Three Years Later
Charlotte couldn’t fall asleep. Every day for the past three years, she laid in the arms of her husband and had drifted off to dreamland with ease. She woke with a smile on her face, with happiness in her heart, and eagerness to take on the day ahead of her. But tonight, sleep escaped her and she was certain it had everything to do with the trip they would take the next day.
It is quite unusual, she thought as she stared up at the dark ceiling, how I can still grow nervous and excited over such simple matters.
Despite how tired she felt, despite the fact that she knew once the next morning came, she would be far to groggy to be of any use, Charlotte smiled.
She turned in the bed, facing the man by her side. He laid on his back, his chest rising and falling in steady slumber while he snored gently. The sight of him brought on the same spark of yearning, the same never-ending love. Charlotte laid a gentle hand on his chest, curled as she was in his arms.
“I see you are not nearly as excited for our trip tomorrow as I am,” she murmured. “Will you truly leave me to stay awake on my own? How cruel of you.”
As expected, she received no answer. Charlotte’s smile widened and she began to pull away. Perhaps a short walk through the manor, or even reading a book in the library, would help with her inability to sleep. She swung her legs over the side of the bed, but before she could stand, a hand clamped around her wrist.
Charlotte looked behind her in surprise. Marcus was staring back at her, his lashes parted only slightly. “You cannot rightly think I will let you be after calling me cruel?” he grumbled in a sleepy voice that made Charlotte’s heart thud.
She chuckled. “Have you been awake all this time?”
“How could I sleep when you toss and turn the way that you do?”
“Well, then, that’s simply perfect.” Sliding back over the bed, Charlotte reached over and planted a kiss on his lips simply because she could. “I was planning on going for a short walk through the manor, and now that you awake, we can do so together.”
Charlotte crawled out of the bed, leaving Marcus’ outstretched hand lying limply on the side she’d vacated. She turned to face him as she dragged her fingers through her hair and he watched her every move, his eyes dark. Her loins throbbed with need at his heated gaze and butterflies fluttered in her stomach when he smiled.
“Perhaps there are other ways we can tire you out?” he suggested, sitting up.
Despite the fact that his words nearly made her knees go weak, Charlotte only cocked her head to the side. “What do you suggest? A midnight horse ride? That would only get our heart’s racing, do you not think?”
“You know exactly what I mean,” Marcus said, not taking his eyes off her as she walked away to light a candle.
“I do?” Charlotte asked innocently. With the candle lit, she turned to face him again. “Are you certain?”
Marcus chuckled. “Very well, then. You win. I will play your game for tonight.”
“As you have every other night,” she commented, her smile widening as he came to join her side.
Marcus took the candle from her and reached for her hand at the same time. He led the way out of their bedchamber, starting down the quiet, moonlit hallway of Ranfield Manor.
“It will be quite a task,” Charlotte said, breaking through the silence that had descended upon them, “to make our leave in the morning.”
“Is that what you lay awake thinking about?” Marcus asked.
Charlotte nodded. She held on to his arm, resting her head just barely on his shoulder. With him like this, she always felt comfortable. No one else mattered when they were together in moments like these. No one could understand how she’d come to rely on him in nearly every aspect of her life.
“Can you blame me?” she asked. “Traveling with babies can be quite a task.”
“It is a good thing we are not going very far then. Scotland is but a few days ride from this manor.” Tomorrow, they would set out to an estate Marcus owned in Scotland, where they would spend a few months away from their many responsibilities. And the thought of being away from the children for too long would only make her nervous.
“Yes,” Charlotte nodded, “a few days ride with little Belinda’s piercing wails traveling with us for the entire time.”
Marcus chuckled loudly at that. “She is quite vocal, isn’t she?”
“Heavens, I can already imagine it.” Even so, the image made Charlotte smile.
They fell into a peaceful silence once more. Without realizing it, they’d made their way to the nursery. The room was swathed in darkness, eerily quiet. Charlotte came to a pause at the door, reveling in the general lack of chaos seeing it was so late at night. During the days, the nursery floor was overrun with toys, an active toddler wobbling to and fro to wreak havoc wherever he could. Now, the floor had been cleaned of all toys and that toddler was tucked away in his bed.
Charlotte approached his crib, still clinging to Marcus’ hand. Her heart swelled with love the moment she laid eyes on the chubby face. William Davenport was bound to look exactly like his father, with wisps of brown hair deepened by his chocolate eyes.
“Do you think he will cry if I pick him up?” Charlotte asked in a low voice.
“Without a shadow of a doubt,” Marcus answered instantly.
She couldn’t help pouting at that. Most her days, when she was not entertaining a guest or engaging in some other activity, Charlotte was with her children. She remembered the day she’d given birth to William as if it had happened yesterday and not almost three years ago. She’d spent hours crying and screaming, melting into the bed whenever she got a moment’s rest, which did not happen frequently. William had come at dawn, a big baby with cries that ran through the entire manor. He’d cried nearly the entire day after that, but after a few days, he stopped. He’d steadily grown into a quiet child who didn’t fuss about anything. All he wanted to do was play and Charlotte was always more than willing to sit and watch him when he did.
Without a doubt, he would be restless sitting in a carriage while on their way to Scotland, despite the fact that they would be resting at coaching inns on the way there.
Silently, Charlotte moved over to the other end of the nursery where Belinda laid. She was only nine months old, small where William had been big. As fate would have it, she’d claimed all of Charlotte’s features, with thick, black lashes casting shadows against her cheek and a head of black curls.
And, unlike her older brother, Belinda cried constantly. Charlotte found that her newborn babe did not fancy when Marcus was not around, and would always throw a small tantrum until she could get her way. Marcus, of course, loved it.
“I shall have to raise Georgette’s wages,” Marcus said by her side, referring to the children’s governess. She was an elderly woman who worked wonders with the children. Charlotte was grateful she’d found such an efficient and easy-going governess.
“I reckon she enjoys her time with them as much as we do,” Charlotte murmured. Unable to help herself, she reached out and brushed her fingers against Belinda’s soft cheek. The baby didn’t move an inch and Charlotte had to resist the urge to hold her in her arms, knowing how terrible an idea that was.
Without warning, Marcus wrapped his arms around her waist, twirling her around to face him. Charlotte let out a small gasp as she collided into his chest.
“Let us not risk waking the young ones,” he mumbled, his lips already nuzzling her neck. Charlotte clung to him, her knees going weak with need. “Why don’t we return to our bedchamber?”
“Are you ready to return to sleep?” she asked, a tad breathless. It was amazing how easily he could affect her, but she wasn’t complaining. She was already eager to hear what he would say.
Marcus lifted his head, wearing a wicked grin that made her her heart flutter. The shadows deepened his jaw, seemed to make his blue eyes go dark with passion when he said, “I have something else in mind.”
“Is that so?” He returned his lips to her neck, enticing nibbles nearly robbing her of her ability to speak. Charlotte wrapped an arm around his neck, her fingers in his hair, her eyes rolling to the back of her head. She tried to remembered what she’d planned on saying. “There is something I must tell you first, Marcus,” she rasped.
“What might that be?” He didn’t stop his indecent torture, knowing just the right spots to drive her insane with need. Charlotte bit her lip, hoping to hold back her moans. If she dared to give in to it, she might wake the children.
“I am with child.”
Marcus jerked away from her with such force that Charlotte stumbled a bit. Even under the very little lighting, she saw that his eyes were wide with shock. “Pardon me?” he blurted out, a little louder than he should have.
“Hush!” Charlotte said quickly, putting a finger to her lips. She glanced cautiously at the cribs but both William and Belinda remained deep in sleep. Marcus’ eyes didn’t move from her for a second.
“Charlotte, do you—”
“Do I jest?” she whispered. “I wouldn’t dare. Though I must say, you are quite proficient in that task, aren’t you?”
“Goodness, Charlotte.” In an instant, she was in his arms again, his hand stroking her hair. He let out a shaky breath and Charlotte laughed. She would never grow tired of this reaction every time she told him she was with child. It made her feel loved, appreciated.
She would not forget how he’d waited outside the doors of their bedchamber while she’d given birth to William and Belinda, fraught with worry. For the hours she’d spent giving birth, Marcus had wanted to spend it by her side.
Charlotte embraced him tightly. “I only received confirmation of it just earlier today. It appears I am only a month along, so it will be some time before I am waddling around this manor with my emotions running amok.”
“I can hardly wait,” he breathed.
Charlotte giggled. “Then, tell me, Marcus. Do you wish for a daughter or a son?”
Marcus pulled away and kissed her fiercely, holding her face with both his hands. Charlotte’s chest went tight with need even as he pulled away. “It does not matter,” he murmured to her. “I am happy to have either one.” Then he kissed her again, pouring every ounce of love into the contact.
Charlotte felt warmth run through her body. When he broke the kiss, she didn’t stop there. She mimicked his earlier actions, running biting kisses on along the length of his neck and up to his ear. Marcus shuddered under the gentleness of her contact, his fingers tightening on her waist.
“I quite liked your earlier suggestion,” she mumbled against his heated kiss. “Perhaps we could return to it.”
“Did you now?” Suddenly, Marcus swept Charlotte into his arms. She had to throw a hand over her mouth to keep from yelping in surprise. “The day I say no to you, Charlotte, is the day I lose my mind.”
“I like the sound of that,” Charlotte giggled and Marcus chuckled himself as they left the nursery.
They didn’t say anything after that. Charlotte rested her head on his shoulder as she was carried away, feeling safe in his arms. The days to come would be hard ones, traveling as they would be as a family. And Charlotte was looking forward to every minute of it.
But for tonight, it was only her and Marcus, molding the pieces of their hearts into one as they would their bodies. For tonight, Charlotte knew she would not have to think about a single thing, but how lucky she was to have gotten a life quite like this.
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