“Did I? Did you?”
“Yes, goddamn it, I did!” The words erupted from him in a roar, and this time Edward shot to his feet.
“Well, I didn’t,” Stubbs returned. “And it’s my bloody job to be suspicious of everyone.” He grabbed his forehead, his thumb and middle finger pressing hard into his temples. “I’m just so sick of it all.”
Edward took a step back. He’d never seen the colonel like this. He wasn’t sure he’d ever seen anyone like this.
“Do you know what it does to a man?” Stubbs asked, his voice only just louder than a whisper. “To trust no one?”
Edward did not speak. He was still so angry, so full of rage and fury, but he no longer knew where to direct it. Not at Stubbs, though. He took the brandy glass from the colonel’s trembling hand and walked over to the decanter, where he poured them each another. He did not care if it was barely eight in the morning. Neither of them needed a clear head.
He suspected neither of them wanted a clear head.
“What happened to the bodies?” Edward asked in a low voice.
“I buried them.”
“All of them?”
The colonel closed his eyes. “It was not a pleasant day.”
“Have you any witnesses?”
Stubbs looked up sharply. “You do not trust me?”
“Forgive me,” Edward said, because he did trust Stubbs. In this . . . in everything, he supposed. He did not know how the man had kept this to himself. It must have burned a hole in his gut.
“I got help for the graves,” Stubbs said. He sounded exhausted. He sounded spent. “I will give you the names of the men who aided me if you so require.”
Edward looked at him for a long moment before answering, “I do not.” But then he gave his head a little shake, almost as if he were trying to jostle his thoughts into place. “Why did you send that letter?”
Stubbs blinked. “What letter?”
“The one from General Garth. Saying that Thomas had been injured. I assume he did so at your request.”
“It was true when we sent it,” the colonel answered. “I’d wanted to notify his family with all due haste. There was a ship leaving the harbor the morning after I left him in Dobbs Ferry. When I think about it now . . .” He raked his hand through his thinning hair, and his body seemed to deflate as he sighed. “I was so pleased I’d managed to dispatch it so quickly.”
“You never thought to correct your error and send another?”
“There were too many unanswered questions.”
“To notify his family?” Edward asked in disbelief.
“I planned to send a letter once we had answers,” Stubbs said stiffly. “I certainly didn’t think his sister would cross the Atlantic for him. Although, I don’t know, maybe she came for you.”
Stubbs walked over to his desk and opened a drawer. “I have his ring.”
Edward watched as he carefully removed a box, opened that, and then pulled out a signet ring.
Stubbs held it out. “I thought his family would want this.”
Edward stared at the gold circle that was dropped into his palm. Truth be told, he didn’t recognize it. He’d never looked closely at Thomas’s signet ring. But he knew that Cecilia would know it.
It would break her heart.
Stubbs cleared his throat. “What will you tell your wife?”
His wife. There was that word again. Goddamn it. She wasn’t his wife. He didn’t know what she was, but she wasn’t his wife.
He looked up. There would be time to make sense of Cecilia’s dishonesty later. For now, he would search his soul for a little kindness and allow her to grieve for her brother before confronting her with her lies.
Edward took a breath and looked the colonel squarely in the eye as he said, “I will tell her that her brother died a hero. I will tell her that you regret that you were unable to tell her the truth when she first asked due to the secretive nature of his extraordinarily important work.” He took a step toward the colonel, and then another. “I will tell her that you plan to speak with her directly, to apologize for the pain you have wrought upon her, and to personally give to her any and all posthumous honors he received.”
“There were no—”
“Make them up,” Edward snapped.
The colonel’s eyes held his for several seconds before he said, “I will make the arrangements for a medal.”
Edward nodded his assent and headed for the door.
But the colonel’s voice stopped him. “Are you sure you wish to lie to her?”
Edward turned slowly around. “I beg your pardon?”
“I don’t feel like I know much anymore,” Stubbs said with a sigh, “but I know marriage. You don’t want to start it off with a lie.”
The colonel looked at him with an odd speculation. “Is there something you’re not telling me, Captain Rokesby?”
Edward pushed the door open and walked out, at least three steps past the colonel’s earshot before muttering, “You have no bloody idea.”
I have not heard from you in so long. I try not to worry, but it is difficult.
—from Cecilia Harcourt to her brother Thomas
When Edward did not return by nine, Cecilia grew curious.
When he did not return by half past, her curiosity gave way to concern.
And at ten, when the bells of the nearby church tolled far too loud, she picked up his note again, just to make sure she had not misread it the first time.
Gone to fetch breakfast. I shall return before you awaken.
She caught her lower lip between her teeth. It was hard to see how one could misread that.
She began to wonder if he was stuck downstairs, waylaid by a fellow officer. It happened all the time. Everyone seemed to know him, and most wished to congratulate him on his recent safe return. Soldiers could be a garrulous lot, especially when they were bored. And everyone seemed bored these days, although most were quick to point out that it was preferable to fighting.
So Cecilia headed down to the front room of the Devil’s Head, fully prepared to extricate Edward from an unwanted conversation. She’d remind him of their “very important appointment,” and then maybe they’d go back upstairs . . .
But he wasn’t in the front room. Nor the rear.
I shall return before you awaken.
Clearly something was amiss. Edward always woke up before she did, but she was no slugabed. He knew that. She was always dressed and ready for breakfast by half eight.
She had half a mind to go out looking for him, but she just knew that if she did, he’d return five minutes after she left, and he’d go out looking for her, and they’d spend the whole morning not quite crossing paths.
So she waited.
“You’re off to a late start this morning,” the innkeeper said when he saw her standing about indecisively. “Nothing to eat for you?”
“No, thank you. My husband’s getting—” She frowned. “Have you seen Captain Rokesby this morning?”
“Not for several hours, ma’am. Bid me good morning and then headed out. Looked right happy, he did.” The innkeeper gave her a lopsided grin as he wiped out a tankard. “He was whistling.”
It said something of Cecilia’s level of distraction that she couldn’t even manage a tinge of embarrassment over that. She glanced toward the street-facing window, not that one could make out anything other than a few blobby shapes through the warped glass. “I expected him back some time ago,” she said, almost to herself.
The innkeeper shrugged. “He’ll be back soon, you’ll see. In the meantime, are you sure you don’t need anything?”
“Quite, but thank you. I—”
The front door made its customary groan as someone pushed it open, and Cecilia whirled around, certain that it must be Edward.
Except it wasn’t.
“Captain Montby,” she said with a small curtsy, recognizing the young officer who had given up his room for her the previous week. He’d gone away for a few days and then come back and was now bunking with another soldier. She had thanked him several times for his generosity, but he always insisted that it was his honor and duty as a gentleman. And anyway, half a room at the Devil’s Head was better than most British soldiers got for sleeping quarters.
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