The Extended Epilogue
From one Christmas to the next, so much had changed. Due to Duke Perry’s new
responsibilities he and Antoinette had been forced to move after all. The main mansion, in the heart of the Devon countryside, was so grand that at first Antoinette had assumed it to be a palace. She had joked that if the servants did not keep on top of it they would have to downsize, but with how much upkeep it needed, the joke had almost come true.
Fortunately, with Duke Perry’s new income they were able to afford enough staff, and once Antoinette had got the hang of instructing them, the mansion shone like the sun. They had even been able to retain Duke Perry’s own house back up in York, where they stayed for brief holidays and to visit her parents. Although with a family of their own on the way, there would be a little less time for that…
Antoinette felt her bump gently, wondering when she would next get kicked. It was a little disappointing to be so uncomfortably bloated and plagued with morning sickness during the Christmas holidays. She was not able to make as many preparations, visit as many people, or eat as many things as she would have liked. And she only had to look away a moment for a dress to stop fitting her properly.
But Duke Perry made all the difference. Walking into the room with a heavy blanket and a cup of warm water and lemon, he smiled as he offered them to her. Despite the number of servants they had, he still seemed to derive some pleasure from caring for Antoinette himself, and she enjoyed his attention and affections too.
“Have any guests arrived yet?” she asked.
He shook his head. “I saw a carriage in the distance, though, so someone may be here soon.”
She sighed a little. “I suppose I shall drink this and then get ready to greet them. I look a mess.” “You look wonderful,” he insisted.
Antoinette wondered who would be arriving first. It was nothing extravagant. She had been allowed her own grand gala only a week ago. At Duke Perry’s request, Christmas itself would be a small, close-knit, family affair. Only some relatives and close friends. It could be her parents, or his friends, or… Antoinette paused. She had invited Lucy, of course, but…
Although she and Lucy had remained friends, Lucy had never forgiven Duke Perry. Or men in general. She had felt insulted and abused by what had occurred, and her disillusion in courtship still persisted, driving potential suitors away and causing her parents great distress. Although Lucy had been invited, Antoinette doubted she would show up.
Before long Antoinette found out who it was in the carriage. Mary and Duke Haskett had arrived. She made her way steadily downstairs to greet her beloved cousin, who had not yet seen their Devonshire mansion.
“It is so beautiful,” Mary said with genuine awe in her voice, looking around. “I am not sure I have seen a mansion of this size before…”
“Wow wow wow,” said young Alexander Haskett, clinging onto his mother’s skirt as he barely managed to stand.
Antoinette felt her heart melt looking at her baby cousin. Before long he would have her own child as a playmate, of course, but she was feeling deeply emotional, and seeing him growing up so handsome and intrepid made her feel like crying. Duke Haskett walked in behind the servants carrying their bags, and swept little Alexander off his feet, holding him close.
Duke Haskett had forgiven Antoinette and Duke Perry for the whole situation, and apparently so had Duke Godwin, though his pride was still deeply wounded. That was one relationship Antoinette had no hopes of salvaging. But she was grateful enough that her parents and Duke Godwin remained friendly, and that the friendships between herself and her cousin, Duke Godwin and Duke Haskett, and Duke Haskett and Duke Perry remained strong. It was the best of a bad situation and, considering the power these men wielded, the best for the country.
Duke Perry, having greeted the guests and made sure a servant was escorting them to their rooms, attempted to retreat quietly, but Antoinette had spotted him.
Antoinette sneakily followed her husband into his study. As the door clicked shut behind her, he turned around, smiling as he laid eyes on his beautiful wife. “You look radiant,” he said, walking up to her and resting his hand on her belly.
She felt their child do a somersault inside her and looked deep into his eyes. He smiled back. “You felt that too?”
He nodded. “It is surreal at times… Had I been asked over a year ago whether I thought I would be here today, a Duke, married, with my first child on its way… I would not have believed it.”
Antoinette nodded. “And I would have assumed my husband would have been someone else… and how sad that would have been.”
Duke Perry embraced her and stroked her head. “It would, but let us not dwell on that. What’s done is done, and we are most fortunate to have one another.”
Their lips locked and she felt her heart soar. And although he was right, she still could not cast aside her concerns about the past. Even a year later, she still worried about what might have been, and about what could still interfere with her life. Even more so now that they had a baby on the way. As their lips parted she felt her hand return to her belly. This child deserved a fulfilling, comfortable life, with all the opportunities their status offered. And, although any animosity had been avoided, she knew that what she had done could have created enemies where they least expected it.
“I shall see how the table is looking,” she said, “and leave you to do whatever it is you came here to do.”
Duke Perry nodded and stroked her head one last time before she left the room and went to inspect the dining room, where Christmas Eve dinner was being prepared for.
The servants were beginning to lay the table as Antoinette overlooked everything. She was not sure how come, but she had definitely become more fastidious of late. Every little thing had to be right, otherwise she would become frustrated and worried. Even the smallest of things could become a big problem when they were not just as she wanted them to be.
The doctor had said that this was a sign that the baby could be on its way any day now, which did not help with Antoinette’s anxiety about cleanliness and order. She needed everything to be perfect, as she would be indisposed for some time after having the baby.
As the cold dishes were brought out, placed, and covered, Antoinette felt a familiar hand rest gently on her shoulder. She turned around to see her mother, and immediately embraced her.
“Mother! I did not hear you arrive… I hope there was someone there to greet you and bring your luggage in.”
Lady Byrd nodded. “Do not fret, I asked them not to announce us. I wished to surprise you. My! You are glowing!”
Antoinette beamed. “And you are beautiful as ever, mother. I trust that the trip was fine?”
Lord Byrd shook his head. “Do not worry about the trip.
At least it is over.”
“Oh, I am sorry, please, let us find somewhere to sit down,” Antoinette replied. Of course, such a long trip, this time of year, with the snowfall and the ice, would have been difficult.
“How are my sister and my brother? I heard they have another baby on the way. Are their finances in a position to handle the new child, or will they need some
“Cecilia and John are doing much better,” Lady Byrd insisted. “They are practically where they were before John began his pursuit,” she explained. “And they are still most grateful for all you have done to help them. Although neither of them is in any position to travel, they have requested to see you as soon as possible in the new year.”
Antoinette nodded. “I am glad to hear so, and I would love to see them.”
“And what of that elusive brother of yours?” Duke Perry said, walking into the room.
“Oh yes, please tell me Thomas will be back this year,” Antoinette asked her mother.
“Thomas… he will not be home this year either,” Lady Byrd said with slight sorrow in her voice. “But we must not feel bad for him, or spend too much time lamenting that he will be in India. He is doing the Lord’s work over there, and he is happy to be doing so. He would not want us to be sad about that.”
Antoinette nodded. “That is true.”
Duke Perry took her hand as they walked into the front room and each found a seat. “I am glad you were both able to make it, though, Lord Byrd, Lady Byrd,” he said. “It means so much to Antoinette, especially after you missed the gala.”
Lord Byrd shrugged a little and took out a pipe. “It is quite a journey to do often, but we could not justify not seeing our darling daughter before our grandson arrived.”
Lady Byrd shook her head. “Your father is convinced it will be a boy,” she explained.
“I have a strong feeling it will be a little girl,” Antoinette replied, caressing her bump.
“We shall see, then,” Lady Byrd said with a smile. “But we will be proud whichever it is.”
Just then, the door opened and a maid poked her head through cautiously.
“Is the table prepared already?” Duke Perry asked. “The remaining guests will not be here for some time.”
“No, Your Grace, it is not that, Your Grace,” the maid replied. “There is someone at the door… for Duchess
Antoinette sighed a little at having to get up. “Could you go and see who it is, my love?” she asked Duke Perry.
But the maid shook her head. “I am sorry, but she insists that only Duchess Perry may come and speak with her, or she will leave.”
Antoinette nodded. She had a pretty good idea who it was. Arriving at the door, her suspicions were confirmed. A petite, dark girl stood there, still wearing her coat, obviously ready to least at a moment’s notice.
It was Lucy.
“Lucy!” Antoinette exclaimed. “Oh, I am so glad you came. I sent the invite but I assumed you would not.” She wrapped her arms around her friend and held her close. “Please say you will stay for dinner.”
But Lucy shook her head. “I cannot stay,” she said, “not with… him here. But I was passing through and thought it may be nice to deliver your present by hand.”
Lucy extended her arm and offered a small, well-wrapped box, with a bright red ribbon on it. Antoinette reached out and took it. “Thank you. It means a lot to me,” she said, feeling a little disheartened. “How are you getting along with—”
“I will not see him,” Lucy replied, interrupting Antoinette. “Or any other man.”
“You must begin to court again someday,” Antoinette replied.
“After all, your parents will want you to marry.”
Lucy shook her head. “No… I will never marry. Whether they want me to or not.”
Antoinette nodded. “But what if you wish for a child?”
“A high price to pay for one, marriage, isn’t it? No, Antoinette, men are vile.” She sighed in a way which suggested that she was not entirely honest, with Antoinette or with herself.
But Antoinette would not mention it. After all, it was for Lucy to work out what she wanted. She gently rubbed her belly. “Just… leave your options open. Like you are doing for me, and for little Perry in here.”
Lucy’s eyes were drawn to the bump and she smiled. “I know that circumstances are not ideal,” Lucy said. “And… I shall never forgive him. But please, remember that you are my dearest friend, and I do love you, and when he is not around I will gladly come and visit. Especially when the little one arrives. So do not be sad.”
Antoinette wrapped her arms around Lucy and hugged her closely. “I will try not to be,” she said without breaking the embrace. “Things may never be as they were but… I hope we shall remain friends forever.”
She felt Lucy nod and hug her back. “We will, Antoinette.
We will be friends forever.