She let out a little snort. It was a bit too late for that now.

“Did you say something?” Edward asked.

She shook her head. “Just thinking of Thomas,” she said, since she was actively trying not to lie whenever possible.

“We will find him,” Edward said. “Or we’ll get news. One way or another.”

Cecilia swallowed, trying to push down the lump in her throat as she gave him a grateful nod. She was not alone in this anymore. She was still scared, and anxious, and full of self-doubt, but she wasn’t alone.

It was staggering what a difference that made.

Edward started to say something more, but they were interrupted by the young woman who had brought their food earlier. Like everyone in New York, Cecilia thought, she looked tired and overworked.

And hot. Honestly, Cecilia didn’t know how people lived through these summers. The air at home was never this thick with moisture unless it was actually raining.

She’d heard the winters were equally extreme. She prayed she was not still here when the first snow fell. One of the soldiers in hospital had told her that the ground froze through like a rock, and the wind was enough to nip your ears off.

“Sir,” the young lady said with a quick curtsy, “your bath is ready.”

“You need it even more now,” Cecilia said, motioning to his ink-smudged fingers. It went without saying that no one at the Devil’s Head had the time or inclination to seal the ink with a hot iron.

“It does make one long for the comforts of home,” he murmured, glancing idly at his fingertips.

She arched a brow. “Really? This is what you miss most? A well-ironed newspaper?”

He shot her a bit of a look, but she rather thought he liked when she teased him. He was not the sort of man who would wish to be treated like an invalid, with people tiptoeing around him and watching their words. Still, when he set down the newspaper and glanced toward the exit, Cecilia stopped herself from asking if he would like assistance up the stairs and instead stood and silently held out her arm. She had seen what it cost him to ask for her help back in the hospital.

Some things were best done without words.

She was grateful, actually, that he’d ignored her in favor of the Gazette throughout their meal. She was still unnerved by his offer to release her from their marriage. She had never—never—expected him to do that. In retrospect, she counted herself fortunate that her knees hadn’t buckled beneath her. She had been just standing there with a pile of Dutch biscuits and all of a sudden he offered to set her free.

As if he had been the one to trap her.

She should have done it. She tried to lie to herself and say that she would have done it except . . .

The expression on his face.

He’d not moved a muscle. But it wasn’t as if he’d frozen. He was just . . . still.

She’d thought he might have been holding his breath.

She’d thought he might not even have realized he was holding his breath.

He did not want her to go.

Cecilia did not know why she was so certain of this; there was no reason for her to know his expressions, to be able to interpret the emotions held deep and tight behind his sapphire eyes. She’d only truly known him—face-to-face—for one day.

She couldn’t imagine why he wanted her to stay, save for the fact that he needed a nursemaid and she was convenient, but he seemed to want to remain married to her.

The irony just grew and grew.

But, she reminded herself, she could not risk revealing the truth before their meeting with Major Wilkins. She had a feeling that Captain Edward Rokesby was a paragon of honesty, and she did not know if he would, or even could, bring himself to lie to his military superior. He might feel honor bound to inform him that while he did wish to aid Miss Cecilia Harcourt in her search for her brother, he was not, as a point of fact, her husband.

Cecilia could not even imagine the outcome of that conversation.

No, if she confessed her duplicity to Edward, it would have to be after they saw the major.

She told herself this was acceptable.

She told herself lots of things.

And then she tried not to think about it.

“The treads on the stairs are narrow,” she said to Edward as they approached the stairs, “and the risers are steep.”

He grunted his thanks for the warning, and with her hand supporting his arm, they made their way up. She could not imagine what this did to him, to be so dependent on others. She had never seen him in full health, but he was tall, probably almost a full six feet, and his shoulders looked as if they would be broad and strong when he had a bit more muscle on his bones.

This was not a man used to needing help up a flight of stairs.

“We’re just down the hall,” she said, tipping her head to the left when they reached their floor. “Number twelve.”

He nodded, and when they approached their door, she let go of his arm and handed him the key. It was not much, but it was something he could do for her, and she knew it would make him feel a little better, even if he did not realize why.

But then, in the last second before he slid the key into place, he said, “This is your last chance.”

“I—I beg your pardon?”

The key turned in the lock, the click echoing loudly in the hall.

“If you wish to annul our union,” he said in a voice that did not waver, “you must tell me now.”

Cecilia tried to say something, truly she did, but her heart was slamming toward her throat, and her fingers and toes almost felt as if they were fizzing with nerves. She did not think she had ever been so startled. Or panicked.

“I will say this only once,” Edward said, his steadiness a clear contrast to the pandemonium erupting inside her. “Once you enter the room, our marriage is final.”

Nervous laughter bubbled through her throat. “Don’t be silly. You’re hardly going to ravish me this afternoon.” Then it occurred to her that she might have just insulted his manhood. “Er, at least not before your bath.”

“You know as well as I that it does not matter when I take you to bed,” he said, his eyes burning down on hers. “Once we enter that room together, as a married couple, you will be compromised.”

“You can’t compromise your wife,” she tried to joke.

He swore, the single word emerging in a low, frustrated growl. The blasphemy was utterly out of character, and enough to startle Cecilia into taking a step back.

“This is nothing to make light of,” he said. Again, he seemed to be holding himself scrupulously still, but this time he was betrayed by the pulse beating furiously in his throat. “I am offering you the opportunity to leave.”

She felt her head shaking. “But why?”

He looked up and down the hall before hissing, “Because I’m bloody well damaged.”

It would have been a shout if they were not in so public a place, of that Cecilia was sure. The intensity of his voice would be seared on her mind for an eternity.

And it broke her heart.

“No, Edward,” she tried to reassure him. “You must not think that way. You are—”

“I am missing a piece of my mind,” he cut in.

“No. No.” It was all she could seem to say.

He grabbed her shoulders, his fingers biting her skin. “You need to understand this, Cecilia. I am not whole.”

She shook her head. She wanted to tell him that he was perfect, and that she was a fraud. And that she was so so sorry for taking advantage of his condition.

She would never be able to make this up to him.

He let go of her abruptly. “I am not the man you married.”

“I’m probably not the woman you married either,” she mumbled.

He stared at her. He stared at her for so long that her skin began to tingle. “But I think . . .” she whispered, only just figuring it out as the words left her lips. “I think you might need me.”

“Jesus God, Cecilia, you have no idea.”

And then, right in the middle of the corridor, he hauled her into his arms and kissed her.

He hadn’t planned to do it. For Christ’s sake, he’d been trying to do the right thing. But she’d been staring up at him with those seafoam eyes, and when she’d whispered that he needed her . . .


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