And they were forgotten, as soon as they left the room.
Chase sat at his desk with a tumbler of brandy, sorting through letters he’d received from the headmasters of England’s finest boarding schools for girls.
All acceptances, of course. The promise of a generous donation to the school worked wonders that way.
He was at a loss for the best criterion. Academic philosophy? Popularity with upper-crust families? Proximity to London or Belvoir?
By the time he’d sorted and re-sorted the letters four different ways, his quandary became clear. The question wasn’t how to choose where to send them.
The question was whether he could bear to send them at all.
He was drawn from his deliberation by footsteps pounding down the stairs. As he watched from his desk, a figure in white flew past, dark hair streaming behind it. The front door opened, and then banged shut. Either Alexandra had just bolted from the house, or a ghost was playing tricks.
Chase didn’t believe in ghosts.
He rose and followed her, walking out the door and into the brisk night air. “Alex?” He turned in every direction. No sight of her. He lifted his voice. “Alexandra.”
The voice came from the green in the center of the square. It was only once he’d crossed the lane and run a fruitless scan of the garden that he pinpointed her location.
He found her by nearly tripping over her.
“Alex, what the hell are you doing lying in the grass in your night rail in the middle of the night?”
“The comet. This could be it.” She kicked at his boot. “Now kindly go back in the house. You’re blocking the sky.”
Instead, Chase lay down on his back beside her.
“I told you, go back in the house.”
“I’m not going to just leave you here.”
She shivered beside him. “As you like, then.”
“If this could be a comet, don’t you need the telescope?”
“Not for this part. It’s a definite smudge. It’s not among Messier’s objects, nor could I find it in my lists of identified comets. Now I need to watch it and see whether it moves in pace with the stars.”
“Which bit of sky are we watching?”
“Follow the line of my finger.” She leaned close and pointed her arm at the sky. “Do you see the three stars in a triangle? It’s that tiny blur just above the bottommost point. Do you see it?”
In truth, Chase didn’t see anything other than the usual flurries of stars, but he didn’t want to disappoint her. He wanted to be part of this.
“How much time will it take for you to be certain?” he asked.
“A quarter hour, at least. Perhaps more.”
“I’ll make note of the time.” He opened the glass cover of his watch, gently skimming with his fingertips to take note of the hands’ positions.
They lay side by side in silence for what felt like an hour.
“How much time has elapsed?” she asked.
Chase consulted his timepiece, feeling around with his fingers. “I’m not certain. If I had to guess, I’d say . . . about three minutes.”
She moaned. “This is so nerve-racking.”
“You know what they say. A watched comet never moves.”
Another eternity passed. Perhaps they were up to five minutes now. He couldn’t bear the quiet tension.
“I have this nightmare,” he said. “It comes back again and again. It’s morning, and I’m standing in the nursery. All of us, looking down at the bed as usual. And I’m preparing to say something about the tragedy of pinworms, when I realize the hand in mine isn’t flesh and blood. It’s wood. Then I turn, and I realize I’m holding Millicent’s hand, and the body on the bed is Daisy’s.”
Alexandra’s hand slid into his, and he squeezed her fingers tight.
“She’s just lying there. Pale, unmoving. And there are buttons on her eyes. I start shouting at her. Shaking her little body. But I can’t move the buttons from her eyes to wake her, and then . . . Then the bed starts to change. Suddenly it’s gray and uneven. The paving stones of an alleyway. There’s blood pooling beneath her. I’m frantic to find the source, press my hand over the wound, but I can’t. It just keeps spreading. And then . . .”
“And then I wake up. Drenched in cold sweat.”
“Oh, Chase. I’m so sorry. That sounds terrifying.”
“It is terrifying. And even when I’ve awoken from it, and I know it’s only a dream, it doesn’t stop being terrifying. The fear only grows, and I know it’s because—” He paused to swallow hard. “I know it’s because I love them.”
She clasped his hand tight.
He swore. “I love those girls so damned much, Alex.”
“I know you do. I’ve known it for ages.”
“Yes, yes. You know everything.” He gave her a nudge. “The least you could do is wait until I’ve finished spilling the entirety of my heart on the grass. Then you can gloat over it.”