This epilogue was originally written for the end of THE LADY HELLION, but we decided to cut it. I always love a peek at the lives of the characters several years down the road, so I wanted to share this with you. This scene takes place twelve years after the start of THE COURTESAN DUCHESS.
The scene is unedited and in its raw form. All the errors are mine.
Seaton Hall, Norfolk
The county seat of the Duke and Duchess of Colton
Sophie put a hand on her husband’s shoulder and placed her lips near his ear. “Do not fall asleep tonight. I plan to give you an early present.”
She felt a jolt run through Quint’s body. His eyes burned with a fierce intensity, the kind that held promise. “Then I shall most definitely wait up.”
She kissed his cheek and followed the other ladies out of the dining room. Each year, after Christmas Eve dinner, Sophie, Maggie, Julia, and Julia’s Aunt Theo left the men to their port and cigars while they adjourned to the drawing-room. The men were under strict orders not to join the women until they were summoned—which typically wasn’t until the wee hours of the morning.
Sophie settled into a plush armchair while Julia locked the door and went to a large vase in the corner of the room. From inside, she withdrew a bottle of her husband’s finest Scotch whisky. “Here we are, ladies,” she said. “Colton nearly caught me hiding this earlier, almost scared me out of my drawers.”
“As if he’d need to expend any effort to get you out of your drawers,” Sophie drawled.
Maggie and Theo laughed, while Julia began pouring a small amount of whisky into the teacups on the table, skipping Theo as the older woman had given up spirits years ago. “True. The man looks at me and I melt, even after all this time.”
“Evidenced by your five small children,” Maggie put in. “Do you plan to have any more, Julia? Nash has just turned one.”
“Are we starting the game, then?” Theo asked, adding tea to her cup.
The game was their own version of Questions and Commands, a popular parlor game. The friends asked each other embarrassing questions and anyone who did not answer honestly was required a forfeit—in this case, a small amount of spirits. The questions grew naughtier as the night progressed, and by the time the husbands arrived the ladies were usually soused. Sophie couldn’t allow herself to become too intoxicated, however, as she had plans for tonight.
Julia clapped her hands excitedly. “Yes, let’s start. I’ve missed you both terribly,” she said to Maggie and Sophie. “Poor Theo has to put up with me every day, but it seems forever since we visited this summer.”
“I agree. It has been too long. To us!” Sophie said, lifting her cup in a toast.
The women all raised their cups and tossed back the first drink. The smooth, woodsy flavor burned Sophie’s throat pleasantly, sliding all the way down to warm her stomach. She licked her lips.
“Do not try and get out of answering the question, Jules,” Maggie said, wagging her finger as the duchess refilled cups all around.
“Fine. No more babies. I threatened Colton with bodily harm if he gets me with child again. Sophie, your turn.”
“So does this mean you and Colton are now using sheaths?” Sophie asked innocently.
All the women burst into laughter and Julia blushed. Instead of answering, the duchess reached for her teacup and swallowed the contents in one gulp. This made everyone laugh harder.
“My turn,” Julia said, giving Sophie a look that promised retribution. Surprisingly, she turned to Maggie instead. “Did you really have a nude portrait of yourself painted for Simon?”
Maggie’s lips twisted into a sly smile. “I did. Lucien painted it for me—though in all fairness I’m not entirely naked in it.”
“Where is Winchester going to put it?” Theo asked. “It’s not as if he can hang your bare bubbies out in the dining room for all and sundry to see. And that is a question for the game.”
With a dramatic flair, Maggie lifted her cup and drained it. Everyone chuckled, and she said, “As if I would tell. I don’t want any of you to see it. Heaven knows Sophie could pick the lock and sneak you in to find it.”
“I wager you’re stunning in it,” Sophie said, reaching out to pat Maggie’s arm. The raven-haired countess was remarkably beautiful, even after three children.
“Thank you. Lucien is very talented. And it’s my turn once more.” She tapped her chin, surveying each woman and finally landing on Sophie. “Lady Quint, to where did you and your husband sneak off during my last party? You were gone for quite a long time.”
With a secret smile over the memory, Sophie shrugged and downed her whisky. The other ladies guffawed. In October, Maggie had held a Grecian costume party. Quint wearing a toga and quoting Latin at every turn had proven too much for Sophie. The maid’s closet had been small yet private.
Round and round the questions went until the hour grew late. Theo had gone to bed when Julia finally returned to Sophie’s earlier topic of conversation. “So do you and Quint use sheaths?”
Sophie nodded. “Yes, he insists. After what happened with Newton, he will not risk any more children.” Four years ago, during the birth of their second child, Sophie had experienced complications. She’d pulled through but it hadn’t been easy. “But I plan on working on child number three tonight.”
A loud thump sounded from next door. All three women glanced at the wall shared by both rooms.
The silence stretched and Julia waved her hand. “The men must be in the billiard room with their port and cigars. Ignore them. Are you sure, Soph?”
“Yes. I want to try.” She could not explain, but she wanted one more baby. Newton and Emily, their six-year-old daughter, were older now and Quint’s illness was no longer an issue. He hadn’t suffered a fit of anxiety in years, mostly through the help of his meditation and exercise program. Though he still preferred smaller groups and staying inside their townhouse, he was much improved. “I will need to convince Quint, however.”
“With good reason,” Maggie said, green eyes full of concern. “You nearly died. He was frantic that night.”
Sophie could well remember. When the complications had started, he insisted on being present, much to the midwife’s consternation, since he’d memorized everything ever written about delivering babies. And thank goodness, because Sophie had needed his strength and calm to get her through the ordeal.
“What has the midwife said?” Julia asked. “I’m assuming you’ve spoken with her about this. Did she say it would be safe to deliver another baby?”
“Yes. She said Newton’s delivery was a unique circumstance.” Newton had been in the breech position and, before he could be delivered, the midwife had had to turn him inside Sophie’s abdomen. “There’s no evidence to believe it will happen again.”
“Well, now you’re speaking Quint’s language,” Maggie said. “Present him with the facts, Soph.”
“While you’re naked,” Julia offered with a wink.
Sophie giggled, a sign she was truly good and inebriated. “Exactly what I have planned. There’s a reason many of our children have been born in September, ladies.”
“So true!” Julia squeaked as Maggie snorted with laughter.
In the billiard room directly next door, the Earl of Winchester leaned back in a chair and exhaled a long stream of cigar smoke. “They’ve never realized we can hear every word in here, have they?”
The Duke of Colton grinned wide. “Indeed, they have not. And I don’t plan on ever telling them.”
Quint listened with half an ear while he scribbled in the small notebook he always carried. There was little he could contribute the conversation, considering. He had an argument to prepare.