Four Years Later
“I know many would not agree with me about this next comment,” Christine began, “but I am happy summer is over. I welcome autumn with open arms!”
She flung her arms out wide, earning her a scolding from her husband. “Do that again, and I’ll take you over my knee.”
Christine burst out laughing. “You will do no such thing. I am not our daughters. Although truth be told, you do not lay a hand on them.”
“That is beside the point, my love,” said Adam. “I already relented and allowed you to ride side-saddle. Will you test my limits by letting go of the reins? Did you forget you are with child?”
She grimaced. “The third one in four years. Do you know all our children will be but a year apart? I love my children, but having all of them three years or younger is rather challenging.”
“That is why we have nannies, my love,” Adam pointed out.
“Yes, but our children still need our attention. We cannot have them grow up only seeing the kind faces of their nannies. Juliet and Elizabeth must know the affection of their mother and father.”
“As always, you are right, my love,” he replied. “However, keep your hands on the reins, or I will make good on my threat.”
“Take me over your knee?” she said.
“Among other things.”
Christine roared with laughter. “We shall see. Now, shall we have your mother over for dinner tomorrow? We’ll be leaving to see Jacob and Grace for several weeks.”
“There is no need for that,” said Adam. “Mother will join us at Estelle and Lucas’ countryseat this weekend.”
“Oh? I wasn’t aware she had decided to come. I thought she wished to spend some time with your family from Bath.”
While the dowager marchioness had calmed down over the years and had worked at restoring her relationship with them, Christine was still wary of her. Lady Camberley had chosen to hate Christine for much of her life; thus, that kind of hatred could not simply disappear. Deep-rooted hatred caused by prejudice was not easy to get rid of, but Christine had chosen not to hold it against her. The dowager marchioness was free to see her grandchildren whenever she wished, although she had believed otherwise in the beginning. Lady Camberley had assumed that Christine would not allow her to see her granddaughter when she took her first breath. However, Christine had been the one to call her mother-in-law into the room and introduce her first grandchild to her. From that moment, a truce had been called, but that didn’t mean the dowager marchioness had accepted Christine as her daughter-in-law.
I have yet to hear an apology from her, but I suppose she is too proud to give one. Either way, I will not stop her from being part of the family.
“My love?” she heard Adam say.
“You didn’t hear a word I said, did you?” he said.
“Sorry,” she said. “I was deep in thought.”
“Oh, this and that,” she replied, not wanting to reveal her thoughts.
Christine didn’t want her husband to know that she did not entirely believe his mother’s wish to make amends. He had been so happy when the dowager marchioness approached them and gave a speech about letting the past go and move on with the future for the betterment of their family, but Christine had not taken her word for it. Four years may have passed, but until she saw the sincerity in her mother-in-law’s behaviour, she would remain cautious.
“Why don’t I suggest that Mother travel with us?” said Adam.
“Travel with us?” Christine repeated.
Travelling with her mother-in-law and two mischievous children in the carriage? That was asking for trouble. The dowager marchioness might attempt to criticise under her honeyed words so Adam would not realise what his mother was doing. However, Christine knew.
“I thought we could make it a family adventure,” he said. “Estelle and Lucas do not live far, but I thought we might stop at an inn along the way and spend the night there. I can organise to have three rooms set aside for us. One for us, one for mother, and one for the children with their nannies.”
“I think it would be better to arrive at our destination as soon as possible,” said Christine. “I have difficulty sleeping in other beds lately.”
“Oh, of course, my love,” Adam replied. “I understand. However, perhaps we should postpone our journey to Jacob and Grace’s estate.”
“Let’s see about that closer to the time, dear,” said Christine. “Why don’t we turn back to the house? I’m growing a little tired and wish to lie down. This pregnancy has proven different from the first two. I find myself more tired than usual.”
“Perhaps you are carrying a boy this time,” said Adam.
“Perhaps,” she agreed. “Estelle will have to give me advice on baby boys as she just has her baby. I helped her with her first daughter, so she will return the favour.”
They were all going to see the newest addition to the family, and the girls were excited to meet their boy cousin. Hopefully, they wouldn’t grow too attached and want to stay. They behaved like that when they visited a neighbour and her twin sons. Her daughters took such a liking to the boys that they refused to go home. Christine had to bribe her daughters to come home.
How can a three-year-old and two-year-old be so stubborn? My daughters are too intelligent for their own good.
However, she still smiled because she was proud of them. Let them speak their minds because the world would try to silence them as they grew older. Until then, Christine planned to foster strong mindedness to protect them from falling into life’s troubles.
They slowly returned to the house, but Adam stopped her when she tried to get off the horse herself.
“I’ll help you,” he insisted.
Christine frowned at him. “Why? I know how to get down. You taught me well.”
“I know, but you said yourself that you have been more fatigued than usual these days,” he pointed out. “What if you lose your strength and hurt yourself? This horse is tall.”
“Why not just say you wish to hold me?” she teased. “Very well, you can help me down.”
Adam chuckled, helping her swing her legs over before slowly helping her down. He didn’t let go of her when her feet touched the ground, making her look up at him.
“No one is about,” he said before planting a firm kiss on her lips.
It had been four years since they married, yet Christine still felt like this was their first kiss. Its potency has not waned over the years.
“Now, we are ready to return to the house,” he said, his eyes sparkling as he broke away from her.
“Just a moment,” she said. “My legs might not work.”
Adam chuckled and swooped her into his arms. “Then I’ll just have to carry my wife to the house.”
Christine squealed, putting her arms around his neck. “You shouldn’t be doing this! I have become too heavy for you.”
Christine’s body had changed since having her first child, but Adam treated her like she was Aphrodite herself. Many had told her, perhaps with good intentions, that Adam’s eye would stray the more her body changed. That had not happened, and she doubted it ever would.
“I doubt you would ever become too heavy for me, my love,” Adam told her. “If you do, I’ll just exercise until I can carry you again. I’ve seen how men are able to carry heavy objects on their backs. Or I can just put you on a wagon and pull you around.”
Christine smacked his shoulder. “I will not be dragged around by wagon.”
“Then, in my arms, you shall stay,” he declared.
“Very well,” she said happily, snuggling into his arms.
She closed her eyes and leaned her head on his chest, the rhythmic sound of his heartbeat lulling her into sleep. This was by far her favourite place to be.
“Christine!” Estelle cried, running outside the front door.
Her husband ran after her, placing his arms around her waist and stopping her. “You are not supposed to run, my silly wife. You had a baby several days ago.”
“If common women can have babies and return to work within a few days, why on earth can’t I run to my best friend and sister-in-law?” Estelle demanded.
“Because I will come to you,” Christine told her, clutching her youngest daughter’s hand.
Elizabeth insisted she had to walk everywhere, but as long as someone was holding her hand. Julia, her older sister, followed them with Adam.
“I have missed you so!” Estelle cried, falling into Christine’s arms.
“Please be gentle with my wife, sister dear,” Adam chided. “She is with child, after all.”
Estelle pouted. “It is you men that put us in these conditions and then scold us when we wish to do as we please,” she said. “How are you?” Estelle asked her. “Are you and the baby well? You look different from your last pregnancy.” She gasped. “You’re having a boy!”
“That is what Adam said,” Christine told her. “Perhaps I am, but right now, I am more interested in seeing your baby boy. A new addition to the family is something to be celebrated.”
“He is with Mama right now,” said Estelle. “She came a day earlier to help with preparations for our celebration. I didn’t want to have anything, but Mama is besot with all her grandchildren and wishes to celebrate every moment.”
Christine’s smile dipped slightly. The dowager marchioness was already present. That meant Christine wouldn’t have any time to spend with Estelle alone. She inwardly sighed. It was just the weekend, so she needed to remain calm and smile.
“Can we do the usual greetings?” Lucas asked. “Or is it only reserved for the women?”
Estelle turned and looked at him for a moment before speaking. “Do as you please. I am taking my sister and nieces into the house.”
Estelle took Julia’s hand from her father and marched away, pausing briefly. “Are you coming, Christine? We ‘women’ will have tea in the parlour. The men can do what they like.”
Christine raised her eyebrows. “We’re coming. We are right behind you.”
Estelle nodded and swept her niece into her arms before marching into the house. Christine used that moment to approach her brother-in-law. Something or someone had obviously angered her best friend.
“It seems someone has upset my sister,” said Christine.
Lucas sighed. “That would be me. She had a difficult birth, so the physician prescribed bed rest. Unfortunately, my wife refuses to listen and grows angry when I enforce bed rest. Perhaps you can speak to her. Convince her that she needs to look after her body.”
Christine smiled. “I will see what I can do.”
“Will you give me a kiss before then?” Adam said, appearing beside her.
“Is that meant to make me jealous?” Lucas accused.
Adam chuckled. “Do you feel jealous?” He kissed Christine soundly on the lips and dropped a kiss on his daughter’s brow. “I will see you a little later. Hopefully, my sister will have calmed down by then.”
“I’m sure she will,” Christine assured. “She just needs to be surrounded by anything other than the male species. Come, Elizabeth, let me carry you. Aunt Estelle will not like us to take too long.”
Christine picked up her daughter and showered kisses all over her face, making the little girl giggle. They entered the house laughing, encountering the dowager marchioness along the way.
“Christine,” she said. “Estelle told me you were here.”
“Good day, my lady,” Christine greeted, curtseying slightly.
“There is no need to do that,” Lady Camberley insisted. “You are with child.”
“I am fine, my lady. Is Estelle in the rose parlour?”
“Yes. I was just looking for the housekeeper to inquire about our tea.”
“If you can take Elizabeth, I’ll look for the housekeeper,” Christine offered. “I’m good at finding people.”
“No, no,” said Lady Camberley. “I can do it. You go inside and rest. Luke is there as well.”
“She is asleep,” said the dowager marchioness. “She has had a busy morning running around the garden chasing birds. The poor dear is a little jealous of her baby brother. I promised Estelle to keep the dear girl busy.”
“Ah, I see,” said Christine. “Julia was the same when Elizabeth was born, but the more time they spent together, the better she became at spending time with her. Rosalind will come to love her brother. Will you please excuse us?”
“May I hold my granddaughter for a moment?” the dowager marchioness asked.
“Of course,” said Christine. “Go to your grandmother, dear,” she told her daughter.
Elizabeth went without trouble. Sometimes, she was a little picky about the people she allowed to carry her, but today she seemed to be in a charitable mood.
“How pretty you are, Lizzie dear,” the dowager marchioness cooed.
“Why don’t you go with her to find the housekeeper?” Christine suggested. “I’m sure she would like that.”
Christine nodded. “Of course. You can have a little time with her. It must be a difficult to have four grandchildren and a fifth one on the way. You have to be able to divide your time between all of them.”
“Which I love,” said Lady Camberley, smiling. “I love spending time with them. This is precisely what I hoped for.”
Christine nodded. “Please, excuse me, my lady.”
“Just a moment,” the dowager marchioness insisted. “I would like to speak to you.”
Christine frowned slightly. They had spent the last minute or two talking, so she had no clue what the dowager marchioness meant.
“I owe you an apology, Christine,” Lady Camberley began. “I know that no matter what I say, it will never make up for the years of mistreatment.”
Surprised, Christine said the first thing that came to mind. “It is all in the past, my lady.”
“No, it isn’t. It plays in my mind every day. I was wrong, and I see it now. My family has never been happier, and I believe you have much to do with it. You know how difficult it was when the late marquess died, and Adam left. When he came back, he wasn’t his usual self, but he started to change. I didn’t want to attribute the change to you, but it was obvious.”
“I, I do not know what to say,” said Christine.
“You do not need to say anything,” Lady Camberley replied. “I just wanted to express my thanks to you for helping my son and thus helping the family. You are a true daughter-in-law of this family. I wish to say that I formally bless the union between you and my son. Also, thank you for not allowing our differences to affect my relationship with my grandchildren. It takes a righteous woman to not allow that situation to affect the future.”
The dowager marchioness appeared sincere and humble. Humility had never been a trait, but she seemed like a new woman. This was the moment Christine had been waiting for, and now that it had arrived, she felt… lighter. All the bad air between them disappeared, allowing them to start over.
“Thank you for speaking to me about this, my lady,” said Christine. “I greatly appreciate your willingness and your apology. I, too, wish that we could move on and start fresh.”
Lady Camberley smiled. “I would like that, too, Christine. And perhaps, in time, you might call me Mother.”
The dowager marchioness seemed a little embarrassed as she said it, which made her request even more endearing. Christine’s heart warmed.
“I would very much like to call you Mother,” she said, smiling. “I never knew my mother. But I have always wanted to have a mother figure in my life.”
“I am glad to hear that,” said Lady Camberley, grinning. “I am so happy we could speak about this and move on.”
“I’m also happy… Mother.”
Lady Camberley beamed. “Well, let me go and see about our tea. Estelle must be wondering where I am. She has been rather irritable lately, but she seems much improved since you arrived.”
“I’ll go and see how she is,” said Christine.
She smiled and walked away, meeting her husband along the way. “I thought you would be with Estelle.”
Christine shook her head. “I met your mother along the way.”
Adam’s eyebrows raised his eyebrows. “You make it sound like something happened.”
“It did,” Christine confirmed. “We have sorted our differences and have promised to begin anew. She even asked that I call her Mother.”
“She did?” Adam asked, evidently surprised.
Christine nodded. “She certainly did. I feel that a weight has been lifted, or a door has been opened, and light is shining through. It feels wonderful.”
“I’m glad, my love,” said Adam, gathering her in his arms. “I know how it bothered you, even though you never said a word. I just hoped that one day all would be smoothed out and our family could be whole and happy together. It seems that day has finally come.”
Christine squeezed him tight. “Yes, it has. I have always wanted a mother, and it seems today, I finally have one. I have everything.”
“And you are my everything, my love,” Adam declared. “Your happiness is mine.”
Christine smiled, not surprised when a few tears ran down her face. She had lost so much in her life, but she had been rewarded with family and happiness. Christine couldn’t ask for more because she had it all.