The Extended Epilogue
The wedding was a quiet affair, as they had planned. Only a couple of friends were invited by each, and the tailor-designed both the dress and the suit for the event. It would not do to have too much fuss made about themselves, considering that both the duke himself and Agnes were now in a few other nobles’ bad books, for their offenses against the nobility, class structure, and whatever else these people cared about more than their own lives.
Agnes did not mind. The duke certainly did not mind. They had one another, and they would gladly elope in some faraway country if it meant not being troubled by anyone who thought it was their business to bother others.
Agnes was happy to have her friends by her side, of course, but even happier to know that news of the wedding would not reach her troublemaking relatives. They could not become involved if they did not know about the wedding in the first place. And perhaps, if they did not hear of her, then they would not know that she was the Duke of Portsmouth’s new wife.
She could not help but laugh a little under her breath when she considered how much her status-conscious relatives would probably discuss “the Duchess of Portsmouth” without realizing they were talking about their own relative, who they had rejected so many years back. And that was one distinct advantage to the fact that nobles so often spoke of one another, but did not always meet one another.
This was an opportunity to reinvent herself, to present herself as her own person and stand by her own merits, rather than by the sins left behind by her mother. In a sense, this was far better than inheriting the earldom would have been for her. Had she followed in her father’s footsteps, then her mother’s failures and problems would have loomed over her so horribly, lurking, causing her distress.
She might have never married or had children. She would certainly be unable to do the trade or keep friends among other high society women. It just would have been unacceptable for her to attempt to lead a normal life if she had held onto that name, that title.
And Agnes could not stand the idea of being judged as her mother’s daughter for the rest of her life.
Lady Kent had many flaws, but none of them lived on in her daughter. Agnes would be judged by her own merits. Of all her mother’s sins, they had left with her and now lived in that cottage in Brittany. None would come back to England. None would be remembered. None would be raised against Agnes.
It seemed that all things truly did happen for a reason, as Agnes’s life was far better, far happier, and far more complete having lost and then regained everything, than it would have been if she had never lost anything at all. She thanked the Lord every day for the life she led.
After the wedding, Agnes put great effort into managing the Portsmouth household, ensuring that everything was running as smoothly as it needed to in order to impress any guests. The duke had gradually got used to throwing his own parties and holding his own balls, and, being the sociable person he was, frequently had guests round.
Agnes knew that in some ways this was risky, as eventually people might connect her identity to her mother. But she also knew that the more of these people she impressed and got to know, the more nobles would judge her as herself.
Over time she had made a fantastic impression on almost anyone of note, and she finally felt free of the shackles of her past.
As for Georgia, she had grown to see her brother and Agnes as her parents. She never forgot her first parents, but it was as though she had forgotten that the duke and duchess were her brother and sister, treating them instead the same way someone would treat a loving uncle and aunt, or a pair of adoptive parents. Which was probably for the best. It would be difficult and confusing for her to be raised by people she saw as her siblings, and not exactly fair. Instead, if she was able to see them as parents, it would be simpler to follow their instructions and respect them as adults. The duke and duchess made every effort to remind her that they were still brother and sisters, but it was somewhat of a relief to them both that she treated them with the same dignity and respect that a parent would receive.
The girl blossomed as time passed. Every single day she seemed to become brighter, prettier, and more sociable, learning to speak and curtsy properly, and always eager to make new friends among the many people who her father considered to be his friends. Agnes felt assured now that Georgia would thrive and become an important lady someday, and this knowledge inspired her to work hard at educating the girl.
After a morning of piano lessons, as the child was studying with her French tutor across the room, Agnes sat back in her chair and opened her post. She seemed to receive more post every single day. Much of it was fantastic.
A letter from Leah announcing a newborn. Although her hands were quite full with Georgia, the news made Agnes’s heart leap a little, and she remembered the announcement she had to make to her husband later that day.
A postcard from the Duchess of Dorset, who was in Brighton for the day and apparently had written the postcard before news of her grandson’s arrival had reached her, as she was expressing her desire to be home for the birth!
A letter from Talia bemoaning the amount of work she had. But alas no letter from Julie, who had not written to anyone for weeks and who everyone was beginning to worry about.
And another letter from her family. Agnes could not help but groan. She knew exactly what they would be asking for before she read it. They had only recently found out about her marriage and, with the Kent estate torn to pieces so small they were worth nothing, her vulture relatives leapt upon her.
Rather than attack Agnes, they were suddenly pretending to be her friends, wanting to know when she would start helping them with their financial worries, just as her father had done before her. After all, it was the right thing to do, was it not?
She cast the letter into the flames. They had not been there for her when she needed them. They had pushed her away so cruelly when she had nothing at all in the world, through no fault of her own. And now that they needed her, due to their gambling debts, poor investments, and mooching adult children, they wanted her to believe they were good, honest people who cared about her all along?
Some had already given up the charade and were attacking her, calling her a broken woman who was incapable of caring for others, just like her mother was. But most were still trying to appeal to her with kindness. For now.
It was almost amusing. They had treated her so poorly and rejected her as lacking in virtue. They had insisted that there was no way a daughter of her mother could end up being a good, respectable, noble, kind lady. How could she, when her own mother had rejected her? But it turned out that the people who had anything at all in common with her mother were them. They were the ones who used others for money, who were abusive for no apparent reason, who were incapable of feeling love or sympathy for others. They shared no blood with her mother, and yet they had so much in common with the woman!
Agnes looked up as the door creaked open. It was the duke, coming to see the end of Georgia’s lesson and ask about what letters his wife had received. He walked over and looked into the fire at the curling paper.
“From your family again?” he asked.
She just nodded.
The duke rested his head on her shoulder. With time he had grown always more physical. She felt his hand on her waist and sighed. He was so warm and comfortable, like hugging a living, breathing fire. Although there was a guest in the room, Agnes put her hand on the duke’s waist also, enjoying the closeness.
Everywhere their bodies touched, he felt warmer than her. His hands, his sides, his forehead, his lips… Every part of him seemed to always be so much hotter than her own body. She did not mind, of course, but it never ceased to amaze her how warm he was compared to herself. It was as though he had a small furnace burning inside himself that kept him comfortably warm, the perfect temperature for hugging, for snuggling close to him on a wintery night, and for… other matters.
“How has the day gone so far?” he asked quietly, caressing her gently. “Was Georgia good for the piano lesson?”
“She simply sat and struck the keys until she was bored,” Agnes replied with a slight chuckle.
The duke laughed back. “Ah, perfect. She’s a composer already!”
“And she seems to be doing well with her French,” Agnes said.
For a moment, a silence lingered over them. Agnes wanted to tell him, but she was not sure if it was the right time yet. She fidgeted a little, staring into the fire.
“What is the matter?” the duke asked her.
“I have an announcement,” she said softly. “There is a baby on the way.”
The duke nodded. “Your friend Leah had a baby, I know. Is it a boy or a girl?”
Agnes laughed a little. “No. I mean, she has had a little boy. But we also have a baby on the way.” She looked into his eyes, seeing them light up suddenly as he realized she was telling the truth.
For a moment she thought he was about to make one of the noises of excitement his sister was so prone to, but then he drew a deep breath and steadied himself, before wrapping his arms tightly around Agnes and pulling her close.
“You are going to make me the happiest man alive, you know, Agnes,” he said with a wide grin. “How far along are you?”
“About three months, if my guess is correct,” she replied. “I was not sure the first month, or the second, but… Well, by three months what else could it be?”
“When are you supposed to start feeling it?” he asked, putting his hand on her belly.
“Around four months according to the books,” she replied.
“But the books aren’t always correct.” He hummed appreciatively.
“You seem to be very happy,” Agnes said.
“I am,” he replied, still rubbing her belly gently, as though attempting to feel the baby already. “I am not sure what Georgia will think of it though,” he added with a slight chuckle.
“Do you think she shall be jealous?” Agnes asked, feeling a little panicked suddenly.
The duke looked up and over to where Georgia was listening to her French tutor intently, only occasionally glancing over at her surrogate parents. “I hope not,” he finally said. “But I cannot rule it out.”
“Personally, I think she shall make an excellent playmate,” Agnes replied with a smile. “She is so kind, so loving, so helpful. As long as we do not make her feel ignored, she will probably enjoy having a baby in the house. I only hope she will love the baby as one would a little brother or sister.”
The duke nodded. “You know what, I think you’re right.”