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Dreaming of You: Epilogue


The insistent cry of a hungry baby rang through the mansion, while the nursery maid held the child and tried to soothe her wailing. Aware of the rising clamor, Derek bounded up several flights of stairs to the nursery. The nursery maid started at his sudden appearance, perhaps fearing he would blame her for the baby’s fretfulness. His dark face was unreadable. “It’s all right,” he assured her, reaching for his daughter.

Cautiously the servant retreated to the side of the room, busying herself with a small pile of unfolded baby clothes. “Lydia is hungry, sir. Mrs. Craven must be late from her lecture.”

Derek cuddled his daughter against his shoulder and spoke in a mixture of baby words and cockney, a language only she seemed to understand. Gradually the infant quieted, attentive to her father’s low voice. A tiny, dimpled hand reached up to Derek’s jaw, exploring the scratchy surface. He kissed the miniature fingers and smiled into Lydia’s solemn eyes. “What a noisy little girl you are,” he murmured.

The nursery maid watched him with awe and curiosity. It was unheard of for a father of means to set foot in the nursery, much less to occupy himself with crying children. “She doesn’t do that for anyone else,” she remarked. “You do have a way with her, Mr. Craven.”

Suddenly Sara’s laughing voice came from the door. “He has a way with all women.” She entered the room and raised her face for Derek’s kiss before taking Lydia from him. Dismissing the nursery maid, she settled into a comfortable chair and unbuttoned the bodice of her gown. Her long hair partially shielded the baby at her breast. Derek lounged nearby, watching them closely.

Motherhood had brought a new radiance to Sara’s features, while her achievements in her work had given her maturity and confidence. In the past year she had finished another novel, The Scoundrel, which was promised to attain the success of Mathilda. The story, about an ambitious young man who wished to prosper through honest means but was forced by a callous society to resort to crime, had struck a nerve in the public sensibility. Frequently Sara was invited to speak at salon meetings concerning political reform and social issues. She felt that she wasn’t learned or charismatic enough to lecture to such groups of intellectuals, but they virtually insisted on her presence at their gatherings.

“How was your speech?” Derek asked, drawing a gentle finger over the dark fuzz on his daughter’s head.

“I just made a few commonsense remarks. I said that instead of hoping the poor will merely ‘accept their station’ in life, we should give them a chance to make something of themselves…or they’ll turn to dishonest means, and we’ll have more crime.”

“Did they agree?”

Sara smiled and shrugged. “They think I’m a radical.”

Derek laughed. “Politics,” he said, in a tone that conveyed whimsy and scorn at once. His gaze swept over the sight of the nursing baby and lingered on the exposed curve of Sara’s breast.

“What of the hospital?” Sara asked. “Has the construction finally begun?”

He tried to look matter-of-fact, but she could see that he was pleased. “The ground’s been broken.”

Sara’s face lit with a smile of delight.

In the last few months the remains of the club had been cleared. Derek had made no decision on what to do with the property. There was, of course, a demand for him to rebuild Craven’s, for the place was mourned by such influential figures as the duke of Wellington, Lord Alvanley, and even the king. But Derek resisted the public urgings to reestablish the gambling club and devoted himself to other projects. He was building a large, modern hospital to the north of the city, enlisting voluntary contributions and matching each donation with his own money. He was also developing a plot of land in the West End into a row of elegantly furnished town houses, to be leased to foreign travelers, unmarried men, and families who moved to London for the Season.

Sara had teased him lovingly as they looked over the architect’s drawings for the hospital building, a plain but handsome quadrangle. For years Derek had been known as the greatest scoundrel in England, and now he was universally praised for his “reformation.” “You’re becoming known as a public benefactor,” she told him in satisfaction, “whether you like it or not.”

“I don’t like it,” he replied darkly. “I’m only doing this because I’d be bored otherwise.”

Sara had laughed and kissed him, knowing he would forever deny having any altruistic feelings.

When Lydia was finished at Sara’s breast, the nursery maid returned to take her. Sara used a soft cloth to blot her front. She fastened her dress and blushed slightly at Derek’s close regard. His green eyes met hers. “She’s lovely,” he said. “She looks more like you every day.”

Of all the surprises about Derek—and it seemed there was an endless supply—the greatest was his absorption with his daughter. Sara had expected that he would be a kind but uninvolved father. He had never known the relationship between parent and child before. She had thought he might preserve a careful distance between himself and the baby. Instead he loved his daughter with open adoration. Often he would tuck her in the crook of his arm and parade her before guests as if a baby were a lovely miracle none of them had ever seen before. He thought her prodigiously clever for holding his finger, for kicking her legs, for making adorable sounds, for doing all the things that babies usually did…except that in his opinion his daughter did them far better.

“Have several more children,” Lily had advised Sara dryly, “so that his attention will be divided among them. Otherwise he’ll ruin this one.”

Sara didn’t completely understand the reason for his behavior until a recent afternoon, when she had stood with him over the cradle to watch their sleeping daughter. Derek had taken Sara’s hand in his and brought it to his lips. “You’re my heart,” he had murmured. “You’ve given me more happiness than I have a right to. But she…” He glanced down at Lydia wonderingly. “She’s my own flesh and blood.”

Moved by the words, Sara had realized how alone he had always been: no parents, sisters, or brothers, no blood ties of any kind. Her fingers tightened, and she nestled against him. “Now you have a family,” she had said softly.

Bringing her mind back to the present, Sara answered Derek’s earlier comment. “Lydia has black hair, green eyes, and your mouth and chin, and you say she looks like me?”

“She has your nose,” Derek pointed out. “And your temperament.”

Sara laughed, standing up and folding a light blanket into a neat square. “I suppose it’s my temperament when she wakes the household in the middle of the night with her screaming?”

Derek advanced on her unexpectedly and cornered her against the wall. “Well, now,” he murmured, “in the past you’ve been known to raise the roof a time or two, haven’t you?”

Their gazes locked in an electric moment. Thoroughly disconcerted, Sara blushed deeply. She didn’t dare look at the nursery maid in case she had heard. Giving Derek a reproving frown, she ducked beneath his arm and fled, hurrying to the safety of her bedroom. He followed close behind her.

They hadn’t made love since well before the baby’s birth, and to Derek’s credit, he had been patient. Extraordinarily so, considering his strong physical appetites. Although the doctor had indicated that she was fully healed from the birth and ready to resume marital relations, Sara had managed to put Derek off with gentle refusals. Lately, however, she had been the recipient of intense glances that warned she wouldn’t be sleeping alone much longer. She paused at the doorway of her bedroom.

“Derek,” she said with a pleading smile, “perhaps later—”

“When?”

“I’m not certain,” she countered, beginning to close the door against him.

Stubbornly Derek shouldered his way past her and shut the door. He began to reach for her, then hesitated as he saw her stiffen. His face went taut. “What is it?” he asked. “A physical problem? Is it something I’ve done, or—”

“No,” she said swiftly. “None of those things.”

“Then what?”

Fiercely Sara concentrated on the fabric of her sleeve. She could find no way to explain her reluctance to him. She had gone through so many changes…She was a mother now…She wasn’t certain that making love with him would be the same at all, and she didn’t want to find out. She was afraid of disappointing him, and herself, and it was easier to keep putting off the event than to face it. She shrugged lamely. “I’m afraid it won’t be the same as before.”

Derek was very quiet, absorbing the statement. His hand settled on the back of her neck in a gesture that Sara thought was meant to be consoling. Instead he gripped her nape and pulled her against him, his mouth coming down firmly on hers. She wriggled in surprise as he forced her hand down between his thighs. He was as hard as iron, throbbing at her touch.

“There.” He pressed her hand tighter. “Do you feel that? You’re my wife, and it’s been months, and I’m aching for you. I don’t care if it’s not the same as before. If you don’t come to bed with me now, I’m going to burst.”

And that, apparently, was all he intended to say on the matter. He ignored her soft protest and undressed them both. Gathering her small body against his, he groaned in love and pleasure and impatience. “Sara, I’ve missed you…holding you like this…” Reverently his hands traced over her, sensitive to the new roundness of her breasts, the fuller curve of her hips.

Hesitant at first, Sara lay still beneath him, her hands resting on his flexing back. He kissed her with gentle greed, savoring her mouth with long, deep forays of his tongue. She stirred in awakening desire, clasping him closer. To her sudden mortification, a few milky droplets seeped from her breasts. Pulling away with an apologetic gasp, she tried to turn from him. Derek pushed her shoulders down and bent over her breasts. His breath flowed in deep gusts as he stared at her. The moist nipples were a darker pink than before, surrounded by a delicate tracing of veins. The lustily maternal sight sent a wave of aching excitement through him. He touched the tip of her breast with his tongue, teasing and circling, then fastening his lips over the tautness. Gently he pulled with his mouth.

“Oh, you mustn’t,” Sara gasped as she felt a tingling ache in her breast. “It’s not decent…”

“I never said I was decent.”

She gave a breathless moan, caught beneath him as he drew a surge of milk from her body. A demanding pulse began low inside her. He stayed at her breast, his hand cupping underneath the plump roundness, and then he moved to the other. Finally she tangled her fingers in his dark hair and pulled him up, her mouth seeking his. They tangled together, rolling once, twice, across the bed, hands searching with increasing urgency, legs wrapping and twining around each other.

At last, when he slid deep inside her, they both gasped and went still, trying to preserve the moment of oneness. Sara drew her palms slowly from his shoulders down to the tops of his thighs, relishing the powerful length of his body. Derek shivered in bliss and moved against her. She arched languidly, and they began a slow rhythm, drifting in a current of warmth.

“You were right,” Derek whispered, shaping his hands over her body, imprinting sweet, hot kisses against her skin. “It’s not the same as before…It’s even better. God, if only…I could make it last forever.” He thrust more strongly, unable to restrain his movements. Sara clenched her hands and pressed her fists against his back, her body tightening exquisitely. He stared into her eyes, gritting his teeth in the effort to contain his pleasure. She wrapped her legs around his hips and urged him to thrust even harder. Afraid of hurting her, he tried to hold back, but she drove him with her own demanding passion, until he let the tumultuous storm overtake him. His smothered cry followed hers, and together they flowed into the swirling tide of fulfillment, bound together by flesh and spirit, in perfect accord.

Afterward they lay together dreamily, letting hours drift by and pretending time had stopped. Sara draped herself over his chest, tracing his features with her fingertip. A thought occurred to her, and she lifted her head to stare at him expectantly.

Derek returned her gaze, idly stroking her hair and back. “What is it, angel?”

“You told me once you didn’t know how ‘happy’ feels.”

“I remember.”

“And now?”

Derek regarded her for a long moment, then pulled her flat against him, locking her in his arms. “It’s this,” he said, his voice slightly hoarse. “Right here and now.”

And she rested against his heart, content.


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