Madelene’s anxiety rose as she thought about the guests to arrive at Pemberley Manor.
“Hugh will be livid, but it is necessary. The truth must come out.”
Since Marguerite’s birth, they had been coming to Pemberley Manor at the insistence of Lady Scarborough. Christmas had become a lavish affair with her showing off her granddaughter to her neighbours, Lady Fairweather in particular. And now with the arrival of Madelene’s twin boys, Lady Scarborough was like a peacock, strutting around the countryside and gloating about her growing brood of grandchildren. The grandchildren had given her a new lease on life, and softened her edges, making her the best grandmother that Madelene could ask for. Even her father now made regular visits to England, more so to see Marguerite than his own daughter, but this did not bother Madelene in the slightest. She gazed at her sleeping boys.
“Father will be beside himself when he sees you two precious dumplings.”
Madelene’s Christmas guest list was considerably longer this year, as Graham, her brother, had promised to come. This was to be the first time in well over five years, and she was immensely excited about it. She just knew that he would become a doting uncle, just as Julia was as an aunt. The young woman chose to spend much of her year at Scarborough House, helping Madelene with Marguerite. Of course, it wasn’t necessary for Madelene loved to spend time with her daughter, but she understood that Julia would take any opportunity to get away from the watchful eyes of her mother. It was Julia that was due to arrive any day now, along with the guests that Madelene was most anxious about.
“What will Hugh say when he finds out that I invited his mother and father?”
Madelene was torn between telling him before they arrived or letting him see for himself once they came.
“If I tell him beforehand, he might lock himself up, or worse, force us to return to Scarborough House. As his wife, I would need to follow him.”
She would never disrespect her husband by refusing their return, but Madelene also knew that her husband needed to put the issues with his parents to rest. Marguerite, Kean, and Kane deserved to know their father’s parents, and if there was a chance of reconciliation, then a meeting had to be had.
“I hope that he understands; I truly do. I would hate for him to be disappointed with me for any length of time.”
“Who would dare to be disappointed with my wife? Point them in my direction, and I’ll show them a point or two that they’ll never forget.”
Madelene gave a low-pitched yell, clutching her chest. Her heart felt as though it could jump right out of her chest.
“Why do you always do that?!”
Hugh smiled. “Do what?”
“You know what! Sneak up on me! What if I had screamed louder? I would have woken up the babies, and I just managed to get them to sleep.”
“Perhaps because it is so easy to do. We have been married for over four years and yet I can still give you a fright. Have you not caught onto my ways yet?”
“Yes, Lady Scarborough?” he cut in.
Madelene pulled her face at the title. It had been years, and still, she was not used to her title of Lady Scarborough, Countess of Scarborough. She had always been just plain Madelene, but now people referred to her as ‘my lady’ or ‘her ladyship’.
“I choose to think of your aunt as the only Lady Scarborough there is. Life was easier when I was Miss Madelene or just plain Madelene.”
Hugh came to her and took her in his arms, kissing her brow.
“You are a Countess, my love, whether you like it or not. People are required to treat you as such. But I love the fact that you are still my Maddy, the woman who would sooner don a man’s garments than attend a ball.”
Madelene grimaced. “I do find those balls tiresome. Julia has had to go through several Seasons already, all with balls more opulent than the next. When will your mother understand that Julia does not wish to marry the men that the ton has to offer?”
Julia was now twenty-three, and according to some meddlesome women, was heading for spinsterhood. Her lack of a suitable match was certainly not due to a lack of suitors – many men seemed to hang onto her every word, all with high hopes of obtaining her hand in marriage. But like Madelene, Julia wanted more.
“My mother is not a woman who accepts defeat easily. But, enough of this topic. Who is this person that you do not wish to disappoint?”
Madelene’s eyes slanted to her right. Should she tell him now? His parents were due to arrive in a day or two, along with Julia and Aunt Felicity. How Julia had managed to convince them to come, Madelene didn’t know, but she had a hunch that Aunt Felicity had had a part to play.
“Come, Maddy. Tell me what is on your mind. I have noticed that you have been in high fidgets since arriving at Pemberley Manor. What has happened to cause you to fret so?”
Had she been so obvious? Of course, Hugh knew her so well. She had been foolish to believe that anything would have passed him by. I have to tell him. She met his eyes, silently pleading with him to understand her motive.
“I did something that you might not particularly like. In fact, you may just hate it, but I felt it necessary for the good of our growing family.”
Hugh’s brow furrowed. “What have you done, Maddy? I am sure that it is not as terrible as you think it is. I know that you would never willingly hurt me.”
Madelene cupped his cheeks. “You are right in believing that I would never hurt you. Please remember this as I tell you what I have arranged.”
Hugh’s eyes were full of concern as he searched her eyes. Oh, Hugh. Do not be angry with me.
“What is it, Maddy? You have me worried.”
“I invited your parents to Pemberley Manor for Christmas. They will be arriving with Julia and Aunt Felicity any day now.”
Hugh stepped away from her, his eyes full of disbelief.
“No, you are saying this in jest. I cannot believe that you would do such a thing! This is just some elaborate hoax to repay me for that horrendous dinner we attended just last week.”
That dinner had been terrible, and she had warned Hugh about it, but he had insisted that they go. It had been one of the worst hours of her life – the Spencers had been pompous people, full of snobbery and wicked words. The way that they had treated their servants had been one of the vilest things that Madelene had ever witnessed in her twenty-five years of life, and that was saying much. It went without saying that they were going to refuse all future invitations from them politely.
“That was a terrible ordeal in itself, but I swear to you that this has nothing to do with a hoax of any kind. I just want you to have closure, my love. Bringing them here will give you that.”
“I do not need closure! And I do not need them!” he shouted.
The sound shocked the twins, waking them both up. Kane started to whimper, which of course caused the same in Kean. Before long, they were both wailing at the top of their lungs. Hugh immediately hurried to Kane, the son closest to him, picking him up and shushing him. Madelene saw to Kean, rocking him back to sleep. Hugh remained quiet, focusing his attention on his son. The twins soon dropped off to sleep, Kane first, and then Kean. Kane was always the one to cry first, but the quickest to fall asleep. Whenever Kean did something, it was usually a marathon of sorts. Hugh laid his son down to sleep and left the room, not saying a word. Madelene sighed as she laid Kean in his own cot. Hugh was furious, and he had every right to be. She just hoped that he would not remain angry with her for longer than a few hours.
“Your daddy is not happy with me right now, but I do hope he comes to understand that I have not done this to hurt him, but to bring him closure. For all his bravado, he loves his parents.”
Madelene returned to her rocking chair and used her foot to rock back and forth as she stared out of the window.
“I hope that I have done the right thing.”
Hugh could not believe that his own wife would do this. To invite his parents was akin to putting a knife into his back. He didn’t want to see them! Hugh was content with his life as it was; he had no need to include two people that had ostracised him from their lives based on a false story.
“They are the ones that pointed the finger at me and accused me of murder despite all the evidence given. There was no foul play, but they insisted that I had killed my own brother! And for what reason? Envy? Pah!”
Hugh had never concerned himself with titles and wealth; he had only envied his brother’s ease with getting his way in every situation. That could never be a reason for him actually to kill Edward!
“They do not even know that he had had an affair with my own wife! Had they been told, they would have said that I killed him out of revenge. At least that would have been closer to the truth.”
But even then, he would have never killed his brother. Roughed him up, yes, but never murder. For all of Edward’s faults, Hugh had still loved his older brother and looked up to him.
“If they had not put him on a pedestal from birth, they may have seen his nasty character.”
Never once did Hugh believe that Edward would take his wife and father a child with her.
“It seems that enough was never enough with Edward.”
Hugh blamed his parents for that. As far as he was concerned, his parents were the indirect cause of Edward’s death. He laughed, the bitter sound swirling around him as the strong wind whipped his coat about.
“Maybe I should let them come and throw that in their faces. That should send them packing soon enough.”
The snow had come early this year, covering the fields in a white blanket. The wind was icy, but he welcomed it. It helped him cool down from the rage he had burning within him. It was not so much aimed at his wife, but at the mess his parents had helped to create. Yes, Edward was the one to blame at the end of the day, but neither were they exempt from the tragedy.
“They must own up to the part they had to play in the affair, my wife’s death, and the death of their beloved son.”
Perhaps it was good that they were coming; he could unload the words that he had buried along with the memory of his first wife.
“I’m going to need to apologise to Maddy for my reaction. My wife knows me better than I know myself. It is time for this matter to be put to rest and receive closure from this meeting. It may go badly, but at least I will have said my piece.”
Hugh turned back to the house.
The day arrived quicker than Madelene had anticipated. Greenery bedecked the halls of Pemberley Manor: holy, ivy, bay, and rosemary were tastefully arranged by Madelene, all complete with a kissing-bough hung from the ceiling as one entered the drawing room. Madelene had not wanted to include this round ball of twigs and greenery, with an assortment of the season’s fruits, but Lady Scarborough had insisted. Just who she was expecting a kiss from, Madelene did not know, but as it was her ladyship’s permanent residence (despite it not being her house by law), Madelene had respected her wishes. The first day of Christmas was officially underway, and the Yule log saved from the previous Christmas was happily burning away in the fireplace. The new Yule log was already decorated with greenery and ribbon and was ready for Christmas Eve. Madelene looked around, mentally checking off her list and half muttering to herself.
“Rooms have been aired and prepared, the pantry is well stocked, our log pile should suffice for the weeks to come, and the fireplace is ready for our coming and most likely shivering guests.”
The only thing missing was her failing courage. Had she done the right thing? Hugh had forgiven her and even looked forward to his parents’ arrival, but the gleam in his eyes had hinted at a need to fight. The last thing that she wanted was a miserable Christmas – she would gird herself with false bravado if she had to if just to stop any fights from spoiling her well-thought-out plans. Madelene had never met her in-laws before, and with good reason, but she was going to stand with her husband and defend him should the occasion arise.
“Which it may very well do. There is no telling what Hugh has going in his upper works. He seems almost happy about their arrival, and that does not sit well with me.”
Maria was watching the twins while James played with Marguerite in the Nursery. Hugh was holed up in his study, and Lady Scarborough was napping, having chosen to assist Madelene with the boy’s early morning feeding. They were not yet sleeping right throughout the night, but Madelene maintained her high hopes. A noise outside drew her gaze to the large windows of the drawing room, and her belly did a flip.
“They’re here,” she whispered.
Madelene ran to inspect her appearance, making sure that her curls were still subdued in the simple up style Maria had arranged, and her simple blue dress was devoid of twigs and leaves, or worse yet, breastmilk. It would be an embarrassing moment indeed should her in-law’s first impression of her be one including the unmistakable spillage of a nursing mother. Both Nicholson and Giles had rushed to the door, Nicholson beating Giles by a hairsbreadth. It appeared that Nicholson had decided to take everything as a competition wherever Giles was concerned, but the bigger man could not have been any less bothered. Madelene caught a smile on the man’s face as he watched the smaller man scramble to greet their guests. Giles walked calmly behind him, stopping when he spotted her walking towards them.
“My Lady, may I assist you down these icy steps? Nicholson has quite happily rushed ahead.”
Madelene laughed. “He is rather eager, is he not? I would love the assistance – thank you, Giles.”
She took his arm, taking a deep breath as she came closer to the people that had caused her husband pain. Madelene didn’t know what to expect, but she was doing this for Hugh. That alone gave her enough courage to plaster on a smile as she waited for the carriage to reveal Lord and Lady Trentham.
Hugh watched his parents step down the carriage, shocked to see how much they had aged in the past twelve years. His father’s blond hair was completely white, and he seemed terribly frail as Nicholson helped him down the carriage steps. Next came his mother, tall and proud, salt and pepper hair, several pounds lighter. Hugh was too far away to see much else, but he imagined their faces to be more heavily lined. Bitter people tended to collect far more wrinkles than their happier counterparts. He had no satisfaction in witnessing how aged they had become, only sadness. In truth, he felt sorry for them. Not only had their past actions robbed them of one son, but two, as well as the chance to be a part of their grandchildren’s lives.
“They brought it upon themselves, but I still have sympathy for them. How twisted is that?”
Hugh had no wish to see them at that present moment; it was enough to merely see them. Tomorrow was another day for a battle. He moved away from the window, no longer wanting to see the scene unfolding before them.
Cold. That was how Madelene would describe her in-laws. Thank goodness for Julia and Aunt Felicity. They had filled the gap that Lord and Lady Trentham had purposefully created with their lack of words. Lord Trentham had given her a once-over, raising his eyebrows and giving one careless remark.
“I see Hugh has not lost his touch for beautiful women. Although you are far prettier than Almeria.”
Lady Trentham had given a brief greeting before requesting to see her room, which Madelene was only too happy the maid show her. They had made it clear that they wished to dine in their rooms, which Madelene had no qualms with. Her in-laws had soon disappeared, leaving her with the preferred company of their daughter and Aunt Felicity.
“Well,” the older woman remarked. “That went considerably better than I originally expected. Is my nephew hiding away somewhere?”
“He is in his study. I am sure that he will soon surface to greet you both.”
Aunt Felicity flapped her hand. “Never mind him, where is my beautiful grandniece and grandnephews? They are the reason why I came in the first place. I will not be taking place in any drama this Christmas. I want to eat, sleep, and spend some time with those precious babies.”
Madelene laughed. “They are in the Nursery along with James and Maria. Third room to your left.”
“And with that being said, I am off. I can find my room later.”
The woman walked off, leaving Madelene with Julia, who embraced her with all the love shown to a sister of the womb.
“How are you, Maddy? You look even more radiant than when I last saw you. Being a mother clearly agrees with you.”
“I suppose that when you are truly happy, it shines forth on your face. And you? How have you been faring?”
Julia rolled her eyes. “Well, the ride over was all it was expected to be – filled with complaints and
words that I would rather not repeat. I am amazed that I convinced them to accept your invitation! However, I do suspect that they were curious to see their son, the Earl of Scarborough, and his wife.”
Madelene had certainly suspected as much.
“Well! Seeing as how everyone has gone in their own direction, how about we have a spot of tea and a biscuit or two?”
“That would be lovely, Maddy. I do feel a bit parched, and a hot cup of tea should do wonders in this weather.”
Madelene linked her arm with Julia. “Come, we can hide in the kitchen.”
Julia giggled. “Hide being the operative word!”
They both laughed as they headed to the kitchen, but their laughter held some strain to it. They were both aware of the drama to unfold the next day.
Madelene had imagined a few heated words, but this was positively horrendous. Lady Trentham had so far called her son every foul word under the sun, while he had sat calmly by, watching her with careful eyes. More than once, Madelene had opened her mouth to defend him, but he had held her hand, squeezing it gently.
“Murderer! You know that you killed your own brother because you were always jealous of him! I spit at you!”
Lady Trentham was about to make good on her word when Hugh suddenly spoke, his words carefully measured and forceful.
“Enough! I have heard enough of your excuses and need to blame another person for your own wrongdoings.”
“My wrongdoings? How dare you say that to me? I lost a son because of you! Even your wife was tainted by your evil heart!”
Hugh laughed. “My evil heart? Have you looked in the mirror lately, Mother?”
His mother flew at him, raising a hand, but Madelene stepped in and grabbed it, and looked the woman in the eyes. Something within her snapped, and she wanted nothing more than to throw her out at that moment, but Hugh had not yet had the opportunity to voice all that lay on his heart.
“If you touch my husband, you will live to regret it. He has suffered enough at your hands.”
Lady Trentham tore her hand way, turning to her husband.
“Do you see how ill-treated I am? And you did not even come to my rescue! Worthless excuse of a man!”
Lord Trentham cocked his head to the side, pursing his lips.
“You have never needed my help before, Wife. I am quite content to watch this unfold from this chair.”
Lady Trentham uttered a guttural sound of frustration, spittle flying everywhere. The woman is mad.
Hugh was simply biding his time, waiting to strike at the right time. He needed his words to have maximum impact for them to really sink home. His father had been virtually quiet, choosing to observe rather than comment. But such was his father’s ways. When his mother turned back to him, after having disrespected her own husband, Hugh continued his words.
“I hold you personally responsible for Edward and Almeria’s deaths, including that stillborn baby.”
“Me?! You are the one that drove them to their deaths!”
Hugh shook his head. “I believe that you’ll find that the fault lies only with you. Allow me to explain: you spoilt Edward, raising him to believe that he could have anything and anyone he could possibly want.” He waited a few heartbeats. “Including my wife.”
“You lie!” his mother spat. “Edward would have never done that! He had a wife and children, what would he have wanted with Almeria?”
“I asked myself that same question for years following her death. Why couldn’t Edward have just stayed true to his own wife? But why would he have? You taught him to take and take, even when things did not belong to him.”
Lady Trentham shook her head, her cheeks mottled with red splotches.
“No! How dare you try to taint your brother’s memory with such disgusting words? You are the one that was unfaithful to your wife! Do not think that I do not know about that illegitimate boy!”
“That illegitimate boy?” Madelene said. “Is that all that James is to you? I would ask that you think very carefully about your words, Lady Trentham. I will not have you speak unkindly about my son.”
The woman laughed. “Oh, so you are the boy’s mother? How long did Hugh make you his mistress before he finally married you? How does it feel to be a Countess, you loose woman?”
Hugh stood up in a shot, and his mother backed away, falling into her chair in fear. He would have never struck his own mother, but she needed to be put in her place.
“Don’t you ever speak to my wife like that again; do you hear me, Mother? She is worth a hundred of you, and more. If not for her, I would not be here today, saying what I have always wanted to say but never had the courage to say. Now you will sit down, show respect, and listen to me, do you hear me?”
His mother clutched her throat and nodded. Hugh returned to his seat and held Madelene’s hands, drawing strength from her to finish what he had started.
“I loved my brother, in fact, I looked up to him. I knew of his faults, but I never thought that he would take my wife. When Almeria went into labour pains, it was quickly discovered that the baby had turned. The midwife was not able to save him, and by then, Almeria had lost a lot of blood. She was dying, and I did not know what to do.”
His voice caught, but a squeeze of his hand helped him to continue.
“As she lay there dying, she told me the whole sordid truth. She and Edward had been having an affair for months, and the baby was not mine. Edward arrived soon after her death, beside himself with grief to see my wife dead. He disappeared into the storm, galloping at a speed that was ludicrous for the state of the weather. Did I want revenge? Yes! But not at the expense of his life. I found him on the ground, already dead. He had fallen from his horse and broken his neck. Three deaths in one night, how did you think that made me feel? And then to be accused of murdering my brother by my own mother?”
His mother had turned deathly pale. “You lie! You are just trying to absolve yourself of any guilt!”
“He is not lying, Elizabeth. The boy speaks the truth.”
They all looked at Lord Trentham, surprised to hear him speak. He nodded.
“Edward was indeed having an affair with Almeria. I caught them myself, but like the fool that I was, I did not say anything. Can you ever forgive me, Son? I have wronged you, and I am deeply sorry for all the pain that I have caused you.”
“Traitor!” his wife hissed. “Edward is dead! How can you speak like this?”
“Because it is true, Elizabeth! We allowed Edward to get away with too much, all the while being hard on Hugh. Our eldest son turned into a selfish being, and we have no one else but ourselves to blame. I lost two sons the night Edward died because of us! You were grieving, and so I did not want to bring you more pain by going against your accusations. To tell the truth, I wanted to believe that Hugh was a murderer, if but to feel better about myself! I knew in my heart that Hugh could never have killed his brother, but I didn’t speak up.”
Lady Trentham was crying, her silent tears falling unchecked down her face. Hugh’s father continued, his voice becoming thick with unshed tears.
“And then you went away, Son, and I never thought that I would see you again. You came back, but you were a changed man. Hardened by war, a man that had seen countless tragedies. And even then, I could not speak. Not because I blamed you for Edward’s death, but because of my own shame. It was easier to allow your mother to hurl insults at you than admit to my wrongdoing. But today is the day that I put a stop to that. Son, you are innocent of your brother’s death. No words can describe how sorry I am for your loss, and the betrayal you suffered, not only due to their affair but the betrayal of your own parents. We are the ones that were meant to comfort you in your grief, support you as you mourned the loss of your wife and a child that you had believed yours. Instead, we turned you away, branded you a murderer, and turned our backs on you. Will you forgive an old man his wrongdoing?”
His father stood up, coming to stand halfway. Hugh knew that his father was waiting for him to close the gap, but he couldn’t seem to bring himself to stand.
“My love,” Madelene said. “Your father is asking for forgiveness. Is this not what you have been waiting for?”
Hugh looked at his wife, and she seemed to understand. She stood up, helping him to his feet. This was his rock, his reason for living, and he loved her even more at that moment. Together they walked to his father, who immediately uttered a heartfelt cry and enveloped him in a hug. Hugh stood still, but a soft hand on his arm had him returning his father’s embrace. A howl from behind Lord Trentham broke their hug. Hugh’s mother was beside herself as she covered her face with her aged hands. When her husband held his hand out to her, she shook her head and took off running. Hugh stepped in her direction, but Madelene stopped him.
“Do not worry, my love, I will go after her.”
Hugh nodded, showing his gratitude in his eyes. Madelene left, leaving him alone with his father. Lord Trentham stood to the side, looking helpless and every bit the sorry man that he was.
“Sit, Father, we have much to catch up on.”
His father’s face lit up, and Hugh felt the last piece of his life’s puzzle slip into place. He knew that his mother would come to him sooner or later, but right now, this was enough.
Madelene followed Lady Trentham to the garden, carrying a coat along with her. The older woman had blindly run outside, and now she was shivering, her lips already turning blue.
“Lady Trentham? Take this coat; it is cold outside.”
The woman wordlessly accepted the coat, not meeting Madelene’s eyes.
“I have been a fool,” she said. “And I do not know how even to start to make up for the pain I have caused my son.”
“Tell him that, Lady Trentham. He needs to hear it.”
She shrugged. “But how can I even look him in the eye now? Twelve years! I wasted twelve years all because I refused to see the faults in Edward. I lost four babies before Edward was born. Four babies. When Edward was born and lived past his first birthday, I was overjoyed and relieved. Frederick’s parents had already labelled me a cursed woman by then, but when Edward survived, I was suddenly praised. It was a wonderful feeling. I gave all my love and attention to Edward – he was the heir that the Trenthams had expected me to produce, and like the good wife, I had finally done so. When Hugh came, he was just seen as the spare son. I loved him, I truly did, but it was Edward that was the star of the show. His golden hair, blue eyes, and rosy cheeks attracted people to him, and I was the proud mother. Hugh was more sickly, the darker haired child that I came to neglect, so worried was I that he would die. However, he didn’t, but the damage had already been done. How do I make up for all those years? My son is now thirty-six.”
Madelene laid a tentative hand on the woman’s arm, waiting to see if she would shrug it off, but she didn’t.
“We can walk back together, and I’ll be right there, cheering you on. Hugh needs to hear what you have to say, Lady Trentham. He has waited years for it.”
The woman turned to face her, bringing her hand to Madelene’s cheek.
“I am happy that my son found you. At least he has had some happiness in his life. You have made beautiful children together. I saw them last night, and a part of me recognised that I had missed out on the beginning of their lives due to my own mistakes. Even James. He is still my grandson, no matter who his mother was. Hugh taking him in has proved to me just how selfless my son truly is, and I missed all of that.”
Her hand fell away, her sorrow so strong that Madelene felt it.
“But you can make up for lost time. Starting now. Come back with me, speak with your son, and afterwards, we will introduce you to your grandchildren.”
Madelene held out her hand, waiting for the woman to take it. Lady Trentham smiled and took the peace offering.
“Let us go so that I can get my son back.”
Madelene’s plan had worked.
Christmas Day at Pemberley Manor was a happy occasion for all who were there. Madelene watched everyone, part of her in disbelief of all that she saw. Aunt Felicity, Lady Trentham (who now insisted that Madelene call her Mother), and Lady Scarborough each held a child. Marguerite had quickly warmed up to her grandmother, sitting on her lap and telling her stories that only her three-year-old mind could create. James was happily playing a board game with Lord Trentham and Madelene’s own father. Bursts of laughter would come from their direction as James’ quick mind continued to outmanoeuvre them. Graham, her brother, and Hugh sat discussing who knew what, their heads close together. Every now and then, Hugh would send a kiss in her direction, mouthing the words ‘I love you’. She would blush, catching his kisses and throwing some back, which was a source of amusement to Julia, who sat beside her, pretending to read a book while her gaze would drift to Graham when she thought that no one else was looking. Madelene had noticed the interested looks that her brother had given the beautiful Julia, seeing the sparks that passed between the two of them. There might just be another wedding in the family. Madelene had insisted that Maria and Giles join them, but they had declined, wishing to spend their Christmas with the other servants. Madelene intended to slip away for a bit, just to see how her beloved servants were faring on this Christmas morning. She could have never got this far without them, and she was forever grateful to them. As for her, life could not get any better than this. Hugh looked at her, excusing himself from Graham and coming to sit beside her. He took her hand and kissed her palm.
“What are you thinking, my beautiful wife?”
“That I am wonderfully content. Life cannot be any more perfect than it is right now.”
“And we all have you to thank for it. You have brought us together, my love.”
“And we will stay together.”
Happily ever after is not just for fairy tales. I have my one right here. Madelene laid her head on her husband’s shoulder, smiling to herself. This was all she had never known she had wanted. Fate had won, and she was genuinely happy about that.