“I’m sorry,” Cecilia said. “I shouldn’t have asked. I didn’t think.”
“It’s all right,” he replied. It certainly wasn’t her fault. “Although I do wonder—might I have received correspondence during my absence? It seems likely that my family would have written to me before receiving notice that I’d gone missing.”
“I don’t know. We can certainly inquire.”
Edward saw to his cuffs, fastening first the left and then right.
“Did they write to you often?” She smiled, but it looked forced. Or maybe she was just tired.
She nodded. “And your friends.”
“None so often as you wrote to Thomas,” he said ruefully. “I was forever jealous of that. We all were.”
“Really?” Her smile lit her eyes this time.
“Really,” he confirmed. “Thomas received more mail than I did, and you were his only correspondent.”
“That can’t be true.”
“I assure you it is. Well, perhaps not if I count my mother,” he admitted. “But that hardly seems fair.”
She laughed at that. “What do you mean?”
“Mothers have to write to their sons, don’t you think? But siblings and friends . . . well, they hardly need be so diligent.”
“Our father never wrote to Thomas,” Cecilia said. “Sometimes he asked me to pass along his greetings, but that is all.” She didn’t sound upset by this, or even resigned. Edward had a sudden recollection of his friend, idly whittling a stick at one of their shared camps. Thomas often spouted aphorisms, and one of his favorites had been: “Change what you can and accept what you can’t.”
That seemed to sum up Thomas’s sister quite well.
He looked over at her, studying her for a moment. She was a woman of remarkable strength and grace. He wondered if she realized that.
He went back to fussing with his cuffs, even though they were fully fastened and straight. The urge to keep looking at her was too strong. He would embarrass her, or more likely, himself. But he wanted to watch her. He wanted to learn her. He wanted all of her secrets and desires, and he wanted her mundane stories, the little bits of her past that had fit into her like pieces of a puzzle.
How odd it was to want to know another person, inside and out. He could not recall ever wanting to do so before.
“I told you about my childhood,” he said. He reached into his trunk for a fresh cravat and got to work tying it. “Tell me about yours.”
“What do you wish to know?” she asked. She sounded vaguely surprised, perhaps a little amused.
“Did you play outside a great deal?”
“I did not break any arms, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“It wasn’t, but I’m relieved to hear it.”
“We can’t all be Billies,” she quipped.
He felt his chin draw back and he turned to her, certain he’d misheard. “What did you say?”
“Nothing,” she said, giving her head a little shake that said it wasn’t worth talking about. “I was being silly. And no, I did not play outside a great deal. Not like you, at least. I much preferred to sit inside and read.”
“Anything I could get my hands on. Thomas liked to call me a bookworm.”
“More of a book dragon, I should think.”
She laughed. “Why would you say that?”
“You are far too fierce to be a lowly worm.”
Her eyes flicked up to the ceiling and she looked vaguely embarrassed. And perhaps a little proud as well. “I am quite sure you are the only person who has ever judged me to be fierce.”
“You crossed an ocean to save your brother. That seems the very definition of fierceness to me.”
“Perhaps.” But the spark had left her voice.
He regarded her curiously. “Why so somber all of a sudden?”
“Just that . . .” She thought for a moment and sighed. “When I made for Liverpool—that was where I sailed from—I don’t know that it was my love for Thomas that spurred me into action.”
Edward walked to the bed and sat down on the edge, offering his silent support.
“I think . . . I think it was desperation.” She tipped her face toward his, and he knew he would be forever haunted by the look in her eyes. It was not sorrow, nor was it fear. It was something much worse—resignation, as if she’d looked within herself and found something hollow. “I felt very alone,” she admitted. “And scared. I don’t know if . . .”
She did not finish her sentence right away. Edward held still, allowing his silence to be his encouragement.
“I don’t know if I would have come if I had not felt so alone,” she finally finished. “I’d like to think that I was thinking only of Thomas, and how much he needed my help, but I wonder if I needed to leave even more.”
“There is no shame in that.”
She looked up. “Isn’t there?”
“No,” he said fervently, taking hold of both her hands. “You are brave, and you have a true and beautiful heart. There is no shame in having fears and worries.”
But her eyes would not meet his.
“And you are not alone,” he vowed. “I promise. You will never be alone.”
He waited for her to say something, to acknowledge the depth of his statement, but she did not. He could see that she was working to regain her composure. Her breathing slowly took on a more regular tenor, and she delicately pulled one of her hands from his to wipe away the moisture that clung to her lashes.
Then she said, “I would like to get dressed.”
It was clearly a request for him to leave.
“Of course,” he said, trying to ignore the pang of disappointment that bounced against his heart.
She gave a little nod and murmured her gratitude as he stood and walked to the door.
“Edward,” she called out.
He turned, a ridiculous flare of hope rising within him.
“Your boots,” she reminded him.
He looked down. He was still in his stockinged feet. He gave a curt nod—not that that would camouflage the deep flush racing up his neck—and grabbed his boots before heading out into the hall.
He could put on the damned things on the stairs.
An uneventful life sounds marvelous just now. Our date of departure looms, and I do not look forward to the crossing. Did you know that it will take at least five weeks to reach North America? I’m told the journey is shorter coming home—the winds blow predominantly west to east and thus push the ships along. This is small comfort, though. We are not given an anticipated date of return.
Edward bids me to say hello and not to tell you that he is a miserable sailor.
—from Thomas Harcourt to his sister Cecilia
By the time Cecilia found Edward in the main dining room of the Devil’s Head, he was eating breakfast. And wearing his boots.
“Oh, do not rise,” she said, when he pushed his chair back to stand. “Please.”
He went still for the barest of moments, then gave a nod. It cost him, she realized, to forsake his manners as a gentleman. But he was ill. Mending, but ill. Surely he had the right to conserve his energy wherever possible.
And she had a duty to make sure that he did. It was her debt to pay. He might not realize that she owed it, but she did. She was taking advantage of his good nature and his good name. The very least she could do was restore his good health.
She sat across from him, pleased to see that he seemed to be eating more than he had the day before. She was convinced that his lingering weakness was due less to his head injury than it was to his not having eaten for a week.
Goal for today: Make sure that Edward ate properly.
Certainly easier than the previous day’s goal, which was to stop lying so much.
“Are you enjoying your meal?” she asked politely. She did not know him well enough to know his moods, but he’d left their room in a strange rush, without even having put on his boots. Granted, she’d told him she wished to get dressed—which she supposed implied that she hoped for privacy—but surely that had not been an unreasonable request.
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