Even now, a year after their wedding day, people remembered it well. Actually, the person that they remembered well from that day was Annabelle, because she had ridden in towards the ceremony on a beautiful horse, the same shade of white as her dress. Her long flowing dress that trailed right past her feet.
It was not a normal thing to do at a wedding, and it certainly was not traditional, but Annabelle did not mind that. Her entire love story had not been normal, so why should their wedding? Even Floyd had been shocked, but that was why she did it. She wanted to show that she supported his business and was proud of it. She also wanted him to know that she had learned to ride properly because of him... it was a little nod to how they met when her excuse for needing riding lessons was simply because she wanted to speak to him.
The couple also wrote their own vows to one another, which they spoke among the traditional ones. The vicar was not too keen when they first suggested the idea, but when he spent some time with Annabelle and Floyd and he learned just how sweet and unique they were, he agreed to it.
That was wonderful, Annabelle loved telling the world just how she felt about Floyd. She loved her family listening in and realising that she knew what was best for her, and she enjoyed her friends learning more about her crazy love story too. Of course, she adored listening to what Floyd had to say to her too. His words of love had stayed with her forever more.
“I love you, Lady Annabelle Hathaway. You and your fiery red hair and your unique perspective on life... you make me laugh, you make the good days better, you are a beautiful woman too... I cannot wait to spend the rest of my life making you the happiest woman alive...”
“You must be due any day now,” Catherine commented with a smile on her face as she nodded towards Annabelle’s swelling bump. “You shall be joining the club.”
“I know.” Annabelle rubbed her belly with a blissful expression. “I cannot wait to meet my baby boy or girl.”
She glanced around her and Floyd’s home, glad to have so much space these days. They had plenty of room for this baby and maybe some others, should they make that decision. Of course, Annabelle missed the home that she had just for herself, but what Floyd had been able to offer her in Ashbridge overshadowed that by a lot. The house, the wonderful lifestyle, her best friend...
Seeing Catherine again was incredible, it made Annabelle realise just how much she needed someone around her who knew her inside and out. As well as Floyd, of course. He knew everything about her and he continued to learn more every single day.
The money that she had made from the sale of her house had gone towards getting some wonderful supplies for the baby at any rate. She was glad that she had saved it all until the point that she really needed it.
“You say this now, but it is a different story when they come!” Catherine replied knowingly. She did not really know herself since her very wealthy husband hired her a team of nannies to take care of her brood, but Annabelle did not see the point in mentioning that. “Then you will be wondering what you were thinking.”
“Beatrice loves being a mother. I know we are not the same in many ways, but maybe that is the one way we will be similar.”
Now, Beatrice had four children and she relished the role. She had found her place in life and she had blossomed because of that. It seemed that she had even found love for Abraham as the father of her children, which was wonderful. All Annabelle wanted was for her to be happy.
“You might be right with that one. You might well be a natural.” Catherine examined her friend closely. The time apart had been hard on both girls, they had both been through changes in their lives in which they needed one another, but now they were just glad that fate had brought them back together.
The day that Catherine walked into that riding school, she had no idea what she was about to unravel. She did not know that she would run into Floyd Brewer, the stable boy – who was actually an Earl, not that any of them knew that at the time – who stole her best friend’s heart. She also did not know that she would give Floyd Annabelle’s address and that he would come back with her.
She was so glad that she did, she truly needed her best friend in her life. Someone who knew her before she was married and a mother, someone she knew that she could trust with anything.
“Harriett and Edith are happy being mothers too, not that we ever see them anymore.”
Annabelle did miss her old friends, but her life had taught her that not everyone could stay around forever. She had met many people along the way, people who had affected her, and she knew that she would never see them again. She simply held them in her heart and occasionally sent letters to them. Violet, Mark, James... plus the people from before.
“They are happy. That is the main thing,” Annabelle replied with a smile. “They have found what they are looking for in life.”
“We all have... surprisingly.” Catherine laughed and Annabelle joined in. It hurt her stomach to giggle, the baby filled up so much of her belly, but she could not help herself. Whenever she was with Catherine she could not help reminiscing about how it once was. She was happy with how things were, but it was nice to look back, to remember how far they had all come.
“It is a shock to me more than anyone else,” she declared. “I never thought it would happen. By rights, I should have been Lord Ashdown’s wife for a very long time and I would have been very miserable.”
“You would have killed him,” Catherine replied while taking a sip of her tea. “I just do not think that you could have done it, and you are very fiery.”
"Well, then it is a good job my father finally saw sense. For Watson's sake!" Annabelle furrowed her eyebrows in confusion as she realised that she did not know what had happened to him at all. “Did anyone ever hear from him again?”
“Not even through rumours,” Catherine confirmed. “I guess he simply vanished. He was unable to come back from the ruined reputation, I suppose. He knew that he had done wrong and your father unveiled him because of that. He got only what he deserved, but yes he simply vanished.”
“Hmmm.” Annabelle dug around inside herself, trying to make herself feel bad for the person. But whenever she thought about him all she could remember was the nasty comments and the way that he put his hands on her body without being invited to do so. “Maybe you are right.”
She parted her lips to say something else, but before she got the words out, she leaned forward and clutched onto her stomach as a wave of agony rolled over her. It started at her chest and moved all the way down, stripping her lungs of all the breath she had.
“Oh my goodness,” she panted desperately. “Catherine, what is happening?”
Her friend leapt to her feet and reached forward to wrap her arm around her friend. “Is it pain? Are you in agony?” Annabelle panted rapidly, her face contorting as she did. She had never felt anything like it, it shattered every single inch of her. She could hardly cope with it. Catherine wished that there was more she could do to help Annabelle through her first time. “Oh my, I do think your baby is coming.”
“Now?” Annabelle reached up to wipe the perspiration from her forehead that had appeared as if from nowhere. “But I am not ready yet.”
Catherine laughed, but deep down she felt sorry for her friend. She could remember that intense panic well. She experienced it herself first hand with all her children. “You just said that you could not wait to meet your baby boy or girl. I think you are more than ready.”
“I do not know.” Annabelle grabbed onto Catherine’s hand and she squeezed hard. “I did not realise that it would hurt this much.”
“You will be alright,” Catherine returned to comforting mode. “I know it does not seem that way right now but I promise you that it will. I shall alert Floyd and the doctor, this will all be over soon enough.”
Annabelle hated Catherine in that moment, but only because she was being very calm and collected whereas she felt like a total mess. Still, she needed that. They could not both struggle through this. Someone needed to take control.
Every single inch of Annabelle’s body hurt as she lay down on her bed way into the evening. Pain radiated over every inch of her body, but she was the happiest that she had ever been in her life. As she glanced down at the young baby in her arms, the helpless little girl that needed absolutely everything from her, she felt a true, boundless love that she had never experienced before.
Even her love for Floyd did not compete with this, which was surprising to her. She did not think there was anyone she could love more.
“Can I hold her?” Floyd whispered to Annabelle, with pure unbridled love in his eyes. “She is truly beautiful; I love her so much.”
Annabelle allowed Floyd to take their child and she propped herself up on her elbows to look at them both together. A blissful, peaceful smile spread across her mouth as she realised that everything had finally fallen into place, just as she wanted it to be. Sure, it had been agony to get there, childbirth was like something else... she was not sure that she ever wanted to experience it again, but it was worth it.
“You look tired,” Floyd commented, only taking his eyes off his baby for a moment. “You may get some rest if you like. I can take care of our baby.”
Annabelle was tired but also wired. She was not sure that she could ever sleep again. It was a very kind offer from Floyd though, Annabelle could already tell that he was going to be different from the other men she knew, none of them helped out with their children at all... but that was exactly why she liked him. They both did not quite fit into the mould that society expected them to be. They were both very unique in their own special ways.
“What are we going to call her?” she asked, changing the subject completely. “We need to think of a name for our little baby girl.”
“Can we not just call her baby girl?” Floyd teased. “I think it suits her.”
“No, we cannot,” Annabelle laughed. “We must call her something.”
“I know we said that we would not think of names before she was born to see what she – or he, as we did not know then – looked like first but I could not help myself.” Floyd’s cheeks heated up as he finally admitted that he was a lot more obsessed with the idea of being a father than he ever let on. “I have an idea and I think it will suit her.”
“You do?” Annabelle grinned to herself, loving the way that Floyd always insisted on surprising her. “And what is that?”
“Chloe,” he admitted. “Chloe Brewer, what do you think?”
“I love it,” Annabelle gasped honestly. “I think that is the perfect name for our baby girl.”
Annabelle leaned her head against Floyd’s leg feeling content and happy. This was perfect, she did not think that anything could get in the way of her joy now.
Everything was perfect.
The first month of raising baby Chloe was extremely tiring, but also very rewarding. Maybe they could have afforded childcare but they quickly realised that they wanted to do it all themselves. It was hard on Floyd, considering he had his business to run too, but he would not have changed it for the world.
There was only one thing that he wanted to change, and that had come about since he had become a father. He hoped today that would come to fruition.
Almost as if he had summoned him up through wish only, the knock on the door alerted him to the fact that his visitor had finally arrived.
“Who is that?” Annabelle asked, sounding a little stressed. “Is it company that I need to dress nicely for?”
“No, do not worry,” Floyd replied smilingly. “I am sure that it is fine.”
His heart thundered in his chest as he walked towards the door, but he tried to keep his face stoic and serious. This was a man that he really needed to respect him. He had seen him twice since he had married Annabelle, but this was the most important time of all. This was the time that he needed him more than ever before.
Almost automatically, Floyd bowed his head as he swung the door open. Otto Hathaway’s looming presence almost towered above him, reminding him of the stable boy that he used to be all those years ago. Around his former employer, it was hard to recall that he had actually done something with his life.
“Good morning, Lord Hathaway,” he said quietly. “It is wonderful to have you here.”
Otto handed him a piece of paper and gave Floyd a reassuring smile. “It is done.” They shared a sharp nod before Otto spoke out again. “Now can I please see my granddaughter? I am desperate to meet her.”
As he stepped inside, Josephine followed him behind quietly. She did not want to get involved with the business talk at all, all she cared about was seeing her daughter and meeting her granddaughter. She saw Beatrice’s children a lot, now she wanted to meet Annabelle’s too.
“Mother?” Annabelle gasped in shock as her parents came into the room. “Father? What are you doing here?”
“We have come to see you,” Otto replied happily. “And to see baby Chloe. How are you getting on with her?”
“We are really well actually.” Annabelle pushed herself into a standing position, feeling glad that her body was finally starting to recover. “This is such a nice surprise; I am so glad that you are here.”
Annabelle handed her baby over to her mother, making Josephine slide into doting grandmother all over again. There was something so special about her grandchildren, she simply adored them all. After the complicated life that she had given herself over the last few years, almost risking her own marriage to help her daughter, she felt like she deserved this happiness.
Her and Otto were in a much better place these days, but it had taken them some serious time and effort to get there.
“Actually, this is not a surprise to me,” Floyd admitted stepping forward. “I invited your parents here because I have some news.”
“You do?” Annabelle’s heart stopped in her chest. She had a horrible feeling that this was something she would not like. It was certainly something very serious at any rate for her father to be in the picture.
“Yes.” Floyd nodded and smiled. “Ever since I found out that you were having Chloe, there has been something that I have wanted to do. I should have sorted it out years ago, I even had the opportunity to do so and I did not." He shook his head, again cursing himself for being so short-sighted at the time. "But now, with the help of your father, who I could not have done it without, I have done it.”
Annabelle darted her eyes from side to side, looking at everyone in turn. Anxiety gripped her heart as she tried to work out exactly what was going on. “Floyd, what is going on here? Will you please tell me?”
As far as she knew, Floyd had only ever kept one secret from her. It was not a big deal, but that was in the early days before they got to know one another too well. Now, it felt like it might be something that would hurt her more.
“I know I said that I would never do it, but for Chloe I have.” He pulled out the piece of paper and he handed it to Annabelle. “Maybe it does not matter too much now, and it certainly will not affect our lifestyle, but I have reclaimed my title.”
Annabelle clapped her hand against her mouth and giggled in shock. Floyd was right, it would not affect them really, but it was an amazing gesture all the same. It was nice that he had done that for their daughter.
“That is so wonderful,” she exclaimed while throwing her arms around him. “Oh, Floyd, I love you so much.”
Otto and Josephine shared a knowing look as the couple embraced, glad that everything had finally worked out. There was a long time when it seemed that it wasn’t going to, but somehow, despite everything, everyone had managed to find their happy ever after.
Ah, before you go...
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