In the end, he’d taken only one of her letters with him to Connecticut, opting to leave the other safely in his trunk. This seemed to have been a prudent plan. According to the people at the hospital, he had not had any papers or property when he’d been found at Kip’s Bay. Heaven only knew where Cecilia’s letter was now. At the bottom of a lake, probably, or maybe kindling for a fire. Edward hoped it had been found by an enterprising bird, torn apart to cushion a nest.

Cecilia would probably like that, he thought.

He did too. It almost took the sting out of the loss.

He’d thought he’d kept it safe, always in his coat pocket. It was strange that—

Edward froze. This was the most he’d remembered since he’d awakened. Nothing of what he’d done or said, just that he’d carried a letter from his wife in his coat pocket.

Or had she even been his wife then? When was the date of their marriage? He’d asked her about it the day before, but they’d veered off the topic, and then—honestly, it was his own fault—he’d demanded that she kiss him.

If he hadn’t got any answers, he had only himself to blame.

This letter, however—the one in his hands—was the one that was most dear to him. It was the first time she’d written expressly to him. There had been nothing terribly personal; it was as if she’d instinctively known that what he needed most was normalcy. She’d filled her page with the mundane, made delightful by her wry perspective.

Edward peeked over his shoulder to make sure that Cecilia was still sleeping, then he carefully unfolded the letter.

Dear Captain Rokesby,

Your description of the wildflowers in the colonies has made me long for spring, which is losing its fierce battle with winter here in Derbyshire. No, I lie. The battle is not fierce. Winter has crushed spring like a bug. We do not even have the pleasure of a fresh, powdery snow. Whatever precipitation we have gleaned has long since melted into a dirty, unpleasant slush, and I fear I have ruined two shoes this season. Not two pair, mind you, two shoes. The left of my slippers and the right of my boots. My frugal soul wants me to cobble together a pair from what remains, but I fear I am too vain for the resulting fashion, not to mention far too poor of balance. The heel of my boot is an inch higher than that of my slippers, and I am quite sure I shall trip over everything, fall down the stairs, and perhaps crash a window. Ask Thomas about the time I stumbled over the rug in our drawing room. ’Twas a sad cascade of maladies that followed.

Do keep yourself safe and Thomas as well, and I will beseech of him to do the same. I shall think of you often and keep you in my prayers.

Your friend,

Cecilia Harcourt

Edward stared at the elegant script for several seconds after he’d read all the words, his forefinger lightly tracing the swirls of her name. Your friend, she’d written. Indeed, that was what she had been, even before he’d known her.

His friend.

And now his wife.

Behind him, he heard the unmistakable sounds of Cecilia waking up. He hastily refolded the letter, tucking it back into the pile from his family.

“Edward?” he heard her say. Her voice was still thick and sleepy, as if at any moment she might slide into an unexpected yawn.

“Good morning,” he said, turning around.

“What were you reading?”

His hand tapped against his thigh. “Just a letter from home.”

“Oh.” She was quiet for a moment, then softly said, “You must miss your family dreadfully.”

“I . . . yes,” he said. And in that single moment he felt like a green boy again, faced with the beautiful girl across the room, the one no one had the courage to speak to. It was ridiculous, utterly mad. He was a grown man, and there had not been a woman who frightened him into silence for over a decade. But he felt as if he’d been caught red-handed.

If she found out that he’d stolen her letters . . .

He was mortified just thinking about it.

“Is something wrong?” she asked.

“No, no, of course not.” He shoved the entire pile of letters back into his trunk. “Just . . . you know . . . thinking of home.”

She nodded as she pushed herself upright, tucking the bedclothes primly around her.

“I haven’t seen them in—ow!” Edward let out a stream of invective as his big toe slammed into the side of his trunk. He’d been so eager to hide the evidence of his lovesick foolishness that he had not been paying attention to where he was going.

“Are you all right?” she asked, sounding frankly surprised by his reaction.

Edward swore again, then immediately begged her pardon. It had been so long since he’d been in the presence of a lady. His manners were rusty.

“Do not apologize,” she said. “There is nothing so awful as a stubbed toe. I only wish I could say the same when I stub mine.”

“Billie does,” he said.

“Who?”

“Oh, sorry. Billie Bridgerton. My neighbor.” She was still in his thoughts, it seemed. Probably because he’d been looking through those letters from home.

“Oh yes. You’ve mentioned her.”

“Have I?” he asked absently. He and Billie were the best of friends—truly, they’d grown up together. A bigger tomboy had never walked this earth, though, and he wasn’t sure he’d even realized she was a girl until he was eight.

He chuckled at the memory.

Cecilia looked away.

“I can’t imagine why I would have written to you about her,” Edward said.

“You didn’t,” she explained. “Thomas did.”

“Thomas?” That seemed odd.

She gave an unconcerned shrug. “You must have talked to him about her.”

“I suppose.” He reached back into the trunk to pull out a clean shirt. It was why he’d opened the bloody thing in the first place. “If you’ll excuse me,” he said before whipping his shirt over his head and pulling on the fresh one.

“Oh!” Cecilia exclaimed. “You have a scar.”

He glanced back at her over his shoulder. “What?”

“There is a scar on your back. I never noticed it before.” She frowned. “I suppose I wouldn’t have done. While I was caring for you I never . . . Well, never mind.” A moment passed and then she asked, “How did you get it?”

He reached around and pointed toward his left scapula. “This one?”

“Yes.”

“I fell out of a tree.”

“Recently?”

He gave her a look. Honestly. “I was nine.”

This seemed to interest her, and she shifted position, sitting cross-legged under the covers. “What happened?”

“I fell out of a tree.”

She groaned. “Surely there is more to the story than that.”

“Not really,” he said with a shrug. “For about two years I lied and said my brother pushed me, but in truth I just lost my balance. I hit a branch on the way down. Tore right through my shirt.”

She chuckled at that. “You must have been the bane of your mother’s existence.”

“My mother and whoever was doing the mending. Although I imagine that shirt was irredeemable.”

“Better a shirt than an arm or a leg.”

“Oh, we ruined those as well.”

“Good heavens!”

He grinned at her. “Billie broke both of her arms.”

Cecilia’s eyes bugged out. “At the same time?”

“Thankfully not, but Andrew and I had great fun imagining what it would have been like if she had. When she broke the second one, we tied the good one up in a sling, just to see how she managed.”

“And she let you?”

“Let us? She was the one who suggested it.”

“She sounds most singular,” Cecilia said politely.

“Billie?” He shook his head. “There’s no one else like her, that is for certain.”

Cecilia looked down at the bed, picking idly at the covers. She seemed to be making some sort of pattern in her mind. “What is she doing now?” she asked.

“I have no idea,” he said regretfully. It pained him that he was so cut off from his family. He’d had no news of them in over four months. And they likely thought he was dead.

***

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