Two Years Later
Lydia sat down at the edge of the ballroom and caught her breath. Her ability to indulge in such revels had become more difficult with the child growing inside her. She was swollen with pregnancy, her hands smoothing protectively over the rise of her abdomen as she closed her eyes. The music from the orchestra swirled around her, bringing a smile to her lips.
“Are you weary, my love? Shall we depart?” She opened her eyes to find Edward standing beside her, a worried look on his face. He had become all the more protective since she became pregnant, and their love had only grown in intensity. This was the missing piece to their otherwise contented lives.
Two more figures approached. Caroline appeared flushed from the last dance, with a twinkle in her eyes. Beside her stood her husband, John Chalmers, whose hand never left the small of her back. She, too, was swollen with child, though she seemed to be taking it rather more in her stride than Lydia was.
“I will be quite well in a moment. I somewhat over exerted myself, that is all,” Lydia said, resting her hand on Edward’s.
“Are you certain? I can arrange a carriage immediately.”
She smiled. “Might we take a turn about the gardens instead? I feel the need for some fresh air.”
“Of course, my love.” He helped her to her feet, and the two of them made their way out into the crisp, night air. It had been almost three years since she had last attended one of Baron Sherringham’s balls, but this occasion lacked the fear it had previously held. For, here, she stood with her husband, and could bask in the happy glow of her beloved elder sister.
Mary had been fraught with envy after the two weddings had revealed the contentment of the two oldest Greenwick daughters, but Lydia knew her time would come. She hoped that Mary did not seek marriage too easily, for it had to come from the heart. That was a lesson they had all learned. Their mother included.
After everything that had happened, a fresh peace had fallen across Greenwick Abbey. The Duke had warmed to Edward immeasurably, and often invited him to the house to hunt and fish. Sharing a mutual love of horses, the two Dukes often ventured out on horseback, especially after Edward reunited with his silver steed. He had found the horse wandering around slightly disheveled, but still healthy and strong. All former grievances had been forgotten in the wake of Edward’s heroic rescue, and the Duke was merely happy to see his daughter alive and well.
Meanwhile, her mother, the Duchess, had visited Summerhill Hall with increasing frequency. With the child due within the month, she had become quite the mother hen, clucking over her middle daughter. Caroline was not as far along as Lydia, and John Chalmers’ residence was closer to Greenwick Abbey, so she did not need to fear so greatly for her eldest.
“Have you spoken with your brother?” Lydia asked, as they walked toward the shadowed rose gardens. James had been arrested shortly after the revelations of his part in Edward’s near brushes with death. He had been sentenced to fifteen years in gaol for his crimes, yet Lydia could tell that Edward missed his brother from time to time.
He nodded. “I sent a letter some days ago and received a rather brief reply. He does not wish to hear from me, as per usual. Although, he wrote back, which I must take as a sign of remorse.”
Summerhill Hall had been thrown into turmoil when all had been revealed. It had been the fervent topic on all the gossipmongers’ lips, but time had pressed on, and all had been forgotten. Even the Duchess of Summerhill, Edward’s mother, had come to terms with the wretch her youngest son had become. Indeed, she refused to speak of him at all. It was almost as if he had died, for she would not have his name mentioned in the house.
It had come as quite the surprise to her when Edward had introduced Lydia as his bride-to-be, but she had not been as offended by the idea as Lydia’s father had been. Instead, she had been somewhat relieved that Edward had managed to find a young lady of suitable means to wed. She had not been involved in all of the vileness that had plagued the two families, and so she did not have a stake in its continuance.
“Do you miss him?” Lydia said.
Edward smiled sadly. “All the time. But, more than that, I feel pained by his actions. I cannot understand how he came to hate me so very much. I know I was lax in my attitude towards the dukedom, but that does not seem like a valid reason for the evil he bestowed on me.”
“Jealousy can turn any gentleman towards cruel deeds, my love.”
“You have grown wise in the last few years, sweeting.” He chuckled softly and lifted her hand to his lips. “Far wiser than me, I should say.”
“It has been a time of great change, for all of us.”
Summerhill Hall was flourishing in the wake of such terrible times, with Edward taking a renewed interest in the running of the estate. Slowly, but surely, invitations had come to the door, urging the new Duke and Duchess of Summerhill to attend. London, Bath, York, they came from all over.
Somehow, despite everything, the Summerhill name had indeed risen from the ashes of its former disgrace. Lydia did not like to give responsibility to herself, but she knew it had a great deal to do with their union. The bridges had been built, and the repairs had been made, and now Edward and his family were back where they belonged. Amongst the peerage of England.
“And how does your cousin fare? Has he returned to his estate, or is he still in the wilds of Scotland?” Lydia smiled, for she had grown very fond of Adrian’s fiery wife, Rhiannon. They had visited Summerhill Hall during the Christmastide just gone, and it had been a season of revels for all involved.
“We write as often as we may, but he is rather busy making preparations at the estate in Scotland. It fell into some disrepair, by all accounts, and they are seeking to restore everything to its former glory.”
“You two are very alike,” Lydia teased.
“I owe him a great deal,” he replied, peering at her through the soft light of the moon. “I do not even wish to contemplate where I may be, had he not pursued the trail. James may have found a way to dispose of me.”
Lydia shuddered. “Do not say such things. I cannot bear to hear them.”
“It is tragic to find oneself alone in the world, without siblings,” he continued quietly. “I have you, and I adore you more than life itself. But Summerhill Hall seems so very…vacant, without Amy or James wandering the corridors. I envy your close relationship with your own sisters.”
“Think of them as yours, now. We are one family. We are no longer separated by the darkness of the past.”
His smile widened. He pulled her into his arms and kissed her on the lips. Her arms looped about his neck as he held her, though the swollen rise of her abdomen prevented them from being as close as she might like. One hand smoothed up the arch of her neck as his kiss deepened, his lips pressing more firmly to hers. She kissed him back with equal fervor, grateful to have him as her husband.
She understood how fortunate she was, for things may not have turned out this way. Had her father forbidden the marriage, she would be in a convent at this very moment, wishing to escape. Indeed, although it had been a terrible set of circumstances, she was almost grateful that Silas Manners had made that attempt on her life. For, had he not, she would not be here now, with Edward. Madly in love.
James’ jealousy and bitterness had led to something beautiful and untouchable. A love that not even the feuds of old could come between. She often wondered if she might have married another, had Edward not stumbled into her life that day, when he awoke with no memory in the woods. Although, she could never picture it.
As far as she was concerned, Edward had always been destined for her, and she for him. It was divine intervention that had sent him to her, and she would remain grateful for the rest of her day. Here was a love not unlike the one her grandparents had shared, and she only wished she would be lucky enough to have it continue, until death parted them temporarily once more.
She paused as a sudden pain jolted through her abdomen. Pulling away from Edward, she wrapped her hands around her stomach and grimaced.
“Is something the matter, my love?” Edward’s panicked tone echoed about her.
“A pain, darling.”
“Come, we must return to Greenwick Abbey this instant. You are unwell. I ought to have sent for the carriage the moment you sat down, for I knew you were exhausted.”
She grasped his hand, a sheen of perspiration dampening her brow. “I do not believe I am unwell, my love.”
“Then what ails you?”
She smiled up at him. “I believe the child may be coming.”
A few weeks earlier than expected, Edward paced the hallway outside Lydia’s old bedchamber and waited to be called in. They had returned immediately from Lord Sherringham’s ball, where midwives had been hailed to attend on his wife. The pains had increased on the journey back, leaving them in little doubt that the child was, indeed, coming.
“Your life will change forever, the moment this infant is born,” the Duke of Greenwick said. He was also pacing the hallway, keeping his son-in-law company during this anxious time.
“I am eager to meet my child,” Edward replied, with a nervous smile.
“Would you favor a son or a daughter?”
Edward paused. “As long as the child is in good health, I do not believe I shall mind.”
The Duke laughed. “Allow me to warn you, in advance of your child’s birth—if you are to have a daughter, they can be rather wild when they progress into adulthood. They will give you many a sleepless night, even after they are grown.”
“I am sorry for any restless nights that Lydia and I caused you, Your Grace.”
“That is in the past now, Edward. My daughter is happy, and that is all that matters to me. I was so preoccupied with ancient history that I could not look forward to the future. You both changed that, and I am glad of it.” The Duke came over and rested his hand on Edward’s shoulder. “You made me see how useless such grievances are. It is I who should be sorry.”
“You were doing what you thought was best. How can you apologize for that? I will not accept it.”
The two men froze as a sharp, wailing cry pierced the air.
A moment later, the midwife emerged from the bedchamber and beckoned to Edward. He followed her into the softly-lit room and looked towards the bed where his wife lay. She smiled up at him, looking drained but exhilarated. And, in her arms, she held a tiny child, so perfect it made Edward’s heart ache.
He hurried to her side and sat upon the edge of the bed. Tentatively, he reached over and touched the child’s miniature palm. The baby instinctively wrapped its surprisingly strong hand around his finger and gripped it tight.
“You have a daughter, my love,” Lydia murmured.
Edward smiled down at her and placed a tender kiss upon her sweat-dampened brow. “And what shall we name her?”
“I thought Amy might be nice.”
Tears filled Edward’s eyes. “Then Amy it shall be.”
Here, in this room, he could see the expanse of his entire world. As long as he had his wife and child, he could endure anything. He vowed to continue in his endeavors to be a better man, not only for Lydia, but for this tiny little girl, too. He would pave a path for her, where she could not falter. And he would do so in the memory of her namesake.
In the happy years that followed, they would come to have two more children—sons, named Joseph and Howard. And, together, they would become the most contented souls in all of England. Lydia and Edward grew in love and happiness, prompting envy from all who looked upon them.
Edward would watch his sons playing with his daughter and be reminded of his own childhood. He did not instill the same competitive streak in them that his own father had instilled in him, and he promised to never stand in the way of their happiness. For, to him, they were his happiness, no matter what may come.
Although it saddened him to know that James would never be part of their lives, he was eternally grateful for this gift he had been given. His name and his estate had languished in darkness for much too long, and it had been the reparations of two families that had brought it back into the light.
And, at long last, all of the ghosts of Summerhill Hall had been put to rest, never to stir again.
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