“I decided not to let them win. I wasn’t going to let them push me out, because I’d realized that James was right. Every morning before class and every evening after class I walked down to the village and worked with John, who was the town carpenter, to fix the desk that I’d destroyed. When it became obvious that the desk was beyond repair, he taught me how to make one from scratch.”

“I didn’t think that I’d enjoy it, but I did. I loved it. Long after the desk was done, I kept showing up and he never told me to leave. It kept me focused and probably kept me out of a lot of trouble. I still got into fights, but not as many and whenever John heard that I’d been in a fight he worked me until I could barely walk back to the school. He helped keep me in line and gave me something to look forward to each day.”

“It sounds like he was a good man,” Elizabeth said around a small sniffle.

“He was,” Robert agreed, pressing a kiss to the top of her head.

He held her in his arms for a long time. When the fire started to die out and she hadn’t said anything, he realized that she must have fallen asleep in his arms. Carefully, he adjusted her in his arms and picked her up. He carried her to the bed and gently lay her down. Before he could manage to stand up, she grabbed his hand and gave it a gentle tug.

Not one to argue with his wife, he climbed in bed with her and curled up behind her when she shifted onto her side. He wrapped his arm around her and pulled her tightly against him.

“I’m sorry, Robert, for what I did to you,” she said, taking him by surprise as she said the words that he’d been waiting half his life to hear. But instead of yelling at her or rubbing her apology in her face like he’d always imagined he would at this moment, he pressed a kiss to the back of her neck and said the words that would set them both free.

“I’m sorry too, minx.”

Chapter 31

Boston Harbor

7 Weeks later……

“Ah, Robert?”

“Shhhh, not while I’m praying,” he said, momentarily losing his place before he started again, “thank you for letting us survive that trip from hell. Thank you for ignoring my prayers for a quick death when I didn’t think that I’d be able to survive another day of starvation,” he said, making her roll her eyes in annoyance.

“You were given three full meals a day just like everyone else,” she pointed out, not bothering to mention the fact that, on most days, he’d received second helpings. She sat down on a bench near their luggage, wondering just how much longer he was going to keep this up.

“I’m sorry for all the cursing that my wife forced me to do while I was on that boat,” he continued, ignoring her even as he amused her. “As you know, she’s been such a bad influence on me. Thank you for pulling me from near death and somehow giving me the strength to survive.”

“Near death?” she asked, frowning. “When were you near death?”

“When was I near death?” he asked in stunned disbelief as he opened his eyes so that he could glare at her. “How could you forget all those times that I could barely move? When I struggled to find the will to live so that I wouldn’t leave you a young widow? Did my struggle for survival mean nothing to you?” he demanded in outrage, terrifying the people that were forced to walk past him to get to the docks and making her wrack her brain as she struggled to figure out what he was talking about.

“Do you mean those few times when you had a touch of seasickness?” she asked, unable to think of anything else that he could be talking about since he’d been the picture of health during the majority of the trip.

“ A touch ?” he repeated in disbelief. “I nearly died!”

“Because you were forced to miss breakfast a few times?” she asked, trying her best not to laugh or smile, but he looked so adorable just then that she admittedly didn’t put up much of a struggle.

“It was hell! Pure hell!” he snapped, shocking several of the women trying to rush past him.

“Try having seasickness every morning and night,” she said dryly as she stood up and gestured for several dockworkers to help them with their luggage.

“That makes my ordeal worse!” he said, coming to his feet so that he could offer her his arm. “I needed my strength so that I could tend to you and keep you alive.”

“The peppermint tea did that,” she said with a shrug.

His gasp of outrage was simply too adorable. “You ungrateful brat! After everything I did for you to ensure your survival and this is how you repay me? With your mockery?”

She opened her mouth to tease him when the reminder that she hadn’t had a chance to have her peppermint tea this morning hit her with the force of a battering ram. “Robert?” was all she had to say.

“Damn it!” he snapped, all humor leaving his face as he scooped her up in his arms and quickly carried her over to a stack of crates where she’d have some privacy.

As soon as he stepped behind the crates, he put her down on her feet and helped her kneel at the edge of the dock. He held onto her h*ps so that she wouldn’t have to worry about falling into the water as she was sick for the first time in a week. When she was done, she sat back against Robert, who wrapped his arms around her and murmured sweet endearments as they waited for the nausea to pass.

“I’m fine,” she said a few minutes later, panting slightly as she did her best to give him a reassuring smile when they both knew that she wasn’t.

“The hell you are,” Robert practically snarled as he helped her to her feet. As soon as she was standing up, albeit a bit wobbly, he scooped her up in his arms and carried her back towards the dockworkers waiting by their luggage.

“I can walk,” she said even though she wasn’t entirely sure that was true.

“You’re not walking.”

“People are staring,” she pointed out quietly, embarrassed by all the attention.

“Then let them stare. You’re not walking!” he snapped, sounding angry, but she knew that he wasn’t mad at her.

Robert was terrified that there was something seriously wrong with her. She’d been ill during most of the trip, sometimes too sick to leave the bed. When she wasn’t sick she was exhausted, sleeping away most of the morning and falling asleep at night before the sun even had a chance to set. The ship’s doctor hadn’t helped matters when he’d tried to restrict her to their room for most of the trip.

The doctor had examined her multiple times at Robert’s request and each time he’d claimed different reasons for her illness. The last suggestion had Robert throwing the man out of their room and on his ass. He still wouldn’t tell her what the doctor said, but the way she caught him watching her sometimes let her know that it was bad.

Whenever she asked him what the doctor said, he would smile and reassure her that it was nothing. Then he would do whatever it took to distract her. They’d walk the deck of the ship, play cards, read, and reminisce about the old days until it was time to go to bed. Then he would make love to her tenderly as though he was savoring their time together, which only frightened her more.

“Take us to the finest hotel,” he demanded as soon as they were within speaking distance of the men waiting by their luggage.