Six Months Later
“Can’t I take this off yet?”
Alexander laughed as Arabella tugged the blindfold around her face. He leaned over and took her hands away.
“No, not yet. We’re almost there, though.”
“We’d better be. Goodness knows how long we’ve travelled with me looking like this.” Arabella shook her head. “I’m glad nobody can see me right now. They would probably wonder what on earth is going on.”
“It will be worth it. I promise.”
“Why can’t I travel without it? We’ve got the windows covered, so I can’t see anything outside anyway.”
“It’s so you don’t accidentally see the house before we get there. I want to be sure.”
Arabella stuck her tongue out at him, which just made Alexander laugh even more. Groaning, his wife swatted at him but missed.
“Stay still! This is not fair!”
“I said it’ll be worth it. Like I said, it’s not long now.”
Alexander had contemplated travelling normally, but he wanted to surprise Arabella with her first look at the Broads and his house at Christmas. It was going to be the first time in six months since the construction and renovations started that they had gone to the Broads together, and the first time Arabella saw the new house. Alexander had travelled earlier in the month once he was told that the work was practically finished, and he was looking forward to showing Arabella their new home. Even with the memories still there, Alexander couldn’t think of anywhere better for them to start a family.
Especially when they were going to have a baby soon. Their child was due in the early spring, so to get themselves settled overlooking the sea would be ideal right now. And it would be a perfect way to spend Christmas with both of their families.
It was going to be very busy with both of their siblings joining them, along with Arabella’s parents. It was a little daunting, but Alexander was looking forward to it. For the first time in three years, he was actually looking forward to hosting a large gathering. With Arabella at his side, he felt more confident about it than he did when they first met.
It was remarkable how much someone’s presence helped make things better. Alexander hadn’t thought that was possible, especially after everything they had gone through together.
Arabella was a treasure, no doubt about it.
Six months of marriage, and Alexander didn’t think he could be any happier. Nor did he think he could fall further in love with his wife. She was a calming presence, always there when bad memories came back and Alexander struggled. He still had a few dark days, but they were far and few between now. Arabella was always there, soothing him and making sure he put the bad memories behind them.
Hopefully, there would be no more bad memories.
The carriage tilted as it went up an incline, and then it straightened out again. A moment later, it stopped. Alexander shifted over to the door.
“Don’t forget; don’t take that blindfold off,” he warned.
“I’m not going to, but I’m close to doing it anyway if you don’t hurry up. I don’t like being blind.”
Smiling, Alexander got out of the carriage and reached back in for Arabella’s hands.
“Come on. Take my hands. Mind the step.”
Carefully, he helped Arabella out, their feet crunching in the snow. As the carriage trundled away, Alexander moved behind Arabella.
“Blindfold is coming off now.”
Alexander removed the offending item, and he came around to watch his wife’s reaction. She blinked in the bright light and then stared up at the house with her mouth open.
“Oh, my!” she gasped. “You really have renovated everything.”
When he had been in talks with the architect, the man had suggested changing the style of the house a little so it was more appropriate to the year’s current fashions. Alexander wasn’t one who cared to follow, but he could see the appeal. And it had all been done in six months. Apparently, the structure was still solid despite the floors in the affected areas close to collapse, so it was just a case of cleaning everything up, putting down new floors and rebuilding the outside. And the people the architect got to design the inside had promised to make it look like a new home.
His visit the previous week had proved that it did look like a new home. And from Arabella’s expression, she thought the same thing.
“Oh, my goodness!” Her hands went to her mouth, her eyes sparkling. “This … this is just incredible! It’s beautiful!”
“So, you like?”
“Of course I do!” Arabella turned and hugged him. “I know this was hard for you, but I’m glad you did this.”
“So am I.” Alexander kissed her, both of them smiling as they pulled away. “So, how about I welcome my wife properly into our home?”
Arabella broke off with a squeal as Alexander picked her up, carrying her towards the house. Arabella swatted his shoulder.
“Put me down!”
“Not a chance.” Alexander laughed as the front door opened. “I’m going to carry my wife across the threshold.”
“What if you drop me? I’m pregnant!”
“That’s not going to happen if you stop wriggling.” They entered the foyer and Alexander put Arabella down, kissing her nose. “Besides, it’s really cold out there. I don’t want you to freeze to death.”
Arabella rolled her eyes.
“Honestly, you worry about me too much.”
“Can you blame me?”
“That was months ago. We’re fine now.” Arabella shook her head. “We’re not going to be bothered with that again. That’s what the magistrate said, wasn’t it?”
It was, but Alexander was still nervous. Knowing that Lord Lucius had been properly dealt with was enough to make him stop looking over his shoulder, but he was still concerned. He had lost his parents and almost lost Arabella because of the man; he wasn’t about to let that happen again.
“So you finally decided to arrive.”
Alexander turned. Jessica was coming out of the drawing room, holding Robert by the hand as he toddled beside her. The little boy giggled when he saw Alexander and began to walk towards him, letting go of his mother’s hand and reaching out.
“Hello, little man!” Alexander couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He crouched down. “Since when have you been walking?”
“Since about a week ago.” Jessica was beaming. “I’ve been waiting to show you this, but you were taking your time getting here.”
“You knew we were coming. It is Henry’s wedding in a few days.”
“And I’m too impatient.”
Robert reached Alexander, and he picked up the boy, tossing him in the air before catching him, making the child squeal with delight. He hugged Alexander around the neck, planting a wet kiss on his head before turning to Arabella and holding out his arms. Smiling, Arabella took him and propped Robert on her hip.
“My, you’re getting heavy!” She laughed, looking at Jessica. “It’s probably a good thing he is walking now. He’s going to be too much soon.”
“You get used to it. But the sudden change in weight is a shock when you’re not paying attention.” Jessica beckoned her to follow her. “Come on in. Kate’s here, and the men will join us shortly. I’m sure you want to put your feet up after that long journey.”
“I wouldn’t mind sitting down,” Arabella said as she walked towards her sister-in-law. “At least the seat won’t be moving around and feel very uncomfortable.”
“What?” Alexander pretended to be hurt. “There are plenty of cushions in the carriage. It’s very comfortable.”
“It’s very different for pregnant women, Alexander. You need to remember that. We need more comfort than other people.”
Arabella cast Alexander a grin before she entered the drawing room with Jessica, Robert babbling about something on her hip. She did look very much at home carrying a child in her arms. Alexander looked forward to seeing that with his own baby.
Leaving the ladies to their own devices, he wandered through the house and stepped out onto the terrace. The garden was covered in snow, and it looked stunning. The snow looked undisturbed, a white blanket across everything. But the sea didn’t look any different. It was the same as always. Alexander wondered what would happen if the sea froze as well. That would be an interesting sight.
It felt good to be back. His home was restored, he had a wife, and he was about to start a family. Three years ago, his dreams had been wiped away when his fiancee deserted him the moment she saw how ravaged his face was. His parents were gone, and his bride. Alexander had seen it as a curse. Now he saw Charlotte leaving him as a blessing. He wouldn’t have met Arabella, otherwise.
He was certainly not giving Lucius any credit for that, though. His body was scarred because of that man. He didn’t deserve anything. Right now, he was lucky he hadn’t been sentenced to hang for murder. It was only because his parents had pleaded for any other punishment that didn’t involve death that he was still alive. Lucius had been sent to a sanatorium, isolated from everyone, in the Lake District, but that couldn’t be a long-term solution. His family believed him to be insane, that insanity had to be the only reason why he turned on everyone and acted the way he did. Alexander believed that Lucius was conniving and dangerous, and he was certainly not insane, but he wasn’t going to waste his time arguing about it.
Just as long as he never came near Alexander and his family again. They had suffered enough.
“I was beginning to wonder if you were going to get here.”
Alexander turned to see Henry stepping out onto the terrace, shrugging into a coat with ease despite only having one arm. He smiled at his brother.
“It’s tough travelling with a pregnant woman. You’ll understand soon enough, I’m sure.”
Henry made a face.
“It’s times like this that I’m glad I can’t carry and birth children.”
“You wouldn’t be able to cope.”
“That’s one of the reasons I’m glad.” Shoving his hands into his pockets, Henry joined his older brother. “How is Arabella? Did she like the house?”
“She loves it. I told you she would.”
“And thank you for allowing us to have the wedding here.”
“Of course. You’re family, and I think it’s only fair that you have somewhere familiar.” Alexander looked up at the house. “I’m just glad it was ready in time for your wedding.”
“Kate wanted a winter wedding. I’m glad I can give that to her.”
Alexander saw his brother’s smile. He had been doing that a lot in recent months, ever since he came to Alexander on his wedding day and said he had finally told Kate how he felt. Alexander had thought they were going to dance around each other forever, so to hear Henry had now plucked up the courage to tell Kate was enough of a celebration. Now they were going to be married on the coast, crisp snow everywhere. It would be worth the cold.
That was the one downside about snow. It was so cold.
“No regrets?” Henry asked.
“For what’s happened in the last year. For meeting Arabella and everything that came after this.”
“I have no regrets meeting my wife. That was probably the best thing that happened to me.”
“I’m sure Oscar will be delighted to hear that.”
“He hasn’t stopped reminding me that he was the reason Arabella and I met in the first place. I doubt that’s going to stop anytime soon.”
“He’s certainly been strutting around with that, proud that he got you to find someone for your future. Jessica says he has been getting annoying.”
“He’s been annoying for years.” Alexander clapped his brother on the shoulder. “Shall we go inside and find him?”
“Absolutely. If he hasn’t bored the ladies yet. I’m sure they will be delighted to be rescued from him.”
“He’s not got boring with his conversations, has he?”
“Wait until you hear him talk. Then you’ll understand.”
“Darling, can I ask you something?”
Alexander looked up. Arabella had entered the room, closing the door behind him. There was something in her hand, and she looked solemn. What had just happened? Alexander put down his pen and stood up.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, coming around the desk. “Did something happen?”
“Not really. But you had a letter come just now, and it was given to me.” Arabella hesitated. “I opened it, and I read it. I know that I shouldn’t, but …”
“I recognised the handwriting. Forgive me, Alex, I …”
“Don’t apologise. It’s fine.” Alexander reached her and drew her close, kissing her head. “I never said you couldn’t do that. Maybe we should ask in the future, though.”
“I guess.” Arabella sighed heavily. “I wish I hadn’t read it now. It’s just made me feel flat again.”
Alexander took the letter and scanned through the first paragraph. Then he looked at the signature. He sighed. Lord Lucius. Again.
“I thought he would never contact us.”
“Neither did I.”
Alexander read quickly through the letter. Lucius had written quite a few letters since he had been put in the sanatorium. They went from threatening and anger to pleading, begging Alexander to forgive him for everything. It was shocking that not only could Lucius go from one emotion to another in such quick succession, but that he thought Alexander would actually be lenient on him. How did he not know that Alexander wanted the harshest penalty put on him?
Now Lucius was begging him to stop his parents from sending him away. They were going to ship him across the ocean to the Americas. Apparently, they had some family over there, who were going to keep a very close eye on Lucius to make sure he didn’t do the same thing to anyone else again.
Having an ocean between them with no hope of coming back would be better for everyone.
“I’m glad he’s going to be leaving,” Arabella said quietly. She wrapped her arms around Alexander’s waist. “I felt better knowing that he was locked away but knowing that he’s going to be in another country will help me relax more.”
“Same here,” Alexander grunted. “He should consider himself lucky that he wasn’t put onto a boat to the prison colony on the other side of the world. That would have been even worse for him.”
“I sometimes wonder if we shouldn’t have asked for that in the first place.” Arabella looked up at him. “Is there a reason they’re sending him away now? He must have done something for everyone to get concerned and send him out of the country.”
“He tried to burn down the sanatorium.”
“About three weeks ago. I had a letter from his father about it.” Alexander shook his head. “Apparently, he snapped that nobody was listening to him that he was a victim, so he tried to set the place on fire. Only it didn’t work, and he was caught before any damage was really done.”
“He would do that when he wasn’t getting his own way?” Arabella shuddered. “Imagine if I hadn’t met you, and I had ended up marrying him. That would have been scary.”
“But you didn’t. You know people better than you think.” Alexander hugged her close. “He’s gone, and Xavier is in Europe dealing with his own punishment. At least that man is showing remorse. We don’t have to worry about them again.”
“I hope not.”
Alexander tilted her head up and kissed her.
“I promise. I’m going to look after you and our baby.” He pressed a hand over her swollen stomach. “I love you, Arabella, and I’m going to make sure you know it.”
“I already know it.” Arabella smiled. “You don’t need to make sure I’m aware of it.”
“Maybe I’m going to do it for myself. I want to be sure you know every day with me.”
Arabella laughed and kissed him.
“You have become rather sappy since we got married, haven’t you? I didn’t think it was possible.”
“Let’s just say having you around changed me, and for the better as well.” Alexander put the letter on the desk to put both his arms around her. “Or do you want me to remain as a brooding, grumpy old man who hides away from everyone?”
“You still hide away from everyone,” Arabella reminded him. “We don’t go out to social engagements much. Not that I’m complaining, but you still hide away.”
“At least I’m trying. I prefer my own company.” Alexander kissed her. “And yours, of course. I wouldn’t want to change that. I like being myself instead of someone I don’t recognise. I feel happier for it.”
“I can tell. I like it when you’re relaxed and yourself. And I prefer when it’s just a small gathering.” Arabella winked. “Less people to impress, and those present are already aware of what I’m like.”
“Which is perfect, isn’t it?” Alexander looked at the clock and sighed. “It’s about time for everyone to have dinner. We can talk about this later if you want.”
“Or maybe we should just ignore it all. Lucius isn’t a part of our lives, and I have no intention of having him as a footnote in our future.”
Alexander couldn’t argue with that. Lucius had disrupted their lives long enough. Now he wanted to focus on Arabella without any other hassle.
Kissing his wife, Alexander stepped back and took her hand.
“Shall we join everyone else, Your Grace? I’m sure they’re going to wonder where we are.”
“Lead the way, Your Grace. I’ll follow you wherever you want to go.”