“Are you a harlot?”

Cecilia whirled around, nearly losing her footing on the ladder. “What did you just ask?”

“Are you a harlot?” Miss Finch repeated, punctuating each word with a dramatic pause. “I can think of no other reason—”

“No, I am not a harlot,” Cecilia snapped, well aware that the odious woman would most likely disagree if she knew the events of the past month.

“Because I won’t share a room with a whore.”

Cecilia lost it. She simply lost it. She’d held her composure through the death of her brother, through the revelation that Colonel Stubbs had lied in the face of her grief and worry. She’d even managed not to fall apart while leaving the only man she would ever love, and now she was putting a bloody ocean between them, and he was going to hate her, and this awful wretched woman was calling her a whore?

She jumped off the ladder, strode to Miss Finch, and grabbed her by the collar.

“I don’t know what sort of poison you ingested this morning,” she seethed, “but I have had enough. I paid good money for my half of this cabin, and in return I expect a modicum of civility and good breeding.”

“Good breeding! From a woman who does not even possess a trunk?”

“What the devil does that mean?”

Miss Finch threw up her arms and screeched like a banshee. “And now you invoke the name of Satan!”

Oh. Dear. God. Cecilia had entered hell. She was sure of it. Maybe this was her punishment for lying to Edward. Three weeks . . . maybe even a full month with this shrew.

“I refuse to share a cabin with you!” Miss Finch cried.

“I assure you I would like nothing more than to grant your wish, but—”

A knock sounded on the door.

“I hope that’s the captain,” Miss Finch said. “He probably heard you screaming.”

Cecilia gave her a disgusted look. “Why on earth would the captain be here?” They lacked a porthole, but she could tell from the movement of the ship that they had already left the dock. Surely the captain had better things to do than arbitrate a catfight.

The crisp rap of knuckles on wood was replaced by the pound of a fist, followed by a bellow of “Open the door!”

It was a voice Cecilia knew quite well.

She went pale. Truly, she felt the blood leave her face. Her mouth went slack with shock as she turned toward the pulsing flat of the door.

“Open the damn door, Cecilia!”

Miss Finch gasped and whirled to face her. “That’s not the captain.”

“No . . .”

“Who is it? Do you know who it is? He could be here to attack us. Oh dear God, oh dear heavens . . .” Miss Finch moved with surprising agility as she leapt behind Cecilia, using her as a human shield for whatever monster she thought was going to come barreling through the door.

“He’s not going to attack us,” Cecilia said in a dazed voice. She knew she should do something—shake off Miss Finch, open the door—but she was frozen, trying to make sense of what was clearly an impossibility.

Edward was here. On the ship. On the ship that had left the harbor.

“Oh my God,” she gasped.

“Oh, now you’re worried,” Miss Finch snapped.

The ship was moving. It was moving. Cecilia had watched the crew unwrap the thick ropes from the moorings as she made her way across the deck. She’d felt them push away from the dock, recognized the familiar pitch and sway as they set out across the bay and into the Atlantic.

Edward was on the ship. And as he was hardly likely to swim back to shore, that meant he had deserted his post, and—

More pounding, louder this time.

“Open this door right now or I swear I will break it down!”

Miss Finch whimpered something about her virtue.

And Cecilia finally whispered Edward’s name.

“You know him?” Miss Finch accused.

“Yes, he’s my . . .” What was he? Not her husband.

“Well, then open the door.” Miss Finch gave her a hard shove, catching Cecilia sufficiently off guard to send her tumbling against the far wall. “But don’t let him in,” she barked. “I won’t have a man in here. You take him out and do your . . . your . . .” Her fingers made disgusted piano-like motions in front of her. “Your business,” she finally finished. “Do it elsewhere.”

“Cecilia!” Edward bellowed.

“He’s going to break the door!” Miss Finch shrieked. “Hurry!”

“I’m hurrying!” The cabin was only eight feet across—hardly enough for hurrying to make a difference—but Cecilia made her way to the door and put her fingers on the deadbolt lock.

And she froze.

“What are you waiting for?” Miss Finch demanded.

“I don’t know,” Cecilia whispered.

Edward was here. He’d followed her. What did that mean?

“CECILIA!”

She opened the door, and for one blessed moment, time stopped. She drank in the sight of him standing across the threshold, his fisted hand still raised to pound against the door. He wore no hat, and his hair was badly mussed and ruffled.

He looked . . . wild.

“You’re wearing your uniform,” she said stupidly.

“You,” he said, jabbing his finger toward her, “are in so much trouble.”

Miss Finch let out a gleeful gasp. “Are you going to arrest her?”

Edward wrenched his gaze away from Cecilia for just long enough to snap an incredulous “What?”

“Are you going to arrest her?” Miss Finch scurried up until she was just behind Cecilia. “I think she’s a—”

Cecilia elbowed her in the ribs. For her own good. There was no telling how Edward would react if Miss Finch called her a whore in front of him.

Edward flicked an impatient look at Miss Finch. “Who is that?” he demanded.

“Who are you?” Miss Finch shot back.

Edward jerked his head toward Cecilia. “Her husband.”

Cecilia tried to contradict. “No, you’re—”

“I will be,” he growled.

“This is highly irregular,” Miss Finch said with a sniff.

Cecilia whirled around. “Will you kindly step back?” she hissed.

“Well!” Miss Finch said with a huff. She made a great show of the three mincing steps it took to reach her bunk.

Edward tipped his head toward the older lady. “Your friend?”

“No,” Cecilia said emphatically.

“Certainly not,” Miss Finch said.

Cecilia shot her an irritated look before turning back to Edward. “Didn’t you get my letter?”

“Of course I got your letter. Why the hell else would I be here?”

“I didn’t say which ship—”

“It wasn’t that difficult to figure it out.”

“But you—your commission—” Cecilia fought for words. He was an officer in His Majesty’s Army. He couldn’t just leave. He’d be court-martialed. Dear God, could he hang? They didn’t hang officers for deserting, did they? And certainly not those from families like the Rokesbys.

“I had enough time to settle matters with Colonel Stubbs,” Edward said in a curt tone. “Just.”

“I—I don’t know what to say.”

His hand wrapped around her upper arm. “Tell me one thing,” he said in a very low voice.

She stopped breathing.

And then he looked over her shoulder at Miss Finch, who was following the proceedings with avid interest. “Would you mind granting us some privacy?” he ground out.

“This is my cabin,” she said. “If you wish for privacy, you’ll have to find it elsewhere.”

“Oh for the love of God,” Cecilia burst out, whirling around to face the hateful woman, “can you find enough kindness in your stony heart to give me a moment with—” She swallowed, her throat closing on her words. “With him,” she finally finished, jerking her head toward Edward.

“Are you married?” Miss Finch asked primly.

“No,” Cecilia replied, but this did not hold much traction given that Edward said, “Yes,” at the exact same time.

***

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