An Arranged BetrothalWith aContrite Duke
The sun shone brightly, casting a golden hue over the lush gardens of Tockenham Castle. It was a joyous day, as friends and family gathered to celebrate the wedding anniversary of Lydia’s younger sister, Deborah, and her husband, the Earl of Dorchester. The couple had been blessed with three children, and another was on the way. The air was filled with laughter and the sweet scent of blooming flowers, as loved ones reunited and reminisced about the past.
Lydia was beside herself as she and Michael and their three children made their way to her old family home. She tried to keep her ladylike wits about her. But it was difficult as it had been over a year since she had seen her sister. They had both been busy with their noble duties and with raising their young children. But now that she was so close to reuniting with her sister, she felt as though she was a child herself again.
Michael seemed to pick up on her childlike excitement as their family traveled the road between Strawbridge Manor and Tockenham Castle. He looked at her as she was bouncing in her seat, smiling broadly at her.
“One would think you were excited about something,” he teased as the carriage rolled along and their youngest son, four-year-old Nicholas, jostled in his lap.
Lydia giggled, holding their middle daughter, eight-year-old Lisa at her side with her arm wrapped around her.
“Whatever gave you that idea?” she quipped back, batting innocent eyes at him.
Michael chuckled, looking at his wife and daughter with doting eyes.
“Perhaps, it is the fact that it is your energy that seems to be propelling the carriage forward,” he said, glancing out the window.
From beside Michael, Finton looked out the windows, his ten-year-old brows furrowing.
“We aren’t going any faster than usual, Father,” he said.
Lydia and Michael exchanged amused glances. It took Finton a moment before he realized that he had fallen victim to a joke. He rolled his eyes, sighing heavily before settling back into his seat beside his father.
Lydia grinned, playing along with their first-born son.
“He’s right, you know,” she said with a wink. “The carriage isn’t moving any faster than normal.”
“Perhaps, it isn’t,” he said. “But maybe it should be.”
Lydia giggled again.
“I just cannot wait to see my family again,” she said. “It has been ages since I saw Deborah.”
Michael took her hand and kissed it gently.
“I know that she will be delighted to see you, too, my darling,” he said.
Finton smiled, having recovered from the joke incident earlier.
“I can’t wait to see Aunt Deborah, either,” he said.
Michael reached over and tussled his hair.
“Are you sure you aren’t just excited to play with Daniel?” he asked.
Finton scrunched up his face, but the smile he was fighting told Lydia that his father was correct. Daniel was Deborah’s oldest son, and at nine years old, he was the closest to Finton’s age. The two boys got on like brothers, and Lydia knew they would be close for the rest of their days.
As they reached Tockenham Castle, Coulton greeted them warmly.
“Everyone is on the terrace, awaiting your arrival,” he said. “I’ll lead you to them.”
Lydia and her family followed the butler, waves of nostalgia washing over her. She was thrilled with her life and her family, but it felt good to be home, as well. And she knew that her husband and children loved interacting with her parents, her sister, and their new extended family. Reunions were the happiest days of Lydia’s life, and she loved sharing them with everyone she cared about.
By the time they reached the terrace, the children could hardly contain themselves any longer. They broke away from their parents, including little Nicholas, and went to join the other children, who were playing at the edge of the gardens just behind the terrace. Lydia and Michael joined the adults at the table, and they were met with the warm embrace of Mary and her brother James, Lydia’s old crush. He was now happily married to a lovely young woman named Tilly.
“Lydia, my dear,” Mary said, hugging her tightly. “It has been far too long since we last saw each other.”
“Indeed, it has,” Lydia agreed, her eyes twinkling with happiness. “But today is a day for celebration, and it warms my heart to see everyone gathered here.”
Deborah greeted her next, maneuvering her swollen belly around the other guests to reach her sister.
“I have missed you so, Sister,” she said, hugging Lydia tightly.
Lydia patted her gently, pulling back to place a gentle hand on her sister’s stomach.
“You are my baby sister,” she said, glancing over where the children were playing. “And now, you will soon have four children. I can hardly believe how time flies.”
Deborah laughed, placing her hand over her sister’s on her belly.
“I know, isn’t it wonderful?” she asked. “We are hoping for a girl. Right now, poor Genia is terribly outnumbered.”
Lydia giggled, looking over at where five-year-old Genia was digging in the dirt with Nicholas.
“She doesn’t look too distraught to me,” she said.
The children, delighted by the sunshine and the company of their cousins, ran off to play, leaving the adults to converse. Just then, the earl and countess joined their guests, and Lydia rose once more.
“Mother,” she said, embracing her parents. “Father. I have missed you dearly.”
The couple returned their eldest daughter’s embrace, smiling at her fondly.
“And we have missed you, my darling,” the countess said.
As the couple finished greeting the rest of their family, Lydia and Michael settled into their seats. It was a large gathering, to be sure, but it was the happiest as Lydia had not seen everyone present in ages. Michael took her hand, and she leaned in for a sweet kiss from her husband.
“I love you,” he whispered, nuzzling her head with his nose.
“And I love you, darling,” she said.
As everyone talked and laughed and shared various stories of parenthood, Mary glanced at Tilly inquisitively. The brown-haired young woman nodded, a flush coming to her cheeks. Mary turned to Lydia with a bright smile.
“We were waiting for just the right time to tell you this,” she said. “But Tilly has agreed to take over the administration of our last school, so that I can help you with the plans for the upcoming school on your family’s estate.”
Lydia grinned at Tilly. They had done a great deal of work with the schools, having opened up four in the past ten years. Lydia and Mary had been discussing administration prospects, as the newest school would be the fifth, and the biggest yet. Her father had graciously begun construction on that school shortly after their second school opened on Mary’s estate. It was nearing completion, and Lydia had been concerned with who would run the school while she and Mary and Bryony prepared the new school.
“That is so gracious of you, Tilly,” she said. “Truthfully, that has been worrying me for some time. I wasn’t sure how we would ever keep that one running. Bryony runs our first school, and her friends Beth and Anne run the second and third schools. With Mary running the fourth one, and me overseeing them all, I wasn’t sure what we would do. Thank you so much, Tilly.”
Tilly giggled, her blush deepened.
“It is an honour,” she said. “When Mary told me about these schools, I was hoping I could do something to help. I have even been taking lessons on such administration from one of the other teachers’ mentors. I am thrilled for this opportunity.”
Deborah grinned, nudging her husband gently and winking.
“And I am pleased to say that the endeavours have not gone unnoticed,” she said, her eyes bright with pride. “Several members of the ton have expressed interest in supporting our cause and helping us to continue expanding access to education.”
Lydia clapped her hands with delight.
“How wonderful,” she said, her heart swelling with pride. “I always knew that our efforts would make a difference, but it is gratifying to see such tangible results.”
As the conversation continued, Lydia stole a glance at her husband, Michael, who was engaged in lively conversation with James. She couldn’t help but feel a surge of gratitude for the life they had built together. It was hard to believe that their marriage had begun so unexpectedly, with a little pottery vase that had brought them together.
“Lydia, you seem lost in thought,” Mary said, her voice gentle. “Is everything well?”
Lydia sighed happily and smiled.
“More than well,” Lydia replied, a warm smile spreading across her face. “I was just thinking how fortunate we all are. All of us here have accomplished so much together, and I couldn’t have asked for a better partner in life.”
Mary smiled knowingly, placing a comforting hand on Lydia’s arm.
“I can agree with you, and I am happy as well,” she said. “It is a rare and precious thing to find such happiness and contentment. To think we have all found it is nothing short of miraculous.”
Lydia nodded firmly in agreement.
“It certainly is,” she said.
As the afternoon sun cast long shadows across the garden, the group continued to celebrate and enjoy each other’s company. The air was filled with laughter, happiness, and the promise of a bright future. In the midst of it all, Lydia couldn’t help but think that perhaps, just perhaps, fate had played a hand in weaving together the threads of their lives, creating a tapestry more beautiful than any of them could have ever imagined. And for that, she would be forever grateful to that little pottery vase.
This is the end of my novel “An Arranged Betrothal with a Contrite Duke”. 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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