At last, the ending is posted. My thanks to everyone who has stayed with this story. My apologies for the many delays in seeing it completed, but I hope you enjoy this finale. There may be some slight changes made when I begin the edit, and if you have any thoughts, feel free to share them. (But please be kind. )
It wasn’t at all difficult to find her wayward husband. Cassia wandered out of the dense woods into the fields, dotted purple everywhere with the springtime blossoms of lavender. Even at a distance she could see him, his frame impressive and strong even when sitting, his sharp profile unmistakable even from far away. When she quietly approached him, he slowly turned to look up at her. His greeting was cool, given with something close to a frown.
“Good afternoon, wife.”
Eyes slightly wide with mock displeasure, she gently reproached him for being so glum.
“What a greeting, husband! Is your mood so sour that you cannot greet me with something more pleasant?”
At last he smiled, reaching out his hand to her. As she placed her palm in his, he pulled her down to sit beside him.
“Forgive an old man and his grumpiness,” he said, pressing a soft kiss to her lips. Sighing, she snuggled into his arms, informing him of their guests’ arrival.
“Owen and Isabella are here. They wish to see you.”
Now it was Guy who let out a sigh. “All in due time, beloved.”
Leaning back in his arms, Cassia looked into his eyes. “Guy, you are the same as ever, with your moodiness and tendency to go into seclusion when you are troubled. Will you never learn that you cannot hide from me?”
“It is not you I hide from,” he replied. “It is the constant reminder of my age that I have no desire to see or hear.”
She leaned her head against his chest. “Do you not think I know your feelings? I share them, more than you may know. Have you not seen the age lines around my mouth?”
His tone became softer, more pleasant. She could tell from the way he spoke that he was smiling. “That is not age, beloved. It is the constancy of your lovely smile.”
“Oh? And what of the crinkles around my eyes?”
“Your eyes match the actions of your lips. Results of a happy disposition that has brought much joy to us all.”
He was determined to argue his points, which was something that had always pleased her. She loved these kinds of playful debates with him, for they often drew him out of his gloomy moods. Her eyes meeting his with a daring look and a little smile, she challenged him.
“What of my knees, then? You have heard the noise they make at times. What explanation do you have for that?”
A light of mischief flashed in his eyes. “That? It is most certainly old age.”
A stunned laugh escaped her, and as he grinned at his own cheekiness, she playfully hit him.
“Fiend!” she scolded him, but he only laughed, and she laughed along with him. Such moments of shared joy had always seen them through difficult times. It would see them through the trials of their autumn years as well.
“Let us go home and see our family. They are waiting for us.”
He grumbled for a moment. But as she rose to her feet beside him, he rose to his as well. Putting her palm in his, she felt a familiar sense of love and comfort at the sensation of their joined hands. Together they walked through the fields of lavender and into the woods, eager to return home to the ones they loved.
A cold winter wind was howling outside the house. But in the bedchamber, all was warm and cozy. Owen sat in a chair beside the bed, where his wife was sleeping peacefully. In a cradle nearby, their newborn son was sleeping as well. After the chaos that had gone on to bring the boy into the world, it was wonderful to know that all was peaceful at last.
John Edward Gisborne had been born after a long and difficult labor that had utterly exhausted his mother and made his father crazed with anxiety and concern. But in the end, all had been well. Rising from his chair now, Owen crept over to the cradle to look down at the baby. Like all of the Gisborne babies, he was a handsome child and a healthy one. That was partly an inherited trait. But one could not forget that a strong and beautiful woman had so much more to do with it.
Moving from the cradle back to the bedside, Owen resumed his place beside Isabella. She was so beautiful, even in sleep. And he loved her so, more than he had ever loved anyone in his life. He wanted her to always be happy, and he would do whatever it took, even it meant he would defy customs that other followed religiously. He thought of the days before their son was born, when she had revealed her fears, and of course, her memories.
Sebastian was torn from my arms instantly, she had said, her eyes filled with tears. She had clung to him tightly. Promise me you will not let that happen.
He had not let it happen. Indeed, he had insisted that the baby be returned to her arms the moment he was clean and swaddled. He would not do as Gilbert had done – snatching the child away and immediately handing him over to the care of a nurse, instead of allowing mother and child to bond. Isabella had held young John close for hours, just admiring him, until weariness had finally overtaken her. Mother and son had fallen asleep together, and Owen had felt his own exhaustion coming over him. But he fought against sleep. He had been with them through the long and difficult day. And he would be there to greet them both when they woke up in the morning.