(Two years later)
“Oh, what are you doing?” Emily asked with amusement as she rounded the corner to find Edward halfway up one of the columns. “You are not a schoolboy,” she chastised her husband.
Edward chuckled and slid back down to the floor. “I was just hanging the mistletoe.”
“Is there no one else stupid enough to climb up that thing?” Emily asked in exasperation.
Edward gave it some thought and said, “Nope.”
Emily shook her head at her husband and sighed. She was going to say something else, but she caught a whiff of whatever was cooking in the oven and felt so ill that she thought she might be sick right there on the floor. Edward took her by her elbow and led her into his study. “I am fine,” Emily said as Edward sent a maid to fetch a cool, wet rag.
“You are not fine,” Edward said. “I wish you would go to see the doctor.”
Emily shrugged. “I will go to see the doctor when you stop acting like you are still nineteen,” Emily huffed.
Edward laughed. “I know I am not nineteen. I have all the aches to prove it.”
“And yet you look for ways to get more aches,” Emily said as she folded her arms over her chest.
With a chuckle, Edward came over and wrapped his arms around her. “My leg feels good today, and the only other person who can climb the column happens to be on the other side of the county visiting his mother. Relax, love, I am not dead yet.”
“You will be if you do not stop jumping around like a child,” Emily said.
Edward laid his head against Emily’s forehead. “You worry too much.”
“You have been dead once already. I am allowed to worry,” Emily reminded him with a smile.
“Fair enough,” Edward said as he stood up and tugged an unappreciative Emily to her feet. He pulled her to him and danced with her around the study. “Are you looking forward to the ball?”
Emily wobbled her head from side to side which made Edward frown. She giggled at the man and said, “Yes, I am looking forward to the ball, so long as I can keep food down.”
“I can get the doctor to come to see you this afternoon,” Edward said.
Emily was tempted to swat the man upside his head, but he did have a point. “Fine, send word for him to come to see me,” Emily agreed as she gave up trying to get the man to let her be. “Now I have to make sure that the rest of the decorations are put up properly. You are staying on the floor.”
Edward released her and gave her a bow. “As you wish,” he said with a flourish.
Emily shook her head and left her husband to his devices. She wandered down the hallways. The greenery seemed to be mostly up. Pearl came around the corner and asked, “Do you wish to sample the dishes?”
“I do not think my stomach is up to that,” Emily said with regret.
Pearl wiped her hands on her apron and put her hand on Emily’s forehead as a mother would check her child for fever. Emily smiled. Pearl said, “You do not appear to be warm. You should let the doctor look at you.”
“I have already given my worrying husband permission to bring the doctor to see me,” Emily told the woman as she patted Pearl’s arm. “Worry not, I am well-doted over.”
Pearl smiled and said, “He means well.”
“Oh, I know,” Emily said with a nod. “I better go see that all the trees are placed properly. You know how hard it is for the men to get them in the right positions for some reason that continues to evade me.”
Pearl grinned. “I think the reason you are looking for is that they are men, child.”
Emily laughed and gave Pearl a wave. When Emily got to the main hall where the dance would take place, she stopped and took in how lovely the greenery that she had helped hang the day before looked. The trees looked to be just about perfect as well, Emily noticed gratefully. The men were nowhere to be found, so it was a good thing that Emily could make do with where the trees were.
She had kept a spot clear specifically for the musicians, and she walked around the room checking that everything was as it should be. She then went through the rooms and hallways to ensure that the decorations were as they should be. She found a couple of spots where the greenery was not placed as she had wanted, but mostly it looked right.
A maid came by carrying some candles, and Emily stopped her, “Place a candle there. There should be candles on all these tables.”
The young woman nodded and followed Emily’s instructions. She was trying to make sure that the house looked as much like Edward’s home had from her memories of the holidays spent at the duchy. Those had always been treasured times, and Emily wanted them to be again for Edward.
Edward had to use his prestige to get the doctor to come out on such short notice. It was amazing how quickly people changed when they realised that the man they had just told no to was not only a Duke but the very Duke whose story still ran regularly in newspapers two years after his return to England. Edward smiled that perhaps being a Duke did help him out some after all, and not just those around him.
Emily had looked almost disappointed when Edward had returned with the doctor in tow. “I kept my promise, now you keep yours,” Edward told his wife with a kiss to her head.
“Come, Your Grace,” the doctor said respectfully to Emily. “Let us see what is ailing you.”
Pearl came up as Edward watched the doctor leading his wife away. “Worry not,” Pearl said, “she will be fine.”
Edward turned to look at the woman. “I certainly hope so.”
“Come on, get your mind off of it and come to the kitchen. Her Grace did not feel up to tasting the recipes, so that leaves you to do the chore, I am afraid,” Pearl said as she patted Edward’s back.
Edward laughed. “You do want food left for the ball, do you not?”
“I still have my rolling pin,” Pearl assured him. “Now come on with you.” She tossed the words back over her shoulder as she turned to go back to the kitchen.
Despite the threat of violence, Edward happily followed her to the kitchens. It was not often that he went to the kitchen these days, as Emily or Pearl were always running him out of there. They had taken it over as if it was their own private fortress to which Edward had no admittance.
The kitchen was filled with savoury and sweet smells. Edward’s mouth was watering by the time he sat down at the table that Pearl directed him towards. “I can tell you now, that it may not taste it, but everything smells delicious.”
“You used to eat those horrible berries that grew by the fence that tasted like bitter dirt,” Pearl reminded Edward. “Just try your best and imagine what people who do not eat those berries like.”
Edward chuckled as he waited for the first plate. He never took offence to Pearl. She was the closest thing to a mother he had growing up, and for that, she got more patience from him than most.
She sat a plate in front of him of what looked like roasted meat with some form of berry on top of it. Edward smiled and took a bite of the dish. “Are these those berries by the fence?” Edward asked which earned him a gentle cuff to the back of the head. “I mean it is very nice,” Edward said with a laugh.
Pearl brought him two more dishes, one of which was fairly normal potatoes. Edward liked them very much although Pearl only let him get one mouthful of those before she took them away much to his irritation. The other dish was a creamy soup that smelled vaguely of carrots. It tasted vaguely of carrots. Edward told Pearl exactly that, which also earned him a cuff to the back of the head.
“Do you treat Emily like this when she tastes things for you? If so, then I see why she did not feel well,” Edward said as he playfully rubbed the back of his head.
Pearl patted Edward’s back. “Never mind all that. Here, try this cake. It is one you should remember.”
Edward frowned and took a bite of it. He smiled. “It is Father’s favourite chocolate cake. We used to have this all the time.”
“Yes, but it has been awhile since I made one. I wanted to make sure that it still tasted the same,” Pearl said with an indulgent smile. “You may eat that whole piece.”
Edward grinned. “Thank you,” he said as he took another bite of it. “You really are a most wonderful cook, Pearl.”
“You just say that because my cooking is just about all you know,” Pearl said, but Edward could tell that the woman was touched by the way she touched her cheek. Pearl always did that when she was happy.
Edward finished his cake and drank the mint tea that Pearl gave him to taste. It was very refreshing, and Edward suggested that she keep it around after the holidays. Pearl seemed very pleased by that. At least Edward did not earn another cuff to the back of his head, for which he was grateful.
Pearl sat across from him. Edward eyed the woman curiously. He frowned. “It is taking them a long time,” he said.
“Yes,” Pearl said in a quiet voice. “I do hope it is nothing.”
Edward reached his hand out to the woman who gratefully took it in her own two hands. Edward said, “Emily is tougher than I am, and that is saying something.”
“It certainly is,” Pearl agreed. “I am so glad that you came back to us. Although I was pretty upset with you for a while.”
“I vaguely remember that,” Edward said with a grin. “You used to burn my food a lot.”
Pearl laughed. “Yes, well, I had to do something. I could not very well take you over my knee for how you had treated poor Emily. Even if I did feel you deserved it.”
“I did deserve it, and I wonder every day how she managed to forgive me, but I am glad she did.” Edward gave Pearl’s hand a squeeze. “And I actually liked the burned pumpernickel bread.”
Pearl snickered, “I cannot say I am surprised. I do think that you would eat almost anything.”
Edward assured her, “There are things that I do not eat.”
“Things that move before you can devour them?” Pearl suggested helpfully.
Edward shook his finger at the woman. “It is a good thing that I adore you.”
“Should I be worried?” Emily asked with a grin as she came into the kitchen.
Edward looked over at her in anticipation. “So? What did he say?”
“I am fine,” Emily said with a shrug. “He said I probably have been overdoing it, but if I do not feel better, then I should go to see him.”
Edward let out a relieved sigh. “That is wonderful,” Edward said, “but I insist that you rest for the remainder of the afternoon.”
“Okay,” Emily agreed. Edward gave her a suspicious look. “Do not look at me that way. I am trying to be reasonable. I do not feel well, so I will rest. I will sit right here with Pearl for a bit and then I will go and lay down.”
Edward got up and pulled Emily into a hug. “Thank you,” he said. He felt a lot better knowing that Emily would at least heed the doctor’s warning. He bid the ladies goodbye and headed to find something to do so that he could make sure the ball was ready and Emily did not have to worry.
As soon as Edward was out of the room, Emily turned to Pearl and put her finger to her lips. “You cannot tell Edward what I am about to tell you,” Emily said trying to stop herself from smiling and failing miserably.
“I promise,” Pearl said with hesitation.
Emily sat down and whispered, “I am with child.”
“Are you really?” Pearl asked as she clasped her hands together.
Emily shushed the woman. “I went to see the midwife several weeks ago when I was not feeling well. I only let Edward call the doctor because I was afraid that something might be off, and I could not very well leave suddenly to go to the midwife with Edward watching my every move.”
“I do not understand,” Pearl said as her eyebrows furrowed. “Should you not tell your husband such things as this?”
Emily nodded. “Of course, I should, but I wanted to keep it a secret until Christmas morning.”
“Oh, Emily,” Pearl said, her eyes misting up with tears. “He will be so thrilled.”
Emily grinned. “I want to tell him so badly, but I also want it to be special.”
“A child is special no matter when or where you tell it,” Pearl said, but she sighed. “I suppose though it is your child and your husband. I will keep my peace.”
Emily squeezed the woman’s hand. “Did Edward really eat those awful berries? I thought they would kill you.”
Pearl laughed so hard that she cried. She shook her head. “Poor thing, he thought they were cherries,” Pearl said as she fought to get her laughter under control.
“How did I never hear about that?” Emily asked in amazement.
Pearl sighed. “Well, we just never brought it up much. He never ate them again as they made him sick. We just forgot about it.”
“If there are any other things in my husband’s past similar, I would like to be informed. I need to know what to expect our child to get up to,” Emily said with feeling.
Pearl clucked her tongue. “You just pray that child takes more after you, “ Pearl said, but the woman’s eyes held laughter as she said it.
Emily stood up and stretched. “I had better keep my word and rest, or Edward might lock me in my room to keep me from attending the ball tonight.”
Edward sent a maid up to make sure that Emily was awake in time for her to get ready. She would never forgive him if he let her sleep through the ball she had so meticulously designed and worked to put together. He spent the remainder of the time before the ball getting ready as well. He knocked on the door separating his wife’s dressing room from their marriage chamber.
They each maintained their own separate rooms but slept together at night which was not unusual. Some couples always slept separately unless they were consummating their marriage and so on. Edward found it easier to sleep with Emily in the room, however.
“Enter,” Emily called.
Edward slipped through the door and watched as the chambermaid helped his wife put up her hair. Emily smiled at him in the reflection of her vanity. “You look very nice,” Emily said.
“As do you,” Edward told her. “You look like a vision of perfection.”
Emily rolled her eyes at his opulence. “You go too far with that, but I adore you,” Emily said with affection.
The chambermaid blushed and smiled at the couple. She finished her work and swiftly left them. Edward came over and bent down to put his head next to Emily’s. He gave her cheek a kiss. “How are you feeling?”
“I feel very well,” Emily assured him as she lifted her hand to lay against his cheek. “You do not have to worry so for me. I told you that I am fine.”
Edward sighed. “I cannot help worrying. We have been through so much, and I worry that I will lose you before I can ever make up to you all the lost time between us.”
“I appreciate your concern, but I am fine Edward,” Emily said. “You have to trust me.”
Edward assured her, “I do trust you. I simply know that life is not always fair.”
Emily turned in her seat. “Life has been exceptionally unfair to you, Edward, but do not hold it in such harsh regard. Life can be good to you as well.”
“I pray that it is,” Edward said in a quiet voice.
Emily smiled at him and gave him a wink. “That is a start,” she told him. “So, do you think that your colonel will make the trip with the weather the way it is?”
“I hope for his sake that he does not. I had the maids make sure the rooms upstairs were tidy in case of guests having to stay,” Edward said. “I hope that your parents will stay the night.”
Emily nodded. “They will. I have already told them that they simply must.”
“Good,” Edward said, “So, are you ready to go down and await our guests? That is if we have any with the way the snow has started coming down.”
Emily frowned. “Is the snow really getting that heavy outside? I had hoped it would wait a few days.”
“Alas, life is, as I said before, unfair,” Edward jested. “Come, Duchess, let us go and see our celebrants.”
Emily allowed the man to pull her to her feet. “If that is your wish, my Duke, then so be it.”
They walked downstairs, arm in arm, to find the first guests already arriving. “Earl and Lady Shelton,” the doorman announced.
Emily walked over and was quickly enveloped in a hug from Lady Shelton. The Earl and Edward shared a firm handshake. Lady Shelton commented, “I love the smell of evergreens. They always put me in a festive mood.”
“You should come to see the main hall before people fill it,” Emily insisted.
The two ladies were swiftly walking away talking in low tones. “It amazes me that women can find so much to talk about,” the Earl said with a shake of his head.
“Ah, think we men do just fine too,” Edward said.
The Earl nodded. “I think we shall have to vote upon a referendum as soon as the holidays are over.”
Edward groaned. “Can Randall not even let us have a week?”
“He is eager to push forward his social reforms,” the Earl said with equal disgust. “I do not mind helping out those pitiable souls in the poorhouses, but why it cannot wait until the regular session is beyond me.”
Edward shrugged and said, “Well, these are the hardest months on the poor. The church that Emily volunteers to help with just had to open up two more kitchens for children. I fear that this winter will put us all in the soup lines.”
“Those pests over the summer are the cause of the shortages,” the Earl said. “They wreaked havoc on the grains. I barely got any yield at all from my fields.”
Edward usually avoided talking too much politics, but all the Earl ever talked of was politics or some intrigue that his wife had sniffed out. Of the two, Edward would stick to politics. The door opened, and Colonel Ainsley’s name was announced. Edward waved the man over.
Colonel Ainsley handed his overcoat to the doorman and came over to stand with Edward. “Earl, I would like you to meet Colonel Ainsley who was my superior while I was in the army,” Edward said proudly. “Colonel Ainsley, this is the Earl of Shelton.”
The two men exchanged handshakes and pleasantries. The Earl said, “Say, you are the one who saved His Grace, are you not?”
“He is,” Edward said before the colonel could speak.
The Earl thumped Colonel Ainsley on the shoulder. “Good on you,” the Earl said with enthusiasm. “Proud to meet you, Sir.”
“And you Sir,” Colonel Ainsley said with a touch of embarrassment. Edward could understand how he felt. The Earl of Shelton for all his good traits could be a bit much if you were not used to him. Luckily for the colonel, a few more people arrived, and the Earl was swiftly away to talk to them about how he felt that new referendum was a bad idea.
Edward chuckled as the colonel shook his head at him. “What do you think of high society?”
“I think I would rather go home,” Colonel Ainsley said with a grin.
Edward said, “The Earl can be a bit much sometimes.” Edward gestured for the colonel to follow him. “The wife is not with you tonight?”
“Oh, she hates the cold,” Colonel Ainsley said with a laugh. “I promised that I would bring her back something delicious to eat.”
Edward nodded. “You will have a lot to choose from. Our cook is the best around,” Edward said with pride. “She has been cooking for me since I was a child.” They walked to a table that held refreshments set out for guests to indulge in as they walked and danced.
The musicians were tuning their instruments. Colonel Ainsley got himself a drink of the punch that was set out. “Very fruity,” the man noted with an amused expression. “I expected a bit more alcohol.”
Edward chuckled and said, “There is brandy and other spirits in my study if you should feel the need of them. Emily insisted that the drinks be kept alcohol-free.”
“I had no idea your wife was one of those,” Colonel Ainsley said with a smile.
Edward shook his head. “She is not against drink,” Edward assured the man. “Although with how her late husband was, I would not blame her if she was against it.” Edward cleared his throat. He had not intended on bringing up James, and he was certainly the last person Edward wanted to talk about. “We have prepared rooms upstairs if you wish to spend the night due to the snow, Colonel.”
“That is most generous of you. I hate to impose, but I do not fancy tackling those roads in the dark and axle deep in snow,” Colonel Ainsley said with a bit of relief.
Edward put his hand on the man’s shoulder. “I think a room is the least I can do for my saviour,” he said with a grin as the man frowned.
“You are going to do that all night, aren’t you?” Colonel Ainsley asked with a frown.
Edward said, “Probably so. It has taken me this long to lure you out here. I have to have a bit of fun. Besides, why anyone is still interested in that tired old tale is amazing to me.”
“People just like to talk, as long as it is about everyone else,” Colonel Ainsley observed. “Let a story be about them, and they will not be so eager that it spreads.”
Edward nodded. “That is true,” he agreed.
The musicians were playing music that echoed around the ballroom. More people than Emily had predicted had arrived. As a matter of fact, Emily was certain that more people had come than they had even invited. “Are you sure that we invited all these people?” Emily asked as she cradled the cup of punch she was sipping.
“I do not know,” Edward said. Despite the scar that marred his face, the man pulled off a boyish grin with surprising ease. Emily shook her head at him. “Relax, love,” Edward said. “You are supposed to be enjoying yourself, not fretting.”
Emily nodded as she looped her fingers through Edward’s fingers. She sipped her drink and tried to enjoy herself. “However … what if we run out of food?”
“Pearl would never hear of it, and if we do, we get them all drunk, and they forget they ever wanted food,” Edward said with a shrug.
“You are a monster,” Emily said with laughter.
Edward scoffed. “Most of these people would adore me if I got them all slobbering drunk.”
“These people adore you anyway,” Emily reminded him. “You are the tragic hero that everyone loves.”
Edward frowned. “Can you possibly never say that again?”
Emily smiled at him. “But you are my hero,” she said as she leaned up on her tiptoes to give him a kiss. “That is all that matters.”
“Indeed, it is,” Edward said with a smile. “Dance with me, Duchess,” Edward demanded.
Emily agreed with a sigh of long suffering. “Fine,” she said with a laugh as Edward took her cup from her and set it down on a table. She was swiftly whisked away to the dance floor. They were off into the dance, and Emily felt dizzy from all the twirling bodies around her. She giggled at first then she frowned and grabbed Edward’s arm tightly.
“Emily?” Edward’s voice asked in concern, but she was falling. Emily tried to stop herself, but she fell so quickly that it all just seemed to happen at once.
She blinked her eyes open and looked up into Edward’s wide eyes. “I feel so dizzy,” she whispered as she put her hand on her head.
“We shall get the doctor,” Edward said in an urgent voice.
Emily reached up to him. “Calm yourself,” she whispered. “I am fine, and you will never get the doctor out in this snow. Just help me up.” Edward frowned but did as she was asked.
Once Emily was on her feet again, she looked around at her guests who were watching her with varying expressions of concern. “I am so sorry to worry everyone,” Emily said in apology. “I was going to wait. It was going to be a surprise,” Emily said. She turned towards Edward who was looking at her with confusion etched on his face.
Edward whispered, “What is going on? Did the doctor tell you something that I should know?”
“No,” Emily said with a shake of her head. “It actually is nothing to worry about. I just fainted because …” Emily went to her husband and put her hands on either side of his face. “I fainted because, I am with child, Edward.”
Edward stared at her for a long time before he seemed to grasp what she had said. Emily watched it in amusement as her husband came to the realisation that she was indeed pregnant. “Are you sure?”
“I am very sure,” Emily said with a nod of her head. “I went to see a midwife when I started not feeling well a few weeks ago.”
Edward leaned forward and put his hands on his knees. Several of the men howled with laughter. “I remember that feeling,” the Earl of Shelton shouted. The other men quickly joined in as the crowd started clapping. Emily looked around and blushed.
Arms encircled her, and she found herself crushed against Edward’s chest as the man hugged her close to him. “I love you,” he whispered into her hair.
Emily whispered back, “I love you too.”
The next morning, Emily was up filled with energy. Now that everyone knew her condition, they were eager to talk and chat with her about it. Emily enjoyed it greatly as she had been keeping it a secret for so long. Edward complained as she got up. “What are you doing?”
“I am going to greet the guests that stayed over last night. Besides, I am starving,” Emily said as she pulled on her dressing gown.
Edward rolled over. “You are going to get dressed before you go downstairs, are you not?”
“No,” Emily replied. “I plan on going down there just as I am.”
Edward chuckled and levered himself up onto the side of the bed. “You will cause quite the scandal.”
“I think I will leave the scandals to you,” Emily teased. “Is your leg hurting?” she asked as Edward rubbed the offending limb.
Edward sighed. “I think the dancing disagreed with it.”
“Then you should stop dancing,” Emily said with a smile.
Edward scoffed. “You wound me,” he said with mock indignation. He sat there for a moment before he said, “I cannot believe that we are going to have a child.”
“It has been hard for me to believe as well,” Emily said. “I thought I could not have kids to be honest with you.”
Edward shook his head. “You just needed to be with the right man,” Edward said with a smile at her.
“That might be true,” Emily said as she tapped her chin. “Thank you for keeping your promises, Edward.”
Edward gave her a curious look. “Promises?”
“You told me that you would work the rest of your life to make me happy after you returned from the war, but you have already done that,” Emily said with a smile as she came over to her husband. “This is where we were always meant to be. I should have trusted that you would keep your promises.”
Edward leaned up and met Emily in a kiss. He whispered, “A little death cannot stop what is meant to be.”
“I will never doubt that again,” Emily said with a giggle as Edward scooped her up and deposited her on the bed beside him. “Edward, what about our guests?”
“They can wait,” Edward said with a grin at his bride. “We have waited long enough.”