Elena sighed as she put the finishing touches on her letter. She smiled faintly as she re-read over the one-page missive, blotted it, and affixed a seal. She was eager for the letter to be on its way as soon as possible, for it would take several weeks to reach her parents in Scotland.
She turned as a rustling of sheets sounded from the bed across the room. James yawned, stretching his arms above his head, and sat up. “What are you doing up so early? How am I supposed to cuddle you if you are not in bed,” he asked.
She laughed and padded over in her bare feet to the four-poster bed. “I apologize profusely, sir.” He reached out and grabbed her hand, pulling her gently to sit at the edge of the bed. He wrapped his arm around her middle, spreading his fingers over her growing belly.
“You were not sick again, were you? Why did you not wake me?” he asked.
“No, I was not sick. I have not been sick as much of late, thank the Lord. I was; however, monstrously hungry when I woke up. I am afraid the cook will hand in her notice by the time this baby comes.” Elena laughed, resting her hand over James’.
He shifted, sitting up in bed. He scooted closer and put his legs on either side of her, drawing her back against his chest. She had been so ill the last few months that she had not been able to eat much of anything. Sometimes water even made her sick. However, now that the morning sickness was starting to subside, she was left with some of the most bizarre food cravings she could have imagined.
“Why would you say that? What did you ask for this time?” he asked, craning his neck to try to see the tray that had been delivered a little over an hour before. Elena laughed at herself, hesitant to say. It didn’t matter. James would find out one way or another.
“I was craving salmon on toast, if you must know,” she replied, turning so she could see his handsome face.
He frowned. “That does not sound so outlandish to me.”
Elena chewed her lower lip. “Well, I had her put plum preserves and a bit of dill on the toast along with the salmon.”
He screwed up his nose at the strange combination. “My goodness,” he said. He helped her stand and got out of bed. He then went to the screen and retrieved his dressing gown. “What was it you had yesterday during tea?” He wore the same queasy expression that he had the day before when her maid had brought in the special tray with her requested snack.
Elena went to her vanity and began brushing out her long auburn curls. “Limberger and cucumber sandwiches, with a bit of caviar on the side.”
He shook his head and came up behind her, leaning his hands on her vanity chair. “I must say the baby has expensive taste, anyway. Caviar for teatime.”
“What baby wants, baby gets,” Elena teased.
He leaned down and kissed the crook of her neck, sending tingles up and down her spine. “Isn’t that the truth,” he murmured. Laughing, she swatted him away and continued brushing her hair.
“We cannot dawdle this morning. Donald and Iris are coming to visit after breakfast. And Allan and Camilla will be here as well.” Thankfully, Donald, Camilla, and Allan had worked out their differences over the last year. Donald and Iris were newly engaged and would be celebrating their wedding next month.
“You never did tell me what you were doing up so early,” James said, sitting down in the small sitting area nearby. She turned around and rested her arm on the back of her vanity chair.
“I was writing to Ma and Da to let them know about the pregnancy. I think we are far enough along now to be out of danger, don’t you?”
“Oh, to be sure. Did you invite them to come and stay the summer with us? I am sure your mother will want to be here when the baby arrives.”
“She will. Yes, I asked them to plan on spending the summer and at least September, I imagine. Màthair will want to be here for a month or so after the baby is born, to help out and bond with her.” She looked at him with a mixture of concern and expectation. “Will that be too long of a stay, do you think? I do not want to impose on Papa.”
James shook his head. “There is plenty of room, and your parents are always welcome to stay as long as they wish. My father will not be averse to them staying. He gets along well with your father.”
Elena breathed a sigh of relief. It was somewhat of a balancing act as she had settled into the role of running the house. She did not want to step on James’ father’s toes. And while there had been a few instances where Papa, as she now called his father, had bucked against the goad when she tried to introduce changes, she felt they were settling into their roles nicely. She had not realized there would be so much that went into running the house and estate efficiently and smoothly. However, she had learned the ropes over the last few months and was pleased with the routine. It would be interesting to see how she managed with a newborn. She rested her hand on her abdomen again, feeling a bit nervous with all the changes looming ahead of them.
James came over to her, no doubt sensing her mood. He knelt in front of her, taking her hands. “My father adores you, Elena. He would do anything to please you. And if having your parents here will make you happy, he will welcome them gladly.”
She shook her head, feeling a little weepy. She was so grateful for how she had been welcomed into the family and community. “It is not that,” she said, her lower lip quivering. He touched her cheek tenderly.
“Then what, my love?”
She sniffed back the tears with difficulty. “I do not know how I came to deserve this.”
He chuckled and gave her a quick kiss on the lips. “I ask myself the same question everyday when I wake up next to you and every night when I fall asleep with you in my arms.” He turned and walked toward the door that led to his dressing room. “Now, as you said, we do not have time to dawdle this morning. I shall see you downstairs after breakfast,” he said and walked out of the room.
She sighed contentedly as he closed the door and finished brushing out her hair. Her hair has grown even more lush over the last few months, one of the perks of pregnancy. Her maid entered the room a few minutes later, and she helped her arrange her wild locks into a more manageable and elegant style. She finished her unconventional salmon toast while Mairead finished with her hair, and then got up to dress in a loose-fitting empire waist gown dyed a beautiful shade of emerald green.
By nine o’clock, she was ready to go down. She looked at herself in the full-length mirror again, admiring the slight baby bump. Mairead stood behind her, admiring her as well. “You look as beautiful as ever, my lady.”
“Thank you, Mairead,” she smiled. “Would you pay the seamstress a call later this afternoon? I think I shall need those new dresses sooner rather than later.” Elena had ordered several new ballgowns to accommodate her growing midriff through the summer months.
“Of course, my lady,” Mairead replied. She curtsied, took up the laundry that needed washing, and left the room. She exited the room as well, heading down to the parlor where James and her father-in-law would most likely be waiting for her.
She heard several male voices raised in good-natured argument as she neared, recognizing Allan and James above the rest. She shook her head and walked into the room. The men stopped their bickering long enough to stand and welcome her into the sitting area. She sat down, and they continued their deliberations as she shot Camilla a questioning look.
“You have no argument, James. You are even more of a doting father-to-be than I was when we were expecting Emma,” Allan continued.
“There is nothing wrong with doting. I am sure every woman expects to be given extra special care when she is expecting,” James said.
“I second that,” Camilla chimed in. She leaned over and gave Elena a hug, ignoring the men for a moment. “How are you today?” she asked.
“Very well,” Elena replied. She was glad that the morning sickness was starting to wane, as it meant she could spend more time with the people she loved instead of being hunched over a chamber pot being miserable.
“You look it,” Camilla said, squeezing her hand. “The men are in a competition over who is more giddy at the prospect of being a father. I personally think it’s nonsense. Allan was equally as excited when Emma was in the way.”
“I did not indulge your every whim,” Allan said.
“I am well aware. He would not go and get me apples when I wanted them,” Camilla said, shooting a scowl in her husband’s direction. Evidently, she was still not over it nearly a year later.
“And you lived, did you not? How was I supposed to find apples at three in the morning, when the market was closed and rain was coming down in sheets over the eaves?” Allan asked, going on the defensive.
“A doting man would have done it, no matter what time it was,” Camilla said.
Allan threw his hands up in defeat. “I cannot win,” he said. He sank into a chair, and he and James shared a laugh.
“That will teach you to meddle with an expectant mother. Take heed, James. Do better,” Camilla said in mock seriousness.
James chuckled, elbowing his brother in the ribs. “See? There is nothing wrong with being a giddy expectant father.”
Allan only rolled his eyes, but said nothing else. Elena held up her hands, laughing at their antics. Over the last year, she had seen her fair share of competitiveness between her husband and his brother. She had learned to live with it, as they only meant it in fun—most of the time.
“It is sad, though. James will not come out and shoot with us anymore. You could spare him one afternoon, could you not, Elena?” Donald chimed in.
Elena nodded. “Of course. I have told him countless times to go with you, but he would not leave my side.” That had been especially true when she had been so sick she could barely eat. Now, however, she saw nothing wrong with James going out and enjoying himself. Indeed, she had encouraged him to do so.
“I will go with you and Allan tomorrow if you wish,” James shot back. His pride had been wounded, and he wanted to prove that he was not the hen-pecked husband they accused him of being. He and Elena knew the truth. But it would do him good to get out of the house, especially after being cooped up in the house all winter and for much of the spring.
Iris stood and came over to the ladies, having poured herself another cup of tea. “Let us talk of more important things. Have you settled on names yet?”
Elena was glad that her friend was back from Scotland. She had gone home to settle things with her uncle after Donald had proposed to her back in January. She was newly returned after having set her cousin in charge of his care, now that she was old enough to look after him on her own. Of course, Elena had arranged for her father to go and check on them and continue on with her tradition of visiting every week in her absence.
“I think so. We have settled on Aisling Elizabeth for a girl and James Ronin if it’s a boy,” Elena replied. She was grateful that James had agreed to mix their child’s English and Scottish heritage in naming them.
“Aisling,” Camilla repeated. “It sounds like dancing, does it not?” she asked.
“It means fantasy or dream in the Gaelic. And Ronin means joyful song. I think they will both be fitting, whichever sex the baby ends up being.”
“Ahh, yes, a daughter is a dream come true,” Camilla agreed. She looked down at Emma, who was shuffling about the room, begging bites of biscuits from her uncle, father, and grandfather. She had probably eaten what amounted to three biscuits by now since none of the men were paying attention to the sweets they had given her. None of them could seem to deny the precious baby girl anything.
Camilla called Emma over, and she lifted her to set her on her lap. She wrapped her arms around the plump little girl and squeezed her close. Emma laughed, and Elena thought it to be the most beautiful sound in the world. A child’s laughter was unlike anything else in the world. She could not wait to meet her sweet baby face to face and cradle them in her arms.
“Is there any greater joy than to be a mother?” Elena asked.
Camilla beamed up at her, cheek to cheek with Emma. “If there is, I have not found it yet.”
Iris sighed, watching the two of them with a mixture of longing and impatience. “You two make it sound so wonderful. Is it June yet?” she asked with a mock pout.
“Very soon, my friend,” Elena replied. “How are the wedding preparations coming?”
“They are coming along nicely. I have my last fitting for the gown on Wednesday next. The flowers have all been arranged with the gardener, and the cook assures me that she will make the most divine wedding cake I have ever seen. All that is left to do is obtain the license. And that is done easily enough, Donald assures me.”
“I am glad to hear it,” Elena said. She sat back in her chair, watching her family and friends as they talked and laughed together. Thankfulness swelled in her chest, causing tears to come to her eyes. She caught James’ eye, and he excused himself from the conversation he was having with Allan and Donald. Camilla and Iris continued to discuss the best places to go for wedding trips while James knelt beside her.
“Are you well, my love?” he whispered, not wanting to draw attention to the fact he had seen her tears. She nodded silently, biting her lower lip. Smiling, she touched his cheek.
“I am happy, that is all. I cannot believe this is really my life,” she said. He returned her smile, leaning his face into her hand.
“You deserve every bit of it. Enjoy every moment, whether big or small.” He kissed her on the cheek and went to rejoin the gentlemen.
Later, when everyone had had their fill of tea and biscuits, they decided to go for a walk around the garden. Emma was asleep in her mother’s arms within minutes and was quickly passed over to Allan.
James hurried to catch up with Elena and Iris as they headed out over the green toward the ruins. When they had gone about halfway, they waved goodbye to Camilla and Allan, who began walking to their cottage to put Emma down for her nap. James offered Elena his arm, slowing his pace so as not to wear her out as they walked up the hill. “Are you sure you should be doing this? It is an awfully far way to come, especially in your condition.”
“It is good for me to be active, James. The doctor said so,” she argued. “I will not be cooped up in the house for the next three months while everyone else gets to have all the fun,” She gave him a mischievous smile. “Who would keep an eye on you and Allan, after all?”
“Who indeed?” he asked sarcastically, winking at her. He had been true to his word and had never tried to switch places with Allan to trick her, but he had still found ways to express his fun-loving side. Now that she had left the pain of rejection behind her and settled into the love of her family and friends, she was not so sure she would be opposed to the twins playing a harmless prank now and again. Would their child inherit their father’s bygone love of mischief and tricks? If so, she was in for an abundance of pranks. No doubt egged on by his father.
Elena stopped suddenly, feeling the baby kick. “Wait, feel.” She took James’ hand and placed it over on the right side of her belly, smiling as the kicks came again in quick succession. “Did you feel it?”
“Yes, I did–” James said, but she interrupted him.
“Wait, there is another. Here,” Elena said, placing her hand on the left side of her belly. The kicks came at the same time, and she looked up at James in bewilderment. “Do you suppose…”
“Suppose what?” James asked, just as confused as she was.
Elena let out a breath, connecting the dots. “James, I think there might be two of them,” she whispered.
James’ face lit up with a smile. “Do you really think so? The doctor never said anything before,” he replied.
“Perhaps it was too early to tell until now.” Elena said. “Can you imagine? Another set of Compton twins,” she said, elated by the prospect.
James exhaled, raking a hand through his hair. “The world better prepare itself if another set of Compton twins is on the way.”
She swatted his arm playfully and continued slowly up the hill toward the ruins. When they arrived at the top of the hill, James turned her into his chest, holding her close, and they looked out over the estate, green and full of budding life. “I love you, Elena,” he whispered against her hair.
She nestled her cheek into his chest, sighing happily. “I love you, too.”