Four Years Later…
Ellen could feel someone gently nudging her awake. Who would be so cruel as to wake me up after a sleepless night? The child in her belly had chosen to become active in the wee hours of the morning, effectively keeping her from her much needed sleep. Between a three-year-old boy, a husband, and her pregnancy, she needed as much rest as she could possibly get.
“Ellen, are you awake yet?”
Of course, it had to be her husband. Since when did Lewis wake her up at this hour? It was still dark outside, but several candles lit up the room.
“No, I am not awake, Lewis. Leave me be.”
“Goodness, but you are a grouch this morning. Wake up.”
He lightly tapped her derriere, making her throw the cover off and sit up with a gasp.
“What is it that you are doing? If it is not you or your son, then it is this babe in my belly. If I am to fulfil my wifely duties today, then it is best that you let me sleep!”
Lewis stared at her with wide eyes before he burst out laughing. Ellen closed her own, shaking her head. When she finally opened her eyes, she jumped. Lewis had silently moved closer to her, his face inches away from her.
“Morning, my love.”
“Goodness, what am I to do with you, Lewis? What is it that you need? I love you, I truly do, but I could quite gladly knock you off this bed at this moment.”
“You do that in your sleep, Ellen, it will hardly make a difference now. If it is not your snoring, then it is a swift kick to the floor. It can be quite dangerous sleeping next to you, Wife.”
Ellen grabbed a pillow and knocked him on the head. He went down laughing, not in the slightest bit ashamed by his words.
“What a ferocious wife have I. You know, I do not need a guard when I have you.”
She pouted. “Are you trying to say that I am mean?”
“What I am saying is that I love this part of you as much as I love the sweet Ellen.”
“Heavens, you are a character.” She smiled. “Now, tell me why you have woken me up.”
He sat up. “Do you truly not know what today is?”
She frowned. “Is it an important day? I have been rather scatter-brained throughout this pregnancy, so my memory is not too reliable right now. Tell me what it is.”
“It is our fourth year anniversary, love.”
Her mouth made a little ‘o’. She had forgotten about it, but not entirely so. Ellen had arranged for a special dinner to be cooked, and she had his gifts ready. Thank heavens, or I might have been in trouble.
“Oh, uh, I have not forgotten, my love; it simply slipped my mind this morning. I would have remembered once I was fully awake.”
“Liar, but there is no need to fret. Adam and I have planned a surprise for you, that is why I needed to wake you up now.”
As if Adam had heard his name, he came running into the room, throwing himself onto their bed.
Lewis helped him to her, holding their son while he gave her a wet kiss. Adam often forgot that she had a big belly obstructing his way, thus Lewis would help him manoeuvre over to her.
“Morning, my love. Papa tells me that you have something special for me today.”
The little boy nodded. “Yes, downstairs. Come, Mama.”
“Hold on there, Adam, let Mama get ready first. She cannot come down in her night clothes.”
“But nothing, son,” Lewis said. “Go down and ask Mrs Granger if everything is ready; I will come down with Mama, all right? You know that she needs help with her big belly.”
Adam did not look impressed, but he nodded. “Ah-huh.”
The little boy scrambled off the bed, hardly hearing her shout that he needed to slow down.
“You disappointed your son, Lewis. What is the surprise that I cannot come down in my night clothes? A simple gown would cover me up.”
“Yes, but there is a chill in the air this morning, and I do not wish you to become ill. Isabella is preparing your water; she should be coming along soon.”
So the surprise was outside? It was not dawn yet, and he expected her to go outside? Her husband had gone mad.
She raised an eyebrow. “Since you have planned everything, would you like to pick out my outfit for today?”
Lewis only laughed, kissing her brow. “Still a tad grouchy, I see. No worries, you will be happy soon enough, I am sure of it.”
“I am glad that you are so sure,” she muttered.
He cocked his head to the side, his expression unreadable.
“Why are you looking at me like that? Is my hair a mess? Does my face look swollen today?”
She touched her hair, feeling the long thick plait that lay on her shoulder. That seemed relatively neat, but what of her face? Ellen prodded her face, feeling for the tell-tale double chin that her swelling would produce. She had gained a few pounds with this pregnancy, but Lewis always assured her that she looked beautiful.
He shook his head. “The candlelight gives you an ethereal appearance, or it might be the pregnancy, I do not know. Whichever it is, you look almost magical and untouchable.”
Her hands came down slowly. Heavens, but this man had a way with words. Her heart likely lay in a puddle in front of her, having melted from the sweetness of his words.
“You have a tendency to unarm a person with a few words, my love. That is terribly unfair. I wanted to be irritated with you for a bit longer, but you have taken the wind out of my sails.”
He shrugged his shoulders. “You are the one who brings it out in me, my love. I suddenly become a poet whenever I look at you. I cannot help saying what comes to mind.”
“Is it any wonder why I love you?”
Lewis grinned. “I know that you love me for my athletic body and chiselled face. What did that woman call me the other day? Adonis in the flesh?”
“Do not let it go to your head, Lewis; it is far bigger than it should be.”
“You are one to talk, my love, when I overheard Mr Dolten call you Aphrodite arising from the foam.”
Ellen laughed. “Do not be mad with me, they are not my friends. If I remember correctly, you had invited them to dinner.”
“Yes, yes, do not rub my face in it, love.”
She dropped a quick kiss on his nose. “I would not dare. I like your face just as it is.”
When she thought that Lewis would grab her for a kiss, she scrambled off the bed in jest, laughing at his disappointed expression.
“You have to be quicker than that, my love.”
A knock at the door stopped Lewis in his tracks as he had been slowly stalking towards her. Ellen poked her tongue at him, opening the door.
“Good morning, Lady Townshend. Shall I bring in your morning water?”
“Oh, good morning, Isabella. Yes, you may bring it in. I think that if I delay any longer, Adam may grow impatient with me.”
Isabella chuckled. “He is most excited to present his surprise to you. I shall return with your water in a moment.”
Ellen nodded, closing the door, only to yelp when a pair of arms closed around her waist.
“I have you now, my love.”
The break of dawn and hot chocolate had been a lovely start to their anniversary. Ellen had often complained to him that she rarely got to see it anymore due to her irregular hours, so Lewis had braved the mama bear and woken her up. While she had been irritated with him at first, she had soon gotten over it – Ellen could never remain angry with him for any length of time. They were both by the fireplace in the parlour, their son playing quietly at their feet. He would soon nod off to sleep for his late morning nap, a must if he were to keep awake when Marcia and Beau came to the house. Adam had grown attached to Beau very early in his short life, and Lewis was pleased that his son had a good role model in the young boy. He could not have met a more respectable, kind, and considerate eight-year-old child anywhere else. He had to admit that he had doubted his wife when she insisted that they remain in their lives, but of course, Ellen had known better. Marcia had surprisingly become a good friend and confidant to Ellen, visiting at least once a month. The woman lived further in the countryside, preferring to keep to herself rather than have too many people pry into her personal life. Lewis could understand that; it was not easy for a single mother and an illegitimate son to go by unnoticed. Not many people knew of their story, and those that did either did not care to share it or did not want to cause them any harm.
“My love, Adam has fallen asleep. Would you take him to his room?”
“We can leave him there for now; the carpet is soft, and he must be warm. I would just like to continue to sit here and spend some time with my beautiful wife.”
“He does seem quite comfortable, but are you certain that he will not wake up feeling sore?”
“My love, our son bumps his head on walls, rolls down hills, kicks his toes on stones, jams his fingers in doors … need I go on?”
She sighed. “All right, I understand your point, but it does not make me worry any less. At least put a cushion beneath his head.”
“Forever the mother bear, my love. I do hope that we have a daughter next, she might make you worry less.”
“But you will worry more. Do not forget, she will have suitors lining up at our door as soon as she is of age.”
Lewis grimaced. Perhaps it was not such a good thing to have a daughter, she would eventually break his heart when she left the family home. But then again, he had always wanted a daughter.
“I shall have a good twenty years before that happens.”
“I was married at eighteen, Lewis, and many other girls get married by sixteen or seventeen. It all depends on their family and their needs.”
Sixteen? His daughter would not leave his sight until he felt that he was ready!
“Let us leave this subject, I am getting a sore head just thinking about it.”
“Ha! Welcome to my world. What time did you say that Marcia and Beau would get here? It is after two already.”
“At four, I believe. Beau is on his way back from boarding school, and then they shall come here soon after. They are likely on their way now.”
Ellen suddenly stood up quickly, well, as swiftly as a pregnant woman could.
“Where are you going?”
“I shall be back in just a moment.”
His brow creased. “What is it that you have to do right now?”
“Goodness, you ask far too many questions, Husband. I shall be back in just a moment.”
Ellen had become all mysterious on him, and he wondered at it. He was usually the one with something up his sleeve, and as she had basically forgotten about their anniversary, he did not expect her to have anything planned. But when Ellen came in minutes later followed by Roxwell, his attention was drawn to the wrapped gifts they carried in their hands. While Ellen’s gift fitted into a small box, Roxwell carried a large and flat gift.
“What are these?”
“Gifts, silly man. I would like you to open the large one first, and then the smaller one.”
Lewis was gobsmacked. “When did you organise all of this then?”
“Some time ago. Come on, open up.”
Roxwell bowed, handing him the first gift. “Your Grace.”
Lewis tore it open quickly, a ball forming in his throat at the painting.
“It is a painting of you and Adam,” he managed to say.
“Yes, for your study. You mentioned having one made, but you never did get around to it. I thought that it would make a lovely gift. Do you like it?”
The painting showed a laughing Ellen and Adam in the garden, with the house and her garden of tulips as the background. This was his family, his own family.
“Like it? Ellen, I love it! When did you have it made? I do not remember an artist coming to our home.”
“It was a bit of a rush, really. The artist came during your brief trip to France and did a basic sketch. He completed it in his own home so that it could be hidden from you.”
“This is the best gift that I could have ever asked for, Ellen. We will need to update it once the baby comes, but I shall hang this one up right this minute.”
“I shall do it, Your Grace. Lady Townshend still has one more gift to give you.”
Roxwell took the painting from him, patting him on the shoulder before he left. His steward knew what it meant for him to have a family of his own. While his servants were undoubtedly a type of family, Lewis had missed the closeness of one who was linked to you and only you. Ellen, his first and only love, was his wife, and Adam was his son, blood of his blood. There was yet still another member of the family on the way; the thought was overwhelming, to say the least. Lewis did not know that he had been silently crying until Ellen rubbed a tear away with her finger.
“Lewis, are you all right?”
“Never better. Come, sit here for a moment.”
He patted his lap, but she looked at him dubiously.
“I look like a whale; how can I sit on you?”
“But you are my whale, and these legs of mine are sturdier than you think.”
She took a swipe at his shoulder. “Just for that, I shall not even give you a kiss.”
“I only said it in jest, my love. I love the roundness of you, there is more of you to love – how can I complain? Please, come and sit here. I wish to open my last gift with you as close to me as I can get you.”
She briefly narrowed her eyes at him before carefully lowering her body on his lap.
“Are you certain that I am not too heavy?”
“You are perfect, my love. Now, give me my gift, please.”
She handed the gift to him with a little smile that told him that he would love this gift as much as the other, if not more. He tore it open as quickly as the other, finding a black velvet jewellery box.
“What did you get me?”
She rolled her eyes. “Goodness, would you open it!”
He pried the lid open to find the pocket watch she had given him the year he had left for boarding school. But, it was not his pocket watch as this one had more detail added to it. The first thing that he noticed were the jewels that had been intricately shaped into his initials, and the gold chain on which it hung on.
“This is not my pocket watch, is it?”
“It is. Remember when it stopped working? I took it to the watchmaker and had a little more detail added. Look inside.”
He opened the watch, quickly grasping a lock of hair that fell out. In his hand lay a mixture of dark and golden hair.
“I saved a lock of Adam’s hair to plait into the lock of hair you had kept in there. I had no idea that you still had it.”
“It was the only piece of you that I had, of course, I would have kept it.”
She smiled fondly at him, kissing him on his brow. “£You, my love, are the perfect balance between the alpha male and sentimental man. Many women still hate me for marrying you.”
He snorted. “They hate in vain because you have been the only woman in my life since you entered it. Our love is the type that stands the test of time.”
“It is interesting that you should say that – look in the watch.”
There, written in gold, was the inscription ‘When even time could not keep us apart. Forever your love, Ellen’. This was the pocket watch that he had kept close to his heart as a reminder of all he held dear during his years away from his family and Ellen. It contained a lot of history and sentimental value to it, so to add to it in such a way overwhelmed him.
“Why are you so perfect at everything?”
Ellen was touched by the emotion she saw in her husband’s eyes. The fact that she could still move him to tears by a simple gift was all she needed to know that Lewis was as in love with her now as before. Many people had warned her that the flame of their love would eventually die out, and they would begin to live separate lives, but it had never happened, and Ellen doubted that it ever would.
“I am only perfect because you think that I am perfect. I am but an ordinary woman in love with the man of her dreams and reality.”
“Perfect wife, would you give me a kiss?”
“Not before I give you some good news.”
Ellen had almost forgotten that she had something to share with Lewis. It had taken many years to get to this point, and she could not be happier.
“Better than what has already happened today?”
“It is a different type of good news. Roxwell has informed me that he will ask Mrs Granger to marry him.”
“He truly said that?”
She nodded. “He did, and I have agreed to help him with the proposal. It seems that your romantic nature has affected your steward, my love.”
Lewis shook his head in wonder. “To think that he is finally going through with it when I have badgered him for years! Good on him, and it certainly is about time. I think that I shall have a talk with him later this evening.”
Their son woke up then, his eyes immediately going to his parents.
“Mama, I am hungry.”
Ellen laughed. “I wonder who he sounds like.”
“He is a growing boy, just like his papa. Come here, son, I have a little space for you on my lap.”
Adam did not need any further prompting. He got to his feet and crawled up, amazingly fitting into the tiny space that her swollen belly had not taken.
“You, my love, are going to be stiff when you eventually stand up.”
“Hush now and let me enjoy holding my family in my arms.”
However, the minute that Adam heard Beau’s voice just outside of the room, he leapt off his father’s lap and ran to the door. Ellen also tried to get up, but Lewis would not let her go.
“Lewis, Marcia, and Beau are here.”
“I know, but I still want my kiss.”
“You are as demanding as your son.”
“That may be, but I cannot get through my day without at least a dozen kisses or more.”
“You, my love, are a spoilt man, but I cannot deny you anything.”
She fanned his face with her hands, giving him one tender and meaningful kiss.
“There, that should hold you for a while.”
He smiled. “And I shall hold you in my heart forever.”
That was all that Ellen needed to know.