Edward considered this. “I am surprised your father allowed you to make the trip.”
“My father has died.”
Bloody hell. “I am sorry,” he said. “It seems my tact has departed along with my memory.” Although in truth, he could not have known. Her dress was pink, and she showed no signs of mourning.
She caught him eyeing the dusty rose fabric of her sleeve. “I know,” she said with a sheepish pout to her lower lip. “I should be in blacks. But I only had the one dress, and it was wool bombazine. I should roast like a chicken if I wore it here.”
“Our uniforms are rather uncomfortable in the summer months,” Edward agreed.
“Indeed. Thomas had said as much in his letters. It was because of his descriptions of the summer temperatures that I knew not to bring it.”
“I am sure you are more fetching in pink,” Edward said.
She blinked at the compliment. He could not blame her. The sheer ordinariness of it seemed oddly out of place considering their location in a hospital.
In a church.
In the middle of a war.
Add in his lost memory and found wife, and truly, he did not see how his life might get any more bizarre.
“Thank you,” Cecilia said, before clearing her throat and continuing with “But you asked about my father. You are correct. He would not have permitted me to travel to New York. He was not the most conscientious of parents, but even he would have put his foot down. Although . . .” She let out a little choke of uncomfortable laughter. “I’m not sure how quickly he would have noticed my absence.”
“I assure you, anyone would notice your absence.”
She gave him a sideways sort of look. “You haven’t met my father. As long as the house is—excuse me, was—running smoothly, he wouldn’t have noticed a thing.”
Edward nodded slowly. Thomas had not said a lot about Walter Harcourt, but what he had seemed to confirm Cecilia’s description. He’d complained more than once that their father was too content to let Cecilia molder away as his unpaid housekeeper. She needed to find someone to marry, Thomas had said. She needed to leave Marswell and make a life of her own.
Had Thomas been playing matchmaker? Edward hadn’t thought so at the time.
“Was it an accident?” Edward asked.
“No, but it was a surprise. He was napping in his study.” She gave a sad little shrug. “He didn’t wake up.”
“The doctor said there was no way to know for certain. It doesn’t matter, though, really, does it?” She looked over at him with an achingly wise expression, and Edward could have sworn he felt it. There was something about her eyes, the color, the clarity. When they met his, he felt as if the breath was sucked from his body.
Would it always be like this?
Was this why he’d married her?
“You look tired,” she said, adding before he could interrupt, “I know you said you’re not, but you look it.”
But he didn’t want to sleep. He couldn’t bear the thought of allowing his mind to slip back into unconsciousness. He’d lost too much time already. He needed it back. Every moment. Every memory.
“You didn’t say what happened to Thomas,” he reminded her.
A wave of worry washed over her face. “I don’t know,” she said with a choke in her voice. “No one seems to know where he is.”
“How is that possible?”
She gave a helpless shrug.
“You spoke to Colonel Stubbs?”
“They would not permit me to see him.”
“What?” This was not to be borne. “As my wife—”
“I did not tell them I was your wife.”
He stared at her. “Why the hell not?”
“I don’t know.” She jumped up from her seat, hugging her arms to her body. “I think I was just—well, I was there as Thomas’s sister.”
“But surely when you gave your name.”
She caught her lower lip between her teeth before saying, “I don’t think anyone made the connection.”
“General Garth did not realize that Mrs. Edward Rokesby was my wife?”
“Well, I told you I didn’t see him.” She moved back to his side, busying herself with tucking his blankets around him. “You’re getting too upset. We can talk about this tomorrow.”
“We will talk about this tomorrow,” he growled.
“Or the next day.”
His eyes met hers.
“Depending on your health.”
“I will brook no argument,” she cut in. “I may not be able to do anything for my brother just now, but I can help you. And if that means forcing you to hold your bloody horses . . .”
He stared at her, drinking her in. Her jaw was set, and she had one foot slightly forward, as if ready to charge. He could almost imagine her brandishing a sword, waving it above her head with a battle cry.
She was Joan of Arc. She was Boudicca. She was every woman who’d ever fought to protect her family.
“My fierce warrior,” he murmured.
She gave him a look.
He didn’t apologize.
“I should go,” she said abruptly. “Colonel Stubbs is sending someone to collect me this evening. I need to pack my things.”
He wasn’t sure how many things she’d managed to collect since arriving in North America, but Edward knew better than to get between a woman and her traveling trunk.
“You will be all right without me?”
This made her frown. “You wouldn’t tell me if you thought otherwise, would you?”
He gave her a quirk of a smile. “Of course not.”
This made her roll her eyes. “I will be back in the morning.”
“I look forward to it.”
And he did. He couldn’t remember the last time he looked forward to something more.
Of course, he couldn’t remember anything.
The son of an earl? La-di-da, how you have come up in the world, my brother. I hope he is not unbearable about it.
—from Cecilia Harcourt to her brother Thomas
Several hours later, as Cecilia followed the cheerful young lieutenant who had been dispatched to escort her to the Devil’s Head, she wondered when her heart might finally stop pounding. Dear heavens, how many lies had she told this afternoon? She had tried to keep her answers as close to the truth as possible, both to ease her conscience and because she had no idea how else to keep track of it all.
She should have told Edward the truth. She’d been about to, honestly, but then Colonel Stubbs had returned with the doctor. There was no way she was going to make her confession with that audience. She would have been booted from the hospital for certain, and Edward still needed her.
She still needed him.
She was alone in a very strange land. She was almost out of funds. And now that her reason for holding herself together had woken up, she could finally admit to herself—she was scared out of her mind.
If Edward repudiated her she’d be soon in the streets. She’d have no choice but to go back to England, and she couldn’t do that, not without discovering what had happened to her brother. She had sacrificed so much to make this journey. It had taken every ounce of her courage. She could not give up now.
But how could she continue to lie to him? Edward Rokesby was a good man. He did not deserve to be taken advantage of in such a brazen manner. Furthermore, he was Thomas’s closest friend. The two men had met when they had first entered the army, and as officers in the same regiment, they’d been sent over to North America at the same time. As far as Cecilia knew, they had served together ever since.
She knew that Edward felt kindly toward her. If she told him the truth, surely he’d understand why she’d lied. He would want to help her. Wouldn’t he?
But all this was neither here nor there. Or at the very least it could be put off until the following day. The Devil’s Head was just down the street, and with it the promise of a warm bed and a filling meal. Surely she deserved that much.
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