Too Clever by Half Epilogue Version 1

Newsletter Bonus: Epilogue

In this epilogue to James and Tessa’s love story, our newlyweds are still matching wits, quoting love poetry, and doing a lot more than reading in their library!

August, 1869

Lady Tessa, the new Mrs. Alcott, held her hand over her small gray hat as her husband scooped her into his arms and carried her over the threshold into their new Mayfair home. Servants—a small staff that included James’s butler and valet and Tessa’s lady’s maid, as well as the newly hired housekeeper and cook, lined the flagstone entrance hall and bid them welcome home. After a few minutes of greeting, her husband dismissed the servants.

Tessa’s maid approached her and they hugged. Adelaide was the only member of her father’s household Tessa had requested she be able to bring with her into her married life.

“Shall I help you freshen up a bit, my lady?” the young woman asked.

“Yes. I’ll join you in my dressing room in a minute,” Tessa said.

When she and James were alone, Tessa grinned. “I never thought they would leave! Now I can do this.” She skipped down one side of the hall, past the staircase, peering into the drawing room and the dining room, decorated with James’s old family furniture of rich mahogany, and newly upholstered pieces in whites and reds. Then up the other side of the entry hall to look into the study, appointed in greens and yellows, where she and James would work on their scholarship program together. Coming back nearly to his side, she stopped at the last room just to the left of the front entrance. The door was closed. She tugged on it, but it was locked.

“What is this room to be?” she asked. As sharp as her mind normally was, they had been so busy in the last weeks leading up to their wedding and their brief honeymoon trip, she couldn’t recall all the details of setting up their house as well as she should.

James shrugged. “I’m afraid it’s all a bit of a blur. The housekeeper must have cleaned it and forgotten to leave it unlocked. We’ll fetch her after we’ve had a light repast on the veranda.”

“That’s sounds lovely.” She sighed and stared up into her husband’s gold-flecked eyes. “Our veranda.”

“Join me there in ten minutes.” He bent to whisper in her ear. “And bring your appetite.”

Her cheeks were hot, which moved James to wink and grin at her. The man loved to make her blush, and often said the color reminded him of the pink roses in his brother and sister-in-law’s garden. He had given her a bloom off that rose bush the first time he had kissed her. She still had the now-dried flower pressed between the pages of a book of poetry back in her secret study in her father’s house.

“Ten minutes,” she agreed, and hurried upstairs to join Adelaide.

Just over ten minutes later, Tessa stepped onto the stone veranda furnished with a table and several chairs under a two large, green- and white-striped sun umbrellas, and into a garden paradise that made her breath catch in her throat. “It’s so lovely.”

James handed her a glass of claret. “The flowers were all transplanted from the gardens of your mother and of my sister-in-law. Oh, and those of the dowager duchess and Countess Limely.”

The duchess was the mother of Swimmer, now the Duke of Wrexham, an old school friend of James’s from his Harrow days, and the countess was the mother of Tessa’s dear friend Emme and another of James’s school friends, the Viscount Meriden.

“Our friends and families are truly happy for us,” James said.

Tessa nodded her agreement as she observed the varieties of plants and bushes blooming along the edges of the flagstone veranda and walkways. There were no lilies, which she appreciated, being allergic to them, but there was a Peruvian lily, not at all related to English varieties, that would have come from the Limely’s garden. And roses, so many roses. But no dark pink ones.

“Where are the baroness’s roses?” she asked.

“What roses are those, darling?” James asked.

She glanced at him, confused. “Your sister-in-law’s dark pink roses. The ones you often say remind you of my blush.”

“Oh, yes,” he said, but he didn’t seem to truly remember. “She must have forgotten. We’ll ask her about it when we have dinner together next week.” He pulled out a seat for her. “Shall we?”

She sat at the table laid with breads, butter, cheeses, fresh and dried fruit, pastries, and thick cream.

James sat across from her. “I hope you don’t mind me serving you. I asked the servants to give us some privacy this afternoon. Soon enough, we’ll have little time to be alone, with starting the scholarship fund, and you teaching introductory physics for ladies at University, and keeping up with the social invitations from those happy friends and families.”

Tessa sipped her claret and set it down while James filled her plate with delicacies. Her stomach growled and she realized just how long it had been since breakfast. After some bread with cheese, she could focus her thoughts again.

“Speaking of family,” she said, “Thomas promised he would pack up my books from my study at my father’s house and have them delivered, but they weren’t in my room. Adelaide said she hasn’t seen them anywhere.”

“Really? That’s curious. But your brother is busy with his scientific research. No doubt he forgot.”

She picked up a dried apricot, then set it back down. The housekeeper had forgotten to leave the door to the front room unlocked. James’s sister-in-law had forgotten to send their favorite roses for their garden. And Thomas, her beloved brother who couldn’t bear to leave a promise unattended, had forgotten the one he had made to his sister on her wedding day. I don’t think so.

“What is going on, husband of mine?” she asked.

James quirked an eyebrow and looked much too innocent to actually be guiltless. “Whatever do you mean, wife of mine?”

She jumped to her feet. “I knew it. You’re up to something. And I’ve no doubt it has to do with that locked room. I want to see it right now.”

He had planned something for her, she was sure of it. He loved to surprise her with poems and flowers and taking care of her in so many ways, big and small. And as secretive as he was being, she could only imagine this surprise was something very big.

James stood as well. “What about our lunch?” he asked. “The strawberries, and the cream which is bound to melt in the sun.” He picked up a bright red strawberry, dipped it into the Devonshire cream, and held it to her lips.

The sweet, summery scent of the berry made her mouth water. She bit into it and licked the cream from his finger.

His own lips parted as he stared at hers, then he grinned as he pulled her into his arms.

Or leave a kiss but in the cup / And I’ll not look for wine.”

Well, if her husband insisted upon quoting a Renaissance poet to her, he could do worse than Jonson. But she wouldn’t give into his request so quickly, nor without a retort from a Classicist. She laid a hand on his chest to hold him in place, and smiled back at him as she quoted Landor.

You smiled, you spoke, and I believed / By every word and smile deceived.”

James laid his hand over his heart. “My lady, you wound me.”

She quirked an eyebrow. “I fear you are about to be assailed by another arrow, my darling, as I will grant you no kiss until I know exactly what’s behind that locked door at the front of the house.” She fought not to laugh when he sighed dramatically.

“Very well.” He took her hand and led her back inside. “I meant to show your wedding surprise after lunch, but I should have known your empty stomach would be no match for your inquisitive mind.”

James stopped outside the locked door and slipped the key from his pocket to unlock the room.

“It seems we don’t need the housekeeper after all.” Tessa reached for the doorknob.

He intercepted her hand, then swept her up into his arms. Carrying her across the threshold of the front door had been for tradition, but carrying her into the sacred space he had created for her would be to declare his abiding love for her. “Close your eyes.”

“Is that necessary?”

“Only if you want to see your biggest wedding gift.” He hugged her to his chest and breathed in the lavender scent of her hair. He could stand in the hallway holding her for the rest of the day, if she would rather.

“But you’ve already given me a necklace and earrings and a lovely trip.” Still, she closed her eyes and smiled, revealing one tempting dimple.

James couldn’t resist. He kissed her dimple, then her lips.

“Stealing a kiss while my eyes are closed! You’ll have to earn the next one,” Tessa said, but she snuggled against him just the same.

“This is all for you, darling,” he whispered as he carried her into the room and reluctantly set her on her own two feet. “Now, open your eyes, Mrs. Alcott.”

She did so, quickly taking in the floor to ceiling bookshelves along three walls, and the wide, cushioned window seat flanked by narrower shelves along the fourth. Her blue eyes went round with wonder and she shaped her mouth into a little ‘oh’.

It was the look he had been anticipating and longing to see since he had conceived of the idea of building this room for her while they were still engaged. He had thought of it the night he had learned from her brother that she had taken over a forgotten storage room in her father’s house as a private study. There she hid all the books her father wouldn’t have approved of her reading. Books about physics, mechanics, mathematics, debate, philosophy. And the subject closest to his own heart: poetry.

“A library of my very own,” she said with tears poised on her eyelashes.

“At the very front of the house, for all the world to see. You need never hide your love of books and learning again. And here.” He took her hand and led her to a carved stand, much like a lectern, set up near the white- and blue-striped chaise and settee tucked into one corner of the room. “My very private gift to you.”

She touched the page of the open book on top of the stand, William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience. “The first book we ever discussed both loving, in the duke’s library at Wrexham Hall. You weren’t even courting me, yet I longed for you to kiss me that evening.”

“Don’t think I didn’t consider it, even under the watchful eye of the duchess.” He kissed her hand, then swept his arm wide to invite her to explore the shelves.

Tessa started with the shelves to the left of the room. “Organized by subject matter, then alphabetized.” She pulled a well-worn book from the shelf. “These are my books on thermodynamics. This one has my notes in the margins.” She shook her head, her eyes once again wide with wonder. “Thomas forgot, did he?”

James shook his head. “He packed up every tome in your hidden study, oversaw their delivery here, and shelved them himself. I did ask that he leave plenty of space between subjects, for all the books you’re bound to add in the future.”

As she furrowed her brow and turned to look at all the shelves along each wall, James waited for the question he knew she would ask. He hoped his answer would make her heart as happy as it did his.

“Why are the bottom two shelves completely empty in the entire room?” she finally asked.

He stepped toward her and took both her hands in his. “To leave space for our children’s books. For our daughters’ books. The daughters—and perhaps even some sons—I hope to have with you. And no child of ours will ever have to hide her love of reading and learning and being the smartest person in any room she enters, like their mother had to do for far too long.”

“Oh, James!” She threw her arms around his neck and gave him the kiss he had earned.

He picked her up again, intending to take her to his bedroom to show her the redecorated space, although they wouldn’t get ‘round to discussing the new wallpaper for at least a few hours. But spotting the welcoming window seat, with the private, enclosed garden outside it, he decided it made a much more romantic spot to consummate their love in their new home. Besides, it was at least two minutes closer than their upper-floor suite. He sank into the window seat cushions and pulled her onto his lap.

He would tell her about the pink roses, also not forgotten, that his sister-in-law had planted just outside this window so his wife could look upon them every day when she came in here to read. Later. Much later. For now, there was a much more tantalizing discussion—a mostly wordless one at that—he preferred to have with her. Staring up into her lovely face, no words from Blake or Shakespeare or even Lord Byron came to him. He could only think of the Robert Burns poem A Red, Red Rose to whisper in her ear.

“As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.”