The Extended Epilogue

Ten Years Later

Earlstrom Manor

Waterborough, England.

“Benjamin! You must stop running so recklessly, you could fall and hurt yourself!” Josephine called from the garden, where she was working with Phillipa.


“No, I won’t!” her five-year-old son called back. “Uncle will catch me!”


Phillipa giggled at that. “You have to admit, he does have a point. You know David wouldn’t let anything happen to the boys. Besides, Warner is keeping a hawk eye on them, despite being busy with the girls.”


Whilst she and Josephine were busy in the garden, the men were in the fields, playing with the children.


In all, there were five of them. Josephine’s boys and daughter, as well as Phillipa’s son and daughter. 


Warner had Alisson, the youngest of them at four, propped on his leg. And by his side, Noelle was chattering on and on about heaven knew what. 


Any other person, and Phillipa would have rushed to rescue them from her talkative daughter, but because she knew Warner didn’t mind at all, she simply smiled at how dutifully he was listening to her, and nodding at every word she said, all whilst ensuring that his daughter never felt neglected.


Then there was her own husband, David. Playing a game of crickets with the boys. From their loud shouts and energetic jumps, Phillipa could tell they were having lots of fun, as they often did whenever both families gathered like this.


Over the years, it had become a family ritual. Every summer, they spent two weeks at each other’s homes, giving the children ample time to get to know one another better, so they could grow up closely. 


“Yes, yes, I know,” Josephine replied as she covered another seedling with enough soil. “It’s just…you know us, mothers. We never stop worrying.”


Phillipa had no arguments. “Entirely true. Good thing we have such wonderful men who do all they can to put our hearts at ease, is it not?”


“Oh, absolutely, Your Grace,” Josephine responded. 


Upon the formal address, Phillipa nudged her cousin’s shoulders. 


“What?” Josephine asked, feigning ignorance. 


And when Phillipa simply threw a bunch of seeds on her face, Josephine broke into fits of laughter. 


“Is that all you’ve got, Your Grace?”


“Oh, don’t tempt me, cousin! I have soil.”


“And so do I!” Josephine chimed in response, her eyes twinkling mischievously. 


Pulling her bag of earth closer to her, Phillipa carefully watched Josephine. Josephine mimicked her moment, all the while never taking her eyes off Phillipa.


Then, as though a non-existent whistle had been blown, they began to throw soil at each other at the same time. 


Their laugher filled the air as they began to run around the gardens, each lady shrieking in joy every time she got hit. 


Before long, they were out of dirt, and falling into each other’s arms in fits of laughter. 


“I do not hear the children any longer,” Josephine said as they tried to recover their breaths. “Do you think they might be watching us?”


Phillipa grinned as she looked over Josephine’s shoulder to see their husbands and children doing just that. 


“Oh, we’ve certainly given them quite the show.”


Josephine visibly winced. “We’ll never be able to live this down, we will?”


Phillipa pulled away then, breaking the embrace. “No, I’m sure we won’t. 


“It’s all your fault!” Josephine accused as she began to dust her dress.


“You mean yours, for teasing me so.”


“How’s addressing you by your formal title a tease?”


“Oh, you know exactly how it is, Jo. You’re always so happy to make jests about that time I thought I’d never become a duchess.” 


“Well, to be quite honest, it is hilarious whenever we remember it now, is it not?”


Phillipa shook her head at her cousin. Of course, after all these years, Josephine still had her way of winning arguments.


“Yes,” she admitted. “I can’t believe it’s been ten years.”


“Ten beautiful years, wouldn’t you say?” Josephine winked. “And all because of my genius plan.”


Phillipa gave into the urge to roll her eyes then as she accepted a towel from one of Josephine’s servants. 


“If you blow your own trumpet any harder, I fear your lips will burst, dearest cousin.”


“Is that your way of saying thank you to me, for putting you up to the entire charade? I mean, how else could I have ended up with Warner, and you with David?”


Phillipa’s cheeks warmed as she caught her husband’s meaningful gaze from across the fields. 


“We did get lucky with these men, did we not?”


Josephine’s response was swift. “Thoroughly so.” Then, she as touching her temple to Phillipa’s. “I know I shouldn’t be saying this, but I regret nothing. I’m simply glad everything turned out well in the end. But imagine we never took that risk?”


Phillipa had often tried to imagine what her life would be like many times, if that London season had never happened, and she always came up blank.


All that she had now, this life she’d built with her husband, her amazing children who showed her new depths of love, daily…it was all because she’d pretended to be a Lady for four weeks.


Imagine they’d never come to London? The Countess wouldn’t have missed her daughter so dearly, she would never have gone through those boxes and found Phillipa’s father’s late journal.


Phillipa would have lived the rest of her life never knowing her true heritage. She never would have met and fallen in love with David, getting the chance to win his heart as well. And Josephine…perhaps, Josephine still would have gotten her happy ending, but there was no way to be certain. 


So much had happened since that fateful Friday morning. All good things. 


The Earl had made full recovering soon afterwards and had somehow, managed to declare her mother and father married, making her a legitimate daughter and heiress of Waterborough. 


Surprisingly, they’d welcomed Warner as their son-in-law with open arms, attesting that they’d only ever truly wanted their daughter’s happiness. 


Josephine continued to insist that was only because they’d seen the lengths she’d go to be with Warner. 


Phillipa found it she was inclined to agree.


In any case, Phillipa had not been left out of the family blessings and approval. The dowagers had been overjoyed to learn of her acceptance of David’s proposal, welcoming her to the family with love and warmth.


At the season’s end, she and Josephine had gotten married on the same day, in Woltheof manor, their home. 


As a wedding gift, Phillipa had made Warner, Steward of Waterborough, asking him to look over her father’s estates for her, as she was to remain in London, by her husband’s side, as Duchess. 


Josephine would still inherit the Earldom following her father’s passing in the hopefully, distant future. Then, she will be Countess and Warner will be Earl. 


But until then, they remained Lord and Lady of Waterborough. 


Over the years, their family had grown, and Phillipa’s joy? It knew no bounds. 


Sometimes, sadness plagued her, and she wished her mother had lived long enough to witness all of this. But on days like that, she chose to remind herself of her many blessings, counting them one by one. 


“No,” she finally answered, ending her reverie. “I truly cannot envision how else my life could have possibly turned out. This, here, with you all. It’s all I’ll ever need. More than I could ever ask for.”


Smiling at that, Josephine entwined their arms and began to lead them out of the garden. 


“Come, we must go wash up and begin to prepare for dinner. Night is fast falling.”


Phillipa agreed, the sun was beginning the retire and they’d spent enough time outside the manor already. 


As though the men shared the same thoughts, they too rallied the children, and began to walk towards them. 


Their individual parties met halfway. And as both women picked up their youngest children, their husbands pressed kisses to their foreheads. 


“Sometimes,” David began whispering in her ears but loud enough for Warner and Josephine to hear. “I wonder how many children I truly have. Two or three?”


Warner chuckled at that. “Definitely three. While I happen to have four. It’s the only explanation as to why you two are covered in dirt.”


“Told you we’ll never live it down,” Josephine murmured under her breath. “Now, they call us children.”


“Pay them no mind, Josephine,” Phillipa murmured, her eyes twinkling as she thought of a brilliant retort. “Remember last summer? How they wouldn’t stop playing frisbee in the rain only to end up catching terrible colds?” 


Josephine was quick to play along. “Oh, how could I ever forget? We spent days by their sides, throwing sheets upon sheets over their shivering bodies as we labored to nurse them back to life.”


Both women looked up at their husbands then, sweet smiles on their faces. 


“What was that again?” Phillipa asked. 


“Ahhh,” Josephine responded with an exaggerated sigh. “Children.”


“Indeed,” Phillipa said, mimicking that sigh, as she shook her head, “Children!”


When the men replied in unison, “Fair enough,” their voice sober from defeat, they all broke into giggles. 


And so their joy continued, as they stepped into the manor, and the rest of their lives.


The End.


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