Alex would hire a ship of her own and sail off in pursuit, if that’s what it took. The thought of sailing the ocean still terrified her, but that terror paled in comparison with her fear of losing the girls. And losing Chase, too.
The doorbell sounded.
They rushed to the entrance hall.
When the door was flung open, there she stood—the mulish, pilfering, ten-year-old answer to a prayer.
“Rosamund.” Chase pulled her into his arms, clasping her head close to his chest. “Thank God. Thank God.”
Alex scanned the steps and pavement. “Daisy. Where’s Daisy?”
“She’s in the hackney. She’s been hurt.”
“Petersfield.” Chase tipped back a swallow of brandy. The amber liquid burned its way down his hoarse, weary throat. “They made it all the way to Petersfield. That’s nearly to Portsmouth.”
Alex nodded and sniffed. “I know.”
First, calling for doctors.
Next, teasing out the details of their adventure.
Last, sitting in the corner of the nursery, watching the both of them sleep.
“Petersfield,” he repeated numbly.
Apparently, Rosamund’s grand plan had been to travel to Portsmouth via stagecoach—only nine hours’ journey, she made a note of mentioning. Upon arrival, just as Alex had surmised, the girls planned to cut their hair, put on homespun trousers, and search for work as ship’s boys.
The plan had been executed flawlessly, except for one hitch. On her way down the rope ladder, Daisy had fallen and landed on her arm. Rosamund ignored her sister’s complaints of pain for much of the journey. After all, Daisy was expert at inventing maladies. However, once the swelling and bruising set in, there was no ignoring that she needed a doctor. They’d exited the coach at Petersfield and caught the next coach going north.
“You must admit, it’s rather remarkable how well they handled it. Rosamund knew to return home, and she and Daisy made it safely back. That shows a great deal of courage and ingen—”
“Don’t,” he clipped. “Don’t look for the bright side of this. If Daisy hadn’t fallen at all, they’d be a full day’s sail from England by now. And if Daisy had taken that fall any harder, or from a slightly greater height . . .”
He shuddered, pushing aside the nightmarish image of Daisy’s blood pooling on cobblestones.
“Their return journey took money, cleverness, and courage,” she said. “They could have used that same money, cleverness, and courage to go anywhere else. But they came here. They came home.”
Chase’s jaw tightened. How dare she. How dare she praise their remarkable achievement of not quite dying, and try to spin this all into a moralistic fable designed to puff him up.
This time, she was the one who needed to face facts.
He would show them to her.
Chase stood and quietly motioned for Alex to follow. After leaving the nursery, he went to her bedchamber.
“This is what will happen.” He yanked one of her cottage-for-let notices from where Alex had tacked it to the wall. “I’m going to buy you this cottage, or one like it.” He took a closer look at the advertisement. “Actually, I’m going to buy you a cottage that’s much better. One with enough room for you and the girls.”
“Yes. I’m offering to extend your employment as their governess. Indefinitely.”
“Their governess? I don’t understand.”
“You’re right. What am I thinking? You won’t be their governess any longer. I’ll hire another governess to live with you and teach the girls. You’ll be an astronomer, of course.” He looked through the other advertisements tacked on her wall. None of the properties appeared remotely satisfactory. “You’re going to need a larger property for that. One with a hill. Barrow can find something.” He left her room, heading for the stairs.
Her footsteps pattered behind him. “Chase, stop. You are not making any sense.”
This time Alex had it wrong. He was returning to his senses. Accepting what he’d known from the beginning, but had stupidly tried to ignore.
“You seem to be saying that you’re sending me, the girls, and some other governess to live in a country cottage.”
“A large cottage. Near a hill.”
“And where are you in this plan, may I ask?”
Chase set his jaw. “Far away.”
“Oh, no.” She put her hand to her temple. “Yesterday, you were ready to embark on a life together. The four of us, as a family. One thing goes wrong, and the whole plan is off? Everyone goes back to living miserably?”
“At least living miserably means being alive. This wasn’t a tiny mishap, Alex. She fell from the window. She could have died in the street. And once again, I was nowhere to be found. I was off in an inn with some woman.”
Her chin jerked. “‘Some woman’?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Yes, I do.” She reached out and took his hand in both of hers. Her voice was calm, rational. “I know exactly what you mean, and I understand precisely why this terrified you. But it isn’t the same. Daisy’s going to be fine.”