“I don’t want to do it while I’m pregnant either,” she said. “What if something should happen?”
“Things happen everywhere, Cecilia.”
“I know. But I just think I would feel more comfortable at home. In England.”
None of this was a lie. It just wasn’t the whole truth.
He continued to stroke her hair, the motion soft and soothing. “You look so distraught,” he murmured.
She didn’t know what to say.
“You needn’t be so upset,” he told her. “As I said, it might be too late, but there are precautions we can take.”
“There are?” Her heart made a delighted skip before she remembered that she had far greater problems than this.
He smiled, then touched her chin, tipping her face up toward his. “Oh yes. I would show you now, but I think you need some rest. Sleep,” he said. “It will all seem clearer in the morning.”
It wouldn’t. But she slept, anyway.
A thousand apologies. I have not written in over a month, but in truth there was little to write about. Everything is boredom or battle, and I do not wish to write about either. We arrived in Newport yesterday, though, and after a good meal and a bath, I am feeling more like myself.
—from Thomas Harcourt to his sister Cecilia
Dear Miss Harcourt,
Thank you for your kind note. The weather has begun to take a chill again, and by the time you receive this, I suspect we will be glad for our woolen coats. Newport is more of a town than we have seen in some time, and we are both enjoying its comforts. Thomas and I have been given rooms in a private home, but our men have been billeted in houses of worship, half in a church and half in a synagogue. Several of our men were fearful that they would be smote by God for sleeping in an unholy house. I do not see how it is more unholy than the tavern they visited the night before. But it is not my job to provide religious counsel. Speaking of which, I do hope your Mrs. Pentwhistle has not been back in the wine. Although I must confess, I did enjoy your story about the “psalm that went horribly awry.”
And because I know you will ask, I have never visited a synagogue before; it looks rather like a church, to be frank.
—from Edward Rokesby to Cecilia Harcourt, enclosed within the letter from her brother
As usual, Edward woke before Cecilia the following morning. She did not stir as he eased himself from the bed, attesting to her exceptional fatigue.
He smiled. He was happy to take credit for her fatigue.
She’d be hungry, too. She generally ate her biggest meal of the day at breakfast, and though the Devil’s Head always had eggs due to the chickens they kept in the back, Edward thought a treat might be in order. Something sweet. Chelsea buns, maybe. Or speculaas.
Or both. Why not both?
After dressing, he jotted a quick note and left it on the table, informing her that he would be back soon. It wasn’t far to the two bakeries. He could be there and back in under an hour if he did not run into anyone he knew.
Rooijakkers was closer, so he walked there first, smiling to himself as the bell jangled over his head, alerting the proprietor to his presence. It wasn’t Mr. Rooijakkers tending to the shop, though, but his red-haired daughter, the one Cecilia said she had befriended. Edward recalled meeting her himself, back before he’d gone to Connecticut. He and Thomas had both preferred the Dutch bakery to the English one around the corner.
Edward felt his smile grow wistful. Thomas had quite the sweet tooth. Much like his sister.
“Good morning, sir,” the lady called out. She wiped her floury hands on her apron as she came out from the back room.
“Ma’am,” Edward said with a small bow of his chin. He wished he could remember her name. But at least this time, he came by his lapse honestly. Whatever her name was, it wasn’t hiding out in the blackened portion of his memory. He’d always been bad with names.
“How nice to see you again, sir,” the lady said. “You haven’t been in in a very long time.”
“Months,” he confirmed. “I’ve been out of town.”
She nodded, giving him a jaunty smile as she said, “Makes it hard for us to have regular customers, what with the army sending you here, there, and everywhere.”
“Just to Connecticut,” he said.
She chuckled at that. “And how is your friend?”
“My friend?” Edward echoed, even though he knew very well that she must be talking about Thomas. Still, it was disquieting. No one asked about him anymore, or if they did, it was with hushed, somber voices.
“I haven’t seen him in some time, actually,” Edward said.
“That’s a shame.” She cocked her head to the side in a friendly gesture. “For the both of us. He was one of my best customers. He had quite the love of sweets.”
“His sister as well,” Edward murmured.
She looked at him curiously.
“I married his sister,” he explained, wondering why he was telling her this. Probably just because it made him happy to say it. He’d married Cecilia. Well. He’d really married her now.
Mr. Rooijakkers’s daughter went still for a moment, her gingery eyebrows drawing together before she said, “I’m so sorry, I’m afraid I can’t recall your name . . .”
“Captain Edward Rokesby, ma’am. And yes, you’ve met my new wife. Cecilia.”
“Of course. I’m sorry, I did not put it together when she said her name earlier. She looks rather like her brother, doesn’t she? Not in the features so much but—”
“The expressions, yes,” Edward finished for her.
She grinned. “You must want speculaas, then.”
“Indeed. A dozen, if you will.”
“We have probably never been introduced,” she said as she bent down to retrieve a platter of biscuits from a low shelf. “I am Mrs. Beatrix Leverett.”
“Cecilia has spoken most fondly of you.” He waited patiently as Mrs. Leverett counted out the biscuits. He was rather looking forward to Cecilia’s reaction when he brought her breakfast in bed. Well, biscuits in bed, which might be even better.
Except for the crumbs. That might present a problem.
“Is Mrs. Rokesby’s brother still in Connecticut?”
Edward’s lovely imaginings came to a halt. “I beg your pardon?”
“Mrs. Rokesby’s brother,” she repeated, looking up from her task. “I thought he went with you to Connecticut.”
Edward went very still. “You know about that?”
“Should I not?”
“Thomas was with me in Connecticut,” he said. His voice was soft, almost as if he were testing out the statement, trying it on like a new coat.
Did it fit?
“Wasn’t he?” Mrs. Leverett asked.
“I . . .” Hell, what was he to say? He didn’t particularly wish to share the details of his condition with a near stranger, but if she had information about Thomas . . .
“I have been having difficulty remembering a few things,” he finally said. He touched his scalp, just under the brim of his hat. The bump was much smaller now, but the skin was still tender. “I was hit on the head.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry.” Her eyes filled with compassion. “That must be terribly frustrating.”
“Yes,” he said, but his injury was not what he wished to discuss. He looked at her directly, eyes set squarely on hers. “You were telling me about Captain Harcourt.”
Her shoulders rose in a tiny shrug. “I don’t really know anything. Just that the both of you went to Connecticut several months ago. You came in just before you left. For provisions.”
“Provisions,” Edward echoed.
“You bought bread,” she said with a little chuckle. “Your friend has a sweet tooth. I told him—”
“—that the speculaas would not travel well,” he finished for her.
“Yes,” she said. “They crumble too easily.”
“They did,” Edward said softly. “Every last one of them.”
And then it all came flooding back.
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