Rufus walked down the steps into the garden at Rennford. Lorelei, looking up from where she sat on the bench under the trees, saw him coming out and smiled.
“Lorelei? I brought some blackberry cordial out to drink. Rufus is sleeping,” he added as she stood to walk over to join him.
“Good,” she said with a smile. “And Arabella?” she asked, reaching for his hand as he set the cordial down on the bench and turned to face her.
“She’s in the drawing-room. Mrs. Emery said she’s being very playful today – she insisted on riding the rocking-horse for all of half an hour.”
Lorelei laughed. “That’s good. She’s stubborn, like someone else around here.”
Rufus laughed. “Yes. I suppose that is a trait she gets from me. She gets her beauty from her mother, though.”
Lorelei smiled up at him. “She has your eyes, though.”
“And all the rest is you. She has your brave spirit, too.”
Lorelei felt her cheeks go red as he said it. She smiled up at him. “You’re a brave soul, too,” she reminded him.
Rufus smiled and lifted her hand to his lips, kissing it. “Maybe. But I would never in my wildest dreams have imagined we could be here.” He looked around the garden.
Lorelei followed his gaze. Rennford manor had a large garden, spreading out from around the manor and running down the slight slope towards the fields at the back. They kept the horses at the back fields. And Arabella was already insisting on learning to ride. At four years old, she was still very much a strong character, but with a warm smile that made everyone devoted to her.
“Is Arabella’s insistence on the rocking-horse something to do with her current lack of riding-lessons?” Lorelei asked Rufus as he sat down on the bench. She settled herself beside him and he smiled warmly at her and reached for the glass to pour her some cordial.
“I should take her down to the stables. Racer, her horse, needs some exercise, and she would certainly enjoy being there to help.”
“I trust you not to let her be in any danger,” Lorelei smiled up at him.
He nodded and passed her a glass of cordial. Refreshingly cool, it was exactly what she needed on the warm summer afternoon. She sipped it and leaned against him as he looked out over the garden.
“Odette just came back,” he commented, gesturing at the house. “I think she’s probably on her way out to the garden, if Rufus hasn’t taken her attention.”
Lorelei smiled. Odette was a favorite with Arabella and the baby, Rufus. She was less often at the house now, because she was more regularly with Albert Orme, who had been given their mother’s permission to court her.
“I’m sure Lucas is about to fall asleep. He was quite sleepy when I saw him earlier. Lettie said he’d been playing quite happily for quite a few hours – he must be tired now.”
Rufus nodded. “I think you’re right.”
They sat together and Lorelei watched the flowers in the slight chill wind. She drew her shawl about her, but the gust died down and the sunshine was warm and drowsy. She leaned on Rufus, as he sat with his arm around her, and thought about all that had happened in the last years.
William was still at Bronzedale, though he spent more and more time in London, expanding his business investments and generally living the life he enjoyed most. The two stables had combined, and Rufus and William now managed them together, ably assisted by the dowager countess of Rennford, who still had a lot of expertise and willingness to share it.
“Mother should be back from the village soon,” Rufus commented.
“Yes,” Lorelei nodded. Rufus’s Mama, dowager countess Rennford, had become acquainted with a member of the local gentry, Baron Ridley. She had been spending a great deal of time out of the house, and Rufus had told Lorelei that it seemed likely she might be moving to Ridley Hall soon, as the new Baroness.
Lorelei smiled as Mrs. Emery came out of the house, with Arabella walking beside her, holding her hand. She looked up at Lorelei, who bent down and lifted her in the air, making her laugh cheerfully.
“Mama! Papa!” she said. “I rode on the rocky-horse for so long!”
“She did indeed,” Mrs. Emery commented, as Lorelei lifted her daughter and whirled her around, delighting in the sound of her cheerful giggling. “She was in the drawing-room for about half an hour, the playful creature.”
Lorelei laughed and put her daughter down on the ground, her heart full of love as she watched the little child walk hesitantly over to Rufus and lift her hand up to grip onto his index-finger with a proprietary air. Rufus smiled down at her lovingly and bent down to put an arm around her and lift her up.
Lorelei looked over at them. Her daughter’s silky hair was brown, the same color as her own, and her eyes were two deep pools just slightly more black in tone than that of her father’s eyes. She stared over at her mother contentedly, then lifted her hand to better grip her father’s shirt and started to drowse.
“She’s going to sleep,” Lorelei whispered in Rufus’s ear as he walked slowly back to the house. Mrs. Emery had gone over to help take the washing off the line, and the two of them were walking back to Rennford Manor slowly, arm-in-arm.
“I know. I’ll take her up and put her to bed,” Rufus whispered back. “And then maybe we can sit in the parlor for a while? It’s nice and warm there, with the windows shut and the sunshine pouring in.” He shivered a little in his shirt sleeves as a cool breeze blew across the gardens.
“That sounds lovely,” Lorelei agreed. She slipped her arm into Rufus’s own and together they walked into the house. She followed him upstairs, where he gently set the almost-asleep Arabella down on her bed in her bedchamber, and then headed silently down the steps to the parlor together.
As she rested her head on Rufus’s shoulder and felt his arms wrap warmly around her, she knew that she had never been so happy. She was loved, she was surrounded by her loved ones, and the village was at peace again, no longer divided by their loyalties to the two earldoms.
She heard the soft sounds of Arabella, awake now and talking excitedly to Lettie, who’d come in to check on her, and the love she felt for the child rushed through her heart with an intensity that was almost too much to bear.
“I’m so happy, Rufus,” she murmured sleepily into his ear.
“Good,” Rufus said, turning to kiss her cheek fondly. “I am the happiest person alive, I’m quite sure of it.”
“Not quite,” she chuckled as he held her in his arms, drawing her closer to him so that her head rested on his shoulder and her back was pressed to his torso. “I’m sure I am the happiest.”
“Happier than me?” he chuckled, kissing her ear. “I don’t know about that.”
“I do,” she said, twisting around so that she could kiss him on the lips.
“I shall not argue, then,” he said with a smile.
They both laughed and she settled down to rest in his arms, the warm sunlight soaking down and filling the place with delicious heat, she knew she was the most contented that she could ever have imagined. She had Rufus, and her two children – Rufus William and Arabella Emilia – and she was the happiest person alive.
Or the second-happiest, if she was to allow for Rufus to be right.
She smiled at him and kissed his cheek and they both laughed, the sound of their laughter as comfortable and soothing as the warmth in the room.
Ah, before you go...
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