"As our own dear parents did, you mean?" Aimee enjoyed herself pulling Mac's hair until he swung her high in the air and gently tossed and caught her. She squealed in delight.
"Yes," Isabella said. "I remember what a lonely, unwanted feeling that was. I'll not have Aimee growing up glimpsing us from afar."
Isabella had decided. Mac held Aimee close again but felt a qualm of misgiving. He'd known that losing their baby had hurt Isabella deeply, but he hadn't realized until this moment just how much she longed for children. Enough that she was ready to make Aimee hers? Using a twisted logic that Aimee would never have been born if Isabella hadn't left Mac?
One thing was certain: Whatever Isabella's complicated motivations, she was determined to go to London with Aimee. Aimee was quiet only around Mac, and Mac was determined not to let Isabella out of his sight.
Ergo, they were off to London. He and Isabella, who'd thus far been two wary satellites circling each other, were now part of a solid threesome.
London was shocked to hear of the estrangement between the Scottish Lord and his Lady. The Lord has retreated to the Continent, and the Lady lives in Mount Street no longer. There is a saying, that many a bride and groom should heed, which is Marry in haste, Repent at leisure.
Mac had called Isabella courageous on the terrace, but Isabella saw Mac's true colors on the journey to London. They left the day after giving Mirabelle a proper funeral, her grave sad in the rain-soaked churchyard.
Aimee had taken to Mac with a vengeance and scarcely allowed anyone else to touch her. She'd conceded to letting Isabella hold her, putting together in her tiny brain that Isabella went with Mac. But she also made it clear that she preferred Mac. He cheerfully obliged and let Aimee sit on his lap, play with his watch fob, bounce on his knee, tug his hair, and grab his nose.
Isabella had never thought of Mac as being good with children-when she'd carried his child, she'd been secretly worried that Mac might not be interested in the babe once it was born. Now as she watched from her seat in the compartment, Isabella observed with amusement that Mac might be even better with children than she was. He fed Aimee milk from a cup, let her tear apart the bread that came with his dinner, and balked only when it was time to change her nappy. There were limits, Mac said as he handed the soiled child to Evans. The servant had softened quite suddenly to Mac after observing him with Aimee, and had taken to giving him indulgent smiles.
As the train rolled on, Mac fell asleep leaning against the compartment wall, and Aimee slept in his arms. The sight of Isabella's large husband in kilt sprawled across the seat with a baby on his chest made her heart warm.
When they reached London the next morning, Mac directed his town coachman to take them to Isabella's house
. Isabella was very aware of her neighbors' stares as she descended from the coach in North Audley Street, followed by her estranged husband carrying a baby. She sensed curtains lifting, faces at windows. Mac was right: The gossip would be merciless.
Her household staff, on the other hand, rose to the occasion. Morton had been warned by telegrams from Bellamy to expect them, and he'd cleared the bedroom where Daniel had slept to make a nursery. He'd also taken the liberty of contacting his niece, a nanny who was currently looking for a post. Morton had arranged for Miss Westlock to arrive for an interview that afternoon, if that were convenient for her ladyship, that is.
"This is why I say you stole my best servants," Mac said. "Morton is a god among butlers."
"I endeavor to give satisfaction, my lord," Morton said coolly.
"I know you do, Morton, but I'm aware that you would throw me over in a heartbeat if you had to choose between myself and my wife. Tell Bellamy to fix me a dollop of Darjeeling, there's a good chap."
Isabella did like Miss Westlock when she met her, as she was certain she would if Morton recommended her, and hired her on the spot. A no-nonsense woman of thirty-five, Miss Westlock had taken for granted that she wouldn't be turned away and had her bags with her. She promptly moved in to the upstairs room next to the nursery and assumed her duties.
Isabella planned to spend the rest of the day unpacking and shopping. There were plenty of things to buy-a pram, nappies, baby furniture, baby clothes, toys. Mac left her to it, saying he would return to his own house with Bellamy to look over what the builders were repairing. He ended up taking Aimee and Miss Westlock with him, because Aimee made it clear she wasn't yet ready to let Mac out of her sight.
Isabella felt a twinge amusement but also of sadness as she watched Mac climb into his coach holding the child, Miss Westlock following with a large bag of supplies. Isabella and Mac had been in one another's pockets since leaving London; it seemed strange now to not turn around and trip over him.
Three and a half years I lived without him, she reminded herself. Three and a half years. And yet, one afternoon without Mac, and the house seemed empty. She decided that the best recourse was to keep busy, so she ordered the coach and went to Regent Street.
Isabella discovered that she liked shopping for children. She perused the merchandise at so many shops that Evans began growling about shoe leather wearing thin. Isabella shushed her and piled the woman's arms high with picture books, building bricks, a tiny tea service, and a dolly about half Evans's size. The acquaintances Isabella met on this trip were clearly curious, and Isabella told them straight out that she was planning to adopt a child. They'd know sooner or later, she reasoned. She hardly meant to keep Aimee a secret.