Epilogue

Adena turned away from the wet landscape. It had been raining since morning, shrouding the countryside in a grey haze. Now, the rain had receded, leaving a dismal grey sky in its wake. The dreary sky matched Adena's stormy mood. She had spent all morning confined to the small carriage with nothing but her worries to occupy her.

Her physical wounds had long since healed and the bruises had begun to fade; the emotional scars, however, still remained. Vivid nightmares plagued her during the night, featuring all of her most feared enemies. Her battered mind resurrected Rochester and conjured Callyne Dane who had disappeared into the countryside while the other rebels were captured. Unbelievably real, she was startled awake each night when the dreams finally overwhelmed her, but Damien was always by her side, his steady breathing anchoring her into reality. His presence was comforting during those dark hours. His infallible strength gave her great peace when she felt the most vulnerable.

Damien sat beside her, but she was so absorbed in her thoughts that she was almost oblivious to his presence. Instead, she was surrounded by the ghosts of her past. Her only tangible tie to those spectral memories lie folded between her hands- Ian's note. She had forgotten about the little piece of paper she had tucked away into the folds of her skirt that night they escaped. Damien, though, had salvaged the forgotten letter from among the ragged clothes they had worn during their time with the rebels

By now, the crease was well-worn and threatening to split along the tattered seam. She had folded and refolded the crease many times since she first read the note. The edges of the paper were soft from constant handling; she could not stop herself from again pulling it out and staring at the words that she had long ago memorized.

Adena,

I hope you are far, far away from the rebellion by now. At this point, unfortunately, escape is no longer an option for me—I can only hope that my decision to help you does not cost me my life.

You can't always be torn between the past and the future—between who you are who you once wished to be.

Keep on going, and don't look back. Your husband is a good man, and I am sure he will be loyal to you. Love him to the fullest, Adena.

Your friend,

Ian

Her eyes traced the hastily-written, handwritten note. Ian had always been insightful, seeing things that few others did. Apparently, he had been watching her and Damien; he had seen her internal conflict when no one else did, and now he was dead. Perhaps it was guilt or sympathy that finally prompted her to visit the farm where it had all begun. Ian death saddened her but it also fostered a new longing within her. She hoped to finally gain some closure and heed Ian's sagely advice.

After awaking from a particularly disturbing nightmare the night before, she had lain awake, contemplating her life. She realized, painfully, that her entire life had been spent looking back—wishing that she was somewhere else and never engaging the present. In the city as a young girl, she had always longed for the freedom she had when they lived in the country. After Roy died, she had always wished to return to the time when he lived. She was never content. Now, she found herself looking forward to their return to Waverley. The anticipation was an unfamiliar emotion.

She felt content now, though, as she turned her head to look at the man beside her. His stony inscrutability had once frustrated her; now, though, she found herself detecting the subtle changes in his expression that signaled his emotions. Watching him, she could see the almost imperceptible tap of his right index finger, a sign of his impatience. She reached a hand to still the appendage, placing her hand on top of his. He looked up and offered her a smile. She returned the gesture, though her attempt felt weak and false. Her mind was still preoccupied, especially as the first familiar landmarks came into view. It was the beginning of the long, wooden fence that lined the property, the edge of the lands where she and Roy had taken their morning rides. She could see the rise of the wheat crop in the distance, the high grasses swaying in the wind.

Noting her distress, Damien's turned over his hand and laced his fingers with hers. His warmth did little to calm the nervous tremble in her hands. The memories returned as they reached the long road leading toward the cottage where the family lived. Anxiety welled in her stomach as the worries she had buried for the past few hours reemerged. What would she say? Could she handle the devastating grief the family was experiencing? Could she bring herself to explain her role in Daphne's second son's death?

She recalled Daphne's sunken eyes and downcast face when Roy died; the tears that appeared even as she completed the most innocuous tasks, like washing the dishes or milking the cow. A year ago, Adena shrank away from the tears and pain, seeking solitude to nurse her own sorrows. She still felt poorly-equipped to handle the anguish of that loss, but she would not flee this time. If she had learned anything since marrying Damien, it was that she could not shirk her duties or ignore the woes of life. She would weather this moment.

That assurance stilled the shaking and calmed her. Finally, the barn came into sight—the same flat plots stretching as far as the eye could see, the fence lining the property boundary alongside the river, and the small home nestled in the distance. She could see Ryan carrying buckets of water toward the home. She was amazed by how tall he had grown since she last saw him—he was almost as tall as his brothers once were. His face had thinned, the final remnants of baby fat had fallen away and the well-defined features of a handsome young man had replaced it. Her heart ached to watch him. He disappeared into the house.

The carriage rolled toward the home, the gravel crunching beneath the large wheels. The carriage stopped and she could hear the driver hopping down and walking around to open the door. Her stomach knotted uncomfortably as the door swung open beside her. She climbed out onto the dirt road, wringing her hands nervously as Damien exited the carriage behind her. She looked around slowly before allowing her gaze to drift to the door. Ryan had left it ajar and she could hear Daphne's reproachful call as she instructed him to close it. His face appeared at the door and he peered out at them curiously before calling for his mother. Daphne stepped outside the door.

They stared at one another—Adena with fretful nervousness and Daphne with first confusion and then realization.

"Adena?" she called, her brow furrowed.

Adena swallowed nervously, the hot tears pooling in her eyes threatening to fall over her lashes. A powerful swell of emotion washed over her as she watched the small yet strong woman watching her curiously. Her vision blurred with tears.

"Oh, Adena…" Daphne began, holding open her arms.

Adena rushed into the comforting arms. She had forgotten the comforting warmth of her embrace, the homely smell of flour and violets that belonged distinctly to Daphne. The tears spilled over, running down Adena's face without regard. The firm embrace did not waver, however, despite her wracking sobs. Adena had never allowed her emotions to overcome her in such a public display of grief and pain. She had cordoned her pain to a long-forgotten corner of her heart where she was not forced to address it. The floodgates had opened, though, and she openly cried without regard to her audience or propriety. Deep in her heart, she knew she deserved this moment.

"There, there, dear," Daphne whispered soothingly.

No one attempted to quiet her crying, and, instead, Daphne held her until the tears finally ended. Adena was exhausted, emotionally, and yet, for the first time in ages, she felt a new lightness within her. She had not cried when Roy died, not when she had married, not when she finally escaped the rebellion. The tears were long overdue.

"Are you feeling better?" Daphne asked, her eyes crinkled with an encouraging smile.

Adena nodded. Her eyes widened, though, as she watched Daphne's calm face.

"You don't know," she whispered fearfully.

"Know what, deary?"

"Ian…" Adena swallowed painfully. "He's dead—"

Daphne stroked her arm soothingly. No surprise crossed her face, and, to Adena, it seemed that she almost watched her with amusement.

"I don't think so," Daphne whispered.

"How? But the rebels said—" Adena began.

Daphne placed a finger against Adena's mouth.

"Call it a mother's intuition," Daphne replied with a soft smile.

Adena nodded but could not help but doubt her instincts when faced with the ruthless justice of the rebellion. She did not have the heart to contradict the old woman, though, who seemed so at peace with her life.

"Who is this you have brought with you, deary?" Daphne asked, returning her thoughts to Damien.

"This is my husband, Damien," she introduced softly. She wiped the remaining tears from her eyes as she blotted her sleeves against her puffy eyes.

Damien, ever the gentleman, made an elegant bow to Daphne. When he straightened, though, he stepped back and wrapped an arm around Adena's shoulders.

Daphne watched him warily, her eyes resting for a moment on the casual arm draped across her shoulders before inspecting his face. After a moment of scrutiny, the hard line of her mouth turned up into a soft smile.

"I like him," she announced.

Damien allowed a rare, teasing smirk to grow across his face. He laughed, the unfamiliar sound causing Adena to show her own small smile. Adena reflected on the strange company assembled outside the small farmhouse. A widow, her son, a duke, and the woman who intertwined their fates. They represented her past and her future. She had once despaired of a life where the two could coexist—where the simplicity of their life could mingle with the fastidious court, where she could acknowledge her past with the courage to face her future. Contentment flooded her. She could return with Damien to the capitol or Waverley with the assurance that she also had a place among these people.

Daphne invited them inside and turned to walk into the house. Damien's arm still lay across her shoulders and she snaked her arm behind him to wrap around his waist. She tugged gently against his side, and he moved closer to her, his own grip tightening. He looked down at her, the remnants of laughter still dancing in his eyes. She smiled at him, allowing it to reach her eyes.

His grin broadened and he leaned down to kiss her—she relished the way his kiss made her whole body team with energy. For better or for worse, she was inextricably committed to him, and to the exciting life they could build together.


Well, folks, that's it (again). I want to thank all of you who have followed this story for a while, especially those of you who bore with me through the days of my infrequent updates. There is a certain satisfaction to completing this story, especially with a word total around 74,000 words. I am very grateful to my wonderful reviewers who have always supported me with your kind and encouraging words.

This isn't the end, though. Even as I am beginning my next work, Thorns and Brambles, I also hope to begin a series of edits and revisions of Wildflower. On that note, I hope you all go to my profile and check out the prologue of Thorns and Brambles, which I have posted along with this epilogue.

If you have not taken the opportunity to review, then I hope that you will take advantage of this opportunity to let me know what you think. Your input has been so encouraging throughout this entire process, and I truly look forward to hearing from all of you who have taken the time to complete this journey with me.

Once again, thank you all. I hope to hear from each of you as I begin to post Thorns and Brambles.