Epilogue: Jasper & Melisande

April 1766

The pain seized her, hard and relentless, squeezing her like a giant fist. Melisande closed her eyes, enduring, riding it out even as the contraction deepened, until it abruptly let go.

She exhaled at the same time as the man beside her.

Melisande opened her eyes and met a worried turquoise gaze.

“Perhaps it’s time for you to leave, my lord,” the midwife offered hesitantly.

Jasper’s eyes never left hers. He smiled easily, though he was so pale that green tinged the edges of his face. “And miss the appearance of the next Viscount Vale? I think not.”

He insisted on staying with her even though he was clearly suffering with each labor pain that shook her. Melisande felt a wave of love flood her, bringing the sting of tears to her eyes. And then another labor pain gripped her, scattering her thoughts.

When she could speak again, she opened her eyes, staring into Jasper’s worried face. “If it is a girl, I’d like you to call her Emeline.”

“Nonsense!” he chided softly, his upper lip gleaming with perspiration. “My great aunt’s name was Aethelflaed and I think it would make a remarkably splendid name for a baby girl.”

Melisande closed her eyes as another pain hit her. She’d been in labor for a day and a night and she felt the strength leaving her with every surge of agony. Jasper had been teasing her with awful baby names all during her confinement, but he must realize that she was serious now.

“My love,” she began as she opened her eyes. “A girl’s name is very important—“

He placed a gentle finger on her lips. “Then we’ll need to debate the matter—together—once the baby is born.”

Despair clenched at her heart. “Jasper.”

“My lady wife.” He laid his forehead against her own. “You are the strongest woman I know. My heart beats within your breast as surely as your own. Guard these hearts and keep them safe, for both our sakes.”

And then a wave of pain surged through her so strongly, her upper body arched off the bed. Her body contracted and she gripped Jasper’s hand as she fought to push the little invader from her body. Dimly, she heard the midwife murmuring encouraging words, but all her concentration—all her soul—was bent on this one monumental task.

When the baby slid from her body all at once, she felt a wash of gratitude and euphoria. A sweet cry filled the room. Suddenly, she found herself gasping with laughter.

She opened her eyes and met Jasper’s fabulously bright turquoise gaze. 

“My love, my wife, you did it,” he whispered.

“A girl, my lord,” the midwife said, passing a bundle to him.

Jasper took the baby awkwardly. “Indeed, so it is.” 

He peered down at the baby as if inspecting a strange new life form before kissing her tenderly on the forehead. He placed the baby in Melisande’s arms.

“Oh, help me up,” Melisande said. 

She struggled to sit with Jasper’s help and then looked at her baby. She was a red, wrinkled little thing, with a few damp strands of dark hair sticking to her head. Melisande ran her hand over ears and neck, examined each miniscule finger, and watched as the midnight blue eyes opened. This was her child—hers and Jasper’s—and love welled within her chest, new and overpowering.

The baby sobbed.

Melisande opened her dressing chemise and put the little girl to her breast.

“Oh, my lady,” the midwife said with a touch of disapproval. “The wet-nurse waits just in the other room.”

“Let her wait,” Jasper replied, never taking his gaze from the baby. 

Melisande smiled up at him, loving the paternal protection in his tone.

It was another hour or so before all was cleaned up after the birth. When the midwife and maids finally left, Melisande felt the bed dip as her husband crawled in wearily beside her.

She glanced up in surprise. “I thought you’d sleep in your pallet tonight?” They’d moved their grand pallet with all it’s pillows and covers into the next room in preparation for the baby’s birth. She was in the vicountess’ bedroom—a room she hardly ever used.

“Where you are is my home, my lady wife.” Jasper yawned. “Besides, I think I could sleep on a bed of thorns at the moment.”

Melisande smiled, looking down at the sleeping babe in her arms. “She’s the most beautiful baby in the world, isn’t she?”

“Yes,” her husband said simply. He leaned over her shoulder, watching the baby as well. “Are you sure you’re not interested in naming her after my great-grandmother Dionysia Pernel?”

“You’re making that up! No one would look at a tiny baby and name her Dionysia Pernel.”

“Obviously you’ve never met my great-great-grandfather Dionysus Pernel.”

Melisande gave him a look.

“Oh, all right,” he said comfortably. “Emeline, then?”

Melisande nodded, feeling happiness swell in her breast.

“Ah, good.” Jasper said, stifling another enormous yawn. He lay down, drawing her back against his chest, fitting her buttocks into the curve of his body. He kissed Melisande’s cheek before draping an arm over her waist and laying a protective hand on the sleeping Emeline.

And then the new family slept.