Authors: Catherine Coulter
September 15, 1816
HE SUN WAS
a ball of fire, warming the land as it slowly rose to fill the sky and turn the sea red.
“It is the most beautiful sight in the world,” Mary Rose said as she leaned closer to her husband. She was sitting against him, cradled between his arms and legs, and he tightened his arms around her, pulling his cloak closer around her, just in case, since it was still early morning.
“It is one of them,” he said, and kissed her ear. His fingers splayed over her swollen belly. “Our babe does well this morning? He is not kicking you?”
“He is fine. Mayhap he is resting after performing Leo's acrobatics all night.”
“We must leave next week, love. I don't wish to, but I don't want you too far along in your pregnancy before we go back to Glenclose-on-Rowan. Also, Dr. Clowder
has threatened me to ask that you be there for him to deliver our child.”
“Dr. Clowder told me that since Max and Leo and Meggie are such marvelous children, if we don't want this one, he will be delighted to adopt him or her.”
Tysen laughed, then said more soberly, “Well, the poor man had two sons, both of them rotters. One got sent to Botany Bay for beating two men and stealing their purses; the other was killed in a duel for sleeping with a man's wife.”
“We can give him very liberal visitation rights,” Mary Rose said.
“Did you enjoy your mother's birthday last evening?”
“Oh, yes, everyone was in such high spirits. Isn't it grand, Tysen? She's so very happy with Miles. All those years playing a madwoman, and now all she does is sing and laugh, just like we do.”
Tysen wasn't sure what he felt about Mary Rose's mother. He supposed he wished her well now. He was kissing Mary Rose's ear when she said, “Isn't it odd that Donnatella was married to Erickson for three months and his mother just up and died so suddenly, in her sleep? At least that's what my mother told me.”
Tysen thought of Donnatella. It didn't take long for him to say, “No. I don't find that particularly odd. Donnatella, I think, was born knowing how to land on her feet.”
“You don't really think that sheâ”
“I think it best not to visit that notion. Oh, yes, love, I got a letter from Samuel Pritchert.”
“Oh, my, I don't like the way you said that. All right, Tysen. I'm ready. What did Samuel write to you?”
“Actually, he's pleading with me to come home. He said that Mr. Gaither, as the congregation's representative, came to see him. It seems that everyone is despondent, nearly miserable. We have been gone for three
months, much too long a time, it seems. A great cloud of melancholia has descended over the town, and all because they were so used to leaving the church smiling, perhaps even grinning a bit at something the vicar had said during his sermon, feeling warm that the vicar told them they were worthy of God's love. Yes, they were used to discussing their problems and their neighbors' problems with a vicar who made them see that silver linings abounded, and not just misery and bad feelings. He wrote that they want me back so I may bring optimism into their lives again.”
“Was Samuel truly pathetic?”
“Well, then. Perhaps after we spend some time with Sinjun and Colin at Vere Castle, we can return. At the first frost?”
“Probably before that. I believe that Oliver can't wait to see the back of me. Bless his heart, he finds himself in a bind. He loves the children so much, they follow him everywhere, and yet he much enjoys being the master here. If he could get away with it, he'd have me go back to England and keep the rest of you here.”
She turned a bit in his arms to look up at him. “I'm glad that Douglas and Alex were here so they could see how very well Oliver is doing. I've never seen such a proud man as your brother, striding along beside while Oliver showed him everything.” She snuggled against him, breathing in the scent of him, and then his fingers moved lightly over her belly, and she knew such a burst of love, such overflowing gratitude, that she wanted to shout with it. Instead, she said, “It was just a year ago that I met you. Remember, Tysen? I was stuck in one of those dratted sheep killers and you hauled me out.”
“The luckiest day of my life,” he said.
She was silent a moment, the sun filling the sky now, the warmth on her face. She closed her eyes for a moment, her head on his shoulder, and said against his throat, “And mine as well.”