Miss Finch gaped. “You know him?”

“We were at Eton together,” the captain said.

“Of course you were,” Cecilia heard herself murmur.

“He was attacking her,” Miss Finch said, jolting her finger in Cecilia’s direction.

“Captain Rokesby?” the captain said, with palpable disbelief.

“Well, he almost attacked me,” she sniffed.

“Oh please,” Cecilia scoffed.

“It’s good to see you, Kenneth,” Edward said, reaching out and enveloping the captain’s hand in a hearty shake. “Might I impose upon you for a marriage ceremony?”

Captain Wolverton grinned. “Now?”

“As soon as you’re able.”

“Is that even legal?” Cecilia asked.

He gave her a look. “Now you’re quibbling?”

“It’s legal as long as you’re on my ship,” Captain Wolverton said. “After that, I’d recommend redoing it on dry land.”

“Miss Finch can be our witness,” Cecilia said, her lips pressed together in a blatant attempt not to laugh.

“Why, well . . .” Miss Finch blinked about seven times in the space of a second. “I suppose I would be honored.”

“We’ll get the navigator to be the second witness,” Captain Wolverton said. “He loves this sort of thing.” Then he eyed Edward with a decidedly fraternal expression. “You’ll take my cabin, of course,” he said. “I can bunk elsewhere.”

Edward thanked him—profusely—and they all filed out of the cabin, heading up to the deck, which, the captain insisted, was a much more suitable backdrop for a wedding.

But when they stood beneath the mast, with all the crew gathered to celebrate with them, Edward turned to the captain and said, “One question before we get started . . .”

Captain Wolverton, clearly amused, motioned to him to continue.

“May I kiss the bride first?”

Epilogue

Cecilia Rokesby was nervous.

Correction, she was really nervous.

In approximately five minutes, she was going to meet her husband’s family.

His very aristocratic family.

Who did not know he’d married her.

And it was most definitely legal now. It turned out the Bishop of Cork and Ross did a brisk business in special licenses—theirs was not the first shipboard marriage needing a more legally binding ceremony. The bishop had a stack of licenses ready to be filled out, and they were married on the spot, with Captain Wolverton and the local curate as witnesses.

After that, she and Edward had decided to proceed straight to Kent. His family would be desperate to see him, and she had no one left in Derbyshire. There would be time enough to return to Marswell and gather her personal belongings before ceding the house to Horace. Her cousin couldn’t do anything without confirmation of Thomas’s death, and since Cecilia and Edward were the only people in England who could presently make such a confirmation . . .

Horace would have to learn the fine art of patience.

But now they were here, coming up the drive at Crake House, the ancestral home of the Rokesbys. Edward had described it to her in great detail, and she knew it would be large, but when they rounded the corner, she could not help but gasp.

Edward squeezed her hand.

“It’s huge!” she said.

He smiled distractedly, his attention fully on his home, which loomed larger through the window with each rotation of the carriage wheels.

He was nervous too, Cecilia realized. She could see it in the constant tapping of his hand against his thigh, in the little flash of white every time he caught his lower lip with his teeth.

Her big, strong, capable man was nervous.

It made her love him even more.

The carriage came to a halt, and Edward hopped down before anyone could come to assist them. Once he had Cecilia safely on the ground beside him, he tucked her hand in his arm, and led her toward the house.

“I’m surprised no one has come out yet,” he murmured.

“Maybe no one was watching the drive?”

Edward shook his head. “There is always—”

The door swung open, and a footman stepped out.

“Sir?” the footman said, and Cecilia realized he must be new, because he had no idea who Edward was.

“Is the family at home?” Edward asked.

“Yes, sir. Who may I say is calling?”

“Edward. Tell them Edward is home.”

The footman’s eyes widened. Clearly he’d been employed long enough to know what that meant, and he practically ran back into the house. Cecilia stifled a grin. She was still nervous. Correction, she was still very nervous, but there was something almost fun about this, something made her slightly giddy.

“Should we wait inside?” she asked.

He nodded, and they entered the grand foyer. It was empty, devoid of even a single servant until—

“Edward!”

It was a shriek, a loud feminine shriek, exactly the sound one might expect from someone so happy she might burst into tears at any moment.

“Edward Edward Edward! Oh my God I can’t believe it’s really you!”

Cecilia’s brows rose as a dark-haired woman virtually flew down the stairs. She took the last half dozen steps in a single leap, and it was only then that Cecilia saw that she was wearing men’s breeches.

“Edward!” With one last cry, the woman hurled herself into Edward’s arms, hugging him with enough intensity and love to bring tears to Cecilia’s eyes.

“Oh, Edward,” she said again, touching his cheeks as if she needed to reassure herself it was really he, “we’ve been in such despair.”

“Billie?” Edward said.

Billie? Billie Bridgerton? Cecilia’s heart sank. Oh dear God. This was going to be awful. She probably still thought Edward was going to marry her. He’d said they had no formal understanding, that Billie didn’t want to marry him any more than he did her, but Cecilia suspected that that was the obtuse male in him talking. How could any woman not want to marry him, especially one who’d been told since birth that he was hers?

“It’s so good to see you,” Edward said with a brotherly kiss on her cheek, “but what are you doing here?”

At that Billie laughed. It was a watery, through-her-tears sort of laugh, but her joy was there in every note. “You don’t know,” she said. “Of course you don’t know.”

“I don’t know what?”

And then another voice entered the conversation. A male one.

“I married her.”

Edward whirled around. “George?”

His brother. It had to be. His hair wasn’t quite the same shade of brown, but those eyes, those incandescently blue eyes . . . He had to be a Rokesby.

“You married Billie?” Edward still looked . . . quite honestly, shocked really wasn’t quite strong enough a word.

“I did.” George looked right proud of it too, although Cecilia had less than a moment to gauge his expression before he enveloped Edward in a hug.

“But . . . but . . .”

Cecilia watched with interest. It was impossible not to smile. There was a story here. And she couldn’t help but be a little bit relieved that Billie Bridgerton was clearly in love with someone else.

“But you hate each other,” Edward protested.

“Not nearly so much as we love each other,” Billie said.

“Good God. You and Billie?” Edward looked from one to the other and back again. “Are you certain?”

“I recall the ceremony quite distinctly,” George said with dry humor. He tipped his head toward Cecilia. “Are you going to introduce us?”

Edward took her arm and drew her close. “My wife,” he said with obvious pride. “Cecilia Rokesby.”

“Formerly Harcourt?” Billie asked. “You were the one who wrote to us! Oh, thank you. Thank you!”

She threw her arms around Cecilia and hugged her so tightly that Cecilia could hear every catch in her voice as she said, “Thank you again and again. You have no idea how much that meant to us.”

“Mother and Father are in the village,” George said. “They should be back within the hour.”

***

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