“Alex, I’m so sorry.”
“You don’t need to pity me. I’m here. And I’m alive. So there’s your answer, Chase. When am I giving up? I’m not. I did not give up on myself then. I am not giving up on you now.” She smoothed her apron. “Now I’m going to tidy myself up, take the girls for ices, eat two of them myself, and not bring you any. When we return, I’ll send Rosamund and Daisy in to visit you, and you will behave. Treat me as you like. But you will not belittle those girls for loving you. I won’t allow it. And do not ever waste your breath again with more of that ‘lost cause’ nonsense. Consider yourself found.”
“Wait.” He tried to push himself to a stand again, but he’d wasted what strength he had in the first attempt. “Don’t go. Give me a chance to—”
“Oh, and by the way.” She stopped at the door. “While you were ill, you pissed yourself. Twice. Just so you know.”
The pirates held Chase captive, and this time there was no slipping the knots to escape. Over his days of slow recuperation in bed, he was indoctrinated in the Pirate’s Code, fitted for a peg leg, and given a gold hoop earring. (God only knew where Rosamund had pilfered that from.) His tea and broth were served in ship’s rations, on two-hour bells.
Alexandra had taught her sailors well. So well, in fact, that she never needed to join the work at all. Chase had the feeling he was being punished. And he had the feeling he deserved it.
What she’d given him, however, was an excellent motivation to recover.
By the fourth day, he’d had enough. If he had to listen to Daisy read that book about girls climbing towers and boys picking flowers one more time, he would go mad.
When the girls came in that afternoon, they found him out of bed, bathed, properly attired, and ready to do something, anything, other than convalesce.
“Oh, boo.” Daisy pouted. “You shaved. You made a better prisoner when you were scruffy.”
“It’s just as well,” Rosamund said. “Now that you’re presentable, you can come with us to tea.”
“We’re going to tea at Lady Penny’s house,” Daisy said. “We’ve been two weeks in a row now. She’s Miss Mountbatten’s friend, and she has a hedgehog. And an otter named Hubert, and a goat named Marigold, and a two-legged dog named Bixby, and a heap of other animals.”
“Literally,” Rosamund interjected. “Literally a heap.”
“Today, I’m allowed to pet the hedgehog if I remember my manners. Also, Miss Teague bakes the scrummiest biscuits.” She took Chase by the hand and tugged. “You should join us.”
“I don’t believe I’m invited,” he replied.
“You can come. That is, if you wish.” Alexandra stood in the doorway. She was wearing that fetching yellow frock again, and he suddenly felt starved for sunshine.
Starved for her company, as well.
“You’re certain?” They locked eyes, and he searched her expression for hints to her true emotions. “I don’t want to go where I’m not wanted.”
“Lady Penelope would welcome you.” She worked her fingers into her gloves with short, impatient tugs. “She takes in every creature that wanders past, no matter how ill behaved.”
Chase knew the tone of a woman’s enthusiastic invitation, and that was not it. Alex was clearly hoping he’d decline.
This afternoon, he’d be disappointing her hopes once again. “I’ll order the carriage.”
Alex cursed herself all the way to Penny’s house. Why had she invited him? She’d been so relieved to see him well and strong again, she hadn’t been thinking clearly. And she never dreamed he’d accept.
The carriage ride to Bloom Square wasn’t a long one, and they arrived before she was ready.
Once Chase had helped her out of the carriage, she kept a tight grip on his hand. “Lady Penelope Campion and Nicola Teague are two of my dearest friends in the world.”
She didn’t think he did, not truly. “Penny and Nic . . . well, they’re not the usual sort of ladies. They weren’t among the finishing school set. If you are even the slightest bit teasing or unkind, I will rip that gold earring straight through your earlobe.”
He cursed and fumbled at his ear until he’d removed it himself.
She shouldn’t have mentioned it.
“One last thing,” she muttered as Rosamund reached for the door knocker. “If Lady Penelope Campion offers you a sandwich—you will eat it. And you will like it.”
“Why does that sound like a threat?”
She didn’t answer. He’d learn soon enough for himself.
The door opened, and Penny greeted each of the girls with sound kisses on their cheeks. “Come in, darlings.”
Then she noticed Chase, and Alex sent up a prayer. Please, Penny. For once, remain calm.
Penny threw her arms around Chase and caught him in a hug, rocking him back and forth. “I’m so relieved to see you. I’ve been desperately worried ever since I heard you were ill. Alex was beside herself.”