Five Years Later
“Please be careful with your mother, Johnny!” John called as he watched his son clamber onto his mother’s lap. “She’s not in a state to be jumped on.”
Molly laughed and put her sketchbook aside.
“It’s fine, darling. He’s not doing any harm.” She adjusted Johnny on her lap and cuddled him. “I can still do this.”
Johnny giggled and snuggled into her arms. Near John’s feet, Sybil was scribbling in her own sketchbook with a pencil. Her drawings were mostly scribbles, but the fact she wanted to do it was sweet, and John wasn’t about to deprive her of that. It was soothing to have his two-year-old daughter playing near him as he worked.
“You’re not going to be uncomfortable, are you?” John asked, eyeing Molly’s swollen belly. “I doubt our child will be happy about getting squashed.”
“Then they’ll come out squashed. It’s not hurting me, and Johnny isn’t squashing the baby.” Molly kissed her son’s head. “I want to make the most of the cuddles as much as I can.”
John couldn’t blame her for that. Molly was close to giving birth for a third time, and she would end up being secluded for a while during labor. She was adamant about spending as much time with her children as possible.
At least their clients understood that Molly would be out of commission for a while, and that John was not going anywhere for a while afterwards. But that didn’t matter; they were fine to not work for a while and have no problems with money. As a wedding gift, John’s father had given John back his marquess title. He had also helped Molly’s parents with their debts and set them up so they wouldn’t need to worry about anything for the foreseeable future. Five years on, and they were still doing well. Neither John nor Molly had expected that, but they weren’t about to argue about it. If it put their families at ease.
For the most part.
“Excuse me, my lord?”
John looked around to see Mark walking towards him. His servant – now his butler – was walking towards him with a light step. John sat back in his chair.
“What is it, Mark?”
“I’ve just received a message from the dowager duchess. She’s going to be a little late coming to visit us tomorrow. Apparently, the duke wants to discuss something with her.”
“Did she say what exactly?”
“I’m afraid not, my lord.”
Although John could guess what it could be. It had been two months since his father had passed away after an illness, and now Simon was the new Duke of Hamilton. As far as John was aware, his brother was still in debt, and he hadn’t made any efforts to get out of it. Was he going to tell his mother the truth?
“Well, that’s fine. It shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Has Bella made up the room?”
“She has. Would you like her to bring some tea out?”
“Please. The children are going to get hungry shortly.”
Mark bowed and went back inside. He had been walking with a spring in his step for some time now, ever since he met Bella. Despite the obvious flirtation between them, it had taken Mark a while to get Bella to come around to a proper courtship. It was three years since they finally married, and Bella was beaming practically every day. John hadn’t expected to see his servant settle down, but he was glad to witness it; Mark certainly looked as content as his wife.
Molly looked at her husband curiously, leaning back against the chaise with their son cuddled up to her. He was looking tired.
“Do you think he’s going to tell your mother about his debt?”
“I don’t know. Let’s hope he does because he’s going to be starting his dukedom with practically nothing once those debts are called in.”
“He’s had five years to do it. Why would he not admit that he had a problem before?”
“You know how prideful our family can be. Simon is pretty much the same. I bet he won’t admit to almost killing us trying to get the necklace himself.” John shrugged. “Maybe he’ll finally tell her everything and admit that he wanted the necklace to pay off his debts.”
“I don’t think he’s going to do that anytime soon. But we can hope.”
And they had been hoping for a long time. Despite telling John and Molly that he had been getting it to return to his mother, they didn’t believe Simon. They knew it was for money. But it wasn’t anything to do with them; John and Simon kept away from each other as much as possible. Things were frosty, as they always had been, but now Simon was muted because he didn’t have his father backing him up when he was harsh towards his brother.
Maybe they might patch things up, or maybe not. John didn’t mind either way. He had his own family to worry about.
“Let him deal with his problems on his own, John,” Molly said gently. “He’s not going to improve himself if he keeps expecting everyone to bail him out. Your mother will say the same thing.”
“I know. I plan to.” John put his sketchbook aside and stood up. “I just have that familial duty, you know? He’s still my brother, even if we don’t like each other.”
Seeing his wife sitting there, holding their son and heavily pregnant with their third child, John found himself falling in love with her all over again. Leaning over, he tickled Sybil’s arms to get her attention.
“Do you want to go inside and see what cake the cook has for you?” he asked. “Then we can choose what can go on the tea tray?”
“Yes, Papa.” Sybil put her pencil down and stood up. Then she held her arms out to him. “Pick me up?”
“Of course.” John swung his daughter up and onto his hip. Then he smiled at Molly. “Will you be alright for a few minutes?”
“I’ll be fine. You don’t need to worry.”
“Johnny is four now. He’s getting heavy.”
“And I can cope.” Molly blew him a kiss and shooed him away. “Off you go. I’m perfectly fine. Love you.”
“Love you, too.”
John didn’t doubt that Molly would be fine… Molly was one of the toughest women he had ever come across. And he loved her for it.