Esther had just stepped out of the carriage in front of Edward and Mary’s estate. Edward, Mary, and Ruth were standing there waiting for them, and Ruth was already waving and had said Esther’s name.
“We haven’t been gone that long,” Allan said, as he stepped out behind her, helping Julia disembark.
Esther laughed. She took Julia’s hand in her own and began to walk towards her sisters.
“Welcome, Esther,” Edward said as he embraced her. “It is so wonderful to see you. I’m happy that you have survived a month of marriage to my cousin here.” He patted Allan on the back, and all of them laughed.
“Well, there were a few moments that I considered walking away,” Esther said with a chuckle. “But he’s pretty fun to have around.”
“And, don’t forget that I am strikingly handsome,” Allan added.
Again, they all laughed. Esther then hugged Mary, and felt as if something was strange, but she then moved on to Ruth, who seemed like she might explode if she didn’t get to hug her oldest sister.
“Oh, I have missed you so much, Esther,” Ruth said, as she hugged her tightly. “I am so happy you are here. I haven’t seen you in more than a month!”
It was true. After she and Allan got back from their wedding tour, they had returned here to collect Julia, and then the three of them had returned to their home. Ruth had not been here when they got back.
“How are Mother and Father?” Esther asked.
“Oh, they are wonderful, though you will see them tomorrow,” Ruth said.
“Are you nervous?” Esther asked, grabbing Ruth by the hand.
“Oh yes,” she replied with a nervous laugh. “But if you and Mary can get married, so can I!”
Esther turned to see Mary speaking to Julia, and then heard Mary say, “Soon, you will have a little one to play with when you are here, Julia,” and she placed her hands on her stomach.
Esther gasped. “Mary! Really?”
Mary smiled, looked at Edward, who placed his arm around her shoulders, and said, “Yes, Esther. We are having a baby.”
“Oh Mary,” Esther exclaimed. “I am so very happy for you…for both of you.”
“Can I hold the baby?” Julia asked.
“Of course,” said Mary. “Do you think you would like it to be a boy or a girl?”
“Hmm…” Julia thought about it for a bit. “I think I would like it to be a girl. Then I can teach her how to play with my dolls.”
All of the adults couldn’t help but smile at Julia’s childhood innocence.
“I am really so happy for you, Mary,” Esther said. She saw Allan hugging Edward out of the corner of her eye. “There is really so much to celebrate in our family with this happy news and Ruth’s wedding tomorrow.”
“I know,” Mary said. “We are all very blessed.”
“Esther and Allan,” Edward then said. “Bolt will show you to your room, and we invite you to get settled in. Please feel free to join us in the drawing room as soon as you wish before supper.”
“Thank you,” Esther said. A footman opened the door for them, and Bolt led the way. Esther took Julia’s hand and she felt Allan’s hand on the small of her back. She turned to him and smiled.
Bolt gestured to the grand staircase, and all four of them ascended the steps. They briefly stopped by the room where Esther always stayed before getting married, but now, it was for Julia. Her governess, Sally, would stay in Ruth’s old room across the hall.
Esther and Allan continued to follow Bolt through the hallway, and he stopped at the end of the corridor. “Please let me, or any of the staff, know if you want for anything, Lord and Lady Wiltshire.”
“Thank you, Bolt,” Allan replied. “I’m sure everything will be as perfect as it always is.”
Allan and Esther walked through the doorway and into the room. Allan closed the door behind them, looked at Esther, winked, and said, “Shall we relax, or shall we have a bit of fun?”
Allan and Edward were sitting in the drawing room before dinner waiting on the ladies to join them.
“Congratulations are in order, Cousin,” Allan said, raising a glass of Scotch to Edward.
“Thank you, Allan,” Edward said, smiling widely. “We are obviously ecstatic about this.”
“As you should be,” Allan replied. “It is excellent news, indeed.”
“Have you and Esther talked about children?” Edward asked.
“Of course,” Allan said. “And we consider Julia to be ours, as well, though I daresay we will have more.”
“Certainly,” Edward said. “Have the legal documents gone through, then?”
“They have,” Allan said with a nod.
“Oh, that is perfect!” Edward replied. “Just one more thing to celebrate.”
“Yes,” Allan said. “Both of us are very lucky.”
“Indeed,” Edward said.
“I hate to ask,” Allan said cautiously. “But have you heard anything of Harry?”
Edward sighed and said, “Yes, I have.”
Before Edward could explain, however, a footman walked in. “Your Grace?”
“Yes,” Edward replied.
“Her Grace, Lady Wiltshire, and Miss Ruth Nott have arrived,” the footman replied.
“Please show them in,” Edward replied.
Allan had to smile. He loved hearing Esther referred to as Lady Wiltshire.
Both Edward and Allan stood, and then walked over to embrace their wives. Allan briefly thought of the times he and Esther had been in this room in the past and he had to fight his urges to touch her. Now, he could touch her whenever…and wherever…he pleased.
Allan and Esther sat next to each other on the sofa, and Mary and Edward sat across from them. Ruth sat in the chair between the sofas.
“I almost feel a bit left out here,” she said with a chuckle.
“When will your fiancé arrive?” Allan asked. “I have never met him, and I am looking forward to it.”
“He is looking forward to meeting you, too,” Ruth said. “He will arrive with his family in the morning. They don’t live too far from here, so it is a rather short journey.”
“Now I will feel left out,” Esther said. She put on a fake frown. “My two sisters will live close to each other, and I am so far away!”
Allan patted her leg. “Now, now,” he said. “We can move into the stables, perhaps.”
They all laughed.
Edward cleared his throat and said, “We have had a lot of happy news as of late. Allan and Esther were married a month ago, Mary and I found out that she is with child, and Ruth will be married tomorrow. I was also just informed that sweet Julia is legally Allan’s ward. Thanks to all of this, I propose a toast.”
Edward raised his glass, and the family did the same. “To all of our accomplishments, celebrations, and new additions.”
They all toasted and drank. Edward then turned to Allan. “You asked about Harry, and I was just about to tell you what I know.”
“Yes,” Allan said. “I was simply curious since we haven’t heard anything about him since his confession.”
Edward nodded. “Funny thing about that.”
“Oh?” Allan asked.
“I have received word that Harry has been courting someone,” Edward explained. “And you know her.”
“No!” Allan said in shock. “It can’t be.”
“Harry has been courting Miss Bridget Crampton,” Edward said.
“I cannot believe it!” Allan replied.
Edward shrugged. “They seem perfect for each other. They are both manipulative, uncaring, and selfish, so what could be a better match?”
“You didn’t want Allan to court Miss Crampton,” Esther said. “But you are fine that Harry is?”
“Allan is the Earl of Wiltshire, and yes, I didn’t think that it was appropriate for him to court the daughter of a doctor,” Edward explained. “Harry, on the other hand, is no Earl. In fact, as far as I am concerned, he is untitled and could do very well marrying the daughter of a physician. I also would allow him to work in the stables, if he wished.”
“That makes sense,” Esther said. “And I have to say, I think you are correct.”
Allan was impressed with his wife’s opinion on this. These were the moments when he knew that he and Esther were absolutely meant for each other.
“It was a beautiful wedding breakfast,” Esther said to her Mother. “Ruth looked infinitely happy, didn’t she?”
“She surely did,” her mother replied. “I am so happy that all three of my daughters found love and married men who were perfectly matched to them. It is something that all mothers dream of, in fact.”
Esther nodded. Though technically she wasn’t yet a mother, having Julia in the house felt like having a child, and she would only want the best marriage for her when the time came.
“Speaking of mothers,” Esther said, “how do you feel about becoming a grandmother?”
Her mother smiled widely, “I thought that there was nothing better than being a mother,” she said. “But now that I will become a grandmother, I am changing my mind. I am also looking forward to getting to know Julia better. She, too, is like a grandchild.”
Esther beamed. This is exactly how she pictured her life. Not only was she married to a wonderful husband, but Julia was his ward and part of their family.
“I appreciate that, Mother,” Esther said. “Now that she is settling in and coming out of her shell with Allan, she is a delight to have. In fact, she and I are planning on visiting a couple of orphanages within the fortnight, so I can introduce her to the work that I enjoy doing.”
“I am happy that Allan supports your ventures,” her mother said.
Esther laughed. “Well, if he didn’t, I certainly wouldn’t have married him,” Esther replied.
This made her mother laugh, too. “I married a very similar man, so I can certainly understand that. Speaking of, it looks like your father has really taken a liking to Julia.”
Esther turned to look, and the two of them were laughing together. It looked as if Julia was doing some type of performance or dance, and her father was definitely enjoying it.
“I am so happy to see that,” Esther told her mother. “It really makes my heart happy to know that you and father are so accepting of her.”
“Oh Esther,” her mother replied. “We have been hearing about Julia for years. We practically felt we knew her before we even met her!”
Esther smiled. “That is very true, Mother. She was always an important part of my life once I met her, and Allan doing all of this for us is one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.”
“That’s how you know that you married a good man,” her mother said. “He sacrificed a lot to give you what you want, and you should never forget that.”
“Oh, I won’t,” said Esther. She looked across the room and saw that Allan had joined in with her father and Julia, and all of them were clapping their hands. Esther knew that Allan and Edward had been working with her father to modernize his estate, and thus, he was experiencing more success than ever before.
“It looks like they are having a lot of fun,” her mother said. “That helps to keep him young, and I have to admit, I haven’t seen your father look so happy in a long time.”
Ester watched the trio, and Allan looked up and caught Esther’s eye from across the room. He smiled at her, and a sense of love seemed to fill her body from the top of her head to the tip of her toes. She was so in love with every part of that man, from his fiery red hair and green eyes to the crooked scar that ran down his back. He was absolutely wonderful, and they were wonderful together. She could only hope that her sisters were just as blissful in their marriages, and that all of them would lead long, healthy, and happy lives remaining always in each other’s company.
The day was bright and sunny. Allan and Esther, along with Ester’s parents, and Julia, were standing near a clean, welcoming building.
“Hello, Cousin,” Allan heard, and he turned quickly.
Edward, Mary, their new baby, Elizabeth, and Ruth and David were all walking towards him. Allan had been so focused on making sure that the new orphanage looked good, that he hadn’t even heard them approach.
“Welcome!” Allan said, as he approached his family members. He saw Edward look up at the building, and then look at him and smile.
“I can’t believe you did this so quickly?” Edward said. “It seems like it was only yesterday that you approached me with the idea.”
“I couldn’t have done it without you,” Allan replied. He watched as Julia, Esther, and her mother approached Mary, who was holding the baby, and Ruth.
“I’m happy we could work it out,” said Edward, again taking in the hulking building, which currently stood empty. “How many can it hold?”
“There is enough room for almost one hundred orphans,” Allan said. “It will be the largest orphanage in the region.”
“It will also be the cleanest, I assume,” Edward said. “How many beds are taken?”
“As you know, Esther and I were able to secure the safety of the remaining girls held by Mr. Smith,” Allan explained. “They will be moving in within the next few weeks. We have also secured administrators to care for the girls, and Esther, of course, will run it.”
Edward nodded at him and smiled widely. “You should be so proud of yourself, Allan.”
“I’m proud of us all,” Allan said. “Even Julia is helping with it. She knows some of these girls, and it has helped them feel more comfortable with me being around, too. Most of them don’t trust men.”
“I can understand that,” Edward said sadly. “They have gone through a lot.”
“Indeed,” Allan said. “Fortunately, they have a place to go now.”
He looked up again at the large building, and then over to his wife and her family. He had so much good fortune, and now he could pass that on to others. His dream, which Esther shared, was to provide a safe place for unwanted, unloved girls to go, and now, thanks to the help of the entire family, they were able to create this.
“Your life has greatly changed,” Edward said. “And I think it has been all for the best.”
“It has been wonderful,” Allan said. “And I have my amazing family to thank for it.”
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