Anne slipped her hand around Roger's arm, as he stood gazing at the shoreline of Bristol while the ship moved into port.
"Are you glad to be back, darling?" Anne asked anxiously.
"Not really. I forgot how dreary the English weather is, and how polluted the towns. Not to mention, how the British are set in their ways. America is still fresh and new, with still undiscovered territories. I've been very happy, haven't you love? We've done exceedingly well with the plantation, in fact, I miss it already. I have so many plans for expansion that needs to be put into operation that it's been hard concentrating on arriving in England when my mind is still in Virginia," he answered, leaning down to kiss her temple, and his heart filled with love anew. It still amazed him that she chose to marry him so suddenly. Now after three years, and giving birth to a healthy son, she was still as lovely as the day he married her.
Anne smiled up at him, and nodded. "I'm just a little nervous at meeting your family though. I know you never told them how we met, but I worry they may have heard rumors since we have been gone so many years."
"Don't worry, love, so much as happened here during that time . . . the war with America, Waterloo, not to mention other more important ton gossip than our elopement. Why, they have Beau Brummell's ruin, Shelley's elopement, and Byron's divorce, which put our hasty marriage totally at the bottom of the list!" he laughed.
"I guess you're right," she agreed reluctantly.
Roger turned and reached out to cradle her face in his hands, looking into her eyes.
"I am right, and even if the gossips do remember us, it isn't important. We live in America now, and will be returning to our home. Nothing they say to us or about us has any bearing on our lives, my love," he said seriously.
Reassured, Anne smiled, "I must admit, I'm glad we came, for I do want to see Lilly again. She had watched over me like a mother hen . . . and I feel I owe her so much. She saved my life from . . . well, if it weren't for her, I would have never met you!" Anne said, brushing a kiss on his hand near her cheek.
"Or I you, my love," Roger murmured in agreement.
"In her letters, she seems to be much happier after her marriage to Jacques, and moving to that estate they had purchased from your friend George," she said smiling.
"How about that George! That was a surprise, and then taking Sally as a mistress!" Roger shook his head in disbelief. "So much has happened in three years, I'm still amazed. I hope we make our connections to the new Inn in time for their opening without any mishaps, and I'm anxious to see both George and Adam."
"Yes, and I better make sure nanny Parker has our son ready before we dock. Are you going to stay and watch from here?" Anne asked as she turned away from the railing.
"For a while, then I'll be along to oversee the unloading of the luggage," Roger said, still watching the dismal scenery. He hoped the weather cleared before they started the long carriage trip.
"Oh dear, I do hope it doesn't rain before we get there!" Sarah said, looking out the window of the coach. She had personally helped with the loading of the horse onto the custom-built carrier for the trip to Lilly's estate.
"You worry too much, my dear! It is just overcast, and Adam is riding alongside your precious cargo to keep an eye on him . . . I mean her. I always want to call every horse he. I guess it has to do with their size," Lady Lyndmere said, as she readjusted her grandson on her lap. Fourteen-month-old Jordan sat contentedly, playing with the ribbons on his grandmother's bonnet.
"I'm surprised you are giving up a perfectly good breeder, especially since Madame Lilly had won three races before ending up lame. She is still a valuable horse," Lord Lyndmere remarked.
I bred her with Nightflight last month, and if all goes well . . . hopefully Lilly and Jacques will have their first racehorse," Sarah answered.
"I dare say that is a special gift! Nightflight has been your best moneymaker yet," he answered.
Lord Lyndmere admired his resourceful daughter-in-law, and she continued to surprise him. When Adam and Sarah had married, he thought Adam consented to let her try a hand at managing for a lark, but when Sarah turned the farm into one of the top horse-breeding spots in all England, he was amazed.
"You said Madame Lilly was named after your friend, where did you get the name Nightflight?" Lady Lyndmere asked.
"Well, you might say that was the beginning of my life's change since the death of my parents. I fled from my home in the middle of the night," Sarah said, remembering that fearful night. Now she can look back without regret, for it had brought her Adam and happiness, as she glanced at her beautiful son just beginning to doze off against his grandmother's shoulder.
Sarah laid a hand across her stomach, which held their next child, and smiled thinking how surprised Adam will be when she tells him this evening. She knew he would balk at taking this long trip if he knew of her condition before leaving their home.
Presently, Adam pulled alongside the coach and leaned down to speak to them through the window.
"The Inn is coming into view and I thought you would like to see it before we arrived. Quite a place, I must say!" he remarked.
Sarah, and the Lyndmeres peered out the window at the sight of Marcus and Lance's newly constructed Inn.
"Why . . . it . . . it's so grand!" Sarah said awed at the sight of the three-story Queen Anne building, with a center courtyard. To the left of it, was a separate well-built stable, with rooms above for stable hands, and grooms traveling with the guests occupying the Inn. At the entrance to the courtyard, hung a huge wooden sign, depicting a colorful illustration of a hand holding gaming cards with the name of the establishment in script above as: The Dealer's Inn.
"By Jove, this must have cost a pretty penny!" Lord Lyndmere exclaimed, admiring the structure.
"I cannot wait to see the inside decor," Lady Lyndmere added.
"Your friends have worked hard these past three years, Sarah," Adam remarked thoughtfully.
At first Adam was doubtful at bringing his parents with them for this opening, especially to a place owned by gamblers, but now after seeing it, he felt guilty of his thoughts for it was obvious that the men have set themselves up for a very profitable future. He would not be surprised if the Prince Regent stopped by, after the news spread of the elegant inn on the road to Bristol.
Hearing the horses pulling into the courtyard, Lilly hurried to the window.
"Marcus, I believe your first guests have arrived," she called over her shoulder.
"Ah, about time too! I was beginning to think are opening was not to be," Marcus answered, joining Lilly at the window.
"You are too impatient! It is still early, and you know you have had the invitations accepted. You would think you were an expectant father the way you have been pacing about," Jacques laughed.
"Why Jacques! Did I not tell you? I am an expectant father! My wife informed me last night," Marcus answered proudly.
"No! Nicole's enceinte? Lilly, did you know?" Jacques asked surprised.
"Oui, mon cher. But only as of an hour ago. Nicole broke the news to me while we carried flower arrangements to the rooms. Congratulations Marcus," Lilly answered.
"So, I see Marcus has informed you of the big event," Lance said, carrying a stack of ledgers.
"Shame on you Lance!" Lilly admonished, pointing to the ledgers, "Are you still working Gayle to a frazzle? She should be here greeting the guests, as befitting the wife and part owner of this place."
"Believe me she will be by my side when they arrive, but at the moment Gayle insisted I put these ledgers away. Who would have thought that my sweet little wife would turn into such a nag?" he laughed teasingly, seeing her standing in the doorway of the office.
Smiling Gayle stepped aside for him to put the ledgers on the desk. He stopped long enough to plant a kiss on her cheek before setting his load down.
"You will see what a nag I am, if you do not hurry," Gayle answered failing in the attempt at severity when her husband kissed her again on the lips.
"Will you two stop and get over here? Where is Nicole?" Marcus said nervously.
"Right here, darling," Nicole said coming through the archway of the huge dining room.
"I must say, the four of you look absolutely grand!" Lilly said affectionately, noting their sophisticated attire, befitting successful owners. This will be the culmination of a dream that started after that terrible fire that destroyed the Mason de Plaisir, she thought.
Tony and Barry, both looking exceedingly prosperous, had traveled all the way from Greece, especially for this occasion. Paul and Alan also looked successful, having opened their own small gaming house in Brighton a few years ago, and part of that success was due to the added attraction offered by Carla and Rose working for them.
Smiling, Sarah's eyes fell on Beth, seated with an older gentleman she had brought with her, and had introduced him as Captain Brady, her fiancé. Apparently Beth still preferred older men. Still, as flamboyant as ever in her brightly colorful attire, Beth was now known as the widow of a fictitious Captain Diamond. It seems she had found herself a real ship's captain in Captain Brady, who had recently retired from the East India Company and had taken up residence as Beth's neighbor in the seaside village. Judging from the size of the ruby and diamond engagement ring gracing Beth's finger, Captain Brady retired a wealthy man. She watched at Beth became engrossed in a conversation with Spencer's wife.
Sarah was surprised to learn that Spencer had married the daughter of the doctor who had aided them at the time of the carriage accident. It seems he had settled down to a sedate country life.
Turning at the sudden burst of laughter, she looked at her good friend Roger with his wife Anne. Sarah thought how fortunate it was that Roger had been there when she had first started working and introduced her to Adam. Smiling, she looked at her husband and the sparkle of humor in his eyes as he carried on a conversation with Roger and George. George appeared contented as he held Sally's hand under the table. Sally didn't seem to mind that she was only his mistress, even though they have a two-year-old daughter, but Sarah hoped their relationship would develop into something more permanent, since George's wife had passed away last year after the birth of his son.
Adam had told her that George felt guilty over his wife's death. It seemed that Melinda could not stand the idea of the marriage bed and refused to do her duty as a wife, thereby preventing George from obtaining a legitimate heir. After being continuously hounded by his mother and father, George convinced Melinda to make an effort. It proved successful, and she delivered the baby, but then ended in tragedy with Melinda dying from hemorrhaging.
The meal ended and Sarah strolled along with Lilly when everyone withdrew to the parlor for after dinner drinks.
"The opening has been quite a success, don't you agree?" Lilly said.
"Oh yes! I am so happy for them. They have accomplished so much, and the inn should be extremely prosperous," Sarah answered.
"And you, my dear, have also been a success! I do not know how to thank you for the gift of one of your prize horses. That was a wonderful surprise," Lilly said gratefully.
"That is nothing compared to all you have done for me, Lilly. Without your giving me that opportunity to work for you, I do not know what would have happened to me," Sarah answered, thinking of how hard she had looked for employment.
"No, dear girl, you gave yourself that chance with your little deception. You will never know the shock I had when I saw an innocent young lady standing in my office instead of a studious looking male named Jordan," Lilly laughed.
"Ah yes, but it was you who finally accepted me," Sarah insisted.
"Now ladies, if you are through thanking each other so profusely, I would like to borrow my dear wife a moment," Adam said coming up behind them, and slipping an arm around Sarah's waist. "It seems our son, needs his mummy to kiss goodnight."
"Oh dear, I almost forgot!" Sarah exclaimed, excusing herself, thankful for the chance to get her husband alone to tell him of her condition.
Now that they have arrived safely, he would not be angry that she did not tell him sooner.
After tucking her son in, Sarah took Adam's hand and led him back to the privacy of their adjoining room.
"I told Roger this evening, how much I appreciated his requesting I look after you so very long ago," Adam whispered taking her in his arms.
"And a fine job you have done, my lord," Sarah said putting her arms around his neck.
"I agree, madam. Just look at the perfect son we produced!" he said nibbling her ear.
"A perfect son who will soon have a perfect sister or brother," Sarah said turning her head so that his lips would meet hers.
"I agree again, my darling. Shall we start on that plan soon . . . like now?" Adam answered against her lips, before deepening the kiss.
He finally ended the kiss to lift her in his arms.
"Adam, we have already started . . . as of two months ago."
"What did you say, my love?" Adam murmured, as he lightly kissed her temple, distracted by the feel of her in his arms, as he carried her to the bed.
"I said, Jordan will have a brother or sister soon . . . in seven months," Sarah grinned mischievously.
Adam stopped in his tracks and stared at her as her words took meaning. Finally, comprehension was quickly followed by anger as he set her down on her feet and glared.
"Damnation, Sarah! Why did you not tell me before we made this trip?"
"For the simple reason, dearest, you would not have made the trip. Now you will have to admit, that we have arrived safely, and you surely agree that you have had a wonderful reunion with your two best friends. I certainly have enjoyed seeing everyone again after all these years."
Adam fumed watching his independent wife state the obvious. Never in his life did he imagine that the woman he chose as his wife, would be one who would turn out to be a successful business manager, and he had to admit, she still found time to be a perfect mother for his son . . . and now another child was on the way. He could never stay angry when she looked at him with those emerald eyes.
"I can see you've won again, my darling, but promise me you will take it easy? When I think of you helping with the loading of the horse to bring to Lilly, and making that long, bumpy trip here, I just want to shake some sense into you!" he said pulling her back into his arms, hugging her tightly.
"Well, I do not think I would like the shaking, but how about some other alternative," Sarah said, as her hands began to undo his cravat.
"We do have a little time before our absence will be noticed from the party downstairs," she purred.
"Bloody hell . . . I think you do a better job at managing me, than you do at managing our finances," Adam grumbled as he lowered her to the bed.
"A job that I find most rewarding, my lord. Most rewarding," she whispered.
Sarah slid her hands slowly up her husband's chest then linked them
behind his neck, pulling him closer until their lips met. All thoughts
of returning to the party quickly vanished.
*** THE END ***