‘Oh, what an absolutely splendid country home!’ The Duchess crowed as she wandered around the drawing area of the large manor.
Robert had organised the stay with the family who owned it. They were currently staying across-seas and were happy to have someone occupy it in their absence.
Alison practically ran from room to room, examining it in haste and excitement. It had, after all, been a very long journey for all of them. Having arrived and stayed with the Duchess in London, the four-day journey, whilst exciting, had been exhausting.
Katherine had been hesitant at the suggestion of The Duchess coming with them to Bath. Whilst she knew the older woman would probably love the company, the travel could take a lot out of her. However, it was more than that.
The matriarchs desire for an heir for the Barkley name had still not yet come to fruition, and Katherine was wary of the pressure she may feel if it would be raised in conversation. Katherine had not mentioned it at the table with Alison present, on that first night of Roberts return. It did not seem proper, but later, when speaking to Robert alone, he allayed her fears, placating her that everything would be fine.
As it happened, he had been right. The Duchess was thrilled to get away from London and arriving at the country home, seemed far too interested in commenting on the décor and how beautiful everything was.
Even on the long journey, the topic had not been raised, and Katherine had to admit, it had taken her by surprise. Having made such a great deal out of it when herself and Robert had courted, it almost felt that she had lost interest.
Or perhaps, now no longer as feisty, her realisation and acceptance of the fact that Robert being away may have had something to do with it. Along with the knowledge that he was now settled, and an heir would arrive eventually.
Instead, when The Duchess had been awake, which seemed not as often as only a few months previously, they spoke of Winfield Manor and the changes that Katherine had already made and about her other ideas. They also had spoken of Alison’s studies and her desperate desire to attend the balls in London.
All in all, The Duchess seemed pleased. It would appear, having already married Robert off, Alison seemed to be her next project. The older woman, in her own way, loved her nephew and niece, and it was obvious now, their happiness was all she truly desired.
Kitty and the new butler, Jameson, took the luggage to the rooms following afternoon tea. In the midst of the manoeuvring, another carriage was heard arriving at the country manor.
Leaving Alison relaxing with a book and The Duchess, once again, sleeping after their sandwiches and cold meat, Katherine excitedly ran out to greet her sister, William and baby Thomas.
‘Ah you have arrived safe and well. Thank goodness.’
‘Yes,’ sighed Melinda, helped down from the carriage by the driver, ‘next time, could Robert make it a little closer to York perhaps?’ She grinned at her sister.
Melinda turned back to the carriage and took Thomas out of Williams hands.
‘Here, let me take him.’ Katherine reached up and took her tiny nephew, bringing him close to her chest where he immediately snuggled back to sleep. Deep in her tummy, a strange twinge pulled at her as she gazed down at his angelic chubby face.
‘Now, please tell me that there is a pot of tea nearby, for I am parched.’
‘I will get Kitty to organise a fresh tray.’
After greeting William warmly, they entered the manor together and much cooing and gazing ensued at baby Thomas, whilst a quiet conversation continued over his sleeping head.
At dinner, the engaging conversation continued. The Duchess was eager to know if there would be a brother or sister to accompany baby Thomas, of which, William assured her they would certainly want more children once Thomas was a little older.
Alison regaled the gathering with French phrases and conversation and encouraged them all to join in. It was quite amusing and a delight listening and watching the mixture of attempts.
‘When will Robert be joining us?’ Melinda asked Katherine.
‘I think he will arrive tomorrow. He had to travel to York to speak with his commander, but it will not take him as long on horseback.’
‘Good. I will be glad to see him.’ William smiled. ‘It has been too long, and whilst letter writing is all well and good, there is nothing that compares to companionship in the flesh.’
‘I agree.’ Katherine smiled.
‘Well, none would know more than you Katherine,’ Melinda gazed at her sister, ‘I am sure you are thrilled to have him home safe with you again.’
‘I surely am. If I could only persuade him to cease his gallivanting and realise that he is now a Duke with an estate that needs taking care of.’
‘Indeed.’ The Duchess agreed. ‘He has more than done his duty for his country. He also needs to see he has a family to take care of too.’ She looked at Katherine determinedly.
‘We shall all gang up on him when he returns.’ William grinned jovially.
The gathering laughed and nodded in agreement, but Katherine noticed, The Duchess had not dropped her gaze at her. Having thought the older woman had let the idea of an heir drop, it appeared, she may well have just been biding her time.
Katherine awoke with a strange feeling. At first, it disturbed her but then, having lifted her head from the pillow, she realised what it was and smiled. Robert sat on a chair across the room, watching her. As she looked at him, still a little sleepy, he smiled gently.
‘Oh Robert. How are you back so early? Did you arrive last night?’
Robert stood and walked to the bed. He lay down on the covers beside her and both of them lying on their pillows, faced each other.
‘I travelled most of yesterday. I stayed at an inn last night but left at dawn to be able to arrive in time to watch you whilst you slept.’
Gently, she stroked his face and sighed with deep contentment. ‘I missed you so terribly.’
‘As I did you my darling. I am here now.’
‘Yes, but for how long?’
‘Well, that is something I want to talk to you about, but not now. At this moment, I just want to lie here and bask in my fortune of having you and what a very lucky man I am.’
‘You could always crawl in beside me.’ She winked.
‘I would love to, but we have guests my darling wife, and the house is already waking.’
‘Pity, but you are right. Everyone is eager to see you. Especially William, and of course The Duchess. She has missed you terribly, even though she will never voice it.’
‘Then I will ready myself, but first, a kiss.’
Leaning forward, he softly kissed each of her eyelids, and then her nose, which made her giggle, until eventually, his soft caress met her mouth. A soft, tender kiss shared that once again, sent explosions deep within her. Only making her yearning for him more desperate.
‘I love you so much my darling Katherine.’ He whispered, once he had finally pulled away.
‘And I love you my dashing Duke of Winfield.’
He grinned at her. ‘Come, we must up and ready ourselves to entertain.’
Having spent the day greeting old friends and tearful reunions, Robert told Katherine they were going into Bath for an evening of dinner and dancing. Whilst he had enjoyed spending the time meeting with everyone once again, they were to stay for at least a week, and tonight, he wanted her all to himself.
Katherine had been delighted. Apart from the few days at Winfield on his return a few weeks previous, they had hardly spent any quality alone time together, and she missed having him beside her.
After a beautiful dinner, Katherine sat gazing at her wonderful husband as he looked around him, watching the other customers. As he brought his gaze back to her, he smiled, and looked at her curiously.
‘What is that look you have?’
‘It is nothing. I am just enjoying watching you.’
Reaching a hand across the table, he took her hand in his. His large, rough hands almost smothered her small smooth one, and the soft caress of his fingers sent shivers up her arm.
‘What do you think of baby Thomas?’ She asked eventually, knowing where she wanted to take the conversation, but not exactly sure how to begin. She ought to have known better, for her rather explicit question only made him smile broader.
‘You would like one of your own.’ It was a statement, not a question.
‘I would like one of our own.’ Katherine corrected. ‘Having watched William and Melinda, it would appear it takes more than two hands.’ She grinned.
‘Indeed, if not more. I did not realise such a small being could create such a huge mess.’
‘Yes, but it would be our mess.’ Katherine smiled.
‘Of course. And that is what I wanted to talk to you about. I have news that I think you might like.’
‘Please, do not keep me in suspense.’
‘I am to retire from the army.’
‘Really? Oh Robert, please tell me you are not just teasing me.’
He laughed at her joy. ‘I promise you my darling, I am not teasing. My place is at home in Winfield with you. You and Alison. I am as eager to start a family as you are, and I miss you far, far too much. Being away in Canada, away from you so long, well, I did nearly lose my mind thinking about you.’
‘And I, mine. I hated that we were apart for so long.’
‘Well, as you have reminded me several times, I am now a Duke, and therefore, have responsibilities at home. Besides, I think we have kept my aunt waiting long enough, do you not?’
‘I love you so much.’
‘I know my dearest Katherine. And I love you. You have little idea how happy you make me. So, let us be together and never be apart.’
Robert paced obsessively up and down the hallway, his hands gripped behind his back, his head down and a concerned frown lining his brow. The waiting was killing him, but not more so than hearing her screaming in pain. Pain he could neither cure nor comfort, for she was in the other room and for the sake of her health, he was to remain outside.
Their holiday in Bath had been a huge success, each of those gathered, struggling with emotional tears when the week finally ended and departure had been necessary. Unsurprisingly, it had been most difficult for Melinda and Katherine, but even so, he himself would miss the companionship of his good friend William.
It had been just over a month after that, when Katherine first began being ill. The continuous vomiting worried him deeply and he feared, though he never voiced it, that she may return to that dreadful state that she had been in when he had returned her to Spencer Manor so long ago.
The vomiting did not ease, and after several weeks, Robert sent for the physician. There had been other symptoms. Katherine seemed suddenly tired all of the time, he would find her sleeping in the afternoon. Familiar smells made the vomiting worse and suddenly, eggs were no longer allowed in her vicinity. And then he received the diagnosis from the physician.
‘You are to become a father your Grace.’ He smiled warmly, shaking his hand.
‘I beg your pardon?’ For Robert could not quite believe what he was hearing.
‘The Duchess of Winfield is pregnant. All the vomiting and the tiredness and the strange aversion to food – there is no illness your Grace, she is pregnant.’
Had a large beast walked out of the closet and punched him squarely, Robert would have been less surprised. Yet, once the shock left him, he was exuberant. They were to have a child. Katherine was not ill, there was no need for worry or concern; she was simply pregnant.
Since the news, his aunt had moved into Winfield Manor, for getting frailer, she was no longer able to cope living in such a huge house alone. Thrilled to hear the news, she had spent the several months helping and guiding Katherine in what to expect and what items they would need to purchase.
They had also been visited by William and Melinda, also delighted, and as Katherine’s belly had grown, Melinda commented on her size.
‘You are going to have a big baby Katherine, for you are nearly as big as I was when Thomas was due and you have another two months to go.’
Katherine had been a little concerned, having been told by Melinda the pain of childbirth as the size of the baby caused her distress. The physician, however, assured her he would do everything to help her, and give her pain relief when the time arrived.
The time now, had indeed arrived. And whilst Robert continued to pace, and suffer her plight through a closed door, there was nothing more he would have liked to do than be there by her side as she underwent what sounded more like torture than childbirth.
Suddenly, he heard a piercing screech. It was certainly not Katherine. His heart beat with excitement, as the lungs of his child made known their arrival into the world. Robert looked at the door expectantly, for surely the physician would come out and get him now. Another piercing screech came, and Robert began to worry.
Perhaps there was something wrong. Childbirth was dangerous and, whilst his child seemed to be well, Katherine could well be in danger. For another long minute, he continued to pace. Until suddenly, the door flew open.
Ushered into the room, he became briefly aware of Kitty rushing around the room, swaddling a bundle. Yet he was confused, for as Katherine lay there, red-faced and looking completely exhausted, she also held in her arms, a small, swaddled bundle.
Moving toward the bed almost timidly, Katherine noticed his approach and wearily beamed at him.
‘Oh, my darling, you are amazing. I am so very proud of you.’ He crooned, kneeling beside her and kissing her forehead. His gaze fell on the squashed and mottled face of the tiny human she held against her chest.
‘We have a baby boy.’ She breathed.
‘And,’ Kitty approached, handing Robert another swaddled tiny human. ‘A baby girl.’ Kitty beamed. ‘Congratulations, Your Grace.’
Robert was stunned. ‘We have two?’
‘Yes, my darling, we have two.’