I am truly the luckiest woman, Ellen thought again as John gave her a hug.
“Mama, I would like a brother.” She smiled, holding him tight. He now reached above her shoulder and was less like a boy every day and more like a young man.
“I do not think I can control it, John, but we shall see.” She kissed his forehead and let him go. He moved to speak to Edward…
“He does not want to go to Eton still and we cannot persuade him. We have hired a tutor to prepare him, but he prefers to spend his time riding out with Edward and learning about the estate. I despair of John sometimes. Perhaps if Richard talked of his school days too John may yet be convinced.”
“I will ask Richard to try.” Penny smiled. “But do not be too hard on John. He has been through so much. He’s been overwhelmed simply getting to know his uncles on his father’s side, especially the Earl of Craster. Perhaps it is just too much too soon.”
“Perhaps,” Ellen acknowledged. They’d known it was important for John to meet his father’s family but he was finding it difficult to adjust to his new less restricted life. The only thing he seemed to want was to remain with her.
“Give him more time. He will come about I’m sure.”
Ellen nodded, and then kissed Penny’s cheek before she turned to Edward.
It had been difficult introducing John into his father’s family, but it was right. He’d visited them thrice, staying with the Earl’s family for a night or two. It had done John good to know people who spoke of his father. But John had been angry because he could not understand why he’d not been allowed to meet them before.
Ellen looked at her son. He’d taken Mary Rose from Robert and was standing by the hearth talking to him. Ellen’s heart filled with pride. One day he would be a Duke…
John in The Passionate Love of a Rake
…“It does not surprise me,” Edward said, obviously seeking to ease her discomfort. Then, ending that conversation, he smiled. “And I am being extremely rude, I have not yet introduced my son and daughter.”
“John, this is the Dowager Duchess of Sutton. Jane, Lord John Harding, the Marquess of Sayle. He is the heir to Ellen’s father, the Duke of Pembroke.”
Jane remembered Robert mentioning John was to be a Duke. She’d not really registered it then.
“Your Grace,” the boy acknowledged, bowing with perfect manners.
“And this is Lady Rimes, Jane’s friend.” Edward said, glowing with pride. He obviously loved his step-son.
“My Lord,” she and Violet acknowledged.
Jane smiled. This family bore no comparison to the Sutton’s. John seemed charming.
“And this,” Edward stated, his hand running over the little girl’s ebony curls, as she was balanced on his arm, “is my imp of a daughter, Mary-Rose.”…
…“I want my ice, Papa,” the child said, looking only at her father.
“You are rude, mite,” John said, holding his hands out to his sister. Again the girl changed her host, now clinging to her brother’s neck. “You have not even said hello to Papa’s friends, and you are asking us to leave them. Are you going to be polite and say hello to these ladies? You must call this lady, Your Grace, and her friend, Lady Rimes.”
The girl made a frustrated face, but then wriggled to be let down before slipping from her brother’s grip and performing a perfect curtsy. “Your Grace, Lady Rimes, good day. My name is Mary-Rose.” Instantly it was done, and her bright smile turned back to her papa. “Now may I have an ice?”…
…“She is a poppet,” Violet said, her eyes sparkling.
“She is a monster,” Edward answered in an overzealous voice that had the little girl laughing.
“A monster who devours ices,” John enthused, bending to form an impression of a monster, which made the little girl squeal with delight.
They all began walking, and after a few paces, as Violet moved to speak to Ellen and pet the little girl, Edward caught hold of Jane’s elbow gently and held her back.
…Summer sounds echoed about the grounds, too, a wood pigeon cooing, a little flock of sparrows chasing and calling through the box hedge, the water fountain running in the distance, and laughter. A child’s laughter, and the cracked laughter of a youth not quite a boy, but not yet a man. “John and Mary-Rose?” Jane said as she started to cross the terrace to Robert.
He turned, and in that first instant, there was a depth to the dark brown of his eyes that was almost sad. But then he smiled, the rakehell’s smile, meant to charm.
She was charmed, utterly. Something clenched low in her stomach, a tight, sudden spasm which disappeared just as fast as it came.
“Do you wish to see them? They’ve decamped to the shade of a plane tree on the other side of the haw-haw. Mrs. Barclay has indeed risen to the occasion and prepared lemonade. It will be served there or here, wherever you wish.” …
…“Your Grace! Uncle Robert!” It was John who saw them first. The boy looked pleased to see her, or perhaps he was just pleased to see his uncle.
She wondered then if they had been deliberately dismissed to a place beyond the formal garden so the house would be quiet on her arrival. She’d seen no one but Robert before this.
The boy ran toward them, stripped to his shirt, too, his sleeves rolled up and a ball gripped in his hand.
“Papa and I are playing piggy-in-the-middle with Mary. Will you play, Uncle?”
She sensed Robert smile without even needing to look. “Poor little minnow, how does she stand a chance?”
“The whole game is thrown. You know it is. She always wins. Will you play?”
“Not at the minute, John. Give Jane a chance to get settled. And where are your manners? You have not even said a proper welcome.”
Instantly, the poor boy looked mortified, as if hurt by Robert’s chastisement. Blushing and holding the ball to his chest, John bent into a deep bow. “Your Grace, my apologies. Of course, we are glad of your company.”
He spoke with the perfect pitch of a future duke. She smiled and waved his words away. “Just Jane, please. Both your father and uncle think of me as a sister.”
“Aunt Jane then,” John replied, rising up, his voice slipping easily back to that of a rambunctious boy.
“John,” Robert challenged as if to deter.
But Jane gripped Robert’s arm. “Aunt Jane is perfect. I’m happy with it. There is no need for formality, is there?” Robert’s eyes met hers, and they were warm with affection and rimmed by dark lashes. It was a look he’d have given her when he was only a little older than John.
She smiled at John. “Come on then, John, lead me to the lemonade.” With that, she let down her parasol then clutched at her skirt, lifting her hem a little so she could keep up with John as they progressed through the uneven grass…
…Jane knelt on the edge of the rug, greeting Ellen, and bent to little Robbie while Ellen introduced her youngest child and John poured Jane’s lemonade.
The baby was lying on his back, watching the leaves rustling on the warm breeze above him, his legs and arms in constant movement as he squealed with ridiculous pleasure at the sight. Jane touched the child’s bare toes, and her expression slipped to melting appreciation.
“He is beautiful,” she said in a whisper.
“Isn’t he?” Edward shouted from a distance away. Robert looked to see Edward walking towards her. He was in his shirtsleeves, too, tossing the ball John had thrown him from one hand to the other. He was bragging indecently, but it amused Robert to see his brother’s pride. Edward’s smile admitted how atrocious his vanity sounded anyway.
“Edward is biased, ignore him,” Ellen interjected.
“Edward is a proud father,” Jane answered…
…The evening meal always included John, and Jane understood this was when Edward and Ellen gave their eldest son their full attention. John was at the gateway to adulthood. At times, he reverted back to childish ways, while at others, he thought Mary’s antics beneath him. But he was good-hearted and Jane enjoyed conversing with him…