SURRENDER TO A DEVIL
TEN YEARS LATER
Today was a special day in the Howarth household because it was Ruby’s birthday. Ten years they’d been married and while they knew how to debate and yes argue, they also knew how to love deeply. That love now encompassed their children.
“Where are we going, Papa?”
“To get your mother’s birthday present.”
Ella walked at his side. She no longer held his hand, or skipped and was quite the young lady at sixteen years, but she was still his little girl, along with the two others he had. Smart, funny, and strong willed, his daughter was very much like Ruby, even though they shared no blood.
She looked to his eyes, sweet and still a child in that white dress. Her straw bonnet had two pink ribbons and was tied in a big floppy bow beneath her chin.
“Not far. Tell me how your book club went last night.”
His daughter’s face lit with excitement. She loved to read and had recently joined a group with her friends. They got together every month, and from what he gathered, the discussions were robust.
“We are reading Jane Austen’s, Persuasion. She is truly a wonderful writer and Anne Elliot is an amazing character, even if she is treated so terribly by her father.”
“Just as well your father is a fair and reasonable man, then.”
“Am I not fair and reasonable, daughter?”
“There was that time when you would not let me go to the theatre with Miss Lynsey and her family.”
“You were unwell, if I recall.”
She dismissed his words with a wave of a gloved hand.
“You were unreasonable. I had a trifling sniffle.”
“And the fact Miss Lynsey has two older brothers had nothing to do with your wish to accompany her, I suppose?”
He swallowed his smile when Ella’s cheeks flushed with color. If Ruby was here, she’d tell him off for teasing her.
“And here we are,” he said before she snapped something at him.
Opening the door, he waved her inside. Ella stopped suddenly and Forrest nearly knocked her over.
“It’s a doll’s shop, Father.”
“I can see that.”
“But why are we here? You said you wanted to get a gift for mother not Sybil or Diana.”
“I am getting a gift for your mother, and you are going to help me pick it out.”
“I don’t understand.”
He ran a finger down the frown line that had suddenly appeared on her forehead.
“I found your mother in the girls' room last week. She was holding a doll. Staring at it with, to my eyes, longing.”
“I asked her that, and she told me it was a lovely doll, and as she’d never had one, she was admiring it.”
“She never had a doll?” A look of horror crossed Ella’s face.
“No. Do you think it silly that I want to buy her one?” This had been his concern.
The frown on his daughter’s face turned into a smile. “No. I think it’s a wonderful idea. I shall help you choose and then you shall buy me tea.”
“Oh I will, will I?”
“Yes. We will need sustenance for the walk to the park, and then there is mother’s party tonight. It will be a long day.”
“And you are old and infirm after all, so need your strength,” he teased her.
She ignored him and wandered off to study dolls. There were many and in seconds Forrest was confused which one to select.
“This one,” Ella held up a doll. It had a porcelain face, red hair, and blue eyes. The dress was rose satin.
They left the shop and took tea. Once his daughter was replete, they made the walk to the park.
His family was there when they arrived, waiting for Adam. He saw her with a group of people, and Zach. Ruby stood back slightly, a worried expression on her face.
Age had given her lines and a few grey hairs, but she was still the most beautiful woman he’d ever known. Inside and out.
Forrest moved to her side.
“Hello, my love. Are you having a lovely birthday?”
She found a smile for him. “Wonderful. How did your shopping trip go?”
“Excellent, thank you.” He leaned in to kiss her. “I have a gift for you.”
“I wondered if that was your intention when you left the house early. Can I see it now? It will draw my attention from what is about to unfold.”
“If you wish.”
Ella handed her the package silently, then stood back to watch. Ruby opened the paper. Her hands stilled as she pushed it aside and the doll appeared.
“Oh my,” the gloved fingers she ran down the porcelain face trembled.
“I know you never had one growing up. You may think it silly, but I wanted you to have one,” Forrest said quickly. “I thought—”
“It is the most beautiful gift I have ever received,” she whispered. “I absolutely love it. My first doll.” She pressed it to her chest. Stepping forward, she hugged Ella and said something to her, which made his daughter’s eyes look damp. She then turned to face him.
“You are the most wonderful man I know.” She stepped closer. “I love you.”
He bent to kiss her softly. “I love you, sweetheart.”
“And now I will clutch my doll close and lean on you and hope I do not have to watch me brother plummet to his death on my birthday.”
“He will not plummet to his death,” Forrest said.
“Of course he’s not. It will be capital fun and Adam will not regret it for a second,” Zach said. “In fact, I may have to try it myself.”
“One hopes not, as you will likely fall out,” Forrest drawled. His cousin ignored him.
Diana was the youngest of their children. She had Ruby’s hair color and her temperament was a mix of both of her parents.
“I need you to put me on your shoulders.”
“Yes. Now.” She held out her hands. With a weighty sigh, her father, of course, obliged. There wasn’t much Forrest would not do for his family.
Ruby watched as he lifted his youngest child over his head to sit on his shoulders.
“I fail to see why you must sit there when you have a perfectly acceptable view of the balloon ascent from the ground like the rest of us,” he said.
“I am five, Papa, and as such cannot see as clearly as you.”
“It is up in the air, Diana.”
Ruby stood listening to her husband and daughter debate, as they often did. So many years had passed since their marriage, and sometimes she still had to pinch herself when she realized that, in fact, this was her life.
They had four children. Ella, a beautiful and forceful young lady who would soon take society by storm. Stephen was seven and the image of his father. Lucy, six, and the image of her, and then there was Diana.
“But I wish to see as it lands, and if I am on the ground behind others, I cannot do that.”
“Excellent point,” Ruby said. Before them, Stephen and Lucy stood with Ella.
“You are not helping, my love.”
She smiled at the man she loved. His hair was greying at the temples, and a few more lines bracketed his mouth, but he was still the most handsome man she knew. Her man. The one who had saved her, as she’d saved him.
“You cannot have everything your own way.”
“Oh yes, that always happens after all.”
“There!” Diana shrieked. “I see Uncle Adam.”
Looking at the sky, Ruby watched her brother grow closer. In the years since he’d lived with Forrest, Adam had changed almost beyond recognition. He spent his days working with Daniel Dillinger and had a sharp intellect which had allowed him to invest and build his finances. So much so that he now lived in a house he had purchased with his own money.
“Wave, darling, even though your stomach is aching with worry,” Forrest said. She gripped the hand he held out to her.
“He will be well, Ruby.”
“I hear your words, Forrest, but struggle to believe them.”
“Your brother is a strong, intelligent man who has proven over and over how capable he is in situations. Have some faith, love.”
She leaned sideways and rested her head on his shoulder briefly. She felt his lips in her hair.
“It’s coming!” Lucy shrieked, and everyone looked at the sky.
Ruby watched the balloon appear. A small shape steadily growing bigger. Around them, the excitement grew.
“I fell quite unwell,” Ruby whispered as the balloon began its descent. “What if he must jump free? How will he do that when his legs will not hold him upright?”
“If he is forced to jump free from a significant height, his legs will not aid him, my love,” Forrest said.
“I can’t believe you said that.”
“It is the truth, and will not happen. Now you need to look up, as Adam will expect to see his happy smiling sister doing just that.”
“Heather is looking quite green as well.”
She found Adam’s fiancé, who stood with Zach. He had met her when she came in to see him in a financial advisory capacity. Heather had then pursued Adam. Her brother had not wanted to show any interest, had not felt himself worthy of the love of a woman. Heather had convinced him he was wrong.
“She reminds me of Dimity,” Daniel said, noticing where her eyes were. “Strong, and opinionated, but a kind soul.”
“She is quite wonderful.”
“As are you, wife.”
She stayed there, leaning on him as the balloon slowly descended. Only when it was near the ground did she exhale.
“Do you think I could go up in that with Uncle Adam, Papa?”
“No!” both she and Forrest said in answer to Diana’s question.
The basket bumped onto the ground and came to a stop, and Forrest handed her their daughter and went with Zach to help Adam climb out. Ruby watched her brother bear hug Forrest, Heather, and Zach. The young lady flushed with pleasure.
“That was capital!” Adam said when Ruby joined him. His eyes flashed with excitement.
She moved closer and joined him. Moving in for a hug, she gripped her brother hard.
“I’m so pleased you are here.”
“Happy birthday, sister.”
“Thank you. Was it fun up there?”
“Amazing. You will have to come up with me one day.”
“No, thank you. I am more than happy just where I am with my feet planted solidly on the ground.”
“You’re clutching a doll,” Adam said.
“It is my birthday gift from my family.”
He knew, she realized. Knew that she had never owned a doll. Knew just what the gift of one meant to her because, like her, he had suffered. But no more. Now they had love and happiness, and that was their future.
Forrest stood at the base of the stairs, awaiting his eldest daughter. Ruby had appeared and then disappeared to do something with the two youngest children, very aware of the fact that Ella would take her time joining them. He refused to gnash his teeth, but it was there. His eldest child was always the slowest member of their family to do anything.
“Not long now,” he said to his son, who had given up standing, and now sat on the bottom step studying the tips of his polished black shoes, looking like his life was about to end.
Stephen did not like parties, or socialising. Not easy, considering the family he was born into. He was shy, but given time and exposure to his loud cousins, unbent enough to enjoy himself.
“I will never marry or have girl children.”
“That may not be your choice,” Forrest said.
“I want to live alone like Uncle Adam.”
“Who is about to marry.”
Stephen sighed again, loudly.
“Perhaps you can find a smile for your mother’s party?”
His son pulled his lips into a straight line.
Ruby thought they were attending a dinner at Gabe’s house, so the party was to be a surprise, but the real surprise is that it remained a surprise. His family were not excellent secret keepers, unless they were keeping any secrets of national importance, then you could not get that information by any means.
There would also be a concert this evening, and the performers were family and friends. He had organised it with the help of his family. Dimity was like a Field Marshall when given a job to do, and had undertaken the party with military precision. She and Gabe were hosting.
He’d decided on a party for Ruby because sometimes she let little snippets of her past slip out, and one of those had been that presents and celebrations were not allowed in her father’s household. Of course, he’d spoiled her with plenty of those over the years, but to his mind there could never be enough spoiling when you’d been raised in the household of a tyrant for as long as she had.
The other surprise he had for her was that her siblings would be in attendance. She had a relationship with them now, not a terribly strong bond, but it was there and Forrest had hopes of making it strengthen.
It took years to break through the barriers erected by their father’s control, even though he was no longer living. He had died of illness a year after being incarcerated. Her mother had followed five years later.
“For goodness sake, Ella!” He roared the words up the stairs.
“She will come down when she is ready, husband,” Ruby said, appearing from his left with his daughters in hand.
“She takes too long,” he muttered. “And I know I’ve already told you, you look beautiful, but it bears repeating, my sweet.”
She wore a deep emerald statin, and the dress clung to her lovely breasts and fell in elegant folds to the floor. Her hair was pinned in place with emerald and diamond clips.
“And you look handsome. Both of you,” she added, kissing first him and then bending to do the same to her son, who sat stoically still and took it, even if he was not one for such gestures.
“Get your sister,” he urged his daughters, who were dressed in cream. One had an apricot sash, the other pale blue. Their hair was curled, and they looked so sweet his chest hurt. “And you go after them to ensure they come back promptly,” he nudged his son’s foot. Stephen rose like an eighty-year-old man and followed.
When they’d gone, he drew his wife into his arms and kissed her thoroughly. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back.
This woman, he thought. Only this woman had ever made his heart beat faster and his body want her naked and in their bed.
“You sent them to get Ella for this purpose, didn’t you?” She whispered the words against his lips.
“Of course. Privacy is rare. We must take it where we can.”
He kissed her again. “I love you, Mrs. Howarth.”
“And I love you, Mr. Howarth.”
“Happy birthday, my love.” He eased her away from his body as the sound of feet thundering down the stairs reached them. “And now our heathens are all present, we will leave.”
Gabe’s butler opened the door. There had been a shuffling of lodgings when all the Deville Brothers had finally wed. Gabe had gone back to the main house as the eldest and the title holder, and Zach and his wife had moved into his.
“Fairfax, good evening.” Forrest had been sure that Fairfax was in his sixties when he arrived in London all those years ago, but here he was, still answering the door, and looking happy to do so.
“Mr. Howarth, Mrs. Howarth,” he bowed, then greeted their children.
“How is it you do not look any older, Fairfax?” Ruby asked.
“My father aged well also, Mrs. Howarth. Will you allow me to take your coats?”
“You are a pillar among men, Fairfax, and never let anyone tell you different,” Ruby said. She then leaned forward and kissed his cheek. The butler took it in his stride and smiled.
“When I grow up, I want to be as noble as that man,” Forrest whispered to her when they started up the stairs.
“He is wonderful.”
They made their way to the room he knew the others awaited them in. Dimity had given him a specific time to arrive, and Forrest hated to think about what she’d say to him if he didn’t arrive at the hour designated. He refrained from pulling out his pocket watch or Ruby would see. Not much slipped by her.
“Diana, why are you jabbing your finger into your hair?” Ella asked her sister.
“Something is stabbing me.”
They made their way along the hallway with Ella rearranging little sister’s hair and reached the door.
“Forrest, I have a sudden feeling something is going on? You know I hate surprises.” Ruby sounded nervous.
“No you don’t. Open the door, my love.”
She shot him a look and opened the door. He nudged her through. Noise erupted from all corners.
“I’m killing you later.”
“I can think of other things I’d rather you did to me later,” he whispered in her ear.
And then she was being hugged to loud cries of happy birthday.
Ruby took it all in her stride, and he knew she was secretly more than happy with all these people being here to celebrate her birthday. When she saw the group of people standing back slightly, she looked around to find him. Forrest moved to her side and took her hand.
“Your family wanted to be here for you, my sweet.”
“You are quite determined they be part of my life, aren’t you?” She looked up at him, her eyes filled with so many emotions he couldn’t name them all.
“You deserve all the happiness I can give you, my love.”
“I need no more happiness or I fear I shall burst.”
“Then perhaps we can give some of our happiness to your family?”
“Perhaps we could.” She kissed his cheek.
Together, they went to greet them. Together, as they would always be.