An Epilogue for Scandalous Desires

November 1740
Greenwich, England

The problem with being a younger sister, Silence Rivers reflected, is that one is always a younger sister.

And an older sister invariably knows everything.

“It’s a boy,” the elder sister in question, Temperance, Lady Caire said with firm confidence. 

They were relaxing comfortably together in the sitting room at Windward House, just outside Greenwich. Silence had recently refurbished the room in lovely sea blues, greens, and gold. She liked to think that if one squinted one could imagine oneself on a Grecian island gazing at the Mediterranean sea—or what she thought the Mediterranean might look like, for of course she’d never actually seen it.

“I don’t comprehend how you can possibly know that,” Silence objected. She poured her sister another cup of the suspiciously fine tea. 

Temperance took the dish of tea and cocked her head, examining the small bump beneath Silence’s yellow silk morning gown. “Definitely a boy. You’re wearing him slightly to the left.”

Silence looked askance at her abdomen. As far as she could tell, “he” was quite symmetrically situated on her person. “What does that mean?”

“Nell Jones swears that girls lean to the right and boys”—Temperance took a prim sip of tea—“list to the left.”

“I don’t think he—or she—is listing left or right,” Silence retorted. “Besides, Nell Jones has no children of her own.”

“Yes, but she knew several, er…ladies who did. You know, in her previous life.” Temperance waved a hand to indicate the previous life of Nell, which, sadly, had been that of a traveling actress fallen upon hard times and thus forced to sell her body. Fortunately that part of Nell’s life was in the past and she now made her living as the right hand woman at the Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children in St. Giles. Their late father had founded the Home and both Temperance and Silence had managed it before their respective marriages.

“Hmm,” Silence murmured noncommittally, peering at the partially demolished tea tray. “All of those lovely little lemon curd tarts are gone already. Do you think I ought to ring for more?”

“Well, you are eating for two now,” Temperance said sensibly. “Better have Cook send some more and add another half dozen of those divine cake things.”

“Good idea.” Silence rang the little bell by the tray and gave orders to the maid who promptly scurried off. “More tea while we wait?”

“Please.” Temperance handed over her dish. “I can’t remember having tasted better. Wherever do you get it from?”

“Oh, well…” Silence murmured vaguely—and a little guiltily. The truth of the matter was that Michael, her husband, brought home the tea—and other odd luxuries—at regular intervals, and considering his former profession as a pirate, she wasn’t sure she wanted to know where the tea came from.

It was, after all, terribly good.

Fortunately, Temperance still had other matters on her mind. “Aren’t you at all curious if it’s a boy or girl?”

“Well, naturally,” Silence said. “But since there’s no way to tell, I’ll just have to be surprised, won’t I?”

“Oh, I can’t believe I forgot!” Temperance exclaimed, sitting forward excitedly on the settee. “Verity swears by a silver needle on a silk thread, held before the mother’s belly.”

“Really?” Silence wrinkled her nose doubtfully. She respected and loved their eldest sister, but Verity was prone to odd superstitions.

“Really,” Temperance said decisively. “It’s quite scientific. If the needle revolves clockwise, it’s a boy. If it turns counter-clockwise, it’s a girl. Verity performed it on me and the needle predicted a girl—and two months later my darling Annalise was born.”

Well that did seem to put matters in a different perspective. 

Silence glanced vaguely around her sitting room. “My sewing bag is here somewhere. I fancy I’d left it on the table there.” She twisted to point to a gold marble side table across the room near the door. It was bare save for a clock and an alabaster vase. “Odd.” She stood to see better and immediately caught sight if her bag—lying open beneath the table, her silks in a tangled mess.

“Oh, dear,” Silence muttered.

While at the same time, Temperance said, “It’s awfully quiet.”

Silence exchanged an alarmed glance with her sister and then both hurried to a gilded Oriental screen that stood beside the table and hid one corner of the sitting room.

Silence stopped short when she rounded the screen. There sitting on the floor was her own sweet adopted daughter, Mary Darling, aged four years of age. Beside her, Annalise, who had just turned two, was astride an enormous bulldog. Lad the bulldog lay sprawled on his side, apparently content to be a hobbyhorse for the toddler.

But that wasn’t what made Temperance gasp from behind her. Annalise’s fine dark hair, formerly shoulder-length, was now only shoulder-length on one side. The other had been cropped nearly to her scalp. Wisps of straight dark hair mixed with black curls lay on the floor.

Silence swung on her daughter and only now noticed that the hair all around her face had been cut as well. “Mary Darling!”

Mary Darling immediately hid her hands behind her back and widened big, dark eyes. “Mama?”

“What’s happened?”

Silence didn’t need the welcoming thump of Lad’s tail to know who stood behind them at the door. She turned, feeling like she should be hiding her own hands behind her back.

Michael stood just inside the door, eyebrows raised. As always her heart gave a little leap at the sight of him—even in such awkward circumstances. Beside Michael was Lord Caire, Temperance’s rather daunting husband. 

“Papa! Gog!” Annalise cried, thumping Lad’s shoulder in excitement.

Lord Caire’s eyes went to his daughter, shorn like a sheep by a particularly inept shepherd, and his face went completely blank. 

Oh, dear. Temperance and Caire’s first visit to Windward House had been going so well.

In the excruciating quiet that followed, Silence searched for something to say, but before she could, Michael stepped forward. He scooped his daughter into his arms, deftly extracted Silence’s own embroidery scissors from Mary’s hands, set them on the table, and turned smoothly to Caire. “That brandy?”

Caire inclined his head without speaking. In fact, he appeared to be pursing his lips rather firmly. Wordlessly, he picked up his own daughter, following his host from the room.

As they exited, Silence could hear Michael’s rich baritone voice speaking to their daughter. “Now then, Mary, m’dear, have I not told ye ‘tisn’t done to cut one’s guest’s tresses? Other parts of them, perhaps…”

And then two masculine voices burst into laughter.

Silence huffed out her exasperation and looked at her sister.

Temperance rolled her eyes. “Beasts! Gentlemen find the oddest things amusing.”

“Quite.” Silence bent to scoop up the forlorn little locks of hair. “I am so sorry.”

“She’d never had her hair cut.” Temperance accepted her daughter’s hair and for a moment Silence’s heart dropped as her sister’s eyes grew damp. Then Temperance brightened. “Oh! But I saw the most darling little girls’ caps on Bond Street the other day.”

And Silence breathed a sigh of relief.

# # #

Later that night Silence lay in bed as she watched her husband undress. She’d found quite early in their marriage that Michael preferred sleeping in the nude, a startling—and exciting—discovery. She couldn’t quite bring herself to do the same and always wore a chemise—though on most nights it was summarily stripped from her body and thrown to the floor by her husband.

“It’ll grow back soon enough,” Michael said as he tossed his breeches over a chair.

“But I don’t understand why Mary cut it off in the first place?” Silence said plaintively. “And to do it to her poor cousin as well!”

“She said she wanted her hair to match mine.” Michael smirked and took off his smallclothes—which distracted her for a moment. He strolled toward their bed, quite magnificently naked. “I expect Annalise’s crop was just for fun.”

“I need to talk to Mary Darling about what she considers fun,” Silence said darkly. 

Michael climbed into the bed without replying, his heat warming her more than covers or chemise.

“I do miss your long hair.” She reached up and ran her fingers through his inky cropped locks. He’d shaved his head to better fit the white wig that the shipbuilder Michael Rivers wore, but she’d been so horrified that now he kept his black hair just long enough for the curls to show. “I rather liked your wild pirate twists.”

“Did ye now?” he asked, slipping into his Irish brogue. He tugged at the blue ribbon that tied her chemise shut at the bosom. “An’ was that the only thing ye liked about me pirate?”

“Well, no,” she gasped as he bent to kiss her neck. A thought intruded and for a moment she almost lost it under his lips. But she made a heroic effort and pushed him back so she could see his face. “Do you miss being a pirate—miss the life you had before we wed?”

She watched as his wide, sensuous mouth stretched into an indulgent smile. “No, sweetin’. I have everythin’ I need and want in this life right here. Well, here and up there.” He raised his eyes to the ceiling. Mary Darling’s nursery lay on the floor above. He lowered his gaze, sobering. “Never think I regret anythin’, Silence, me love.”

She smiled tremulously back at him. Her expectant state had made her somewhat watery at the oddest times, she’d found. “Neither do I—regret anything, that is.”

“Not even the hidin’?”

That had certainly been hard, especially at first. Michael had been under a sentence of death for his piracy so they’d been forced to live very quietly in Greenwich as Mr. and Mrs. Rivers. For months Silence had only exchanged the most cautious of correspondence with her family. It’d only been last year that Michael had let her visit Temperance—and then only in disguise. But now, two years after the fire that had destroyed Mickey O’Connor’s extravagant London palace, the furor over his escape from the gallows had finally died down. Charming Mickey the pirate was presumed dead in the palace inferno, his fame passing into legend.

She looked at him now, framing his dear face, and answered with honesty. “No. I don’t regret even the hiding. It’s been more than worth it to be with you. To be a family with Mary Darling and you.”

“Yer happiness is the lantern that lights me life,” he whispered and kissed her, his hot lips effortlessly parting hers.

It was another moment before she could draw proper breath. “I did very much enjoy finally being able to invite my sister to my house.”

“Ye had a good visit, then?” he asked, nuzzling behind her ear.

“Mmm.” She closed her eyes, before remembering something she’d wanted to ask him. “Michael?”

“Aye?” He was nibbling on the skin just below her ear and the sensation made her want to squirm.

“Temperance said there is to be a gathering at the Home this Christmas. All the Lady’s Syndicate will be there with their families. Do you think we might be able to attend?”

He raised his head, a slight frown between his brows. “Ye know well the danger.”

“Yes.” She bit her lip regretfully. “Oh, you’re quite right. I shouldn’t have asked.”

He nipped in admonishment at her bottom lip. “Let me think on it, sweetin’. Perhaps I might find a way.”

She wound her arms about his neck and beamed. “Of course you can. You’re the most clever pirate I know.”

He growled at that and was soon drawing off her chemise and kissing his way down her body.

“Temperance says it will be a boy,” Silence said dreamily as he paid special attention to the mound of her belly. “Would that please you?”

“Be it a lad or a lass, I’ll be pleased,” was the muttered reply.

“Well, if it is a boy, I’d like to call it Concord, after my brother. How does that sound to you?” She frowned slightly. “Just as well if it is a boy—I haven’t the faintest idea what we’d name a girl.”

But Michael had finally tired of her chatter and, as he’d just reached the curls below her belly, Silence had too.

…Which was how four months later Concordia Temperance Rivers came by her unusual name.