The Extended Epilogue
The Duke and Duchess of Wintercrest sat comfortably before the sitting room fire in their country home. Isabella Grant, Duchess of Wintercrest, did her best to work on her embroidery over the ever-increasing swollen belly that always seemed to hinder her in some way.
Christian Grant, Duke of Wintercrest, sat next to her with his arm casually stretched along the back of the sofa. When Isabella adjusted her seat for the fourth time that night, he let his hand fall gently to her shoulders and leaned toward her in concern.
“Are you feeling alright, my love?” he asked with a worried brow.
As Isabella grew closer and closer to meeting their first child, the duke became increasingly more worried for her health and well-being.
“I am fine. It is just that this little one won’t seem to stop moving,” she said, setting her needlework aside and pushing gently on her belly under the folds of her gown.
“I suspect he is trying to break free and in a very wrong way,” Isabella added with a giggle when a little appendage kicked back at her husband’s touch on her belly.
“How do babies come out of bellies, Aunt Izzy?” Jackie asked from where she was sitting across the room next to her grandmother.
Jackie was now eight years old and had lost most of her cherubic roundness. She was looking more and more like a young lady each day.
The room, however, fell silent at her question as each member looked from one to the other.
“I think,” Isabella finally said, “that would be a wonderful question to ask your governess on the morrow.”
The position of governess had been filled just over a year earlier when the newlyweds and the rest of the family returned home from their season in London. She was a young girl, barely eighteen, fresh from Mrs. Mason’s School for Exceptional Young Ladies.
“You really think that a wise question to spring on the poor girl,” the duke questioned his wife.
“Absolutely. Especially since I am no longer the one who will need to answer it in the morning,” Isabella added with a little giggle.
The laugh sent another flutter of kicks from within her belly and she winced at the kick.
“Let me take you upstairs to lie down, my love,” the duke said, still shadowed with concern. “Perhaps it will settle the little guy down.”
He stood and, holding on to his wife’s hands, lifted her to stand too. It was getting much harder for her to move around. Though she estimated she still had a month or two before the child would come, she felt and looked as though she would go into labor at any moment. They went around the room saying their good nights to the rest of the family before making their way out of the room.
“What makes you think it’s a boy,” Isabella asked as they began to climb the stairs to their chamber.
“I guess I really don’t. Maybe it is just a hope of mine. I did think,” he added a little hesitantly, “that if it is a boy, we might name him James.”
“I think that is a beautiful idea,” Isabella said as the got to the top of the stairs.
She paused, a little winded by the walk. The duke kissed her head lovingly and waited by her side as she caught her breath.
* * *
It was less than a week later that the duke found himself pacing outside his chamber, listening to the painful discomfort of his wife inside. She had gone into labor much earlier than expected and the duke feared for both the child and his wife.
Finally, after several hours, the duke heard the screams of a newborn babe. He sighed in relief at the sound. He waited next to the door for someone to come out and tell him the news.
The minutes slipped by and, though he could still hear the scream of the child, no one came. Finally, he heard something he never expected; it was the cry of a second babe.
He leaned his head against the door to listen in disbelief. After a few moments, he was sure of it; there were two babies crying in his room. Finally, he heard the hurried footsteps of someone coming to the door, and he stood back to let them open it.
It was his mother with tears of joy streaming down her face.
“Twins,” she said breathlessly. “A boy first, then a girl.”
The duke took a few staggering steps back, stunned by the words. Though he had heard the cries himself, it was still a shock.
“Isabella?” he asked with sudden fear.
Having one child was dangerous enough, but to have two seemed like a genuine peril.
“She is doing just fine,” his mother reassured him. “You will be able to come in and see all your family in just a moment.
The duke waited in the hall for fifteen more minutes, but to him, it felt like a lifetime. When the nurse proclaimed the children were properly examined and Isabella was also doing fine, he was invited into the room.
Sitting propped up by many pillows sat the Duchess of Wintercrest, a very small bundle in each of her arms.
“Oh Christian,” she said in a weak voice, “come and look at our beautiful children.”
The duke came and sat next to her on the bed and looked down at his increased family. He took a moment to examine his wife. She was certainly paler than usual and the exhaustion of the ordeal weighed heavy on her face. Her eyes, however, were alight with excitement over their two babies.
“This is little James,” Isabella said, reaching over to give a sleeping babe to his father. He was snuggled in tight with a wrapping of blankets. All that stuck out was one tiny hand, which had wriggled free and gripped the fabric, and his small little face.
The duke touched the full head of dark hair softly as he looked upon his son for the first time.
“And this is your daughter,” Isabella said, switching her bundle to her other side so that the duke could get a good look at them both. “I was hoping we could call her Elisabeth, after my mother.”
The duke looked down at his second child. Unlike her brother, she was much thinner of face and had a very light sprinkling of rose-colored hair on her head.
“She is so small,” the duke said with a hint of worry.
“Yes, she is not quite as plump as James. But she will fill out over time. I doubt she had much room left to grow inside my belly. Now that she is free, she will grow just as healthy and strong as her brother,” Isabella assured with a motherly instinct.
“Hello, my Elisabeth,” the duke cooed down to his daughter. “I hope you are prepared, because I intend to spoil both you and James utterly rotten.”
Isabella smiled at her husband as he took in the sight of his children with a soft smile on her lips. Sensing her gaze, he looked up at her.
With all the love and admiration he could possess, he leaned in and sealed his new family with a kiss.