That seemed unlikely. Before she could press the point, Henry turned his attention to shuffling through the unruly stack of opened correspondence and parchment piled into small, unsteady mountains on his desk. He seemed to find what he was looking for; he pulled a black velvet sack out from under the mess and dumped something into his palm—a gold earring. A hoop decorated with a pearl, blue beads, and tiny gold leaves.
Mom’s earring. Etta’s whole self seemed to tense in belated panic. One hand rose to touch her ears, only to find both of them free of jewelry.
“Winifred found this in the folds of your clothing when you were brought to us,” he said, offering it to her. “I thought you might like it back.”
Just one? The question hung in her mind, quiet with devastation. In the grand scheme of everything that had happened, losing an earring was hardly the worst failure she’d endured, but it was another betrayal of trust, another way she had let her mother down.
She couldn’t add yet another notch to that tally by falling prey to this man’s lies. “You keep it. I found it in some junky old thrift shop.”
Henry’s lips compressed at that, and, when he did speak, there was a new edge to the words. “I realize you are out of your depth, and I am quite sympathetic to all that you’ve been through. But one thing I cannot tolerate is lying, and another is disrespecting your family. You did not find these earrings in a thrift store. I imagine they were a gift from your mother, as I know they were a cherished gift from her beloved uncle’s wife.”
He knows about Hasan.
That didn’t prove anything. He and the others had talked about having many sources out there; he could have easily learned about Hasan that way.
Even that his wife was the one who gave her the earrings?
Etta began to bite her lip, but forced herself to stop. She would not give in to the temptation to fill the uneasy silence between them with chatter. Not when Henry seemed so comfortable in it, and was watching her so closely.
“Who did you bribe for that information?” she asked, taking the earring from him.
One corner of his mouth kicked up, and he opened the same drawer, retrieving a long velvet case. Resting inside was a strand of glistening pearls, each slightly irregular in shape. Every third pearl was nestled between breathtaking sapphires. “Samarah made them to match this necklace I commissioned upon our engagement. Is that proof enough for you?”
At that, Etta did sit down. Henry placed the jewelry case between them.
Memory clouded her mind, dulling all of the certainties with which she had walked into the office.
But, darling, who’s your father? Alice had asked her in London. Henrietta…is it…is it possibly Henry?
“I’ll have another earring made to match,” he told her. “Or we might adjust it to be worn as a necklace. Whichever you’d prefer.”
Etta felt like she was barreling down a road at night without a brake pedal. This wasn’t right—it wasn’t him. This man couldn’t be her father.
“I don’t want anything from you,” she said.
“And yet, it’s my duty to provide for you,” Henry said. “At least grant me that much. I’m nearly eighteen years behind on the matter.”
“I can take care of things myself,” Etta said.
“Yes,” he said with a faint laugh. “That seems likely, given your mother. It’s rather remarkable, you know, the resemblance between the two of you. Uncanny, even.”
“Yeah, I didn’t miss the folks in the hall who crossed themselves when they saw me,” Etta said dryly.
Henry didn’t seem to hear her. He was carefully studying her face, his hand absently ruffling his dark hair. “But she gave you my name….”
Is it possibly Henry?
There seemed to be a question buried in the words, but his voice trailed off; he looked away, focusing on the empty bookshelves on the other side of the room. It gave Etta the opportunity to study him again—to prove to herself, and that small, chiming part of her heart, that there was no resemblance there to be found.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” she admitted.
“‘He who dares not grasp the thorn should never crave the rose,’ as Brontë said.” There was a wry expression on Henry’s face as he continued. “She has always been fiercely intelligent and determined, but she held herself apart from most others, for her own protection, to give herself distance if she ever needed to run. Capturing her heart was like wrestling a bear. I still have the scars to show for it.”
Etta, not for the first time, or even the twentieth, wished she had a better grip on the timeline of her mother’s life—when she had left the Thorns, when she had gone to infiltrate the Ironwoods, and when she had ultimately betrayed both by hiding the astrolabe and disappearing into the future. But it fit. All of this fit.
Is it possibly Henry?
More than possible. Etta brought her hand to her face, pressing her fingers hard to her temples, as if that could ease the pounding there. Her shoulder complained each time she shifted, but the pain only chiseled down her thoughts to their bare truths. Each small argument, each scrap of evidence, was beginning to form an undeniable picture.
She wanted Nicholas—she wanted to see his face, and measure his thoughts against her own until they made sense. Etta hadn’t understood how she’d used his steady resolve as a shelter until it was gone, and she was raw and exposed and trapped. When she’d been orphaned, she’d left the braver parts of herself with him, and what was left of her now was too cowardly to admit what she already knew to be true.