Edward thought a long while before responding.
May 28, 1877
As I don’t believe in sending letters filled with treacle-like sentiment, I feel as if I should…send you a puppy or something.
Alas. I don’t know if puppies keep when sent through the mails—and I doubt they’d pass through customs these days.
It’s too bad you aren’t a pirate, as you’d once planned. That would make puppy delivery far more efficient. I’d bring up my own ship next to you and send you an entire broadside of puppies. You’d be buried in very small dogs. You’d be far too busy with puppy care to worry about anything else. This is now sounding more and more invasive, and less and less cheering—and nonetheless I have yet to meet anyone who was not delighted by a wriggling mass of puppies. If I ever did meet such a person, he would deserve misery.
Do not doubt the power of the puppy-cannon.
P.S. If there is no puppy attached to this message, it is because it was confiscated by customs. Bah. Customs is terrible.
After that, it was impossible to pretend he was not corresponding with her.
June 3, 1877
I don’t know what you mean. I do not resort to the ridiculous to avoid talking about feelings.
My God! Look behind you. It’s a three-headed monkey!
Now, what were we talking about? Ah, yes. You were telling me that Rickard was circulating a modified bill. Let me play devil’s advocate to your outrage: Even if only some women vote, it will prove that the sky can still remain firmly attached to the heavens and will forestall the worst doomsayers of the lot…
There was no point lying to himself now about what was happening. He’d done a terrible job of walking away from her, and look what had happened. Now he was no better off at all. There was no future in this though. What was he to do, tell her the truth of who he was? Let her know that his brother had been the one who caused all her problems, and then ask her to be his viscountess? She’d hate the prospect.
It was the chance that she might not say no that most shook him.
He was disgusted with himself when he began to look for a buyer for his metalworks.
June 10, 1877
I don’t feel qualified to advise you on answering your brother’s worries. I understand his concern, but you don’t have to listen to him. You only pay attention to him because you love him. This is what happens when people love you: They start annoying you.
Next time, if you wish to avoid this, try to poison your sibling relationships at a much younger age. It works wonders, I’ve found.
June 21, 1877
Yes, I did manage to wrap up that bit of business I had mentioned before. As for the other thing—yes, I do have a younger brother. He’s my only living family. If you must know, he’s the one who told the British Consul in Strasbourg that I was an impostor. Suffice to say, I don’t think you would like him.
The only reason you are writing to me about my brother is because yours has gone on that elaborate trip. Tell me more next time you write. Is he in Malta yet? And when was he supposed to be back—August?
P.S. You are only proving me right. Love. Aggravation. Once again, they go hand in hand.
Edward sighed and looked up from the letter. He was dillydallying. But what was he to write instead? I was born Edward Delacey, and my brother burned your house down. I was born Edward Delacey, and I could be Viscount Claridge if I mentioned that fact in England.
He couldn’t bring himself to tell her. He couldn’t walk away. He didn’t want to claim her under false pretenses. But if he ever told her the truth…
I was born Edward Delacey. Marry me anyway?
Ha. There was no point even thinking about the matter.
Instead, as he had so often in the months since he’d met her, he tried to sketch her. His memory of her seemed as sharp as ever. Her eyes, mobile and intelligent. Her lips, sweet and smiling. He’d tried to draw all his memories: Free crouching next to him on the bank of the River Cam, opera glasses raised to her eyes. He’d attempted to capture her standing in the mews, the moonlight shifting across her skin.
His sketches never came out right. No matter what he did, how he tried, they were always missing some unknown element. He still didn’t know what it was. He put his notebook away in disgust.
But the letter that arrived from England early one July morning was not from Miss Marshall. Edward opened it curiously and then froze.
This last week, the Honorable James Delacey sent not one letter mentioning Miss Marshall, but seven.
In the end, Edward didn’t even take time to answer any questions. The first letter he sent was in French.
July 6, 1877
I’ll take thirty thousand francs for the metalworks after all. Five thousand in earnest money will do; we can arrange the rest at some later date. Correspond with my solicitor in London, please; the direction is below.
On his way out of town, he sent one last telegram.
WILL BE THERE IN THREE DAYS
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Alvahurst hissed.
Edward shouldered past his brother’s secretary into the dark room beyond.
He had spent the last two days traversing France by rail, arranging passage across the Channel, and racing to London. Every hour that passed was an hour in which his brother could cause Free harm.
“You can’t come in here,” Alvahurst was saying. “We’ll wake my wife.”
“We’ll whisper,” Edward told him. “Or we could stand outside. It’s quite simple, Alvahurst. I need to know what Delacey wrote about Miss Marshall.”
Alvahurst rubbed bleary eyes and looked around the front room of the flat. There were, Edward noted, dozens of items that could be used as weapons. Alvahurst, however, didn’t reach for a one of them. Instead, he gestured to a chair next to the fireplace.
Edward sat next to the poker.
“You told me you’d never ask after the contents of the letters.” Alvahurst looked ridiculous, his limbs sticking out from a nightshirt and cap. He sounded even worse.
Edward had neither the time nor the patience to indulge him.
“I lied,” Edward said. “If you don’t tell me everything, I will go to James Delacey and tell him the truth. I have a letter in your own hand, in which you violate his confidences. How long will your employment last if Delacey discovers what you’ve done?”
Alvahurst winced. “But—”