The Extended Epilogue
It had been five years since Hestia’s wedding to Leander. The length of time made no difference to her, she looked at him as the head of her growing family.
Leander paced the room, his hands behind his back. Every few minutes he would go to the open double doors and look up the stairwell.
“You are going to wear a path in the floor, Leander,” the Earl of Nottingham said, grinning.
“I cannot help myself,” Leander said, coming back into the room. “I have not seen her since her return from the country estate. I understand she wants to look her best for me but I would have taken her even with the dust of the road covering her from head to toe.”
The Earl of Nottingham laughed. “She will be down shortly. You must calm yourself before the rest of your guests arrive.”
“There are only a few this time,” Leander said, turning to walk the path again.
“I really must insist that you sit down until she comes, Leander. You are making me nervous.”
Leander laughed and dropped himself in the nearest chair. He leaned forward, his eyes focused on the bottom of the stairwell, which was all he could see from the chair.
“She might wait until the guests have arrived and make a grand appearance.”
Both men laughed. It was not like Hestia to do such a thing. Leander immediately thought of Drusilla, who would most definitely have done such a thing.
The sound of women’s voices made Leander shoot to his feet. He heard the Earl of Nottingham laughing as he went quickly to the double doors and through them to look up the stairs at his wife.
Hestia and her mother were coming down, talking and laughing. When Hestia caught sight of Leander, she hurried down the remaining steps, her arms outstretched. “My husband!
I have not seen you in too long!”
She fell into his arms and he hugged her tight.
“My darling Hestia. How good it is to hold you in my arms.” He separated from her and bent to give her a kiss.
“I feel as though you have been gone for years!” He laughed and pulled her into another hug. He moved his eyes up to the Countess of Nottingham. “Good afternoon, Lady Stalwood. You are looking well.”
“I apologize for keeping your wife from you for so long. I do hope you were not too lonely.”
“I was terribly lonely,” Leander used a despondent voice, though the happy look on his face betrayed his true feelings.
“You will be lonely no more, my husband,” Hestia said with a warm smile.
At that moment, a knock at the door took their attention. They all turned to see Thomas, the butler for Hestia and Leander, opening the door and ushering in the guests Leander had invited to welcome Hestia home from her trip.
Lady Eugenia was the first to come through the door. She looked proud and happy on the arm of her husband, David Wake.
Behind her, the elder brother, Henry, walked through with Drusilla.
“Here are our friends.” Leander held out his arms to welcome his guests. “Come in. The parlor is ready for games and entertainment. I am hoping you will play some pianoforte for us, Lady Eugenia. I do believe that is one of your gifts, is it not?”
Lady Eugenia smiled at him as she gave Hestia a hug. “I can certainly do that for you, my lord.”
Leander laughed. Since the death of his parents two years previous, Lady Eugenia had begun calling Hestia and Leander “my lord” and “my lady” to represent their new elevated status in society as the Earl and Countess of Coventry.
“But first, we must all have some refreshments and catch up with one another. I know my wife has some stories about her trip. Hestia?”
Hestia nodded, looking around at her friends. “I certainly do. But we must get comfortable first so that I can fill you all in on the wonderful time Mother and I had. The weather was beautiful and we were well taken care of by all.”
She continued talking as they went into the parlor. She halted her words when she stepped through the door. She turned to Leander with a big grin.
“My lord! What a beautiful thing to do for me!” She went into the room, holding her arms out to her father. “I am willing to bet you had something to do with this, Father. I knew I smelled something delicious.”
A long table against the wall on the other side of the parlor held the refreshments Leander had been speaking of. All manner of fruits, vegetables with dipping sauces, pastries, cookies and a variety of meats were spread out along the surface.
“I thought this was not going to be a big party,” she said in a teasing voice.
Leander laughed. “I did not want to miss a thing. I wanted you to have all the choices I could think of.”
“I cannot possibly eat so much food, my love. You are sweet to have thought of me this way.”
Leander put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her to him. He kissed the side of her head.
“I only think of you, Hestia. It is quite a distraction for me. Sometimes I find it difficult to work.”
“And I can tell you it is the truth,” the Earl of Nottingham spoke up, joining his wife to stand by the unlit fireplace. “I must speak to him several times before he hears me and responds.”
“I am hungry.” Hestia narrowed her eyes, looking at Lady Eugenia. “Are you hungry, Eugenia?”
Lady Eugenia nodded, laughing softly and separating from her husband to join Hestia. “We must try some of everything.”
The two women moved to the table with the rest of the group following behind them. They gathered food on their plates, talking and chatting quietly.
Leander watched Hestia as she walked down the table, looking at all the offerings. He had gone out of his way to import as much fruit as he could and had paid a good amount for the roast and ham. There was nothing he would not do to make his wife happy.
A voice came from the doorway, making the group of friends turn. Toby, the footman who had stayed on after the deaths of Leander’s parents, was at the door.
“I am sorry to bother you, my lord. Christina is asking that you and the lady come to the nursery.”
Leander felt concern slide through him. He and Hestia exchanged worried glances.
“Is Nicholas all right?”
“Yes, my lord. I believe she wishes to show something to you.”
“But Nicholas is all right?”
Toby grinned. “Yes, my lord. Your son is fine.”
Leander gave his wife a curious look and held out his hand. “If it is not a tragedy, I see no reason why we cannot all visit Nicholas in the nursery.”
“Oh, what a lovely idea!” Lady Eugenia said. She looked at
Drusilla. “You will be in this position soon. I am excited for you!”
Drusilla blushed, glancing up at her husband. “Yes, we will. In a few months.”
“Come, let us all go see the little lord of Coventry.” Leander led the way to the stairs, taking them up while holding his wife’s hand.
Hestia listened to the excited chatter of her friends and her parents as they followed the couple up the stairs. When Leander held her hand, she still got the same excited chill, the wave of warmth through her body that she had when they were first courting.
Their almost two-year-old son, Nicholas Joshua, was in the care of his nanny while Leander and Hestia had their gettogether.
“Did the boy enjoy traveling with you, my dear?” Leander asked in a low voice. She looked up at him.
“I do not think he enjoyed it as much as we did,” she said with a laugh. “Though he did sleep a lot. I believe the excitement of it all was a bit too much for him.”
They reached the top of the stairs and went to the right, stopping at the big door that ended the hallway.
Leander opened it and swung it wide so he and his friends could enter the room. It was one of the largest rooms in the house and had every toy the family could buy for the child.
He was sitting on a blanket in the middle of the floor and turned when he heard the adults come in the room. Christina, his nanny, was kneeling in front of him. She held out her hands to make sure he did not topple over, though he was well balanced and did not wobble.
“Christina. Is everything all right?”
Christina’s smile was radiant. “Yes, my lord. I wanted you to see something.”
She reached under the little boy’s arms and lifted him up in the air. She turned him around in mid-air, smiling and laughing, tickling his ribs.
He squirmed, giggling hysterically. She set him down on his feet so he was facing his parents. Leander and Hestia looked at his excited eyes.
“Oh!” Hestia bent over and held out her arms. “Come to mother, little Nicholas. Can you come to mother?”
Leander looked back at his guests with tears in his eyes. “Nicholas has not walked without help before. I think he is about to.”
Lady Eugenia and Drusilla both gasped, their hands covering their mouths and their eyes wide. They took a step forward to be closer to the event.
“Go to mother. Go on, you can do it.” Christina encouraged the baby, helping him steady himself by allowing him to grasp her fingers. She moved with him until he got a good pace and then let him go.
He trotted over to his mother, laughing as only a baby can laugh.
“Look at him! Look how proud he is and he does not even know what he did!” Hestia scooped her son up into her arms and held him close. Leander wrapped his arms around her and squeezed her and his son to his chest.
“My son can walk. I am so proud!”
Leander felt the patting of his friends’ hands on his back and listened to them praise the little boy. For his part, Nicholas was delighted with himself and had not stopped laughing.
Hestia looked up at Leander, remembering when she was alone and sad, thinking she would never have the family she was meant to have.
A spinster she was not. She was a happily married woman with a child and possibly another on the way soon. She could not have asked for more.
She closed her eyes and listened to the sounds around her. They were happy sounds. Her child’s laughter, her husband’s voice, her friends praising her little boy’s accomplishment.
“You are such a smart little boy,” she whispered in Nicholas’s ear, kissing his cheek. He giggled and rubbed it as if he wanted it to absorb into his skin. “Your mother loves you, your father loves you, everyone loves you.”
She could not wait for the day when the child would say it back to her. For now, he made cooing sounds and used garbled baby talk that she pretended was him saying he loved her, too.
They all departed the room, having decided the little boy’s presence was needed at the party. To “liven things up a bit” according to her father.
As she walked down the stairs, Hestia felt a sense of great satisfaction and contentment. Things had been so bleak, her future nothing but a grey fog of work and unhappiness.
Now the light shone through and her happiness was complete. She was the Countess of Coventry, married to the most handsome gentleman she could have asked for, with a beautiful child.
She had found life in the arms of Lord Leander Price.