“Maybe I should go,” she said hastily.
“That would probably be a wise idea.” His tone was not gentle, but it was the best he could manage. He might have to finish himself with his hand, and he was quite certain this would not suit her tender sensibilities.
He couldn’t believe he still cared about her tender sensibilities.
She dressed quickly and shot out of the room like a bolt, but by then the urgency of his situation had diminished, and there seemed no point in trying to see to himself.
Honestly, it would have felt pathetic.
He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed, leaning his elbows on his knees and his chin in his hands. His entire life, he’d known what to do. He wasn’t perfect, not by any means. But the path between right and wrong had always been clearly defined.
He put his country before family.
His family before self.
And where had that got him? In love with a mirage.
Married to a ghost.
No, not married. He needed to remember that. He was not married to Cecilia Harcourt. What had just happened . . .
She was right about one thing. It couldn’t happen again. At least not until they wed for real.
He would marry her. He had to, or so he told himself. He didn’t particularly wish to examine the corner of his heart that wanted to marry her. It was the same corner that had been so desperately glad to be married to her.
That little corner of his heart . . . It was gullible, far too trusting. He didn’t have particular faith in its judgment, especially when another little voice was telling him to wait, take his time.
Let her squirm for a few days.
A frustrated shout tore from his throat, and he jammed his fingers into his hair, pulling hard. This was not his finest hour.
With another groan, he heaved himself up and off the bed, stalking forward to the wardrobe to fetch his clothing. Unlike Cecilia, he did have things to do today.
First on the agenda: a visit to Colonel Stubbs. Edward did not think he had learned much of use about the Connecticut seaports, but he was a soldier to his bones, and it was his duty to report what he had discovered. Not to mention he needed to tell the colonel where he’d been for so long. Tied up in a barn with a cat for company wasn’t particularly heroic, but it was a far cry from treason.
Plus, there was the matter of Thomas’s belongings. His trunk had been stored alongside Edward’s when they’d both left for Connecticut. Now that he had been officially declared dead, his things should be turned over to Cecilia.
Edward wondered if the miniature would be there.
His stomach rumbled, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten in nearly a day. Cecilia had probably ordered breakfast. With luck, it would be hot and waiting for him when he went down to the dining room.
Food first, then Colonel Stubbs. This was good, having some structure to the day. He felt a bit more like himself when he knew what he needed to do.
For today, at least.
We are finally seeing the first signs of spring, and I am thankful. Please give Captain Rokesby one of these crocuses. I hope I pressed them correctly. I thought you both would enjoy a small piece of England.
—from Cecilia Harcourt to her brother Thomas
Later that morning, Cecilia took a walk down to the harbor. Edward had told her at breakfast that he was meeting with Colonel Stubbs, and he did not know how long he would be busy. She’d been left to her own devices, possibly for the entire day. She’d gone back up to their room with the intention of finishing the book of poems she’d been plodding through for the past week, but after only a few minutes it was clear that she needed to go outside.
The room felt too tight, the walls too close, and every time she tried to focus on the typeset words on the page, her eyes filled with tears.
She was raw.
For so many reasons.
And so she decided a walk was in order. The fresh air would do her good, and she’d be far less likely to spontaneously burst into tears if there were witnesses.
Goal for today: Don’t cry in public.
It seemed manageable.
The weather was very fine, not too hot, with a light breeze coming off the water. The air smelled of salt and seaweed, which was a pleasant surprise, considering how often the wind carried on it the stench of the prison ships that moored just a little ways off the coast.
Cecilia had been in New York long enough to have learned a little something about the patterns of the port. Ships arrived almost daily, but very rarely did they carry civilian travelers. Most were merchant vessels, bringing in much-needed supplies for the British Army. A few of these had been fitted to carry paying passengers; that was how Cecilia had made it across from Liverpool. The Lady Miranda’s main purpose had been to bring foodstuffs and armaments for the soldiers stationed in New York. But she had also borne fourteen passengers. Needless to say, Cecilia had gotten to know most of them quite well on the five-week voyage. They’d had little in common except that they were all making a dangerous voyage across a temperamental ocean into an embattled coastal area of a landmass at war.
In other words, they were all plumb crazy.
It almost made her smile. She still couldn’t quite believe she’d had the gumption to make the crossing. She’d been fueled by desperation, to be sure, and she hadn’t had many other options, but still . . .
She was proud of herself. For that, at least.
There were several ships in the harbor that day, including one that Cecilia had heard belonged to the same fleet as the Lady Miranda. The Rhiannon, it was called, and it had journeyed to New York from Cork, in Ireland. The wife of one of the officers who took his supper at the Devil’s Head had sailed in on it. Cecilia had not met her personally, but her arrival in town had been the source of much gossip and good cheer. With all the gossip that rang through the dining room each night, it would have been impossible not to have heard of it.
She wandered closer to the docks, using the tall mast of the Rhiannon as her North Star. She knew the way, of course, but it felt almost whimsical to be led there using her primitive navigation. How long had the Rhiannon been in New York? Not yet a week, if she recalled correctly, which meant that it would probably remain at dock for at least a few more days before heading back across the ocean. The holds needed to be unloaded and then loaded with new cargo. To say nothing of the sailors, who surely deserved time on dry land after a long voyage.
As Cecilia reached the harbor, the world seemed to open up like a spring flower. Bright midday light poured forth, unhindered by the three- and four-story buildings that had been blocking the sun. There was something about the water that made the earth seem endless, even if the docks weren’t quite at the open ocean. It was easy to see Brooklyn in the distance, and Cecilia knew how quickly a ship could navigate through the bay and out to the Atlantic.
It was really rather pretty, she thought, even if the tableau was far too different from home to ever etch itself permanently on her heart. But she liked it all the same, especially the way the water whipped up into foam-crested waves, then slapped the retaining wall like an impatient nanny.
The ocean was gray here, but out over the horizon it would darken to a deep, fathomless blue. Some days—the turbulent ones—it had even looked green.
Another little fact she’d never have known if she had not ventured from her safe little home in Derbyshire. She was glad she’d come. Truly, she was. She would be leaving with a broken heart—for more reasons than one—but it would be worth it. She was a better person—no, she was a stronger person.
A better person would not have lied for so long.
Still, it was a good thing she’d come. For herself, and maybe even for Edward. His fever had risen dangerously high two days before he woke up. She’d remained by his side throughout the night, placing cooling cloths on his skin. She would never know if she’d actually saved his life, but if she had, then this all would have been worth it.
She had to hold on to that notion. It would keep her company for the rest of her life.
It was then that she realized she was already thinking in terms of leaving. She glanced down to her waist. She could be pregnant; she’d not yet had proof otherwise. But it was unlikely, and she knew she had to prepare herself for the logistics of travel.
Hence her trip to the harbor. She had not consciously considered why her feet were leading her to the water, but now, as she watched two longshoremen loading crates into the hold of the Rhiannon, it was quite obvious that she was there to make inquiries.
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