Read Since the Surrender Online
Authors: Julie Anne Long
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Historical
“I knew,” she said softly.
Even as she’d diligently, dutifully, frantically looked for her husband on that battlefield that day, she’d known that any of those broken bodies could have been Chase’s. His was the face she saw in her mind’s eye even as she’d called for Mathew, and she’d lived with the knowledge of that ever since.
“So is Captain Eversea yer man, Mrs. March?”
For some reason, Liam seemed to find her vehemence amusing. He was all wicked grins.
She said, sternly, “That is, I am a widow. I have no ma—I’m not married.”
“Ye’d be the colonel’s widow.”
She looked sharply at Liam. “And how do you know this?”
“Captain Eversea, ’e told me ye were the colonel’s wife.”
“Seems you and Captain Eversea had a fine chin wagging, then,”
she said dryly.
“We did!” Liam agreed happily. “’E said ’e needed a nasty strong drink and a woman.”
“’E must have been tired from the fight.”
She froze mid-step. Then slowly turned to face Liam. “Fight?” she said faintly, after a moment.
“Two nasty coves wiv knives, they jump ’im, right? Right after I gives
’im yer message. And ’e—”
And here Liam reenacted the outstanding aspects of the attack, complete with kicks and twirls and descriptive details like “right in the baubles!” and “Crack! ’in the gut then, right, wi’ ’is stick!”
Rosalind watched, riveted in shock.
“Captain Eversea, ’es a right Abram cove! ’E’s got bottom, ’e ’as!
Not a mark on ’im!” Liam concluded, panting a little. “Two knives ’e walks away wiv, an two men on the ground gaspin’ fer air, fair near death.”
She listened, stunned, and frowned darkly at him, an unfair way of shooting the messenger. The boy looked confused by the frown. So Chase had been in a violent fight, during which he had brushed two men from him the way one might brush lint from a coat. And then had appeared at the museum as though naught had happened.
She had two thoughts, and the first—how dare anyone try to hurt him?—she batted away in favor of the more important one: this was the man she’d hoped to persuade to help her, after he’d coldly declined to do so? He’d always been formidable, but fresh evidence that he remained precisely as formidable as ever was hardly a comfort.
Freshly daunted, she sighed. Kinkade, on the other hand…a good soldier, one of Chase’s closest friends during the war, and nothing like Chase in terms of stubbornness. Then again, no one was. Personally persuading Kinkade to help her was likely her best chance.
“Is your story true?” She fixed the boy with a lie-defying stare. “The fight?”
“Ask the captain yerself,” he said cheerfully, sounding only slightly wounded.
Liam swung for a moment on the bars of the gate that would be locked in another half hour or so. He was just about slight enough to slip through them. He began to try, just to see whether he could, then decided against it and followed Rosalind out of the gate the orthodox way.
Rosalind watched, thinking how children considered nearly anything a toy, experimented with, tested. It was a regret, a piercing one that she nonetheless refused to linger over: She would have loved to have a child.
Don’t ask it. Asking, she knew, was in a way a commitment, a true acknowledgment of someone else. She did it, anyway.
“What is your name, young man?”
A hesitation, as he apparently decided whether to tell her the truth.
“I am Mrs. March. Liam, would you like to earn another…” She fished about in her reticule.
“Do it fer ha’pence, what e’r it is, if you promise me work again.”
She looked at him sharply. “Good heavens. A man of business, are you?”
“Aye,” he agreed happily, as if this was the first time he’d ever heard the term, and with the air of someone who would be using it again and again. “A man of business.”
Rosalind paused in her reticule rustling and peered up the street. She still saw no hackney, and the lowering light and the ghost in the puffy drawers in the museum and the very idea that two men with knives had come at the all-too-mortal but immortal-seeming Chase Eversea—all of it, truth be told, was making her feel exceptionally nervy.
“Girls.” Liam sighed. He put two fingers in his mouth and whistled so shrilly she clapped her hands over her ears.
Within a minute the clatter of hackney wheels was audible, and then the hackney itself wheeled into view, the horses stepping with a certain amount of weariness, lamps already lit in preparation for evening.
Liam turned to her. And raised those fair eyebrows up in his dirty face.
“Very good skill,” she approved coolly.
“Aye,” he said with airy aplomb, and held out his hand for the ha’pence, and she put it in.
“Do you like to work, then, Liam?” she said briskly.
“I likes ter eat.”
So matter-of-factly said, so free of self-pity and full of amusement. Rosalind’s breath stopped. She frowned again, startling him, as if the frown could drive away encroaching, weakening, inconvenient sentiment. He was so bold and cheeky and dirty. Especially his feet. His feet were so small.
She jerked her eyes away from them. “I need to know where Lord Callender lives,” she said as the hack drew nearer.
“In Washington Square. Everyone knows where Lord Callender lives,” Liam said pityingly. “’Egave me a ’a’pence. ’Ere at the museum, ’e come out. More than once, ’e did.”
It sounded like a hint. She gave him another ha’pence, and this time she surrendered a smile. “I’ve been in the country, Liam. I am not so sophisticated as you.”
He scrambled to hold the heads of the horses as she boarded the hack, looking even smaller by contrast to those horses, by contrast to the lowering shadows. His mother, whoever she was, ought to have gathered him in for the evening and locked the door against the dangers London presented around even the most benign corners.
But Liam seemed to view London as his playground. She doubted he had a mother.
“Gi’ me regards to Captain Eversea.”
The sheer cheek of the boy! The last thing she saw was his grin shining in his dirty face as he scrambled to shut the door for her. A miracle the door shutting hadn’t cost her yet another ha’pence.
Five glasses of whiskey later, Chase was surprised to find himself alongside Marie-Claude on a bed upstairs at the Velvet Glove. She was stroking his thigh, but it was having the opposite effect than she intended: it was making him sleepy.
How had this happened? Oh, that’s right: one glass of whiskey had turned into four, then five, that’s how.
“Rosalind?” he murmured.
“If you wish, monsieur,” Marie-Claude said.
He tipped backward on the bed, unable to remain upright. He gave a short laugh. Good God. She couldn’t fool him: she wasn’t Rosalind.
Suddenly this seemed like a terrible dilemma, but then, he’d had five glasses of whiskey.
He closed his eyes. Ah: there was Rosalind. In his memories. Marie-Claude’s hand had crept over to his cock and began to stroke.
He gripped her wrist as abruptly as he’d stopped Rosalind’s hand so many years ago, surprising her.
“Sorry,” he slurred politely. Not while Rosalind was in his thoughts. How on earth did he manage to get up here to begin with? His memory didn’t seem to extend back as far as climbing the stairs. He’d spent it all on remembering Rosalind.
He’d spent it all on remembering Rosalind.
He sighed. Whiskey was generally a mistake, in his experience. Solved nothing.
At least nothing as incurable as Rosalind March. You ought to marry, Chase. Suddenly Colin’s words echoed in the sodden cavern of his mind. Chase gave a short, sharp, ironic laugh that made Marie-Claude jump. The truth was—and he could thank whiskey for revealing this to him, at least—if Colin had known just how those words sounded to him—if he’d had any inkling of the regret, the inconceivable longing they called up in him—he never would have said them again.
Colin wasn’t a complete ass.
Chase plucked Marie-Claude’s hand gently from him and stood, but he had to do it in stages: first he got his torso up, and when his head stopped swimming, he levered the rest of himself up, and when the room stopped turning, he turned, and this was how he noticed for perhaps the first time the bad and yet decidedly erotic painting hanging over the bed.
A dark-haired angel was blowing something rather more anatomical than a trumpet.
Everyone in the painting—the angel and the lucky recipient of her attentions—looked quite pleased with the turn of events. She looked quite familiar, this angel. Chase stared and stared at the painting. Marie-Claude thought he was mesmerized for another reason altogether.
“You want that I should…” She gestured illustratively.
“No, thank you, Marie-Claude,” he said absently. He paid her for her inconvenience—probably absurdly too much
—leaving her confused. He would go home and sleep. And he made his way back down the stairs, using the walls and his walking stick for balance, and still thinking.
He was certain he’d seen that angel before, but at the moment he couldn’t recall where.
When Rosalind finally returned home, the lamps flanking the door of her narrow, stucco-fronted row house—borrowed from her sister Jenny’s husband—were lit for the evening, and despite everything, she knew a surge of pleasure. The house had a bright red door, which she quite liked, and the window box was filled with bright, thriving-against-the-odds late summer flowers. A maid came in but once a day to do a few maidly things, like fetch in the coal and tend the fires and do the marketing. Servants had done for Rosalind during her marriage, which she thoroughly enjoyed; she’d decided to do for herself in London. She preferred it. Solitude was still an untold luxury after years spent as a colonel’s wife, and before that as surrogate mother to a pair of challenging sisters. She’d just inserted her key into the keyhole when she saw the sheet of paper lying folded at her feet.
Her hand froze on the doorknob.
A chill bloomed in the pit of her stomach. And then she sighed, plucked the thing up, got inside, slammed and firmly locked the door.
She forced herself to casually move about the room, lighting the lamps, a show of bravado, before she deigned to give the thing attention. She shook it roughly open.
I thought I warned you, Mrs. March.
The first one had said:
I wouldn’t if I were you.
She stared at it, deciding how she felt.
For God’s sake, if one is going to send a threatening letter, she thought, one ought to make it a good and proper one. With intimations of death and destruction, or perhaps specific threats of harm to loved ones. Not these pallid things.
Apparently, angry was how she felt about it.
The sheer incompetence of the threats was irritating, not to mention the fact that someone seemed to want to frighten her—her, Rosalind March! Who’d known poverty and marriage and spies and Waterloo and an illicit, bone-melting, life-altering kiss from arguably England’s most fascinating man! It was laughable, truly. Still.
She carefully refolded the message and packed it into the humidor, which is where she’d impulsively decided to store the first one. It was in fact less a humidor than a place to store buttons these days, but it still smelled like her late husband Mathew’s foul cigars, which made it a talisman of sorts, she’d decided.
She closed the humidor lid, locking the messages up like a pair of prisoners.
And then she marched upstairs and from beneath her bed pulled a latched wooden case. The hinges had a good long creak when she pushed up the lid, as though the thing were yawning after satisfying sleep. It hadn’t been opened in years.
The pistol still gleamed in its velvet nest.
The stock and barrel were of blued steel, the delicate network of engraved silver vines untarnished. Beautiful thing. A big pistol. A proper pistol—not the sort of pistol one could slip into a reticule or a boot. She knew Captain Eversea kept an appropriately compact one in his boot at all times, though given what the boy Liam had described, it hardly seemed necessary. Trust Chase to handily use his walking stick as a weapon.
But she wouldn’t be making a move without this pistol from now on. She latched the case and set it aside.
And then she opened up the trunk she’d brought with her to London and lifted out a dress of pewter-colored lutestring—a kind of shimmering silk. Cut low at the bosom, trimmed at the neckline in sleeves in a lighter satin, it was simply but elegantly cut, unobtrusive in its timelessness, and still quite flattering to her trim figure. Like the pistol, it hadn’t been unwrapped in quite some time. She was glad she’d impulsively brought it with her to London. Ironically, the pistol and the dress were complementary colors. Tentatively, with a wry quirk of the mouth at her own expense, she laid a hand flat against the back of the gown, at the waist, remembering the last time she wore the dress: at a d’Aligny ball. All the men had vied to dance with her. But the only one she the men had vied to dance with her. But the only one she remembered dancing with—the waltz—was Captain Eversea. She remembered how his hand had fit just so, right there above her waist, where her hand rested now.
It was the night he’d simply stopped talking to her. The night she realized and truly understood for the first time the magnitude of her own power as a woman and her power over Chase.
Likely Chase didn’t dance anymore. And she wasn’t that girl anymore.
But the dress, and the gun, were talismans.
My battle uniform, she thought dryly. The uniform she would wear to Callender’s tomorrow night to confront Kinkade.
Chase awoke the next day and lay very, very still, trying to decide whether he preferred being shot to how he currently felt. Something inside his head was struggling to hatch.
Why did he always forget that whiskey was a terrible idea?
A brisk knock sounded on his door. The sound was visceral agony, but he was too incapacitated to groan.
“I have coffee, Mr. Eversea!” sang the housekeeper cautiously, damn and bless her eyes. “A lot of it,” she added a moment later when she heard nothing. “You needn’t eat anything. ’Tis just coffee.” She wheedled a few moments after that.