But I shall have the last laugh, because I am going to be wretchedly maudlin and sentimental, and maybe I will even force you to shed a tear over me. That would make me laugh, you know. You’ve always been such a stoic. It was only your sense of humor that made you bearable.
But bearable you were, and I wish to thank you for the gift of true friendship. It was something you bestowed without thinking, something that simply came from within. I am not ashamed to say that I spend half my life in the colonies terrified out of my skull. It is far too easy to die here. I cannot express the comfort it gave me to know that I always had your support.
Edward sucked in a breath of air, and it was only then that he realized how close he was to tears. He could have written the exact same words to Thomas. It was what had made the war bearable. Friendship, and the knowledge that there was at least one other person who valued your life as much as his own.
And now I must impose upon that friendship one last time. Please have a care for Cecilia. She will be alone now. Our father hardly counts. Write to her, if you will. Tell her what happened to me so that the only word she receives is not from the army. And should you have the opportunity, go visit her. See that she is well. Perhaps you could introduce her to your sister. I think Cecilia would like that. I know that I will rest easier knowing that she might have the opportunity to meet new people and find a life outside of Matlock Bath. Once our father passes, there will be nothing for her there. Our cousin will take ownership of Marswell, and he has always been an oily sort. I should never want Cecilia to be dependent on his generosity and goodwill.
Nor Edward. Cecilia had told him all about Horace. Oily was an apt modifier.
I know this is a great deal to ask of you. Derbyshire isn’t quite the end of the earth—I believe we both know that’s right here in New York—but I am sure that once you return to England, the last thing you will wish to do is travel north to the midlands.
No, but he wouldn’t have to. Wouldn’t Thomas be surprised to know that Cecilia was just a quarter mile away, in room twelve at the Devil’s Head. It was truly a remarkable thing she’d done, crossing an ocean to find her brother. Somehow Edward thought that even Thomas wouldn’t have imagined her capable of it.
So this is farewell. And thank you. There is no one I would trust my sister’s welfare to more than you. And perhaps you will not mind the task so very much. I know you used to read her letters when I was gone. Honestly, did you think I wouldn’t notice?
Edward laughed. He couldn’t believe Thomas had known all along.
I bequeath to you the miniature I have of her. I think she’d want you to have it. I know that I do.
Godspeed, my friend.
Yours most truly,
Edward stared down at the letter for so long his vision blurred. Thomas had never let on that he knew of Edward’s infatuation with his sister. It was almost mortifying to think of it. But clearly he’d been amused by it. Amused, and maybe . . .
Had Thomas been a matchmaker at heart? It had certainly sounded that way in his letter. If he’d wanted Edward to marry Cecilia . . .
Could Thomas have written to her about it? She’d said that he had made the arrangements for the marriage. What if . . .
Edward felt the blood drain from his face. What if Cecilia really did think they were married? What if she hadn’t been lying at all?
Edward searched the letter frantically, looking in vain for a date. When had Thomas written this? Could he have told Cecilia to make arrangements for a proxy ceremony but then died before asking Edward to do the same?
He stood. He had to get back to the inn. He knew this was farfetched, but it would explain so much. And it was well past time that he told her that his memory had returned. He needed to stop stewing in his misery and simply ask her what was going on.
He didn’t run to the Devil’s Head, but it was a damned fast walk.
Edward pushed open the door to their room with more force than was necessary. But by the time he’d reached the upper floor of the inn, his blood was rushing so fast and so hard he was practically jumping out of his skin. His head was full of questions, and his heart was full of passion, and at some point he’d decided he didn’t care what she’d done. If she had tricked him, she must have had a reason. He knew her. He knew her. She was as good and fine a person as had ever walked on this earth, and maybe she hadn’t said the words, but he knew she loved him.
Almost as much as he loved her.
He said her name again even though it was obvious she wasn’t there. Damn it. Now he was going to have to sit on his hands and wait. She could be anywhere. She frequently went out and about, running errands and taking walks. There had been less of this since her search for her brother had ended, but still, she didn’t like to stay cooped up all day.
Maybe she’d left a note. She sometimes did.
His eyes swept over the room, moving more slowly along the flat planes of the tables. There it was. A thrice-folded piece of paper tucked partway under the empty washbasin so it wouldn’t blow away.
Cecilia always did like to leave the window open.
Edward unfolded the paper, and for a split second he was confused by the sheer number of words on the page, far more than was needed to let him know when she’d be back.
Then he started to read.
I am a coward, a terrible one, for I know I should say these words in person. But I cannot. I do not think I could make it through the speech, and also, I do not think I will have the time.
I have so much to confess to you, I hardly know where to start. I suppose it must be with the most salient fact. We are not married.
I did not mean to carry out such a falsehood. I promise you, it began for the most unselfish of reasons. When I heard you were in hospital, I knew that I must go and care for you, but I was turned away, told that due to your rank and position, only family members would be allowed to see you. I am not sure what came over me—I did not think I was so impulsive, but then again, I did throw caution to the wind and come to New York. I was so angry. I wanted only to help. And before I knew it, I shouted that I was your wife. To this day, I am not sure why anyone believed me.
I told myself that I would reveal the truth when you awakened. But then everything went wrong. No, not wrong, just strange. You woke up and had no memory. Even odder, you seemed to know who I was. I still do not understand how you recognized me. When you regain your memory—and I know you will, you must have faith—you will know that we had never met. Not in person. I know that Thomas showed you his miniature of me, but truly, it is not a good likeness. There is no reason you should have recognized me when you opened your eyes.
I did not want to tell you the truth in front of the doctor and Colonel Stubbs. I did not think they would allow me to stay, and I felt you still needed my care. Then later that night, something became very clear. The army was far more eager to aid Mrs. Rokesby in the search for her brother than it was for Miss Harcourt.
I used you. I used your name. For that I apologize. But I will confess that while I shall carry my guilt to the end of my days, I cannot regret my actions. I needed to find Thomas. He was all I had left.
But now he is gone, and so is my reason for being in New York. As we are not married, I think it is appropriate and best that I return to Derbyshire. I will not marry Horace; nothing shall sink me that low, I assure you. I buried the silver in the garden before I left; it was my mother’s and thus not part of the entail. I shall find a buyer. You need not worry for my welfare.
Edward, you are such a gentleman—the most honorable man I have ever known. If I remain in New York, you will insist that you have compromised me, that you must marry me. But I cannot ask this of you. None of this was your fault. You thought we were wed, and you behaved as a husband would. You should not be punished for my trickery. You have a life waiting for you back in England, one that does not include me.
All I ask is that you not speak of this time. When the day shall come that I might marry, I will tell my intended what happened here. I could not live with myself if I did not. But until then, I think it best if the world continues to see me simply as
Postscript—You need not worry about lasting repercussions from our time together.
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