The Extended Epilogue

Regina paused in her needlework. She was in the lovely cozy chair by the fireplace in the master bedroom of their London apartment. Just as Lord Harrison—or rather Thomas, as she could now call him in private—had predicted, she was in love with the master bedroom. It was her favorite place in the house besides the library.

They spent most of the time in the London apartment. Like Thomas, Regina appreciated Whitefern for its history and grandeur, but she preferred not to stay there if she could help it. The London apartment was on the small side but simple and much more in line with her tastes than Whitefern, heavy with history and crowded with art and decoration.

While normally Regina still preferred the quiet, despite her growing confidence in her ability to hold her own at social gatherings, right now the house was… too quiet.

With two children, silence was not golden. It tended to signify that plotting and misbehavior were afoot.

She stood up and set aside her needlepoint. Nobody was in the other three bedrooms. She made her way downstairs. Nobody in the dining room, or in either sitting room.

It was in the library that she found them.

“And just what do you two think you’re doing?”

Thomas Jr. and Charlotte looked up. Thomas Jr. was the elder child. He had his mother’s red hair —much to Regina’s dismay. His father professed to loving it. Regina personally preferred the idea of her children having their father’s dark hair. But it wasn’t something she could exactly control.

Thomas Jr.’s biggest issue was that when he got an idea in his head, he had to follow it through. He was six and already very strong-willed. His father said he got it from his mother. Regina outwardly protested but privately wondered if it might not be true.

After all, she had been rather strong-willed herself in the matter of winning her family’s fortune back. And since then her confidence had only led her to more assertiveness, both in private and socially.

Charlotte was only three and much more inclined to follow her brother’s lead. She had her father’s dark hair but her mother’s big brown eyes. She was remarkably adept at using them to get what she wanted, especially from her many uncles and her father’s friends.

“How can you possibly say no to such pleading eyes as these?” Thomas had asked Regina once.

“Very easily,” Regina had replied. “No more sweets, Charlotte, you’ve had enough.”

Today, it seemed, Charlotte had followed her brother’s lead in taking all of the books in the library off the shelves and turning them into a kind of fort.

“Hello Mama!” Charlotte replied, waving. She obviously didn’t see anything wrong with what they were doing.

“Hello, Lottie,” Regina replied. She looked at her son and raised an eyebrow. Thomas Jr. was attempting to hide behind a wall of books. “Care to answer my question?”

“We wanted to make a hiding place,” Thomas Jr. replied in a grumble. He was looking down at the floor, obviously aware that he was doing things he shouldn’t be.

Regina sighed and crouched down in front of him, holding out her hand. “Come here.”

She’d been terrified of being a mother. She had written to Bridget in near-hysterics out of fear. How could she possibly be a mother? How could she be stern and loving at the same time? How could she maintain patience? How could she ensure that her children would not be spoiled, or too stubborn, or too shy, or rude, or…

For the first time since she had played cards against Lord Pettifer, Regina had felt the ghost of failure breathing down her neck. She wanted children. She wanted them for her own sake and for her Oberon. Thomas had not spoken overmuch, but he had dropped a few comments that made it clear to her how much he wanted children.

It was in little things, like how he spoke of how he had loved his nursery as a child and how he was certain it would be a nursery again. Or when they saw a child out with its governess, and Thomas would smile besottedly.

More than her own desires, Regina wanted to give that to him. But what if she failed? An entire innocent life would be in her hands. Could she be responsible for such a thing?

Bridget had been in Paris, but she had gotten a letter back to Regina in record time.

My darling, the letter had begun, for though Regina did not often see Bridget in person they wrote one another nearly every day. While her relationships with Louisa, Elizabeth, and Natalie had improved over time, she still remained the closest with Bridget.

My darling,

You have no reason to berate yourself for being a!aid. A” mothers are a!aid beforehand. Even our mother, when she was pregnant with you, confided in me her fears. By that time she had been a mother four times over, and yet she sti” !etted about doing what was best for you.

I know that when she died, I did not understand how I could fi” her shoes. I felt such fear that I would fail you. I su#est you ask Louisa or Lady Morrison, and they sha” te” you the same.

Indeed, I should be more concerned if you were not a bit a!aid. It is the parents who are over-confident in their expertise that produce miserable children. Accept your fear and do not let it control you. And when necessary, you can ask any lady about you for advice. Aunt Jane, I am sure, would be most eager to pass on her knowledge.

You are the sweetest girl that I know. You cannot think me ignorant of what you risked for our family and our honor. Such a thoughtful person as that wi” make an exce”ent mother. Consult others, do not let your fear be your master, and know that every mother has felt as you do now.

Do let me know if you wi” be we” enough to visit this late spring. I think Paris shows itself the best in April and May and I wish for you to visit the continent at least once in your life.

A” my love,

Bridget

Regina had asked Aunt Jane, and Louisa, and other mothers as Bridget had suggested. She had thought that all of them must have been confident when their time came. To her surprise, Bridget was right. All of them confessed to feeling great fear when they had first realized they would become a mother.

Their advice, and knowing that she was not alone, had made it much easier to face. It had also helped that Regina genuinely did want a child.

The moment that Thomas Jr. had been laid in her arms, smiling up at her, tiny and red and wrinkled, she’d known that she would play a thousand card games for his sake.

Still, there were times like these—when her children were obviously doing something they should not—that she doubted herself again.

“Come on,” Regina repeated. Thomas Jr. stuck his hand out and let her pull him to her. “Now. What have I taught you about books?”

“That they cost a lot and we have to respect them.”

“And why do we respect them? Is it only because they cost a lot?” Regina looked over at Charlotte. “Listen to this as well, Lottie.”

Charlotte nodded, but at age three, Regina doubted how much of this Charlotte was retaining.

Thomas Jr. shook his head. “No. We respect them because they’re full of knowledge and stories and those are valuable.”

“Yes, precisely.” Regina gestured at the book fort.

“Is that treating books with respect?”

Thomas thought about it. “We were careful not to rip any pages,” he said.

Well, thank heaven for that minor miracle. Regina looked into her son’s face until he relented. “No, it’s not respectful.”

Regina nodded. “Very good. How about you very carefully put every book back where you found it and I’ll still let you have dessert after supper tonight. But only because you were careful and didn’t rip anything. And you aren’t to do it again. Is that a deal?”

Thomas Jr. had a sweet tooth, and would do almost anything if it guaranteed him dessert. He nodded earnestly. Regina just hoped that the lesson of being respectful to books had sunk in as well.

“Mother?” Thomas Jr. asked. He had his father’s blue eyes, which Regina would never admit to being weak for. “Are you angry?”

“No,” Regina assured him. She could well remember being a child and her own fear at angering the adults around her. She had been such a slave to her fear of others, once upon a time. Although it had been years since anyone had dared to compare her to a mouse. “I was worried greatly about the books, that’s all.”

Thomas Jr. nodded. “Father says your books are your treasures. It’s why he buys you them.”

Regina couldn’t contain her smile. Thomas did often bring her books, knowing they were a more valuable gift to her than jewelry. “Yes. Now go on, clean up.”

She stood, smoothing out her dress, and heard a warm chuckle from behind her. It still made a shiver go down her spine, even though she had grown used to hearing it.

“You handle them with such patience,” Thomas said, entering the room. His business must have concluded early that day.

Regina turned, knowing what was coming next. Sure enough, Thomas took her hands and pulled her into his arms, resting his chin on the top of her head. It was the first thing he did when he came home, as if he was not centered until he had Regina in his arms again.

Not that she was complaining. Far from it. She never felt safer than when her husband’s arms were around her.

“I see somebody was enterprising today,” Thomas noted. He watched as his son and namesake cleaned up the books and put them back where they belonged.

“He takes after you,” Regina said, teasing.

“Willfully breaking rules right and left.”

“Sounds like a young lady I used to know,” Thomas replied. “Determined little thing, she was. One would almost think she was in charge. A regular Puck.”

“Whatever did you do with her?” Regina asked, bringing her arms up to wind about his neck.

“I married her, of course,” Thomas replied, his blue eyes warm and welcoming.

“Papa,” Charlotte cried, holding her hands up.

“You’re almost too big for this,” Thomas said, but he picked her up anyway and held her. Charlotte laid her head on his shoulder, smiling blissfully.

“Perhaps you would like me to read you a story?” Thomas asked, bouncing Charlotte a little.

Charlotte giggled and nodded.

Regina watched as Thomas settled himself in front of the fire. He set Charlotte down so that she might toddle over to the bookshelf and pick out a book to read.

“Fairytales?” Thomas asked. He looked up at Regina, his eyes sparkling in amusement. Regina couldn’t hide her blush.

She was aware that she could not remain in her little bubble forever. Soon Thomas Jr. would need a tutor, and in a few years Charlotte would need a governess. She had her social life to think of, calls to make and balls to attend, while the children were left at home.

But at the moment, she could think of nothing she liked better than watching her husband read to her little daughter. She would not have even traded her son’s disobedience for the world.

In fact, she began to crouch down and help him replace the books.

Thomas Jr. looked at her. “Why are you cleaning up?” He asked. “You didn’t make the mess.”

“I know, but I would like to help,” Regina replied. “It’s important to help others. Even if you don’t have to.”

Thomas Jr. wrinkled his nose. “But why?”

“Because sometimes if you help someone out, even if you don’t have to, you get more in return than you ever bargained for,” his father answered.

Regina looked up to see Thomas looking at her again. Her breath caught in her throat. Even after so many years, it took her breath away when he looked at her like that. A part of her still saw herself as something small and mousy, unworthy.

Yet when Thomas looked at her like that, it was as if she was someone else. Someone beautiful and alluring, someone that made him feel as if he were unworthy. When he looked at her like that, it was like she was his entire world to him.

She understood, intellectually, that he loved her. And she often felt that love, whether it was the way he held her in bed at night or when he fetched a shawl to put around her shoulders when she was cold. But in those moments she not only knew it or felt it. She saw it.

Regina thought it was the most wondrous thing in the world.

Her son seemed to have realized that his parents were having a moment. He looked from his father, to his mother, and back again, and then gave a small smile. Regina couldn’t be certain but she liked to think that it showed he was pleased at the love between his parents.

Some things would change, Regina thought. That was life. Her children would grow. Their needs would grow with them. But this—this would never change. That look in Thomas’s eyes, and the look that she gave him in return, the look she knew was probably full of the adoration she still felt for him…

That would always be there.

The End

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