Two years later
Richard watched, holding his breath, as Kathy held little Luke’s hands. She walked him a few steps, then let him go and knelt in front of him.
“Now,” said Kathy, “Do exactly as you did earlier, Luke. Show your father what you can do.”
Ailsa and Davina sat nearby, looking almost as excited as Richard felt. Neither of them had seen the great feat – but according to Kathy, the boy had taken his first steps earlier that morning.
Kathy beckoned, and Luke – named, of course, for the uncle who had never gotten to meet him – took a few wobbly steps and landed in Kathy’s arms. Everyone cheered, and Richard felt pride swelling inside him in a way he had never felt before. This boy – his son – was already old enough to walk by himself! Where had the time gone?
Richard walked over as Kathy stood, sweeping Luke up with her and kissing his cheek. Laughing, she handed Luke to Richard, who hugged the boy tight and praised him.
“You’re such a clever boy, son,” he said, making the baby chuckle delightedly. “You’re such a clever boy, yes, you are!”
“Uncle Richard, ye sound ridiculous,” Davina said, folding her arms – though she was grinning. The child, who had just turned seven, had impressed Richard with the way she’d spent the last two years firmly clinging to her Scottish accent, which only seemed to get stronger whenever she returned from a visit to her grandparents.
“Well, he’s right,” Ailsa said, smiling broadly as Richard placed Luke back on the floor. “Luke’s a really clever boy.”
Luke crawled over to his cousins, who immediately started fussing over him and trying to get him to walk again. Kathy laughed, and Richard took a step closer to her, wrapping her in his arms. “You know,” he said, “I still don’t know what I have done to deserve all this.”
“Mm,” Kathy said. “I’m sure Stephen would say it was your penance for your sins.”
Richard chuckled, then remembered. He fished in his pocket, pulling out the unopened envelope the butler had handed him earlier. “Speaking of that terrible man, he sent us a letter. It arrived this morning.”
“A letter from Uncle Stephen?” Ailsa asked. She and Davina hurried over. Lucas didn’t join them. Unfortunately for poor Brownie, the child had noticed the cat on the other side of the room and was now crawling at full speed toward him.
That poor creature has the patience of a saint.
Richard watched with some amusement as the baby chased the cat around the room, then he and Kathy settled on the sofa, the girls at their sides. He handed the letter to Kathy, who unfolded it and began to read.
“My dearest Richie, Kathy, Ailsa, Davina, and I suppose, little Lucas, too—
Goodness, that’s a lot of names. How do you expect a man at sea to find the time to write them all out? Nonetheless, I endeavor to do so, for I know your life is empty without my presence. I cannot write for long, as tomorrow Jack and I must appear in court over a misunderstanding involving a foreign prince, a ball of wool, and a dolphin. Please do not ask me to elaborate, because if I do, I may face execution.”
Everyone laughed, though Ailsa said somewhat worriedly, “He’s not serious, is he?”
“Of course, he isn’t,” Richard replied, though if he were honest, he could never be entirely sure when it came to Stephen and his adventures at sea. Stephen’s flights of fancy and the real trouble he got himself into were often uncomfortably close to the same thing, though the thought merely made Richard grin.
“Where is he right now, anyway?” Davina asked.
“He doesn’t say,” Kathy replied. “Perhaps he’ll discover a whole new land for us.”
Richard snorted. “Yes, and name it Stephenland.”
They all chuckled, then Kathy went on reading.
“Jack and I should be returning home in another half a year, though sadly not before, as we have found people foolish enough to provide work to men like us. Tell the girls not to worry, as I have filled my ship’s hull with wondrous gifts for them, as is my sworn duty as their uncle. There are also some presents for Lucas, though I imagine he will try to eat them more than play with them. Babies are remarkable creatures. I hope yours has not destroyed your home in the months I have been gone.”
Richard found it funny that Stephen called the baby by his full name when nobody else did – it was the reverse of his habit of being the only person to call Richard by a nickname. He knew the joking distaste for babies was just that; Stephen adored Luke. He was, after all, Luke’s godfather.
Kathy read on. “I shall not bore you with any more details. Know that I am alive and well and only a little likely to be imprisoned for the rest of my existence. Know that if I manage to escape with my life, I shall see you in six months. Until then, do try to stay well.
All my love,
Stephen (and Jack).”
When she’d finished reading, she looked up at Richard with a smile on her face. “He seems as boisterous as ever,” she chuckled. “I’m glad to hear he’s having fun.”
“I’m glad someone can stand him,” Richard joked. He missed Stephen, but it was nice to know he was thriving on his adventures. In that way, it seemed they’d both found their happy endings. “Six months, though. Luke will be unrecognizable to him then; he’s already been gone three.”
“As long as he means it about the presents,” Davina said seriously.
Brownie meowed sharply from the other end of the room, and Lucas released the poor cat’s tail and started to laugh. Everyone else did, too, unable to resist the adorable antics. The cat wore a long-suffering expression as he slinked away.
“He acts as if he’s annoyed,” Ailsa said, looking after the animal, “but I know he curls up on Luke’s bed every night to keep him warm.”
Richard smiled. It was true. Since Luke was born, Brownie seemed to have taken it upon himself to be the child’s protector.
“We should send a reply as soon as possible before Stephen leaves port,” Kathy noted. “You know how he pouts if he doesn’t receive letters from us in response to his. We all must write something, too.”
Richard nodded in agreement. “Ailsa, go and fetch some paper, darling. We can start work on it now. You two girls, you can think of something to write for Luke as well.”
Ailsa hurried off to do as she was bidden. Kathy shifted beside Richard, and he glanced at her with a frown. Something was not quite right, though Richard couldn’t tell exactly what.
“Are you all right?” he asked, putting his arm around her shoulders.
“I am,” she replied. He believed her but still sensed something … odd.
Ailsa returned with the paper, an inkwell, and pen, and she placed both on the table. Kathy reached forward, declaring she would write her section first.
Nobody objected, so Kathy bent over and began to write, reading the words out as she did. In the meantime, Luke crawled back over to them, reaching up until Ailsa pulled the boy up into her lap.
“Our beloved Stephen,” Kathy wrote and said, “It is, as always, a true joy to hear from you. Please, for all our sakes, do not get locked up indefinitely in some foreign dungeon, as I imagine the children will miss you terribly.”
“We would,” Davina agreed.
Kathy smiled and continued to write. “Another six months is a terribly long time for you to be gone, but I suppose it cannot be helped. By the time you return, there may be another surprise for you, for the baby is due that very same month.”
Richard froze, and the girls gaped.
Kathy looked up. “What?” she said innocently.
“You’re … we’re having another child?” Richard asked in almost a whisper. He gazed at her flat stomach as if he could see a baby moving there already. “Are you sure?”
She grinned with happy tears in her eyes, obviously relieved to have finally told them. “I wasn’t sure of the best way to tell you all, but … yes, Richard, girls. We’ll soon have a little brother or sister for Luke; another baby in the house.”
The girls erupted into cheers. Luke, who, of course, had no idea what was going on, was startled. He didn’t cry, though, getting caught up in the infectious joy of his cousins and clapping and cheering as well.
Richard grabbed Kathy and clasped her into a tight embrace, kissing her briefly. “Another baby!” he said, barely able to believe it. “We’re going to have another baby!”
Kathy laughed, thrilled at their reaction. She reached up and kissed him in return.
The girls began to chatter incessantly, each of them suggesting names, nursery colors, and even hobbies for the unborn child. Davina declared she wanted a girl baby this time, thank you very much, but Ailsa protested that Luke should have a male playmate.
While they argued, Richard and Kathy’s eyes met. Richard’s heart was so full of joy, he felt its contents might spill over, and he took his son from Ailsa’s lap, holding him close.
“You’re going to be a big brother, Luke,” he told the baby softly.
The little boy cooed and grabbed at his father’s nose.
“That’s right,” Kathy agreed. “You’re going to have someone to look after and protect, and they’ll be your best friend.”
“We’re his best friends,” Davina protested, obviously overhearing.
Richard laughed. “You can all be best friends,” he assured her. That seemed good enough for the girls, who quickly returned to their animated discussion.
He stood, Luke still in his arms, and walked to the window, looking out at the gardens of the Beresford estate and the lake in the distance, which had served as a witness to so much of his life. How many more unexpected twists and turns would it see?
He felt a hand on the small of his back and turned to see Kathy had joined him. He smiled, wrapping an arm around her waist and balancing Luke in one arm.
“Another baby,” he said. “Will you ever fail to surprise me with more joys, Kathy?”
“I certainly hope not,” Kathy replied. “Not when you make me as happy as you do every day.”
Richard smiled, and Kathy smiled back. The pair and their son looked out over the gardens, while their nieces playfully bickered behind them. In Kathy’s womb brewed another child, another symbol of their love – another addition to their ever-growing family.
Richard would never know exactly what he’d done to deserve such joy in his life, but he was more certain than ever that he would work had every day to earn it. His brother and Isla watched over them from above, he knew, and he whispered to them a quiet message of thanks. He knew, wherever they were now, they were happy.
“I think it will be a girl, you know,” Kathy said. “I’m not sure why. I just have the strangest feeling.”
Richard smiled, picturing a little daughter – his daughter. His heart pounded almost painfully at the thought. “That would be grand. Though another son would be a joy, as well.”
Kathy nodded. “My father is going to be thrilled, either way,” she said. “He already dotes on the girls and Luke.”
Richard chuckled. “Yes. And you know the best part?”
“Tell me,” she said.
“Boy or girl, that child in your belly is going to be one of the most loved, adored children in the world,” Richard said. “And no matter what happens next, you were right in what you said all those years ago.”
“I tend to be right,” she teased, then glanced up at him.
Richard leaned down and kissed her briefly, then said, “You told me this once, and it’s as true now as it was then: Whatever happens next for us, Luke, the girls, the baby … all of this, Kathy, is indeed our true happily ever after.”
Kathy smiled. “You’re getting soft, Richard Johnson,” she teased. “One might think you were happy.”
“One,” he said, holding her close, “would have no idea how right they were.”