Wow. I am actually awed by how many people are still reading this story. The email it's attached to hasn't been in operation for about three years, so until two days ago when I got this strange feeling to look back at my old work, I had absolutely no idea. You all deserve to know how this ends, and what I had planned for it. It was going to be two stories, one very long (this one), and one much shorter (Jane's). Here's the conclusion for both.

Darla

Since becoming sober, Darla has begun to live a relatively normal life. Mr. Briston is courting her like a good English lady (which is a difficult adjustment for her for a while), she begins recieving invites to balls, soirees, and luncheons from women she used to think hated her. Things start looking up, but there continues to be a nagging feeling from within that she's not good enough to be spending time with countesses, and duchesses.

Darla begins to develop deep feelings for Ray, feeling a desire building for him that he is irritatingly resistant on. For months they dance around the issue until finally one night after a long, and gruelling soiree at the ever unpleasant residence of Lord and Lady Barlett, Darla manages to sneak away with Ray on a terrace and share a moment (basically a HJ) to which of course they get caught moments after finishing. Now with a newly compromised reputation, Darla realizes the next step. She becomes Mrs. Darla Briston, much to her peers surprise. Their wedding night is everything Darla hoped it would be, and more. She is quite pleased with her new standing as an industrialists wife.

Ray doesn't like the townhouse, as it is nothing but a cruel reminder to Darla of what her life used to be. He buys a residence in Mayfair, and it's all very fancy and beautiful, much to her delight. Darla requests that Jane join them in their new home, as she doesn't think it's a good idea for her to move back in with her parents after living in Darla's townhouse for so long. Of course Ray is amenable to the idea, and is happy to provide anything Jane needs.

Darla then makes a grander, and more unusual request, which is to hire an outlandish maid for the home, her old friend Jewel. Ray is less thrilled with this, but knows that this is important to her and agrees. Jewel needs some serious training, but she likes living in the nice home, with her friend, and making a very reasonable wage without having to prostitute herself. She tells Darla that there was talk in the CiCi of letting her go soon, anyways, as she was getting too old to be of much use anymore.

A little over a year into marriage, Darla has learned how to open herself, and allow herself to be vulnerable without fear of disgust or abandonment. She's come a long way. Shortly after Ray goes away on business for a fortnight to Bristol, Darla feels under the weather. Jewel barely blinks as she assures Darla that the reason is surely that she's pregnant. It had been many weeks since her last cycle, and she was waiting for the sickness to kick in.

Darla is not entirely sure how she feels about her new situation, as it brings up a lot of her old feelings of contempt for herself for having seen an abortionist four years before. She is fretting silently over the whole thing one night in the tub, and Jewel, ever the astute woman, assures her that whatever she did in the past should be left behind her. It's time to move on, and start living her life like all of her other friends. Darla knows she's right, but she is fearful of failure; what if she's a bad mother? What if she's too selfish to be a good parent? Jewel shuts that down pretty quick by assuring her with a sigh that the first time you see that small face needing you, something just switches into place. Darla silently reflects over Jewel's own bastard son, Richard, who was being raised by Jewel's brother-in-law (as her sister passed two years before).

Ray is ecstatic over the news when he returns, but plays down his excitement when she tells him, knowing that she is struggling personally with what is happening to her, and between them. She asks Ray if he thinks she has what it takes to make it work. He just smiles and assures her that she's been through a lot more, and come out of a lot harder situations than she gives herself credit for. He believes in her, and he knows it's all going to work out.

Darla really hates being pregnant and helpless. She is fairly demanding, which Ray secretly enjoys. He likes having a super independent woman in his life, but he also enjoys being needed by her. He becomes the master of foot rubs, and lower back massages.

Darla's labour is gruelling, and excrutiating. The baby is breech, and the doctor tells her severely that there is a good chance she will be fine, but there is also a chance that one of them won't make it. Something clicks into place and all Darla can say is "Save my baby. That's all that matters." Jewel is by her side, dabbing her brow and squeezing her hand. She looks down at the doctor at her friend's pelvis and tells him with all the Jewel-rage she can muster "No. Yous bloody saves them bof." Sheer will later, a boy is born, and Darla is exhausted, but not defeated. They both survive and when they ask her what his name is, Darla tells them that she's naming him Richard. Jewel asks her why, after the doctor leaves to wash up the baby, and Darla whispers as she fades to sleep that now they can raise him together. Jewel fights tears and kisses her forehead, and leaves the room.

Ray comes into the labour room shortly after, sees his son for a moment, and asks Darla if she's really going to be alright (as the doctor's assistant told him how serious everything was looking). When she said yes, she was going to be fine, Ray begins to shamelessly weep and crawls onto the bed with her. Exhausted from exertion, and from worry, they both sleep.

Parenthood is an adjustment for Darla, but she's never truly known how much love she was capable of having for one tiny person. Richard is a handsome boy with golden hair, and his father's trademark tiger eyes. He's a hellraiser, and as he grows is often the one instigating mischief with his cousins, and flirting shamelessly with the daughters (and wives...) of lords, much to Ray's amusement, and Darla's horror.

Ray is fearful to have another child with Darla, as Richard's birth almost killed her, but she becomes adamant as he gets older and begins to gain some independence. She has her second child in 1864, when Darla is 34, and Richard is 13. This labour was easy in comparison, much to everyone's relief. Their second baby is another boy that looks nearly identical to Ray, who is now 45.

Coal, which Ray invested in before the industrial boom in the 1850's is now an outstanding commodity. Darla has no position in the aristocracy, but the Briston's just have too much money to be ignored. They're invited to everything, and Ray is still as charming as ever, making admittance into any circle a guarantee.

Darla's life is right where it should be. She finally found exactly where she belonged.

Astor/Lord Hastings

Astor had a long, but relatively safe labour that resulted in a healthy, loud, dark haired, blue eyed little girl named Eileen. Darla and Jane assisted as best they could during the birth, but with no previous experience, felt rather ridiculous. Darla made a distinct point of staying above the waist, and Jane had fewer reservations, and attempted to assist the doctor as best she could.

By the time the baby arrived, Astor was exhausted and emotional, crying into Darla's skirts and assuring her she was glad that she was here with her. Before Jane and Darla took their leave, Darla kissed Astor on the brow and told her she loved her, too. She then ruined the tender moment by making a very Darla-like quip about how after bearing witness to such a thing, she can be sure to never desire children in her life. Astor didn't laugh, she just asked for her husband, Max.

Max barrelled up the stairs after the ladies assured him he was allowed in, and closed the door for privacy. He inspected his daughter for a moment, and crawled into the bed Astor rested on whispering to her how proud he was of her, how much he loved her, how much she means to him. They fall asleep together quietly.

Astor and Max have 4 children: three girls, and one boy (1849, 1852, and twin girls in 1855). Fatherhood suits Lord Hastings quite well, and Astor is a strict, but loving mother in turn. Their kids are all intelligent, and accomplished, like their parents.

Astor and Max return to Ireland in 1850, around a year after Darla's first steps towards recovery, and maintain a positive, loving relationship with her, albeit occasionally strained by hot-headedness. But they travel back and forth between Ireland, and England quite often for family events, and friends.

Jane

Jane was abandoned by her love, Thomas Kingsley, in the garden at the party hosted by Lord and Lady Kinsen. After the birth of Eileen, Jane retreats to her room to her broken heart. She refuses to leave her bed for many days. Darla, Max, and Cissy are unable to persuade her downstairs. The one who manages to help is Astor. Astor is slow moving, having just given birth, but she sits on Jane's bed and speaks with her for a long while, assuring her that the truth about love is that the person you may have once thought was the ideal person for you turns out to be a detour on the way to your future. Jane doesn't entirely believe it, but she is stirred by the fact that Astor cares so deeply when she's feeling so poorly (remember, people, there's no T-3's in 1849. Only Morphine, which they can't have in the house with Darla.)

Jane attempts to reconcile her fate, and tries to go about things as usual. Something eats at her though, that Thomas said in his anger, which was that no one asked after her when she was absent taking care of Darla. She had thought that she had shaken her wallflower reputation, but this makes her wonder if she will forever be the one that is forgotten.

Trying to live life normally, Jane attends balls and soirees with Darla, and Ray as usual, but there's a new air around it now. The looks of sympathy from older women, the looks of amusement from their daughters; it's all too much. She escapes from a stuffy ballroom one night, having had enough of the jeering-about three months after Thomas rejected her-and stumbles across a familiar viscount drinking brandy on the terrace; Lord Callaghan, the reprehensible rake who is friends with Lord Kinsen, and amazingly, Lord Hastings.

He mostly ignores her, and she aims to do the same, and goes to sit on a bench. After a few minutes of awkward silence, he tells her to go back inside, because everyone knows that if she's caught alone with him outside, even ten feet apart, her reputation will be completely ruined. She shares with him that she's not entirely sure she has a reputation anymore, as someone has dragged it through the dirt without just cause. Callaghan laughs cruelly, and turns to her. He asks her if she's the wallflower that was jilted at the Kinsen's just a few months past. Furious, Jane gets up to leave, but not before Callaghan assures her that Thomas Kingsly is a man of low character, and even lower calibur if he goes spreading rumors about a woman he shouldn't of had half a chance with anyway. With that, he takes his leave, shouldering past Jane and leaving her on the terrace to consider what he said.

Exhausted by the charade, she basically aims to hide outside for most of the evening. Mr. Briston eventually finds her and assures her the if she's not comfortable here, that they can go. He laughs and tells her that Darla would probably thank her for getting her the hell out of this obligation, as she had very little interest at being gawked at either.

Months go by, and Jane begins hiding away from social functions, but maintains building a solid friendship with Grace, Lady Kinsen. Grace wants her to participate in more festivities, and assures her that she is doing everything in her power (which is a great deal) to help build her reputation back up. Jane simply reconciles herself to being a spinster, much to Grace's disappointment.

Darla and Ray have married and ask her to join them in their new home, which she feels strange about, but agrees upon, realizing that she can't return to Abigail, and Nathan's home after living apart from them for nearly two years. Living in Mayfair is quite lovely, and Jane immerses herself into hobbies, and novels to stave off the boredom of being single and feeling like a burden.

Now 25, Jane is officially a spinster; and unmarriable crone. While she accepted her fate, something inside of her wished quite deeply for it to be a falsity. Darla announces her pregnancy, and Jane is happy for her, but deeply saddened for herself. She receives a correspondence from her mother shortly thereafter that her father has taken ill. She decides to go help her father in his last days (which turns out to be about a month). Abigail, now a widow, tells her daughter that if she wants to live here, she's welcome to, because she is going to Spain to enjoy her later years with another widow, who she has been friends with for many years.

Realizing she had nowhere left to turn, with her sisters both having husbands, and families, she considered her options. Ray Briston, ever the loving brother-in-law had assured her that he would pay her dowry, as her father had very little money set aside for her. Her dowry from Mr. Briston was quite substantial, but she hadn't a suitor to consider.

She takes up residence in the old family home, but isn't accustomed to living alone. Darla begs her to stay in Mayfair with her, Ray, and Richard, but Jane feels as if she's intruding. She decides to stay in her childhood home, which is in need of repair, with her favourite maid Cissy.

A few months later, the house is seized, as it technically belongs to the inheritor of her father's old title. A distant cousin is to take possession of the home, and Jane is once again out of luck.

Desperate, and without many options, Jane begins to think of what she could possibly do to make this all work out, and an absolutely insane thought comes to her. Instead of treating a marriage like a loving agreement between people, she was going to treat it like a business transaction. Thinking of all the extremely poor unattached peers she knew, it came down to three; Lord Vantridge, a boy of about nineteen; Lord Marsden, a bit of a windbag, but not altogether entirely unpleasant; and last but not least, Lord Callaghan.

The thought of marrying Callaghan was hardly a prospect one would consider were they not in dire straits; but dire her situation was, so she couldn't be too picky. Knowing his need for money, and his father's reputation as a financial imbecile, it could work. On the other hand, he was a known womanizer, and a callous man; hardly the type to associate with wallflowers.

Bolstering up some incredible courage, Jane went to Callaghan's residence in the late evening after Cissy had gone to sleep. A maid saw her to a study where the viscount was lounging on a chaise lounge with a glass of amber liquor. He didn't look up when she entered, and simply instructed her to remove her clothing. Outraged, Jane assured him that she would be doing no such thing. The viscount seemed to choke on his drink, and turned swiftly around to inspect her. Obviously she was not the visitor he was expecting.

Demanding to know why the hell she was at his home so late at night, as he had been expecting an entirely different kind of company, Callaghan seemed almost comically thrown off balance. Jane, without asking, took a seat across from the incredibly handsome lord sitting there in his shirtsleeves. Swallowing her nerves, Jane apologized for intruding when he was expecting female company. He said nothing, and waited for her to continue. She laid out a proposition for him; they would marry, and consummate, to ensure legal precedence, and then she would take up residence either here or elsewhere he provided, and she would ensure that her substantial dowry was given to him.

Callaghan demanded to know why he would want to marry a woman such as herself, and Jane sat up taller as she assured him he didn't have a great deal of choice, seeing as his coffers were just about dried up, and even the most reprehensible of gentleman's houses were about to start refusing him service due to his terrible credit. Annoyed, but impressed with her audacity, Lord Callaghan asked her for her name again. She told him, and asked for his in turn.

Adam, Lord Callaghan agreed to her terms.

They met back up in the morning, and planned their debut as an engaged couple. Jane asked him to be a little bit more circumspect than he usually chose to be during their betrothal. She assured him that she hardly needed more gossip coming her way. He told her that after a while the whispers stopped bothering you, and you would begin to embrace it as part of your identity. Jane assured him that was hardly the identity she wanted. Adam laughed and told her that with a betrothal as abrupt as this one, and with him nonetheless, she would be the centre of gossip for the next year. Hardly thrilled but accepting, Jane and Adam announced their engagement at a ball thrown by the Kinsen's.

Though Lord Callaghan was a friend of Lord Hastings, he was absolutely horrified by the news. Perhaps it was because he knew his friend quite well that he didn't understand the match. Darla, Ray, Astor, and Max all aired their concern, and even erupted in a few yelling matches over the news, but Jane was being incredibly hard-headed about the whole thing, and assured them all that no matter what they thought, she was marrying Lord Callaghan, as it was the best thing for her at the time.

Grace, also knowing her husband's friend quite well, immediately became worried. Plenty of pregnancy speculation began to emerge, but the two of them ignored most of the shock and wed. Now married to the most handsome man in the peerage, possibly England, Jane felt more than a little nervous on her wedding night.

Callaghan came into her bridal chamber that evening and asked her tentatively if she had ever been touched by a man in any way at all. She hadn't. He sighed heavily and looked annoyed. He told her that he had kind of hoped she had prematurely consummated her relationship with Thomas Kingsly. He had never had an interest in bedding virgins before, because he assured her as a rule, they were rather fickle, and dull. She sniffed at him that she would do her best not to bore him. He smiled at her and told her to simply allow him to entertain himself, and not to hold herself back. Her wedding night experience was much more pleasant than she thought it would be, as her husband was a very accomplished sexual partner.

Life continued on in a new trajectory; her siblings were having families, as were her friends, and she only had a relationship of banter and unbelievably good sex with her husband. Soon, through the physical act of intimacy, and the back and forth wit between the two, Jane felt herself beginning to fall for her husband.

One night at a ball, about six months after her marriage started, Jane witnessed another woman kiss Adam lewdly behind a staircase. Feeling the blooming burn of jealousy, she turned and rejoined the festivities, and later rode silently with him home, ignoring his prodding over her change of mood.

When they returned home, Adam began to kiss and undress her skillfully in her bedroom, but she pushed him away and rebuffed his advances. Questioning her poor mood, Adam was annoyed, but not angry, she noticed. Telling him that she didn't wish to engage in their sexual relationship any longer, she turned and tried to go to bed. He stopped her and asked if he did something that hurt her the previous night, or if he did something she didn't like. She simply told him that while she deeply enjoys the physical relationship they have, she doesn't wish to be another one of the women he eventually grows tired of and resents.

Adam, now visibly annoyed, tells her that he hardly finds her boring in bed. Jane keeps her expression marshaled and tells him that she knows he has other lovers, and she knows it will hardly be difficult for him to meet his needs elsewhere. She doesn't desire to be some woman that he uses up, and then casts aside. Adam leaves without a word, and she hears his bedroom door close heavily in the distance.

Now, without the sexual parameters of their relationship, they fall into a strange new routine. They begin to get to know one another, and find they have some unusual likenesses, such as an interest in medieval philosophy. Something begins to spark between them, but neither is willing to be the one to admit it.

Jane and Darla live very close to one another and spend a great deal of time together with Richard, who is now a toddler. Darla listens to Jane's woes with her husband; mostly about fancying him, though she knows she shouldn't. Darla recommends she test his fidelity before making any declarations. Jane thinks this is a terrible idea, as she's sure he will fail. Darla says that's all the more reason to do it.

Jane goes out on a limb and enlists the help of Jewel to see what he husband would do in such a situation, knowing his former penchant for working girls, and servants. Jewel makes a bold pass at him at the Briston residence one day when they're visiting and he rebukes her. Jane, fairly thrilled, is surprised later in the carriage ride home when he calls her out on setting him up. She pretends to have no idea what he's talking about, but he sees right through it. They continue to argue as they enter the house, and stomp up to her bedroom to discard her cape.

Their argument becomes heated and they end up having some fairly angry, very satisfying sex for the first time in months. When it's over Jane apologizes for setting him up, she just simply wanted to know what he would do, given the opportunity. Adam just sighs and tells her that he can't apologize to her for the women he knew before her, and he refuses to. She is stung by this but plays it cool. He assures her that he hasn't gone to see any prostitutes or the like since they married. Jane asks if he has had any affairs with non-professional women since their wedding. He stays silent and she rolls over and blows out the candle and a few tears come down onto her pillow before she falls asleep.

A short while later they are at a gathering at Darla and Ray's home with the peerage and the industrialists, and Jane is trying to keep herself occupied with parlour conversation but spots an attractive blonde making eyes at her husband from across the ballroom. Darla sees it, too, and turns her away from the exchange. Later, after dancing and drinking a little, Jane looks around the ballroom, and notices that neither Adam, or the blonde woman are in attendance. Furiously, she goes out onto the terrace, searching for her husband. He's with the woman, but they are not touching, just talking. Even so, Jane, feels the boil of jealousy again, but flames red hot when Adam looks directly at her from over the woman's shoulder.

Embarrassed, Jane leaves them and goes back into the house. She tries to rejoin the revelry, but it's all just bothering her. She makes her way towards the privy to find some time alone when someone grabs her arm and drags her behind a stairway. It's Adam, who looks down at her with a frown. Jane tells him that he doesn't have to explain himself, he is free to do as he pleases. Without so much as a word, he kisses her deeply, and aggressively. He promises her that nothing happened. He knew the woman from before but he rebuked her.

He whispers in her ear like he's confessing a crime; he can't desire another woman now that he's had her, that he wants to keep her away and all to himself and have her over and over again until she doesn't know which way is up. He should be mad at her for making him feel like this, but he can't be, because he thinks he's falling stupidly in love with her.

They don't stay at the party much longer.

Their marriage is a strange, unique, symbiotic one. After a few years they end up having three children; all girls. Adam assures her that his lack of male progeny is a nonissue; he has simply been gifted to be loved by many beautiful women. The girls all have her dark hair, and his steely grey eyes, and high cheekbones.

Most importantly, Jane never again worried over being forgotten.

The End