As he waited to regain sensation in his knees, he looked around at the bedchamber’s new appearance. His bed hangings had disappeared, and the walls looked as though they’d been repapered. On closer examination, they’d been covered with sketches and letters—all of them in a child’s hand. He pulled one from where it had been tacked above his headboard.
Sam says evry time you kiss Miss Montbadin we have an outing. Pleas get well and kiss her soon.
Yours truley, Daisy Fairfax and Milisent Fairfax
P.S. I made a draring of a tyger, but it is not much good.
Alex peered over his shoulder. “Her writing is coming along well, isn’t it? Even if her spelling needs a good deal of work. I quite liked the tiger.”
Chase’s stomach twisted in a knot, and it wasn’t from hunger.
Alex reached for a paper at the bedside, unfolded it, and put it in his hand. “This one was from Rosamund.”
Miss M. says I’m to write a letter of confession. I took four shillings and a nacre button from your library desk, this Monday last. They have been returned. I am sorry to have committed such a grievous act. Please take mercy on your wayward ward. The Tower of London is much too poorly lit for reading.
“I suspect she took more money than that,” Alex said, “but I only caught her with the four shillings.”
“Oh, I must send a note to John straightaway. He was here all night, and he went home to sleep. He’ll be so relieved to hear you’re awake.”
Chase was confused. “John? Who’s John?”
“You’re on a first-name basis with my solicitor?”
“No. I’m on a first-name basis with your brother. Ever since we gave the doctors the boot, we’ve been trading the watch back and forth.” She reached for a cup. “Here, take some broth.”
He pushed the cup away. “What are you doing?”
“You need nourishment to regain your strength. Perhaps I’ll take the girls for ices and bring you some back? It will be some days before you can take solid food, but it would be a change from beef tea.”
“It’s not the beef tea,” he said irritably.
Damn it, had his whole week in the country been for nothing? He’d meant to put distance between them. This was the opposite of distance. This was closeness. Intense, unbearable closeness unlike anything he’d ever known. The walls were closing in on him, with their sharp-toothed tigers and sweetly printed words.
“I told you in no uncertain terms we’d reached the end of this. You, me, and the girls. Then I wake up to you fussing over me, feeding me spoonfuls of beef tea. Drawings of flowers and tigers and pirate ships all over the walls.” He gestured angrily. “For Christ’s sake, Alex. When are you going to give this up?”
She stood still for a moment, and then set the teacup down with a clatter. “‘Why would a sea captain’s daughter be afraid of boats?’ You asked me that the day you left. Recall it?”
Chase was dizzied by the swift turn of conversation. “I suppose.”
“I’ll tell you why I’m afraid of boats. I lost my father when I was twelve years old. The Esperanza foundered in a storm. He threw a blanket over my shoulders and forced me to leave in the little captain’s gig. Told me to row as hard as I could. He promised to call me back to the ship once it was safe, but the ship was breaking apart already. My father ordered the crew to the jolly boat. He kept trying until the end, making certain all his men were safe, but . . .” She swallowed hard. “As they say, the captain goes down with the ship.”
God Almighty. How terrified she must have been.
“I tried to reunite with the rest of the crew.” She shook her head. “But it was too dark, and the waves were too high. We were separated within moments, and I couldn’t reach them. I called and called until I was hoarse. Perhaps they, too, foundered and perished. When the morning came and the sky cleared, I was alone. Drifting in the middle of the ocean. A crewman on an English brig happened to see me, and they came to my rescue. Ask me how many days I waited.”
“Sweetheart, you don’t need to—”
“Eight,” she said. “Eight days.”
“No provisions. Only a bit of rainwater. I can’t describe it. The slow crawl of time when you’re dying of thirst. Every breath, every swallow. It’s all you can think of. Toward the end, I grew delirious, and that was a mercy. I still find myself back there in dreams. I don’t imagine the boat, the storm. I only feel myself drifting in the dark, and when I wake, I’m desperate for water.”
“So that night when you came down to the kitchen . . .”