Three Years Later
Sleep slipped from Alice’s unwilling grasp, forcing her to open her eyes. For a few moments, she did nothing but stare into the darkness, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the slivers of moonlight sifting past the slits of the drapes. By then, she was fully awake and quite bothered by it.
Alice sighed, the sound transforming into something of a groan as she rolled onto her back. “I believe this must be the fourth time this week, she said. “Heaven knows how long it will take for me to fall asleep again.”
She received no response, not that she was expecting. It was quite clearly the dead of night, so she was certain William was fast asleep next to her. Still, she continued talking, knowing that one two things would happen—he would wake as well, and would try to comfort her a bit, or she would feel a little better after talking to his sleeping frame. Seeing how much of a light sleeper he was, she was leaning toward the former.
“Should I have some tea made for me? Though, I wouldn’t want to wake anyone to do so. Perhaps I should go to the library and find something capable of putting me to sleep.”
She still received no response. With another sigh, Alice reached an arm out to him, without thinking. Instead of the warmth of his skin, her hand fell on cool, empty covers. Frowning, Alice pulled herself to sitting position, looking over at the spot where William should have been. He wasn’t there.
That’s odd. He usually sleeps through the night just fine. Did something happen?
Worry twinging her, Alice got out of bed as quickly as she possibly could, bracing a hand on her back as she made her way to the door. She didn’t realize that she’d forgotten to light a candle until she was already out of the room and deemed it too late to turn back. Using what little moonlight there was as a guide, she made her way down the hallway, not entirely sure where she was headed first.
Deciding halfway there, she made her way to William’s study and found it empty. So, she went to the library instead and saw that it was also unoccupied. After that, she wondered if he might have ventured outdoors for some fresh air. The thought of stepping out into the cold that marked the coming winter already had her shivering in aversion. She truly hoped William hadn’t gone out there.
But her worry was beginning to deepen and so she turned in the direction of the gardens, even though she was in nothing but her nightgown and so was in no position to be out there. As she passed through the foyer, Alice glanced up the staircase and a thought occurred to her.
Perhaps he is—
It wouldn’t hurt to check, she decided. Grateful she had another course to take, she made her way back to the second floor of Erlington Manor and headed toward one of her most visited rooms in the Manor—even more so than the library.
And there he was, standing by the window. A silvery shaft of moonlight fell over his beautiful features and for a moment, Alice was struck by the sight before her. He didn’t notice her, his attention solely on the small babe curled up in his arms.
Slowly, Alice drew nearer, remembering how to breathe. It had already been three years of marriage, three years of being the Marchioness of Erlington, and Alice was still as in love with him as she had been the day she’d finally became his. She wished she could stop time for a moment, to take in the beautiful sight before her, but he finally noticed her.
William lifted a finger to his already smiling lips. “He’s finally asleep,” he whispered.
Alice swallowed past the lump in her throat, forcing the tears back. “Why are you here?” she whispered back. “Did something happen?”
“Nothing at all.” William returned his gentle eyes to the cherub face in his arms, his smile widening. “I woke up suddenly and my instinct told me to go check on him. When I came in, he was awake and looked just about ready to cry.”
“It seems your instincts as a father are finally coming in,” Alice said. She was as enraptured as he was by the beautiful child in his arms—their son, Andrew, who had only just passed the age of one. Still, he was so small yet the sweetest babe Alice could have ever imagined. Not to mention that, even at such a young age, he was the spitting image of his father.
“I told you I would grow accustomed to this,” William responded with a grin. “And you dared to doubt me.”
“How could I not, when you nearly fainted at the sight of me when I told you I was going into labor?” Alice asked nonchalantly.
William heaved a sigh. “It was my very first time. I had every reason to be terrified.”
That made her laugh, even though she couldn’t, for the life of her, get rid of the infernal tears. She kept her eyes on Andrew, hoping that her conversation with William would rid her of these annoying emotions. “Well, at least you are admitting now that you were scared.”
William laughed as well, then he moved away from the window. He rested Andrew’s sleeping frame in his cot and then turned to Alice, sliding his hands around her back. He couldn’t come very close—mainly because of the fact that her round belly was in the way.
“I promise you I will do my best this time,” he said as he kissed her gently on the cheek. When he pulled away, he noticed the tears that had finally slid down her face and frowned. “What is it? What happened? Are you in pain? Are you going into labor right now?”
The last horror-filled question had a laugh blurting from her lips, despite her annoyance at her crying. “It isn’t that,” she said, wiping her tears. “I think I am only growing a little over-emotional. You know I don’t cry this easily.”
“I haven’t seen you cry at all,” he said to her honestly.
Alice nodded. She had no reason to. Not when she’d been blessed with such a beautiful family, her father was still alive and well, and her sister was also quite happy and about to give birth to her first child at any moment. Meanwhile, Alice had four more months to wait before she would give birth to her second child.
“It’s truly nothing. I saw you holding our son in your arms and it was such a lovely sight that I—” She broke off, her emotions choking her. Alice forced them down. “Goodness, being with child this time is certainly affecting me far differently than the first time had.”
“I think it is quite adorable,” William said with a wide grin. He brushed his thumbs against her cheeks, wiping her tears away, before he lowered his lips to her. The kiss was gentle, tender, but stirred something in her that was far too familiar. Something she didn’t think would ever go away.
“Don’t tease me about it,” she warned.
William’s grin only grew wider. “I wouldn’t dare.”
She narrowed her eyes in distrust but she decided not to argue. She captured his hand in hers, turning toward the door. “Let’s return to bed,” she said.
“Didn’t you rise because you couldn’t sleep? Have you grown tired already?”
It was yet another effect of being with child. Alice didn’t like it in the slightest, but she shook her head. “I haven’t, but suddenly, all I want is to be curled up in your arms. So, let’s go back to bed.”
“As you wish, My Lady.”
His idle, acquiescing tone filled her heart with such joy that for Alice couldn’t help but turn and kiss him again, deeper than the last one. She would make no promise about tonight, especially considering her state, but to simply be with him, to let his arms embrace her and his voice lull her to sleep, Alice could think of nothing better. And with the way he stared down at her, neither could he.
Ah, before you go...
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