The silk-upholstered walls of the grand salon at Nicholas DuVille's stately country house near London were lined with priceless paintings by the great masters and furnished with treasures that had graced palaces. It was occupied at the moment by its owner and his four closest friends-Whitney and Clayton Westmoreland and Stephen and Sheridan Westmoreland. Also present on this momentous occasion were the owner's parents -Eugenia and Henri DuVille. The seventh guest was the Dowager Duchess of Claymore who, in addition to being a particular friend of the senior DuVilles, had the honor of being the mother of both Clayton and Stephen.
On this particular day, the guests themselves were seated in two distinct groups in the vast room. One group was comprised of the older parents, namely Eugenia, Henri, and the Dowager Duchess. The other group was comprised of Nicholas DuVille's four friends, who were also parents, but, of course, younger ones.
The seventh occupant of the room, Nicholas DuVille, was not seated with a group, because he was not a parent.
He was waiting to become one, momentarily.
His two male friends, who had endured and survived this nerve-wracking wait, were rather enjoying watching him suffer. They were enjoying it, because Nicholas DuVille was famous among the members of the elite aristocracy for his incomparable ability to remain supremely unruffled, and even amused, in situations that made equally sophisticated gentlemen sweat and swear.
Today, however, that legendary self-control was not in evidence. He was standing at the window, his right hand absently rubbing the tense muscles at the back of his neck. He was standing there because he had already paced across the carpet often enough to make his own mother laughingly tell him that she was becoming exhausted just watching him do that.
Since her heart had been so weak a year ago that she could not walk up a few stairs, and since no one understood how that same heart was now strong enough to allow her to do that and much more, her restless son ceased his pacing at once. But not his worrying.
His two friends eyed his taut back with amusement and sympathy – more of the first and less of the latter, actually-because Nicholas DuVille had once been vastly admired by their own wives for his supreme nonchalance. "As I recall," Stephen Westmoreland lied with a wink, "Clay had a meeting with some business associates while Whitney was in childbed. Afterward, I think we went over to White's for a few hands of high-stakes whist."
Clayton Westmoreland looked over his shoulder at the silent-father-to-be. "Nick, would you like to run over to White's? We could be back by late tonight or early tomorrow."
"Don't be absurd," came the short reply.
"If I were you, I'd go," Stephen Westmoreland advised with a grin. "Once I spread the word that you paced like a caged lion and behaved like an ordinary lunatic, you won't be able to show your face in White's. The management will pull your membership. A pity, too, because you used to add a certain style to the place. Shall I use my influence and see if they'll let you sit in the window now and then, just for old times sake?"
"Go to hell."
Clayton interceded, his tone deceptively solemn. "How about a chess game? It will help pass the time."
"We could play for stakes that would keep your mind on the game. That Rembrandt over there against my son's most recent drawing of Whitney wearing a bucket on her head?"
Whitney and Sheridan, having failed to silence their husbands, got up in unison and walked toward the father-to-be. "Nicki," Whitney said, "it takes time."
"Not this long, it doesn't!" he said shortly. "Whitticomb said it would be over two hours ago."
"I know," Sheridan put in. "And if it's any consolation, Stephen was so upset when our son was born three months ago, that he called poor Dr. Whitticomb an 'incompetent antique' for not being able to do something to help me get it over with sooner."
That information caused Clayton to give his brother a look of amused censure. "Poor Whitticomb," he said. "I'm surprised at you, Stephen. He's an excellent physician, but you can't predict childbirth to the moment. He was with Whitney for nearly twelve hours."
"Really?" Stephen mocked. "And I suppose you thanked him very much for not rushing things along, and letting you wait downstairs hoping to God you still had a wife."
"I said something like that to him, yes," Clayton said, looking at the glass in his hand to hide his smile.
"You certainly did," Dr. Whitticomb agreed, startling everyone as he walked into the room, smiling and drying his hands on a white cloth. "But several hours before you said that, you threatened to throw me out on my – er-nether region and do the midwifing yourself."
He sent a reassuring smile at Nicki who was searching his face with narrowed eyes. "There are some very tired people upstairs who had a bit of a difficult time of it, but they would very much like to see you -" He stopped talking and grinned as the new father strode past him without a word and bounded up the stairs, then he turned toward the new grandparents who were waiting to discover whether the new arrival was boy or girl.
Somewhere far above and beyond the world where all this had taken place, Sarah Skeffington smiled down upon the proceedings, pleased with the way she had used the three small miracles each new arrival in her world was granted. There were limits and parameters on the use of these miracles, which were set by the true Maker of Miracles, but He had approved each one, including the restoration of Madame DuVille's health so that she could see her grandson.
Unaware of all that, Julianna sat propped upon her pillows, writing a letter to her grandmother.
My dearest Grandmother,
Five days ago, our son was born and we have named him John. Nicki is so proud of him, and he is utterly besotted with John's twin sister.
We have named her Sarah, after you.
You are always in my thoughts and in my heart…