“Do you suppose they will be surprised to see us?” Elizabeth asked as their carriage rolled to a stop.
Andrew turned to his wife. “Well, you did tell them you would not be able to make the trip because you were feeling unwell. They are not expecting us. Of course, they would be surprised to see us.”
His heart filled with warmth when she smiled happily. “I cannot wait to see the look on their faces.”
Seeing the look on your face is more than satisfaction enough for me.
“Well, in that case, let us not linger, shall we?”
He got down from the carriage then and carefully helped her do the same. As she came to stand beside him, her hand rested on her protruded belly. Andrew knew that these days, she did so distractedly.
She was five months with child, and they were yet to tell their family. This was because in the first year of their marriage, they had tried to conceive but it evidently had simply not been the time.
When the heavens finally opened her womb, they decided that it would be good to wait for a perfect time to break the good news to everyone.
With Elizabeth’s niece’s birthday coming, they had agreed there would be no better moment. All their families would be gathered and everyone would see for themselves, just how much they would be blessed.
“Gillian will be here as well,” Elizabeth said.
“And Harrison is certain to be by her side. He’s entirely smitten with her. I did not think a time would ever come when I would see him so besotted. Who would have thought that when he would finally fall in love, it would be with my sister?”
It had started at their wedding. Gillian and Harrison had grown quite close during the ceremony and Andrew believed that it had been love at first dance. Of course, just like he had done with Elizabeth, his sister and his friend had kept the truth of their love a secret.
Until one day, they had visited him hand in hand, declaring their love and wish to be married. Andrew had been awe-struck to receive their news but he had seen the truth in the way they looked at each other, that their minds would not be changed.
“So, you were reluctant to give your blessings” his dear wife said.
“Well, if there is anyone who knows Harrison better than others, it is I. He was born a rogue. Of course, I was worried for my dear sister. Especially after what had happened with Melwood.”
Elizabeth softly nudged his sides. “You changed.”
“As you so often reminded me until I agreed to giving my blessings. You know I wasn’t born a rake, unlike Harrison. Nonetheless, I saw reason.”
Elizabeth’s smile still had the ability to melt his heart, even after all this time. “You always did. We all know you were going to give your blessings eventually. You were simply proving stubborn and punishing them for hiding it from you.”
Andrew could not deny that. “I suppose this is why we were made for each other. Sometimes, you know me better than myself.”
Deep down, he had been happy that his sister and his friend had found love in each other. Just like himself, Harrison was no liar. If he hadn’t had good intentions with Gillian, he never would have pursued her, if only out of respect for Andrew.
When love happens, even the strongest of gentlemen is hopeless to resist and the biggest of rakes become saints.
After all, he was proof.
His sister and friend had gotten married a year and half ago. It had been a small ceremony in the country side as well. No more than a year later, they had welcomed their son, Benjamin. They were clearly very happy together and Andrew couldn’t wish for more.
As for Melwood, he had been found guilty but given the pain of losing his wife, his sentence had been lenient. He had been sent to the colonies to serve for three years. There was only one year left of his sentence now.
Occasionally, Andrew wrote to him. Melwood had never written back but at the very least, he hadn’t asked Andrew to stop sending them. This encouraged him to continue.
Finally, they reached the doors of the Montroy manor and they were let in by the butler who was evidently surprised to see them.
He led them all the way to the dining hall. There, guests and family were gathered, celebrating Helena, Beatrice’s daughter. It was she who saw them first. Happily, she chimed. “Aunt Elizabeth!”
Everyone turned to face them and as they did, gasps of surprise filled the air.
Helena was the first to reach their side and by the time they were done hugging the bundle of joy, their family had surrounded them.
“My goodness! You said you were not coming! Yet here you are and oh… very much with child!” her mother chimed. “Oh dear, I cannot believe you would keep such a thing from us. Praise the heavens! Praise the heavens!”
She drew her daughter into a warm embrace and held on for a long time.
The others came to congratulate him. Just as they had thought, everyone was present.
The Duke and Duchess of Ranleigh, the Duke and Duchess of Montroy, his father, Harrison and Gillian. Everyone who mattered to them.
They took turns, hugging Elizabeth and congratulating her as well.
“Welcome to fatherhood, Andrew!” Harrison chimed.
Andrew could not stop beaming. “Well, there are still months to go but I suppose I can say thank you.”
“Of course, you can! We are so happy for you!” that was his father.
“Thank you, Father.”
“I’m going to be an aunt,” Gillian added, evidently giddy.
“And I’m going to be a grandfather for the second time,” his father-in-law said.
Elizabeth chuckled then. “Yes, we are all going to mothers, fathers, grandparents, uncles, aunties…” she looked down at Helena. “Cousins. Our family keeps growing bigger and I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I’m happy to be here, with you all once again. So happy.”
Andrew drew her into his arms. “We shall continue to have reasons to celebrate, my dear.”
“So it shall be!” the others chorused. They all broke into happy laughter then.
It was the sweetest sound Andrew had ever heard and he hoped with all his heart that such joy would abound in their hearts for decades to come.
“I knew I would find you here.”
Elizabeth smiled as she looked up from the book she was reading. Her heart skipped a beat as her eyes beheld her husband. She found it truly amazing that after all this time, he still affected her so.
She had reckoned she would grow accustomed to it eventually. His presence, his love… yet she had only continued to be proven wrong. It was new every blessed day. The love they shared. She could never get enough of it. She knew that now.
“I thought you would not be back until evening,” she said softly, lifting her head to meet him halfway when he lowered to kiss her lips.
Every part of her tingled, even her toes curled. It was just like it had been that first time, all those years ago. Yet, even better.
“I was able to finish all that I set out to do earlier than I reckoned. As I could not bear to be away from you one moment longer, I returned home as quickly as I could,” Andrew replied.
Elizabeth’s smile deepened. His words were music to her soul. It was times like this that made her thankful for the decision she had made to forgive him and accept him as he was. She was just as grateful for waiting all those years, refusing to marry the first gentleman who declared interest in her just to leave the marriage mart.
Andrew was worth the wait. Every moment with him since they became husband and wife, she continued to see that it could have been no other person but him. He treated her with love and respect, gentleness and honor. As his equal, his friend. She knew that she was blessed indeed.
“I’m glad you did. We are happy to see you.”
His eyes went to her well-rounded belly where her hand was resting carefully. Ever so gently, he lowered and pressed a kiss against her stomach.
“Any day now,” he said.
Elizabeth nodded. “These days, whenever I wake, I keep wondering… will today be the day? Oh, Andrew, I cannot wait to meet her.”
A soft chuckle broke free from his lips. “You are still certain it’s a girl.”
“It is, I tell you. I can just feel it.”
“And if it isn’t?”
“It would make no difference. I would love him with all of my heart and I know you would too.”
Her husband’s smile warmed her insides. It was easy to see just how happy he was. “He is already the most loved child in the whole world and he hasn’t even been born yet. I fear he might be spoiled.”
It was Elizabeth’s turn to chuckle. “If it’s a girl, I have decided. We shall name her Charlotte, after your mother.”
“Charlotte,” Andrew repeated, awe evident.
She bobbed her head. “Would you like that?”
“Would I?” he rose to give her a sweet, lingering kiss. “I love it. Oh, Elizabeth, I love you. Thank you for always being so thoughtful and kind.”
She opened her mouth to respond but before the words could form, a fierce pain pierced through her, making her cry out in agony.
Andrew was frantic in an instant. “Elizabeth? Darling? What is the matter?”
She would have answered but once more, she felt the pain. This time, it was stronger than the last. It soon dawned on her, what was happening.
As her legs grew wet, her thoughts were confirmed.
“Andrew?” she managed to call.
“Yes, my love? What can I do? What do you need?”
“The physician. Send for him. I think today is the day. Oh Andrew, our child is finally going to be bo…” she never got to finish that sentence as the pain came again, making her cry even louder.
Andrew wasted no time swinging into action. Quickly, he alerted his household. After sending for the physician, with Rufus’s help, he carried her to her chambers.
There, he remained with her, holding her hand and petting her as he encouraged her to breathe. For Elizabeth, the pain was near unbearable.
It was unlike anything she had ever felt before and it kept growing worse.
“Look at me. Only look at me, Elizabeth. You will be fine. Do you trust me?”
“Good. You will be just fine. As will our child. We will live long together, one big happy family, all of us. You just wait and see.”
His words brought her great comfort. His presence, strength.
She continued to draw on to that strength until the physician arrived with other mid-wives. Then, he was made to leave. Ever reluctantly, he pulled away but not without reassuring her of his love and the truth that she had all the strength required to bring their child into this world.
Elizabeth did not know how long she remained in that bed, trying to birth the child she knew she would cherish with all her heart. It seemed like a century, the pain unending.
However, she listened to the physician, obeyed his instructions, she held on to Andrew’s words and promises and eventually, summoning all of her might and will, she pushed for the very last time.
Relief flooded her as she felt the new life come out of her. In her ears, the cries of a new born babe sounded. She was beyond exhausted but the joy she knew in that moment could be likened to no other.
A moment later, Andrew entered the chamber. The physician handed over the baby who had already been wrapped to him. Elizabeth held out her arms as Andrew reached her. When she held her baby for the first time, her heart opened in ways she could never have thought possible, and she knew then that she was about to experience a whole new measure of love.
“You were right,” Andrew whispered in her ears. “It’s a girl.”
Elizabeth’s eyes filled with fresh tears. It was a thing of wonder that someone so pure, so perfect could come out of her. She was the more gorgeous sight Elizabeth had ever beheld.
“It’s unbelievable,” she whispered.
“Unfathomable,” he agreed.
“She’s so beautiful…”
“Like her mother.”
“Oh, Andrew… I love her.”
“As do I. Our own child. Charlotte Anne Hastings.”
“Well, she has two grandmothers, does she not? It’s only right that we honor both of them.”
Elizabeth’s smile deepened “Mother would like that, very much.” She heaved a blissful sigh. “This is what it feels like. Having a family. Oh, Andrew, I thought I had experienced all the joy and love there was to… but this, I simply cannot explain it. It’s… my heart feels like it could burst.”
Andrew’s arms came around her then. “It will only get better, my love. We will only continue to experience new heights of joy and depths of love all of our days.”
It was a prayer, Elizabeth knew. So, with all of her heart, she said, “Amen.”