newly constructed building. “Let’s wait for the ladies, and I will show you what I invited you here for.”
Darnerton laughed. “I can’t wait to see it, Friend. I hope Lord Kenley can see it for himself one day, too. He can see what all of his hard work over the years has created. Perhaps you could even hire him on to help at the distillery?”
Both men laughed, and then Oliver watched as Margaret and Priscilla walked towards him. Even with her large belly hiding most of her thin frame, he still thought his wife was every bit as beautiful as she was the first time he had laid eyes on her. She still greatly aroused him, too, which was always a good thing in his book. They could barely go a day or two without some type of erotic engagement. He still wondered how he was able to wait for so long before bedding her for the first time.
“I’m sorry, Dear,” Priscilla said as she and Margaret approached slowly. Priscilla was almost waddling more than she was walking. “I’m not as speedy as I used to be.”
Oliver laughed. “In a couple of weeks, you will be right back to your old self again. The only difference is that you will be carrying a beautiful babe in your arms.”
They smiled at each other, still so much in love. Oliver took her arm, and then stood before his friends.
“Darnerton…Margaret…this is what we have been so excited to show you.”
Oliver left Priscilla’s side and opened the large door. The four of them walked into the vast building, and both Darnerton and Margaret began looking around.
“What is this place, Oliver?” Margaret asked, obviously not sure of what she was looking at. “All I see are shelves, bottles, and a lot of empty space. Is it a storage facility? What is that large machine? What does it do?”
“It’s a steam-powered pump, and it has a very specific use.” Oliver heard a gasp behind him and turned towards Darnerton.
“It can’t be!” Darnerton exclaimed. “Oliver? Is it a bottling facility?”
“It is!” Oliver said with a wide smile on his face. “We can stop bottling by hand now. If you thought the lift that I bought from Lord Kenley would greatly improve the distillery, you won’t believe it in the next couple of years when this facility takes off. We can probably expand into different markets all across England. Hell, if I have my way, we will expand across the world.”
“This is truly remarkable, Dowding. Congratulations.”
“Thank you, Darnerton. I just want to make sure to leave my children a legacy that they can be proud of when I leave this world.”
“I assure you, Dowding. They will be proud.”
Priscilla’s entire body ached, but the cries of her baby were loud in her ears. She closed her eyes and tried to focus. The room was spinning.
“Your Grace, it’s a girl!”
She didn’t know who said it, because she felt quite delirious, but it did register in her mind that she had a daughter. A daughter.
“She is healthy, and as you can hear, she has great lungs!”
That time, she knew it was the midwife, who had been by her side the entire past week. Priscilla had to stay in bed for that time to prepare for the baby.
“Where’s Oliver?” she asked to anyone in the room who was listening.
“His Grace is being fetched now.”
Priscilla nodded. Each cry from the baby made Priscilla feel better. She knew that childbirth was difficult and dangerous, and even as she had gone into labor the night before, Oliver had not left her side. Though they didn’t quite say their goodbyes, they did acknowledge that if Priscilla didn’t come out of the birth, that he would carry on and continue to raise the children with Margaret and Nash’s help.
Of course, it was difficult for Oliver to be in this situation, as he lost his first wife in childbirth. So, they decided that he would be waiting in the sitting room if he had to come to the birthing area…in case something went wrong. During Jamie’s birth, Oliver had been at the distillery, and by the time he made it back to Leah, she was already gone.
The midwife placed the baby into Priscilla’s arms, and for the first time, she got a look at her daughter. She could already tell that she had passed on her curls to the baby, and the child had Oliver’s dark hair. Priscilla hoped that she would also have Oliver’s stunning blue eyes.
“Priscilla!” Oliver said as he rushed into the room. “Thank God! You are all right, My Love?”
She nodded, and then held the baby up to him. “Yes, Dear. Please, meet your daughter.”
Priscilla could see a tear welling up in Oliver’s eye as he took the tiny child from her arms. He looked at her, and said, “She’s as beautiful as her mother.”
She smiled and said, “She has your hair color.”
“And your curls.”
“She hasn’t opened her eyes yet, but I’m hoping they are blue, like yours.”
Almost as if on cue, the baby opened her eyes. Oliver looked at Priscilla and said with a smile, “I’m sorry to disappoint you, but she has eyes that look like honey.”
The couple smiled at each other, and Oliver said, “She’s truly perfect, Priscilla. What would you like to call her?”
Priscilla thought for a moment, and then said. “If it’s all right with you, I think I would like to name her after my lifelong friend, Joan. I would like to call her Joan Margaret, after my two closest friends.”
Oliver smiled. “I cannot think of anything more appropriate, Dear. I, for one, love it.”
Priscilla took her last remaining stores of strength and put her hand out to stroke her daughter’s cheek. She then looked at Oliver.
“I’m so tired. I think I need to rest.”
He nodded and bent down to kiss her forehead. “You rest up, and I’m going to leave the baby here with her nurse. In the meantime, I’m going to send a letter to Jamie at school. He must know about his new sister.”
“Congratulations, Friend! She is a beautiful child.”
Darnerton and Oliver were sitting in the drawing room having a cigar and drinking a celebratory whisky. Margaret was visiting with Priscilla and Baby Joan in the nursery.
“Thank you, Darnerton. We are beyond happy. Now that both of them are out of the woods and very healthy, I can breathe a sigh of relief.”
“What does Jamie think?”
“You can ask him yourself. He should be here soon. We have given him permission to come home for a couple of days to meet his sister. She’s only a week old, but as soon as she was born, we sent word to him.”
“That’s wonderful. I’m so happy for you and Priscilla. I can’t imagine a happier ending to your story.”
“Agreed. When I met Priscilla, I was an absent father who had almost no relationship with his son. I was running a struggling distillery and going further into debt. In only a bit over two years, though, all of it has turned around. Honestly, I could not be happier than I am right now. It’s like the happy ending of a fairy tale that we all should live.”
“Priscilla, are you feeling all right?”
“Oh, Margaret. I have never been this happy in my entire life.”
She and Margaret were in the nursery leaning over the cradle. Priscilla still couldn’t believe that she was looking at her own child, Baby Joan, as they had affectionately been calling her.
“Recovery from childbirth isn’t easy. I went through it three times. I don’t know if you knew or not, but Nash and I lost one baby soon after birth.”
“I didn’t,” Priscilla said, picking up her daughter and holding baby Joan tightly. “I’m so sorry. That’s terrible.” Priscilla just couldn’t imagine what she would have done if her baby had been lost during the birth.
“It was a sad affair, of course, but we are very lucky that we had two healthy, happy, and successful children. As ladies, that’s sometimes the best we can hope for.”
Priscilla nodded. She felt so extremely lucky that both she and the baby were fine after the ordeal of childbirth. She certainly would never want to leave her daughter without a mother, and the thought of Jamie losing two mothers…well, that was just too much to bear.
“Don’t worry,” Margaret said. “The emotions settle down. It might take a month or so, but they will cede. New mothers always become emotional after their babies are born. It’s totally normal.”
Priscilla laughed and reached up with one hand to wipe her eye. “I didn’t even realize that I was crying.” She sniffled, and then said, “Thank you for helping me throughout the pregnancy. I appreciate it so much. You are an amazing friend.”
“Of course. It is my pleasure. You know, I also want to say something to you. I want to apologize for how I treated you when we first met. That was definitely not nice of me. I think I was just trying to protect Oliver and the memory of Leah. I didn’t realize, at the time, that I was treating one of my closest friends like that.”
Priscilla smiled and nodded. “I forgive you, Margaret. Who knows? I could have acted the same, and as we all know, I wasn’t totally innocent at the time. Perhaps you had some type of women’s intuition?”
Margaret smiled back. “Perhaps I did.”
“Shall we go back to the drawing room?”
The two ladies walked to the drawing room to join their husbands. As they walked in, the gentlemen stood, and invited their wives to join them.
“How’s my sweet daughter?”
“She’s doing extremely well, Oliver.”
“I can’t wait for Jamie to meet her.”
“Me too, and it looks like that will happen sooner, rather than later.”
Priscilla motioned to the open window. The carriage that Jamie rode in had arrived. He watched for a moment as his son was helped out. He already looked so mature, just like the young Duke he would one day be. He was so proud of the young gentleman that he had become, and he knew that he partly had Priscilla to thank for it.
Oliver took Priscilla’s arm, and looked down at her.
“Let’s go see Jamie and introduce him to baby Joan. Now, our family can officially be together, at last.”
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