La Bell Du Jour
was inevitable; his travels abroad, his “interaction with the lower classes”, had put him beyond the scope of polite society. Oh, those and the fact that he was a bastard. He could still find consolation, though. Ormstead Park was a place for dancing and flirting, for drinking and gambling… and those came before less innocent sports. It was a place where he could find a woman for the night. Instead, she found him.
He didn’t recognize her at first; real ladies didn’t come to Lord Duncan’s masked balls, and this young beauty — as he recalled from his youth — was just that. Her descent into this netherworld had brought her within reach, yet this was no girl of the day. Annabelle Winston was sublime. And if he had to trick her, bribe her, dare her, or get her drunk… if he had to protect her, server her, save her, whatever — one way or another he would make an honest woman out of her. And she would make a happy man out of him.
Missing Belle Epilogue
Warkworth in the autumn had proved a beautiful place, as cooler temperatures brought a glow of fiery colors to Kent’s green countryside. Belle would have loved it anyway, for the polite society of the south had been most welcoming, making a dispassionate judgment that Stephan’s abilities and generosity as a landlord and neighbor, and Belle’s vivacious charms more than compensated for the fact that he was in business. Indeed the sensible country folk understood the importance of wealth, for maintaining an estate in good heart was sometimes a costly business, and they were rather in awe of both Kirtons for having ventured to so many foreign lands.
The rather quelling formality of the servants braced for a bride in the mould of Constance Wrawby had immediately faded. They also adored their new mistress, who took up the reigns of the household with an assurance borne of years of practice, and they saw nothing amiss with her having some money in her own pockets. Having met the other condidate for the position and scrutinized her manners, they had a pretty fair notion of what their lot might have been had their master not fallen in love with his pretty and kind-hearted wife.
Their honeymoon was a short one for Belle and Stephan had company almost at once. They had not needed to wait upon the sea’s consideration to have a reunion with her stepfather. A very wrathful and concerned Joseph Lydgate had arrived at their home only weeks after receiving Belle’s letter, demanding full details of what had befallen her and promise instant and fatal retribution for the Marvelles for failing to care for his stepchild.
His arrival had something of an air of parade about it for he traveled with a retinue and great deal of baggage which required the accommodation of three coaches. Of course, parades were rarely headed by men so large and grim-faced with ire.
For a day, the household had held its collective breath and waited events.
Joseph had also been inclined to be wrathful that the marriage had happened without his presence, but under Belle’s soothing ministrations, his rage was soon forgotten, and Nabob Lydgate discovered that he was very well pleased with his new son in law. The two men came to know each other over the days that followed, and shared a pleasant brandy every night after dinner when Belle excused herself and the cloth and formality was removed from the table. Their nightly badinage led to some new and exciting business propositions.
Warkworth’s inhabitants, high and low, heaved a sigh of relief when it was apparent that there would be no blood or tears shed, and promptly adjusted to Joseph’s robust presence in their midst. Some of his ways were heathenish, to be sure, but he was an absentmindedly generous soul, and so kind to his only chick and child that no one minded his odd hours and requests for strange foods.
There were other reasons for joyousness. The household was happily anticipating the birth of Stephan and Belle’s first child.
Belle shared her news with Stephan on a warm and drowsy day at the end of summer. Taking her husband for a walk in their infant rose garden where chirping wrens rooted about in the newly turned earth, she told him that she wished to make an appointment for that evening to play a hand of cards.
“What are you after now, Belle, a fountain for your roses?” Stephan asked with a smile, tucking her hand into the curve of his arm and squeezing her fingers.
“No, but I shall be needing some new gowns soon.”
“What? More new gowns?” He tried for a tone of outrage.
“I fear so,” she replied her tone mournful and mouth prim.
“We shall end in the poor house,” Stephan teased. “Do all ladies need gowns for each season.”
“They do for this season,” Belle answered, allowing herself to smile. “Though I believe that I have accomplished four of the nine months without new clothing.”
Stephan stopped in his tracks and turned his wife to face him.
“Yes. We shall have a child this winter.”
Stephan’s whoop of excitement quite upset the hungry avians but pleased Belle immensely, for she knew that their child was coming into a world where its parents truly loved.