The Viscount I Once Loved (Extended Epilogue)

Four years later…

The breakfast table was loud and full of chatter. Grace, an approaching-sensible young lady of ten, helped herself to jam as Rosalind cradled James, her younger brother on her lap. At the other end of the table, Andrew sat with his paper as he did every morning.

“Mama,” Grace said, having buttered her toast, “would you like me to hold James so you may also indulge in some breakfast?”

Rosalind deposited her two-year-old son on Grace’s lap. “I don’t know what I’d do without you,” she said in half relief, half amusement, as Grace locked her arms firmly around the wiggling child and told him, in a firm voice, that he must sit still or else he would not get any breakfast.

Andrew looked up, his eyes sparkling with amusement as he moved his gaze from her to Grace and back again. Both  parents admired how she had embraced the presence of a younger brother, and Lily had mentioned Grace’s graciousness several times.

Rosalind didn’t want to think about their walk to Sydney Gardens, even though James became surprisingly malleable once they were outside, especially if it was sunny, which the day promised to be.

“Any news from London?” she asked her husband. Over the course of their marriage, coming to Bath over the summer had become a tradition that Grace loved, in particular. As did her parents, who had all but retired from London society and preferred the quieter Bath life.

“Nothing but business reports,” Andrew said; rising her and giving her a quick kiss. “I am to write a letter before we head out. Let me know when you’re ready to depart.”

“Has anyone ever told you that you should work less?” she teased; taking his arm and pulling him down for a longer kiss.

“Mama!” Grace complained; averting her eyes. “Not at the breakfast table.”

Rosalind laughed and let Andrew go, but the warm glow of love still lingered in her stomach. Much as Grace complained, Rosalind was glad her daughter finally experienced what it was like to live in a home where her parents loved and respected one another — where she, too, was valued and loved for who she was.

Grace would never again be made to feel like a disappointment, and James would never know what it was to grow up in fear and resentment.

As soon as breakfast was over, Rosalind gathered her children and prepared for the day. Rosalind would be forced to carry James after he finished waddling some of the way, though she hoped she could persuade Andrew to carry James on his shoulders. Her son and her arms would both be grateful.

Rosalind finally called for Andrew, and they left their house as a family unit, a far cry from the horrors she had endured with Charles Rothenwood. She reflected on him and the contrast between her life now and then. Forgetting him would be a power she would like to have over him, but until she could forget the scar that seven years of misery had left on her heart, she would use the memories as another reason to be thankful.

As predicted, James quickly lost interest in walking, but without so much as a word from her, Andrew swung the boy onto his shoulders.

“There you go,” Andrew said. “Now you can see even more than I can.”

“Papa!” Grace glared at him but the very fact she called him ‘Papa’ — a very recent development — had him smiling down at her.

“Perhaps when we get to the park, you may have a turn,” he said, “but young ladies do not usually ride on their father’s shoulders.”

“Young ladies,” Rosalind said; taking Grace’s hand, “are proud and graceful and do not engage in such childish behaviors.”

Grace tilted her chin in the air. “I am a young lady.”

“Indeed you are,” Rosalind said; glancing at Andrew with another smile. “And you are a beautiful one, too.”

Indeed, Grace’s hair was growing longer by the day; its color a beautiful gold that matched Rosalind’s, curling delightfully down her back.

The entrance to Sydney Gardens was marked by a large iron gate, through which they walked, Rosalind’s arm entangled in Andrew’s and her hand in Grace’s. On such a lovely summer day, the butterflies were flooding the flowers spread around them, as beautifully dressed as the ladies who walked by, fans waving the warm air at their faces in a futile attempt to keep cool.

“I am hot,” Grace said; tugging at Rosalind’s arm. “May we go to the river?”

“I think we can do that.”

James made inarticulate comments about the flowers and bees as they passed, and Rosalind reflected that she could not have been happier. Several acquaintances greeted her, the distressing events of four years ago long forgotten, and she bathed in the knowledge that her family was healthy and beautiful and complete.

In the distance, a familiar lady leaned heavily on a gentleman’s arm; her stomach protruding before her. Rosalind remembered the days of being very pregnant in this heat and her heart beamed with sympathy. A familiar lady, in fact — it was Viscount Odendale’s daughter, Deborah. Rosalind had heard that she had married a Marquess last year and was very happily settled. Given the size of her stomach, she did exceptionally well.

She nudged Andrew; drawing his attention to the girl. “Do you regret not pursuing her?” she asked, already knowing the answer, and amused by the expression of surprise that crossed Andrew’s face.

“I hate to disappoint you,” he murmured; bringing his face dangerously close to hers, and leaving James in imminent danger of toppling off, “but there is but one lady for me.”

“And who might that be?”

He cupped her chin with his free hand and kissed her; oblivious to the people that surrounded him or the lazy heat that pulsed from the sky. Rosalind dismissed those concerns, too; there could be nothing more important than the presence of her husband here, like this.

Grace sucked in an outraged breath. “Mama!”

Andrew broke away with a wink and soothed their daughter, while Rosalind looked across at Deborah. The two ladies smiled at one another, separated by circumstance and fortune, but both equally happy in their lot. As it should be, Rosalind thought.


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