Five Years Later
The procession went from eldest to youngest, and behind Warwick walked his cousins. Next came the Ravens, starting with James. They each held a cornflower, the color bright against their dark clothing.
The cliffs that bordered Crunston Cliff were a place of wild beauty. This morning, the mood of all those who trod them was sombre.
Warwick had woken with Samantha beside him, as he had every day since they’d wed. Twin girls had strengthened their love and bound him even tighter to the incredible woman he’d married. Lilla and Hazel were at Raven castle with nannies and maids, and the older children in their family. They showed every promise of being as headstrong and exuberant as Dorrie and Somer.
Dev stopped up ahead, and the others followed his lead. They then turned in a long line to look out over the wild seas below. Wind buffeted them, pulling at their clothes. Warwick watched the gulls swoop and dive for food, their cries haunting.
He leaned forward and looked for Samantha. She was at the end of the Raven line, but he could see her. Her hair was in a long braid tied with a simple black ribbon. Wrapped in a thick black cloak, she was beautiful and the years since they’d vowed to always love each other had only enhanced that.
“We are here to honor a woman who was our protector and friend. A constant in our lives, and so much more,” Dev said, drawing his attention away from Samantha.
Cam cleared his throat loudly.
“Go now to your resting place,” Dev continued. “Go now to be with your loved ones, and know that your duty to our family is fulfilled and we will never forget you. Our legacy will only strengthen because you believed in us. We honour you on this day when you leave us to start your next journey. Rest in peace, Mrs. Radcliff.”
“Ceux de sang Sinclair protègent ceux de sang Raven!” They all then said. Their voices soared above the wind and thunder of the ocean below.
Each then opened their hands and threw the cornflower high in the air. Mrs. Radcliff’s favorite flower. Lowering their heads, they all prayed for the woman who had been so much to them. The woman that deserved this from the families she had watched over.
They silently left the way they had come. Raven Castle rose from the mountain above them, and it was to there they were headed.
Reaching Oak’s Knoll the Sinclair family home, Warwick found the Hemple brothers, Josiah and Bertie waiting for them outside. In their hands were trays of mulled wine, and the cold recipients were grateful.
“I think she would have enjoyed that,” Samantha said, moving to where he stood with the Dorrie and Somer.
“She would.” He handed her a cup. “Here, your lips are turning blue.”
She wrapped her fingers around it, and then sipped.
“Good?” Warwick put his arm around her waist, pulling her closer.
“And now we celebrate her life, and of course, Dev’s birthday,” Dorrie said.
“At least the castle is still standing,” Somer said, raising her eyes to Raven mountain. “The children have, as yet, not destroyed it.”
“Is everything ready?” Somer whispered. Her eyes then went left and right, checking Dev was not close.
“It is. He’s going to love us or hate us by this evening,” Warwick said. “But this is important to him, no matter how much he would say otherwise.”
Samantha snorted. “The surprise will be a good one, I promise.”
After the mulled wine was finished, they climbed on their horses and made the journey up the mountain. Warwick held Samantha before him.
“I remember my first journey down this mountain.”
“Who were you with?” Warwick asked her.
“Him. My father. He never took me anywhere, ever. I was just kept in my rooms. But this day he had me brought to the carriage. When I got here he was inside, and I remember thinking he looked an angry hawk looking down at me over that long beak.”
Warwick tightened his grip around her. Pressing a kiss to her cheek, he didn’t speak, just let her tell him of yet another memory. There weren’t that many before James entered her life, because she’d blocked them out. But occasionally something would trigger one, like now.
“I didn’t speak, just sat with Miss Billerson in the carriage. It then rolled down the mountain. I remember thinking I wanted to look out the window, but I didn’t. I sat looking at my hands.”
“You never left the castle until you were six years old?” He’d vowed not to waste another emotion on that man, but the rage was there inside him again.
The pain the late duke had inflicted on his children was almost beyond belief, but they were doing the only thing they could to thwart him. Being loved and happy.
“Yes. It was exciting for that alone, but I didn’t show it on my face. We went down to Crunston Cliff, and they took me to be fitted for dresses, as I had grown out of all my clothes.”
“Your father came with your for that?”
She looked over her shoulder at him. Warwick was pleased to see there was no sadness in her expression. She was simply telling him her memory.
“I love you.”
“I know.” Her smile was big. “That’s why these memories no longer haunt me.”
He kissed her again.
“My father came with me, so the dresses were made to his specifications and the colors drab and dark. While he and Miss Billerson discussed my wardrobe, I was told to go to the carriage and wait. I did, of course, I was obedient back them.” She gave him a cheeky smile.
“My, how times have changed,” Warwick drawled.
“I remember the locals stopping in the street to stare at me. The duke’s daughter who lived up on that mountain alone with a monster.”
“‘Aye, he was that and more.”
“I got into the carriage and closed the door. It opened again almost immediately and there stood Mrs. Radcliff with a lovely smile on her face. She then told me all would be well soon and handed me a small bag. I was told me to put it in my pocket and let no one see it.”
“What was in it?” Warwick asked.
He laughed. “She loved those.”
“I hid them, and when I was in my room that night, I ate one. They lasted me for several nights.”
He could imagine her eating them one at a time, unlike him. He’d had eaten them all in a single sitting.
“It’s a wonder I don’t faint,” Cam said, riding up beside Warwick and Samantha. “Leaving a house without first taking nourishment cannot be good for anyone. If I become weak and fall, be sure to catch me, brother.”
“I will do my very best,” Warwick said solemnly. Samantha laughed, and he could honestly say no sound made him happier. Except maybe his girls laughing.
Love was a wonderful thing.
Dev’s children, with the help of Lilly, had blindfolded Dev before he walked into the ballroom of Raven castle. He, Lilly, and their children had stayed at Oak’s Knoll since arriving in Crunston Cliff five days ago. Forbidden from coming to the castle, Dev had protested loudly that they had better not be making a fuss for his birthday, to which everyone he spoke to had said no. The children were just having fun preparing his party.
It was a lie, of course. They were, in fact, making a huge fuss, and had been planning this day for months. It had taken the combined resources of friends and family to achieve what would unfold tonight.
Warwick, along with their family, stood in the ballroom of Raven castle awaiting the eldest Sinclair’s arrival.
They had decorated it with flowers, silk ribbons, and anything else the children could lay their hands on. The dogs milling about the place wore red bows, and the children were dressed alongside the adults in their finery. Everywhere Warwick looked, there was color.
“I’ve never seen this old pile of stones look so good,” Warwick said to Samantha, who was beside him, holding Hazel. Next to her, Simon, the eldest of the next generation, held Lilla.
“It looked wonderful.” She smiled up at him.
Her beautiful face told him she was happy, and she always would be, Warwick vowed.
“He has arrived!” Meredith shrieked from the doorway. Five years had changed her in many ways, but one. She could still yell louder than any of the other children. Second to Kat, that was.
“Everyone quiet now,” James said.
The low hum of voices stopped, and there was silence. Quite the feat considering their family numbered many. Warwick tugged out an earplug at the same time as Eden.
“I will act surprised, Lilly, I promise.” Warwick heard Dev say.
“The children have gone to a great deal of work.” Lilly said.
“I hope they have not overdone things. You know how I hate fuss.”
Eden’s lips twitched, and her eyes met Warwicks. Simon snickered. He had inherited the gift of hearing from his mother, along with a few of the other children.
Even with the merging of the Sinclair and Raven blood, the gifts were still strong in the children. Only those that shared Nicholas and Lilly’s blood could heal and have visions, however. The other senses were scattered through the families. Thus far, no one child had been without a sense. Games of hide and seek were becoming extremely difficult.
“Why are we in the ballroom if it is only family?” Warwick heard Dev ask.
“We often gather in there to eat at the long tables,” Lilly answered.
“Come along, father. Stop dragging your feet,” Hannah said.
“Am I dragging my feet? I was merely asking a question.”
“You do not need to know everything all the time,” Hannah said, sounding like Dev.
“Of course I do,” was Dev’s immediate reply. “With a family the size of ours, I always need to know the next step before it happens.”
“Lord have mercy,” Lilly muttered.
Eden was laughing now.
“I hate that you can hear what’s going on and I can’t,” Samantha whispered.
“It has its good and bad moments,” he said. “Sssh now.”
“If you would just tell me—” as Dev was opening the door speaking, the yell of many voices shouting surprise muffled the rest of his words.
Warwick made his way forward with his siblings.
“Well, now this is a surprise,” Dev said, looking at the family gathered. His eyes did a quick survey, taking them all in before he looked at the decorations.
“Happy birthday, Papa!” Meredith shrieked.
“Thank you, darling.”
“We did all this!” she added.
“Merry, stop shrieking,” Mathew, her older brother, said. “We are right here.”
“I thought we agreed this was not going to a big event? I see presents and a lot of food and the decorations.”
“I don’t remember agreeing to that,” Lilly said.
“Me either,” James arrived. “Happy birthday, brother.”
The two men who formed the backbone of this family, Warwick thought, watching them embrace. He and his sisters greeted Dev next.
“Happy birthday, Dev,” Warwick hugged him.
“Thank you, little brother, but I really don’t need this level of fuss.”
“It’s more for the children than you, if we’re being honest,” Warwick lied.
“Of course, and I understand that.” Dev eased back to look at him. “But my happiness is enough. I have everything right here with those I love, safe and happy.”
“We are who we are because of you, Dev,” Warwick added. “Allow us to acknowledge that.” He then stepped back for the others to move in.
When the greetings were done, they all sat at the tables to eat. Lilly shot Warwick a look, and he nodded. The surprise was not just the family party, there were other guests arriving soon.
“Do you remember the first time we stepped foot in this castle, Dev?” Cam asked. He had two plates in front of him, which he was eating his way through.
“We were escorting the cold, and officious Duke of Raven home I believe, after he’d been thrown to the fishes,” Dev said.
“And it was I who saved him,” Eden added, looking smug.
“I don’t want to remember that day,” Dev glared at her.
“I remember it as if it was yesterday.” James raised Eden’s hand to his lips. “The following day, when Dev and Cam brought me back here, Dev told me that none of you had been here to the castle before. He then said it surprised him the late duke had not thrown boiling oil down on Oak’s Knoll.” James looked thoughtful as he glanced around the table. “You’ll be pleased to know Cambridge was as annoying then as he is today, and Dev was as obnoxiously opinionated as he is today.”
“You are both obnoxiously opinionated,” Wolf Sinclair said. “The first time I met them I had just helped Cam climb onto the roof of carriage which held Emily. It was out of control and plunged into the water.”
Cam shuddered. “That is a day I will never forget.”
“My introduction to the Sinclair and Raven families was when they invaded my ship and demanded I join their family,” Harry drawled from further down the table.
“I see that differently in my mind,” Dev added.
“Kate was attempting to keep me warm after being trussed and left for dead in the caves below those very cliffs we stood on today. Then James, Dev, Wolf, Max, Cam, and Nicholas arrived, and I was reunited with my brother, and met another.”
“I was attempting to be the most undesirable woman in society when Dev saw through me,” Lilly said. The smile she sent her husband left no one in doubt of the love they shared.
“I remember the first time I met the Sinclair siblings,” Samantha said.
Warwick placed his hand over the one she had on the table. Dressed in deep burgundy, she took his breath away, which was saying something, considering the beauty around them.
“James had told me we were going to London and would be accompanied by the Sinclair family from Oaks Knoll. I remember the twins climbing inside the carriage, and then Eden appearing in the doorway beside James. He’d been attempting to get me out of the carriage,” Samantha smiled at the memory. “Eden said ‘Hello, aren’t brothers annoying? My name is Eden, and these are my sisters Dorrie and Somer. Somer then said ‘Hello, Samantha. I hope we can be friends. I remember thinking I wanted that more than anything in the world.”
Warwick brushed his lips over her head as around the table people sniffed.
“Dev told me one night when I was nothing more than an arrogant wastrel, that sisters are something to be treasured,” Nicholas said, looking to Lilly. “They are the softer part of us. The part that knows when you need to be hugged. The part that can make you laugh and cry. Quite simply, without my sisters, I would be nothing,” he’d told me that night. It has stayed with me since because it is the truth.”
“Stop,” Cam whispered. “I can’t stand all this emotion.”
“Dev then told me Lilly was my little sister and she should have to look no further for support than me. Everything changed for me from that day onward.”
Lilly blew her brother a kiss and then lay her head on Dev’s shoulder.
They reminisced about the years that had passed, and how they’d each become a member of the family. The stories made them laugh and cry and brought back so many memories.
The sound of carriage wheels had Warwick getting out of his chair. James rose too, and they excused themselves.
“Where are they going?” Dev asked, looking suspicious.
“I have no idea,” people said around the table.
Samantha sat talking with her family when Warwick left. She knew where he’d gone and who was outside the castle. Looking at Dev, who was relaxed and happy now, she wondered what his reaction would be.
He rarely talked about his days fighting for his country, but the rare times he did, Samantha knew that leaving his men had been hard. When the late Lord Sinclair died, they had sent word to the eldest Sinclair. When he received the news, Dev had come home as soon as he could to look after his siblings and step in to be head of his family. He’d left his battalion after a fierce and bloody battle which had left some of his men injured. Their fate had haunted him, and Samantha believed still did. Hopefully, what happened today would ease that pain in a small measure.
The tug of her skirt had Samantha looking down at the sweet little hellion standing there. At three, Hazel was just like her Aunt Somer. Full of life and determination and already battling wills with her parents.
“Hello, darling, what’s wrong?” Samantha picked up her daughter, who had tears in her eyes.
The twins had the Sinclair green eyes and raven curls, and according to the older children, had the makings of being as much trouble as Kat and Merry.
Settling the small body into her arms, Samantha soothed her daughter.
“Are you weary, Hazel?” Harry bent to place a kiss on her head. “Close your eyes, child.” He then cupped her head. “That’s it, lovely, sleep now.”
Harry’s voice nearly had Samantha closing her eyes. Hazel’s fluttered shut, and soon she was slumbering.
“I think you should have all the children live with you, Harry,” Samantha said.
He kissed her forehead. “I don’t have enough beds for all of them, but am here when needed.”
This family that surrounded her had all come together with their own demons to battle. Each had come out the other side and now was part of this life they’d chosen to live. A large, exuberant family that hugged, argued, laughed and loved. Sometimes Samantha had to pinch herself to realize the lonely child she’d once been had become the woman she was today. The woman married to Warwick Sinclair. Her love, her soul mate.
“What are you smiling at?” Dev demanded of Eden. “I feel like something is happening, that I am not party too.”
“Do not turn and look!” Eden yelled. “You will keep your eyes on us. There is a surprise, and it will upset the children if you spoil it by using your sight,” she added.
Samantha watched Dev battle with the need to go against his sister’s wishes.
“Please, Dev. It’s a good surprise, I promise,” Samantha said.
He’d given her that gentle smile so many times since he’d entered her life when she’d been lost and alone. He’d become her big brother alongside the others.
“Because you don’t irritate me like Eden does, Samantha. I will acquiesce,” Dev said.
“Harsh, but true,” Cam said, waving an eclair around.
“I wonder if on Cam’s tombstone it will say feed daily, as he will need nourishment even in the afterlife,” Essie said.
“I don’t irritate you,” Eden said, looking stunning in emerald green. “I don’t let you get away with all your lordly behavior.”
“Not a word, sister,” Dev smirked.
Looking down at the next tug on her skirt, Samantha saw Lilla.
“Well now, I have an empty lap. Is there any chance I could have a cuddle from my sweet little niece?” Max had risen and was standing beside her chair now.
Lilla held up her hands. No one could resist gentle Uncle Lion.
They were all getting older now. Dev, James, Essie, Eden, and the others. Lines around their faces, and grey in their hair. But looking at every member of her family made her heart full.
“Are you crying?”
“No. I just yawned, Harry.”
He ran a hand over her head. “Happy tears are to be acknowledged, sweeting.”
“They are happy tears,” Samantha conceded, and then sniffed.
The door opened and drew all eyes. Warwick walked in alone and headed for Dev.
“You need to stand up now, brother.”
“Why? What’s going on?” Dev rose as he spoke. “I told you and every adult member of this family I didn’t want a fuss, Warwick.”
“Just as well it was the children who organized it then,” Warwick said.
That smile of his still made her insides flutter. Her love for that man was a wonderful thing.
“But if we, the adults who love you, were in any way involved in what is about to unfold, it’s because you’re old, and need to have fusses made now before you get too old to enjoy them,” Cambridge said rising to join Warwick standing before Dev. The Sinclairs sisters rose and did the same.
“What have you done?” Dev gave them a hard look.
“Be quiet now, my love, and listen?” Lilly said, wrapping an arm around Dev’s waist.
“We, your family, know that when you went away to war, it was to lead your men with honor and courage,” Essex said, holding Eden’s hand. “We know the sacrifices you made for those you led, just as we know you bleed for every soldier you lost.”
Dev’s eyes fired to life. They were bright green now as he focused intently on his siblings.
“But when you knew we needed you, you came home to us. But we understand how concerned you were over who you’d left behind, Dev. Don’t deny it.”
“’Tis only natural I did.” Dev’s voice was gruff.
Samantha and the others had risen. Rory now carried the sleeping Hazel as they made their way to where Dev stood, leaving a clear path to the door.
“We, your siblings, can never hope to repay you for what you have sacrificed for us, Essie continued. But we hope this goes a small way toward that.”
“Bring them in, James!” Warwick called.
“Who?” Dev’s voice was hoarse now.
“It’s all right, brother. This is us showing you how much you mean to us,” Warwick said.
The door opened and in came James, smiling. At his back were ten men. The only ten they had tracked down who had fought under Dev. Two walked with crutches. Another had lost an arm, and another his sight.
“No!” Dev stumbled forward as the men stopped and saluted him. “Tommy?” Dev grabbed the man closest and hugged him. He then moved through the others. Talking, reacquainting himself with who they were now.
“Tommy was Dev’s right hand. The injured were the ones he left behind after the last battle he fought. He helped save them, but did not know what had happened to them,” James said to the Sinclair siblings.
Samantha moved to Warwick’s side and took his hand. He squeezed it gently.
“It is a wonderful thing you have all done for him,” she said.
“It is a wonderful thing he has done for all of us,” James said. “In all honesty, he forced me to see what I had in you and Eden. He has then played a hand in shaping all the people who joined this family.”
“As have you.” Samantha wrapped an arm around her big brother’s waist and held him close. She felt the family move in around them. A cloak of love.
This was her life and always would be.
“I love you.” Warwick leaned in to whisper the words in her ear. “Always and forever.”