Strange how easily the lie still slipped from her tongue.

“Yes,” the woman said briskly, motioning for the innkeeper to be gone.

The innkeeper quickly complied.

“I am Mrs. Tryon,” the lady said. “Captain Rokesby’s godmother.”

When Cecilia was twelve years old, she’d been forced to play the part of Mary in her church’s Nativity play. This had required her to stand in front of all her friends and neighbors and recite no fewer than twenty lines of prose, all of which had been religiously drummed into her by the vicar’s wife. But when the time came to open her mouth and announce that she was not married and didn’t understand how she could be with child, she froze. Her mouth opened, but her throat closed, and it didn’t matter how many times poor Mrs. Pentwhistle hissed the lines at her from offstage. Cecilia just couldn’t seem to move the words from her ears to her head to her mouth.

That was the memory that blazed through Cecilia’s head as she stared into the face of the estimable Margaret Tryon, wife of the Royal Governor of New York, and godmother to the man Cecilia was pretending to be married to.

This was much worse.

“Mrs. Tryon,” Cecilia finally managed to squeak out. She curtsied. (Extra deep.)

“You must be Cecilia,” Mrs. Tryon said.

“I am. I . . . ah . . .” Cecilia looked helplessly around at the tables of the half-filled dining room. This was not her home, and thus she was not the hostess here, but it seemed like she ought to offer to entertain. Finally, she pasted as bright a smile as she could manage on her face and said, “Would you like to sit down?”

Mrs. Tryon’s expression flicked from distaste to resignation, and with a little jerk of her head, she motioned for Cecilia to join her at a table at the far side of the room.

“I came to see Edward,” Mrs. Tryon said once they were settled.

“Yes,” Cecilia replied carefully. “That is what the innkeeper said.”

“He was ill,” Mrs. Tryon stated.

“He was. Although not so much ill as injured.”

“And has he regained his memory?”

“No.”

Mrs. Tryon’s eyes narrowed. “You are not taking advantage of him, are you?”

“No!” Cecilia exclaimed, because she wasn’t. Or rather, she wouldn’t be soon. And because the thought of taking advantage of Edward’s generosity and honor burned like a poker in her heart.

“My godson is very dear to me.”

“He is dear to me, too,” Cecilia said softly.

“Yes, I imagine he is.”

Cecilia had no idea how to interpret that.

Mrs. Tryon began to remove her gloves with military precision, pausing only to say, “Were you aware that he had an arrangement with a young lady in Kent?”

Cecilia swallowed. “Do you mean Miss Bridgerton?”

Mrs. Tryon looked up, and a grudging flash of admiration—possibly for Cecilia’s honesty—passed through her eyes. “Yes,” she said. “It was not a formal engagement, but it was expected.”

“I am aware of that,” Cecilia said. Best to be honest.

“It would have been a splendid match,” Mrs. Tryon went on, her voice becoming almost conversational. But only almost. There was a hint of standoffishness to her words, a vaguely bored note of warning, as if to say—I have control, and I shall not relinquish it.

Cecilia believed her.

“The Bridgertons and the Rokesbys have been friends and neighbors for generations,” Mrs. Tryon went on. “Edward’s mother has told me on many occasions that it was her dearest wish that their families be united.”

Cecilia held her tongue. There wasn’t a thing she could say to that that wouldn’t cast her in a bad light.

Mrs. Tryon finished with her second glove, and let out a little sound—not really a sigh, more of an I-am-regrettably-changing-the-subject sort of noise. “But alas,” she said, “it is not to be.”

Cecilia waited for an impossibly long moment, but Mrs. Tryon did not say more. Finally, Cecilia forced herself to ask, “Was there anything in particular I might help you with?”

“No.”

More silence. Mrs. Tryon, she realized, wielded it like a weapon.

“I . . .” Cecilia motioned helplessly toward the door. There was something about this woman that left her utterly inept. “I have errands,” she finally said.

“As do I.” Mrs. Tryon’s words were crisp, and so were her motions when she rose to her feet.

Cecilia followed her to the door, but before she could bid her farewell, Mrs. Tryon said, “Cecilia—I may call you Cecilia, may I not?”

Cecilia squinted as her eyes adjusted to the sunlight. “Of course.”

“Since fate has brought us together this afternoon, I feel it my duty as your husband’s godmother to impart some advice.”

Their eyes met.

“Do not hurt him.” The words were simple, and starkly given.

“I would never want to,” Cecilia said. It was the truth.

“No, I don’t suppose you would. But you must always remember that he was once destined for someone else.”

It was a cruel statement, but it was not cruelly meant. Cecilia wasn’t sure why she was so certain of this. Perhaps it was the thin veil of moisture in Mrs. Tryon’s eyes, perhaps it was nothing more than instinct.

Maybe it was just her imagination.

It was a reminder, though. She was doing the right thing.

It was midafternoon before Edward finished up with his meetings at the British Army headquarters. Governor Tryon himself had wanted a complete recounting of Edward’s time in Connecticut, and the written account he’d submitted just one day prior for Colonel Stubbs had not been deemed sufficient. So he’d sat with the governor and told him everything he’d already said three times before. He supposed there was some usefulness to it, since Tryon hoped to lead a series of raids on the Connecticut coast in just a few short weeks.

The big surprise, however, occurred right when Edward was leaving. Colonel Stubbs intercepted him at the door and handed him a letter, written on good paper, folded into an envelope, and sealed with wax.

“It’s from Captain Harcourt,” Stubbs said gruffly. “He left it with me in case he did not return.”

Edward stared down at the envelope. “For me?” he asked dumbly.

“I asked him if he wanted us to send something to his father, but he said no. It doesn’t matter, anyway, I suppose, since the father predeceased the son.” Stubbs let out a tired, frowning sigh, and one of his hands came up to scratch his head. “Actually, I don’t know which of them passed on first, but it hardly makes a difference.”

“No,” Edward agreed, still looking down at his name on the front of the envelope, written in Thomas’s slightly untidy script. Men wrote such letters all the time, but usually for their families.

“If you want some privacy to read it, you can use the office across the hall,” Stubbs offered. “Greene is out for the day, and so is Montby, so you should not be bothered.”

“Thank you,” Edward said reflexively. He did want privacy to read his friend’s letter. It was not every day one received messages from the dead, and he had no idea how he might react.

Stubbs escorted him to a small office, even going so far as to open the window to alleviate the heavy, stuffy air. He said something as he departed and shut the door, but Edward didn’t notice. He just stared down at the envelope, taking a deep breath before finally sliding his fingers underneath the wax seal to open it.

Dear Edward,

If you are reading this, I am surely dead. It is strange, really, to write these words. I have never believed in ghosts, but right now the notion is a comfort. I think I should like to come back and haunt you. You deserve it after that episode in Rhode Island with Herr Farmer and the eggs.

Edward smiled as he remembered. It had been a long, boring day, and their quest for an omelet had ended with their getting pelted by eggs from a fat farmer screaming at them in German. It should have been a damned tragedy—they hadn’t had a meal in days that wasn’t bland and boring—but Edward couldn’t remember a time he’d laughed so hard. It had taken Thomas a full day to get the yolk out of his coat, and Edward had been picking bits of shell from his hair all night.

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