Margaret sat back. “Fascinating,” she said again.
“Less so when it’s one’s own memory that has flown the coop.”
“I’m sure. Forgive me. But you must confess, if this were someone else, you would be fascinated.”
Edward wasn’t so sure about that, but he well believed that she did. His godmother had always been interested in the scholarly and the scientific, to the point that others often criticized her as having an unfeminine mind. Predictably, Aunt Margaret had taken that as a compliment.
“Tell me,” she said, her voice softening slightly. “What can I do to help?”
“About my memory? Nothing, I’m afraid. About my wife? She needs a dress.”
“For the ball? Of course she does. She can have one of mine. Or May’s,” she added. “You’ll have to get it altered, of course, but you’ve blunt enough to pay for that.”
“Thank you,” Edward said with a tip of his head. “That is exactly what I was hoping you might offer.”
Margaret waved her hand. “It’s nothing. But tell me, do I know this girl?”
“No, but I believe you’ve met her brother, Thomas Harcourt.”
“I don’t recall the name,” she said with a frown.
“He would have come to dinner with me. Late last year, I think.”
“Your friend with the blondish hair? Oh, right. Pleasant enough fellow. Convinced you to marry his sister, did he?”
“So I’m told.”
Edward regretted his words the moment they left his mouth. Aunt Margaret was on them like a bloodhound.
“So you’re told? What the devil does that mean?”
“Forget I said anything,” Edward said. She would not, of course, but he had to try.
“You will explain yourself right now, Edward Rokesby, or I swear I shall write to your mother and make you sound worse.”
Edward scrubbed at his forehead. This was all he needed. Margaret would never go through with that threat; she had far too much love for his mother to worry her needlessly. But nor would she let him out of her house until he answered her questions to her satisfaction. And given his current lack of energy, if it came down to a physical altercation, she would probably win.
He sighed. “Do you recall those months I mentioned? The ones I don’t quite remember?”
“Are you telling me you don’t remember marrying her?”
Edward opened his mouth, but then it just hung there. He couldn’t quite bring himself to reply.
“Good God, my boy, were there any witnesses?”
Again, he had no answer.
“Are you sure you’re even married to her?”
For this, he was resolute. “Yes.”
She threw her arms in the air, a most out-of-character display of exasperation. “How?”
“Because I know her.”
Edward’s fingers bit into the edge of his chair. Something hot and angry slithered through his veins, and it was a struggle to keep his voice clipped and even. “What do you imply, Aunt?”
“Have you seen a document? Have you consummated the marriage?”
“That is hardly your business.”
“You are my business, and you have been since the day I stood next to your mother in Canterbury Cathedral and promised to guide you through your Christian life. Or did you forget that?”
“I confess my memory of that day is indistinct.”
If she had lost patience with him, then he was surely coming close to doing the same with her. But he kept his voice carefully regulated when he said, “I must beg of you not to call into question my wife’s honor and honesty.”
Margaret’s eyes narrowed. “What has she done? She seduced you, didn’t she? You’re under her spell.”
“Stop,” Edward bit off, rising unsteadily to his feet. “Damn it,” he growled as he grabbed the edge of the table for balance.
“Dear God, you’re worse than I thought,” Margaret said. She hurried to his side and practically shoved him back in the chair. “That’s it. You’re staying with me.”
For a moment Edward was tempted to agree. They would certainly be more comfortable here than at the Devil’s Head. But at least at the inn they had privacy. They might be surrounded by strangers, but they were strangers who didn’t much care what they did. Here at the Tryons’ house, his every move—and more critically, Cecilia’s—would be scrutinized, dissected, and then sent home to his mother in a weekly report.
No, he did not wish to move in with his godmother.
“I am quite comfortable in my current lodgings,” he said to her. “I do appreciate your invitation.”
Margaret scowled, clearly displeased with his behavior. “Will you permit me to ask you one question?”
“How do you know?”
He waited for her to elucidate, and when she did not, he said, “How do I know what?”
“How do you know that she tells you the truth?”
He did not even have to think about it. “Because I know her.”
And he did. He may have only known her face for a few days, but he had known her heart for far longer. He did not doubt her. He could never doubt her.
“My God,” Margaret breathed. “You love her.”
Edward said nothing. He could not contradict her.
“Very well,” she said with a sigh. “Can you make it up the stairs?”
He stared at her. What on earth was she talking about?
“You still need a dress, don’t you? I don’t know the first thing about what will suit the new Mrs. Rokesby, and I’d rather not order the maids to empty the wardrobes into my sitting room.”
“Ah, yes, of course. And yes, I can make it up the stairs.”
Still, he was grateful for the bannister.
Poor Lieu Captain Rokesby! I hope the crossing was not as dreadful as you feared. At least your recent promotion will be of some comfort. How proud I am that you were both made captains!
We are all well here in the village. I attended the local assembly three nights ago, and per usual there were two ladies for every gentleman. I danced but twice. And the second time was with the vicar, so I do not think that counts.
Your poor sister shall be a spinster!
Ha, but do not worry. I am perfectly content. Or at the very least, imperfectly content. Is that such a thing? I think it should be.
—from Cecilia Harcourt to her brother Thomas
And so it was that on the afternoon of the governor’s ball, Edward laid a large box upon the bed that he shared—but did not truly share—with his wife.
“Did you buy something?” she asked.
“Open it and see.”
She gave him a slightly suspicious look as she perched on the edge of the mattress. “What is it?”
“Am I not allowed to bestow a present upon my wife?”
Cecilia looked down at the box, wrapped rather festively with a wide red ribbon, and then back up at him. “I wasn’t expecting a gift,” she said.
“All the more reason to give you one.” He nudged the box a couple of inches closer. “Open it.”
Her slim hands went to the ribbon, tugging the knot loose before lifting the lid of the box.
He grinned. It was a good gasp.
“Do you like it?” he asked, even though it was plain that she did.
Lips still parted with shock, she reached out to touch the whisper-soft silk that lay nestled in the dressmaker’s box. It was the color of a shallow sea, just a hair too blue to match her eyes. But when Edward had seen it in May Tryon’s wardrobe, he had known it was the right gown to take to the seamstress for alterations.
He wasn’t sure if May Tryon yet knew that she’d made a gift of her silk gown; she’d not been home when her mother had thrown open her wardrobe doors. Edward made a mental note to thank her for her generosity before she had a chance to discover it by accident. And besides, if he knew the Tryons, May would be wearing something new, spectacular, and wildly expensive. She would not begrudge Cecilia her remade dress.
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