The Black Sheepof the Season
Three Years Later
Lucas stared lovingly at his wife and two-year-old daughter as Courtney bounced her gently on her hip. The child had woken up inconsolable, so Courtney had taken over for the nursemaid to try to soothe the girl. Lucas had tiptoed down the hallway, having heard the fussy toddler. Now, he stood in the doorway of his daughter’s room, watching how masterfully his wife appeased the child.
“Sweet darling, don’t cry,” Courtney murmured into the baby’s ear. “Mama loves you with every bit of her soul.”
Overwhelmed with love, Lucas stepped into the room.
“And so does Papa,” he said softly.
Courtney turned toward him, smiling dotingly at him.
“I am sorry if we woke you,” she said.
Lucas shook his head, walking over and kissing her softly on her lips.
“I’m not,” he said, gently stroking his daughter’s dark brown curls. “Hello, Rose, darling. We’ve got you, sweetheart. Let Papa dry your tears.”
Courtney held the toddler so that Lucas could use his handkerchief to wipe her streaked cheeks. The girl immediately gripped onto the cloth, her tears reduced to mild sniffles. She put it to her face and rubbed, which made both Lucas and Courtney laugh.
“You are the best father in the world, darling,” Courtney said, gazing up at Lucas with adoration in her eyes.
“And you are the best mother,” he said, softly kissing her forehead.
A song and a story later, little Rose was fast asleep once more. Lucas summoned the nursemaid, whom Courtney had granted a break to soothe her nerves while she tended to their daughter. The woman returned with a cup of tea, smiling gratefully at her master and mistress.
“You are too kind,” she whispered, holding up the teacup. “I needed this.”
Courtney gently squeezed the woman’s shoulder and gave her a warm smile.
“Not at all,” she said. “You have been working very hard. I was happy to give you a moment to compose yourself.”
Lucas’s heart swelled with renewed love for his wife. Her compassion and radiating warmth for all people was one reason why he had fallen so hard in love with her. Seeing it in action never ceased to amaze him, or to make him fall in love with her all over again.
“Now,” he said, putting his arm around Courtney’s shoulders. “Let us give you a moment to compose yourself, so that you can get back to sleep.”
Courtney beamed up at him.
“That sounds lovely,” she said.
Lucas led his wife down the stairs to the parlor, where he fetched some champagne and his scotch. He poured them each a drink and then led them to the sofa in front of the fireplace. The couple sat, gazing at each other and softly clinking their glasses together.
“What was that for?” Courtney asked when they had both sipped from their glasses.
“For being the happiest couple in all of London,” he said.
“I can certainly drink to that, darling,” she said.
“Darling?” Lucas asked his wife when she returned from her trip to town. “Have you seen my new brown suit jacket? I have been looking for it for the past week, and that is the suit I wanted to wear today?”
Courtney giggled and held out her hand.
“Come with me, darling,” she said.
She led Lucas to the library, where he had fallen asleep after having drinks with Dylan a week prior at White’s. He frowned as he followed Courtney to the chair beside the one in which he had slept. She reached behind it and pulled out a familiar article of clothing.
“My jacket,” he said, beaming. “How did you know it was in here?”
Courtney handed him the jacket and gently kissed his arm.
“The servants asked me if they should launder and put it away,” she said. “But I told them to leave it in here, lest you drive yourself mad looking for it, or you needed it to remain in here for whatever reason.”
Lucas shrugged on the jacket, having already had his valet help him into the rest of the outfit. Then, he put his hands on his wife’s shoulders and kissed her softly on the forehead.
“What on earth would I ever do without you?” he asked.
Courtney blushed, something which still had not ceased, even though they had been married for three years. She still reacted humbly to his kindness and compliments, and her cheeks never failed to turn pink.
“Let us go finish getting ready,” she said, motioning for Sophia to follow her. “Our families should start arriving within the hour.”
Lucas nodded, kissing her again.
“I am so glad that everyone is coming to the picnic,” he said.
Courtney nodded and smiled impishly.
“As am I,” she said.
Lucas gave her an inquisitive look at her expression. But she just blushed and giggled again, stroking his face before she hurried toward the stairs.
Half an hour later, Lucas met Courtney at the bottom of the staircase. They were just preparing to go to the drawing room to await the arrival of their families when there was a knock at the door. The butler was waiting to greet everyone as they arrived, and he had the door open before they made it down the hallways.
“Courtney, darling,” Jessica gushed before she and Dylan had even made it through the entryway. “Oh, how I have missed you.”
Courtney ran from his side and straight into the arms of her best friend.
“As I have you,” she said, laughing as she squeezed her friend.
As Dylan approached him, he thought he saw Courtney put her lips to Jessica’s ear as though telling her something secret. But when he blinked, Courtney was pulling free from the embrace and taking her friend’s hand.
“Are you already bored?” Dylan asked, holding his arms out for a hug of his own.
Lucas shook his head, embracing his brother.
“It is good to see you, Brother,” he said. “How are you and Jessica doing?”
Just then, a middle-aged woman wearing a nursemaid’s uniform entered, pushing a double stroller into the mansion. Inside were sleeping twin babies who were approaching their first birthday.
“Busy,” Dylan said, gazing fondly at his children.
“I can imagine,” he said.
Dylan looked behind his brother inquisitively.
“Where is my little Rose?” he asked.
Lucas put his arm around his brother as everyone made their way toward the drawing room.
“She will be down soon,” he said. “The nursemaid is getting her dressed now.”
No sooner than he spoke the words than the woman brought the child down the stairs. Jessica and Dylan abandoned Lucas and Courtney to hurry over and gush over the little girl. Lucas and Courtney cooed over the twins, and that was exactly how both their parents found everyone.
“I do not suppose we get such a greeting,” the earl of Greywood bellowed cheerfully from the front door of the mansion.
Courtney ran to her father’s open arms while Lucas went to shake his own father’s hand and embrace his mother.
“We are so glad you all came,” he said, kissing his mother’s cheek and turning to his mother-in-law to do the same.
The duchess and countess both smiled at him before greeting and embracing each other.
“It is wonderful to be here,” his mother said to both him and to her friend.
“I am sorry that I never answered the invitation letter,” came a humble, familiar voice from the doorway. “Is it all right that we just showed up?”
Lucas and Courtney both whirled around to look at the doorway. There stood Olivia, with a gentleman Lucas had never seen at her side, peeking shyly in the doorway. Lucas bowed, giving her a tight smile. But he said nothing until Courtney approached her sister.
He knew that the two had not spoken much since Lucas had chosen Courtney over Olivia. And Courtney didn’t talk much about it, other than to mention writing to her on occasion. He held his breath, watching his wife’s face carefully as everyone else fell silent.
Courtney slowly approached her younger sister, who was looking at her with nervous remorse. Courtney looked at her only briefly before opening her arms to the younger woman.
“Of course, that is all right, Sister,” she said softly. “I am thrilled that you decided to come.”
Olivia sighed and went into her sister’s embrace. Lucas could see that she was crying, and he was touched.
“I hope that you and I can truly begin working on our relationship,” she said. “I do love you, and I was horrid to you. I want us to start spending more time together. If you can accept my formal apology, of course.”
Courtney smiled warmly at her sister. Lucas had no idea what all they had discussed in their letters. But clearly, Courtney was pleased with what her sister was saying, and the relief and delight shone brightly in her features.
“I would love nothing more,” she said.
Olivia smiled. The man with her patted her shoulder, then moved toward Lucas and the families.
“It seems that my wife is preoccupied at the moment,” he said, winking at Lucas before gazing fondly back at Olivia. “My name is Charles Larson, earl of Larington. It is a pleasure to meet you, Lord Lyningdale.”
Lucas bowed and smiled warmly at the earl.
“The pleasure is mine,” he said. “Welcome to our home, Lord Larington. And to the family.”
The earl chuckled.
“Charles, please,” he said, turning to Courtney, who had pulled away from Olivia to greet her new brother-in-law. “And it is delightful to meet you, as well, new sister.”
Courtney giggled, looking at her younger sister with approval.
“He is delightful,” she said.
Olivia gazed up at him lovingly.
“He certainly is,” she said. “I met him during my second season. We only just married several months ago, and we just returned from our wedding trip in time to attend this picnic.”
Courtney hugged her sister again and smiled.
“Congratulations, darling,” she said. “I couldn’t be happier for you.”
Olivia beamed and blushed as her husband put his arm around her. Then, she glanced over her shoulder.
“Oh, and look who came with us,” Olivia said, smiling impishly.
Lucas and Courtney watched as the couple stepped aside. Courtney’s older sister, Viola and her husband entered the door, with their two young children in tow, both of them smiling warmly at Lucas and Courtney.
“Oh, heavens,” Courtney said, embracing both her sisters. “I am so glad you are both here.”
Viola wrapped her arms around her younger sister and smiled.
“It is so wonderful to see you again, Courtney, darling,” she said. “I have missed you both dearly.”
Lucas’s heart warmed immediately to the sisters. He knew that Courtney longed to be close to her sisters. Now, it seemed as though she would get that chance.
“And what about me, my dear?” Lady Worthingdale called, seeming to suddenly materialize.
Courtney laughed, her voice ringing with pure delight. Lucas shivered at the music in the sound.
“Aunt Anne and Uncle George,” she said, throwing herself at Lady Worthingdale and giggling again. Nothing made Lucas happier than to see Courtney happy, and she was radiating joy and bliss in that moment. He had had reservations about the picnic, and about who would and would not come. Now, he was glad they had planned the event, and that they had invited everyone they loved and cared about.
When everyone had had the chance to greet one another, Lucas led them to the back door. When everyone started arriving, Lucas sent the butler to round up footmen to set up the picnic. The large party followed Lucas outside, to the shade of a large tree. Everyone gasped and marveled at the vast spread of refreshments, the men going straight for the wine and the women cooing over the cakes and the lovely teapots the servants had selected for the occasion.
Lucas watched with a warm heart as Courtney talked and laughed with her sisters. Nursemaids tended the children nearby. The oldest, the boys belonging to Viola and Henry, went back and forth between throwing a doll between them and helping the smaller children hold the toys spread out for them. The atmosphere was the most lighthearted and loving that Lucas had ever experienced. Everyone was enjoying themselves, and Lucas was thankful that they had such a large, wonderful family.
Halfway through the picnic, Courtney slid closer to him. He reached to pour her a glass of champagne, but she held up her hand.
“No, thank you, darling,” she said, nuzzling his cheek with her nose before kissing it softly.
Lucas kissed her nose and smiled.
“You do not want to drink today?” he asked.
Courtney shook her head and smiled slyly.
“Not for some time,” she said. “We are expecting our second little one.”
Lucas yanked away from her and grinned.
“We must announce this,” he said.
Courtney giggled and nodded, rising and reaching for his hand.
“I couldn’t agree more, my love,” she said.
This is the end of my novel “The Black Sheep of the Season”. I hope that you enjoy it! Your effort to read it means a lot to me and I have to thank you for your love and support these difficult days!
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