Six Months Later
The carriage drew up beside the house as Arthur stood waiting at the door for his daughter and her family. He had been expecting them all day and was quite excited to be hosting them for the Christmas holidays. He counted himself very lucky that in spite of his transgressions, his daughter had found it in her heart to forgive him.
The Earl alighted first from the carriage, turning immediately to help Emily out. She stepped out slowly, hand on the delicate curve of her belly. Her stepdaughter, Lady Nancy jumped out immediately after, reaching to steady her on her other side. The younger children jumped out directly after, skirting the others to come running toward Arthur excitedly.
He smiled with pleasure to see them and they smiled happily back, offering greetings and falling over each other to give him news.
“Mother Emily is having a baby,” Lady Anne said as if Emily had not written to tell him the news months ago.
“That’s good news, is it not?” he asked Lady Anne.
She grinned at him. “We won’t be the smallest anymore.”
“That’s true. But you have to look out for your new sister or brother is that not so?”
The twins looked at each other, seeming to think about it. “I suppose,” Lord Essex said grudgingly.
Arthur suppressed his laughter, turning to greet his daughter and son-in-law.
“And how was the journey? I hope the road was not too rocky.”
Emily rolled her eyes. “It was much the same as usual, but these two were coddling me so much I hardly noticed.” She looked toward the Earl and Lady Nancy with feigned irritability before grinning at them.
“Yes, well, you’re the one who insisted on making the trip.” Lady Nancy said.
“It’s beautiful here at Christmas,” Emily protested.
“Your father offered to come to town.” Lord Sulby said sulkily.
“Yes, well, I missed the place.” Emily shrugged, smiling at her father, “You don’t mind having us here, do you Father?”
“Of course not. I’ve made some preparations for you, cleared out the ba–the er, cottage at the back. It’s all clean and ready for you.”
“Thank you, Father.” Emily looked gratefully at him and he was glad that he had been able to convert the barn that usually held his grain into a passingly comfortable cottage. He’d had four beds put in; two in the loft and one in the corner. He thought that Emily, her husband, and the two girls could use the barn while Lord Essex could take her old bed in the house.
He had made sure to put in some glass in the window, cleaned and sanded the floors and put in some flowers, a tub for them to bathe and a makeshift fireplace. They’d have to use the outhouse but it wasn’t too far from the barn.
“All right then, let us get you settled in because I have a lot of activities planned for your stay.”
He took Lord Essex’s bags and showed him where to put them before leading the rest to the barn. Lady Anne was predictably excited about sleeping in the loft while Lady Nancy was less enthusiastic but uttered no complaint. Emily and her husband of course, were amiably grateful for the efforts he had made.
“This is actually very nice. Did you clean it up yourself or did Mrs. Robinson help you?” Emily asked as she sat on the straight-backed chair as her husband herded his children into putting their luggage away.
“I did it myself…after Mrs. Robinson brought some women from the village and cleaned the place.”
Emily laughed. “I knew it was too clean for you to have done it.” She ran her hands over the workmanship of the chair. “This looks familiar though. Have you taken up woodworking again?”
Arthur shrugged self-deprecatingly, “I enjoy it. It keeps me busy in the evenings and away from the gaming hells and taverns.”
Emily smiled. “That’s good. I’m glad.”
Arthur reached for her shoulder and squeezed. “Do you need to rest? You have a feather mattress on your bed, I assure you it’s very comfortable.”
“I do feel a little tired. Perhaps I’ll go and lie down for a while. Are you able to make supper for the children or do you need me to–”
“No, no,” Arthur waved a hand, “I have venison that’s been cooking for days. Mrs. Robinson brought fresh bread. We are well set for supper.”
“Good.” Emily got to her feet, “I’ll go and lie down.” She shuffled off, looking tired and Arthur watched her go, his eyes soft with affection. Lord Sulby came down the stairs, smiling and shaking his head. “The children are quite enamored of your loft. I fear that their mundane bed chambers may not suffice from now on.”
Arthur snorted. “The novelty will wear off sooner or later, never fear. I have the chess board set up if you would like to have a game after the evening meal.”
Lord Sulby nodded. “I look forward to a rematch.”
Playing chess with Arthur Fletcher continued to be surprising for Duncan. The man seemed so unassuming and yet he was capable of pulling out the most unexpected tricks. It was one of the things that made playing chess with him so interesting. The children had all retired after dinner, having had a long day while Emily had not woken from her afternoon nap. Arthur had made a plate for Duncan to take to her in case she woke in the middle of the night.
“Lady Nancy seemed particularly worried about Emily during dinner. Is everything all right?”
Duncan smiled. “Yes. Nancy is always fussing over Emily. The fact that she slept through dinner will be cause for her to stuff twice as much food down her throat at breakfast.”
“It must be nice that she’s so concerned for the child. It would have been easy for her to be jealous.”
Duncan shook his head. “Oh, no, the two of them are thick as thieves. If anyone should be jealous, it’s me.”
Arthur smiled. “It does my heart good to see Emily surrounded by so much love. It is what she deserves.”
“That’s true. It is what she deserves. And we’re happy to give it to her.”
“I see how happy you make her and I tell myself that what I did was not so bad if it led her to her happiness.” His expression became bleak. “Sometimes, I even manage to convince myself.”
Duncan reached for the wine and filled up Arthur’s glass. “Take it from one who has lived with guilt for years. It is not worth it.”
Arthur nodded. “Your words are noted.”
Emily woke up the next morning and smiled as she saw the plate of food by her bedside. Her stomach grumbled loudly and she reached for it, placing it on her distended belly as she gobbled down the sandwiches. Duncan was fast asleep by her side and she let him sleep, slipping out of bed and picking up her gown. She slipped it over her head before wearing some boots and heading out toward the stables where she knew her father must be milking the cows.
She met him heading toward the house with two steaming buckets of milk and he smiled at her happily. “Good morning. What have you got planned for us today?”
“I thought I’d take the little ones fishing.”
“Oh, really? That sounds exciting. I’m sure they will enjoy that…though they’re not so little anymore.”
“You always had a good time when I took you out on the water.”
“That I did.”
They entered the house where Arthur put the milk on the table.
“Do you think they’ll enjoy it too?”
Emily smiled. “I think we all will.”
When they returned to London for the New Year, Duncan found a message from Mr. Hansom informing him that Laurence Blackmore had been seen in London. He frowned, his whole body tensing.
“What’s wrong?” Emily asked.
He looked up, and smiled at her. “Nothing that need concern you. I’ll deal with it.”
Emily nodded, leaning in to press her lips to his. “All right. If you’re sure.”
“Yes, I am.” He leaned over and kissed her as well before picking up his coat. “I have to go. I’ll be back later.”
Emily nodded and watched him go. He hardly felt bad about telling her about Blackmore. There was no need to disturb her peace of mind. He took a horse and took off for Bow Street, asking for Hansom at his headquarters. Luckily the man was on the premises and came to meet him at once.
“I have been trailing him around London,” he told Duncan, “He came in on the two-and-twenty of December, the day after you left town. I don’t think it was an accident.
“And he is still here?”
“Yes. He looked at some properties. I’m not sure if he is looking to buy, but he seems to think he is safe.”
“Well, then we must disabuse him of this notion.”
“Indeed. That is what I thought you would say. I shall gather a few more of my men and we can go and arrest him.”
Duncan reached into his pocket and extracted Blackmore’s confession, “It’s a good thing I kept this eh?”
Hansom looked down at it. “It will help, yes.”
He got home and found Emily waiting for him in the parlor, sitting in the rocking chair, knitting.
“Did everything go all right?”
He hesitated, not at all sure he should tell her anything. She looked up, amber eyes wide and knowing. “What happened?”
He could not lie to her. They had promised each other there would be no lies in their family. “Blackmore came back to town. I had him arrested.”
Emily nodded. “So everything might come out in the open?”
“I spoke with the magistrate and he said there’s no need to make the details public. However, anyone who cares to check the records might find out what happened.”
She put aside her knitting and got to her feet. “It doesn’t matter in any case. Everybody who matters already knows.” She walked to him and put her hands around his waist blinking up at him. “Will you take me to bed?”
Duncan smiled softly. “It will be my pleasure.”
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