“Are you ready, girl?” Prince Aaron asked, casting a shy glance at his daughter.
“I don’t know,” Beatrix answered, laughing nervously. “I feel like my heart is trying to come out of my chest. Is my stomach supposed to feel this weak?”
“Absolutely!” Lady Miriam replied, beaming at her daughter. “That’s how you know you’re madly in love!”
Beatrix laughed again, gratefully accepting a kiss from both her mother and her father. Looking at the pair of them, she smiled again. Though she had given in to the childish hope that they might find affection for one another, that was not to be. Instead, Lady Miriam and Prince Aaron were faithful and friendly companions, both of them enjoying the other’s company when time and visits allowed, but choosing to remain only dear friends.
Beatrix took a deep breath and looked to the doors of the small chapel. She looked around nervously, then announced, “It’s truly time, isn’t it?”
“Only if ya don’t want yer husband to think you’ve changed yer mind!” her father teased. “Come on then, he’s waiting for you.”
“And do I look all right?” she asked for the hundredth time. “Is this right?”
Her hands went to her headpiece, the simple vines of silver holding a thin cloud of gauzy white veil. Lady Miriam dabbed at her eyes.
“It’s lovely. You’re lovely. Now go!” She opened the door to the chapel and the handful of guests turned to look at her in awe.
Peter and his mother sat to one side near Callum, and several of her father’s men—those who’d known her best and had no fear of the law taking them—sat to the other side. As her father led her inside, Beatrix could only watch Callum’s face.
“I can’t believe we’re here,” he whispered when she finally reached his side. “This is all a dream, I’m sure of it.”
“The best kind of dream,” Beatrix whispered, “because it’s the kind that comes true when you wake.”
“I can’t remember if I told you today that I love you,” he whispered while the officiant welcomed the small group.
“You have not, but I will forgive you if you tell me now,” Beatrix answered, leaning close so she could speak quietly as well.
“Then I love you. Please say that I’m forgiven,” he begged, and Beatrix fought back a laugh.
“Fine, you’re forgiven. And I love you as well.” She stood up straighter when the vicar cleared his throat, looking at the couple knowingly and implying they should remain quiet.
Callum smiled, but then looked at the ornament adorning her hair. His eyes pricked with glistening tears. “Thank you for wearing it. It means… it means so much to me.”
“I wouldn’t value any other jewel like I do this one!” she assured him. “Without it, I would have never met you.”
“And I should rather have died than not have met you,” he answered before smiling mischievously. “Of course, I wouldn’t have been shot and almost died if I hadn’t met you, so there’s that…”
Beatrix shot him a look and said, “You’re interrupting the vicar. Let him talk now.”
“Anything you wish, My Lady.”
“Unless you plan to receive our guests in your trousers, we might want to hurry back,” Callum said lazily, still reclining on the grass beside Beatrix. “They should be arriving later today.”
“I don’t know, I think it’s only fair that they know who I am and what they’re getting themselves into,” Beatrix answered, leaning her head against Callum’s shoulder and not stirring to get up. “Peter already knows, and it’s not my fault if he failed to adequately prepare his wife for what awaits here.”
“I don’t know about that,” he teased. “The sword fighting and beekeeping might prove shocking enough no matter how hard one tries to explain, but the trousers? That might put the poor Duchess past any hope of recovering, I’m afraid.”
“I doubt that. If she can tolerate Peter’s incessant jests and quips, something tells me she is made of harder mettle than you might think. And besides, they’ve only just married. She’s not a Duchess yet. Her father is in fair health, so we have some time to corrupt her before she has to act important,” Beatrix answered. She paused to look up in alarm, counting the children. “Wait, aren’t there three of them? I distinctly remember giving birth to three.”
“Are you sure it wasn’t only two, but they are so rambunctious that it only feels like there’s a third?” Callum asked, but he too sat up to make a count. “I count two of them splashing in the water and ruining their dresses, but where is… ah, there’s one. You missed the one in the tree. Your mother has encouraged her to climb higher than she ought.”
Sure enough, Lady Miriam stood beneath the branches of a flowering dogwood tree, pointing to a farther branch. She called out instructions to her two-year-old granddaughter on how to use the successive branches like stair-steps while Beatrix and Callum shook their heads.
“Your mother is incorrigible,” Callum said, laughing. “Fortunately, she decided to marry a very capable physician in case any of the little ones should get hurt.”
On one of Lady Miriam’s many visits to see her infant grandchildren—triplets, at that—she chanced to spend a good deal of time speaking with Sir Williams. Both Beatrix and Callum were taken by pleasant surprise when upon her most recent visit, the pair were wed.
Happily, the wedding bells had rung again for another couple. After putting off Peter’s marriage contract for these two years, the Duke of Edmonton had later relented. Though the Earl of Weavington had endured some time in prison before exiling himself to his properties in America in shame, the Duke decided enough time had passed that Peter should no longer bear the brunt of the punishment. He renewed the contract and renamed Peter as his heir, to the extreme delight of both the groom and Lady Annemarie.
“I hope his wife likes me,” Beatrix said wistfully. “It’s not fair that everyone has met her in this past year but me!”
“Never fear, she’ll adore you as much as the rest of us do,” Callum assured her. “She understands you were sick from being with child, then delivering said children, then caring for them and seeing them through different ailments.”
“Well, I hope she hurries and gets here soon,” Beatrix said, casting a sly glance at Callum. “Who knows how long it will be before I’m in a proper state to visit her again?”
He looked at Beatrix, confused by her wry smile, then suddenly recognition dawned. It was met with an exhausted look followed by an excited smile. “You don’t mean…”
“Yes, love. Whoever determined that three children should be a sufficient number?” she asked, attempting to sound serious. “I’d always hoped to have a brother or sister, and I’m determined that my children shall not suffer from the same want!”
Callum grabbed Beatrix and held her close, covering her face with kisses much to the disgust of his children. Lady Miriam only laughed at their antics, but he still felt compelled to explain.
“Hush, children! Your lady mother has given me the best news!” Before he could even explain, his mother-in-law interceded.
“What welcome news!” she cried, and for a moment, both Beatrix and Callum feared she might respond with one of her increasingly common mad embraces of excitement. Fortunately, she restrained herself, perhaps due to Beatrix’s condition. “And with that, I think I shall be the one to jostle myself along on a wild horse on the way home and force your mother to drive the boring old wagon back with you three. Come on then, there are chocolates in the kitchen for any children who make it home without tearing their dresses!”
As the children scrambled to follow their grandmother to the wagon, Callum leapt to his feet and leaned down to help Beatrix up. Instead of guiding her up by the hand, he swept her in his arms and carried her, kissing her soundly as he walked.
“So the kid glove treatment begins already?” she asked, winding her arms around his neck. “I should have made the announcement weeks ago!”
“Announcement or not, I find that I want to carry you away like this every single time that I see you,” he replied, kissing her once again before adding, “It’s what happens when you find yourself in love with the most amazing woman.”
Ah, before you go...
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