MILO GONE, I stood looking out at the sea, the tears welling in my eyes. Once again, the burden of our relationship rested on my shoulders. I would be left at home to wait until one of us made some sort of decision. I had judged him harshly, wronged him with my mistrust. I couldn’t entirely blame him for being angry. Yet it had been the reputation he had earned for himself that had made me suspicious, his own actions that had made me wonder if I could trust him.
Perhaps both of us had behaved like fools.
I turned to see Gil, standing, somewhat hesitantly, in the doorway. “Milo ... sent me out. He said he expected you’d be wanting to see me.”
So Milo’s final dig had been to send his competition in to claim me.
“He’s going back to the Continent,” I said.
“What does that mean?”
“I wish I knew. It seems the Brightwell Hotel is not at all a lucky place for relationships.” I changed the subject, not wanting to talk about Milo any longer. “How is Emmeline?”
After the events of last night, Gil had sent her home to their mother in London on the first train this morning. It was best that she be removed from the situation, from the place that held so many haunting memories.
Gil walked out onto the terrace, his hands in his pockets. “She’ll mend, I expect. But it won’t be easy.”
“For what it’s worth, he did care for her, in his way.” It was a poor comfort, I knew. But perhaps it would mean something to Emmeline.
“If you could write to her, I think she would enjoy that. She will need something to distract her in the coming months.”
“Of course. I should be happy to.” I hesitated. “And what about Olive?”
His gaze became guarded. “She’s told you that she’s in love with me?”
“I wasn’t sure she really meant it. I’m still not entirely sure.”
“She’s mad about you,” I said, using the words Olive had used of him.
“That business with cutting her wrists, it was a dreadfully stupid thing to do.” I felt that the anger that flickered in his gaze stemmed from deep concern. I knew he had been terribly worried about her. She had known it, too. It had been a foolish thing to do, but people did foolish things when they were desperate.
“I don’t think she meant to do any real harm to herself.”
“No,” he said. “But that doesn’t make it any less wretched. When did you know about Olive and me?”
“I only just realized last night. We were talking, and suddenly I realized. I was blind not to have seen it before this.”
Gil walked to where I stood, not quite meeting my gaze. That he was uncomfortable was very apparent. “Did she tell you everything?”
“She didn’t quite seem to know what had happened herself,” I said. I felt suddenly very sorry for her.
He looked back out at the sea. “It was my fault. I treated her badly. We met and got along famously. We saw each other for quite a while. I ... had entertained thoughts of marrying her, but then she met Rupert Howe. They seemed to take an instant liking to each other.”
So many things fell into place. Apparently, Rupert had reminded Gil of Milo as well. Perhaps he had thought that she, too, would fall prey to the charms of a handsome gentleman.
“It was unfair of me,” he went on, “but I thought it best to end things ... before they went any further. So I broke it off . She took it badly, but I assumed she would recover soon enough. I went away and tried to forget about the entire thing. I didn’t know she was going to be here at the Brightwell. It was devilishly awkward when I arrived with you to find her here.”
“I wish you had told me.”
“I thought about it, but I didn’t want to place the burden of that on you. However, I was terribly afraid it was all going to come out in some sort of dreadful scene. That was one reason I didn’t want you going about asking questions. Everyone knew about it, and I suspect they were all dying to say something. It was ridiculous to think I could keep it a secret.”
I thought of the conversation I had had with Mr. and Mrs. Rodgers in the lobby that day, the careful way she had warned him with a hand on his leg not to say too much when the conversation turned to the changing nature of love.
“Olive was in a state all week, and, to top it off, there were those rumors going around about her and Rupert. After the murder, I was a bit afraid they might think she’d been jealous enough to ...”
So we had all been trying to shield someone. While I’d been attempting to protect Gil, he had been hoping to protect Olive. What tangled webs we weave, indeed.
“I knew you were worried about something,” I said, “and I wondered why you wouldn’t confide in me.”
Gil let out a sort of strangled laugh. “Yes, it’s been a perfectly dreadful week, all told. First, trying to convince Rupert to leave Emmeline, and then his murder ... and your husband’s arrival. And all the time, Olive kept trying to convince me to change my mind about her ... about our relationship. She came to my room to talk, more than once. And on the night that I was arrested, I had just come from speaking with her. We’d been hashing it out all afternoon in her room. She said she was going to tell you, and I wanted to do it first ... but after I was released, it just didn’t seem the time.”
“Do you love her, Gil?” I asked.
He met my gaze. “I don’t know. I thought I did. But then ...”
But then he had come back into my life, and we had both been caught in the trap of wondering if our idealized versions of the past might be preferable to uncertain futures.
We looked into one another’s eyes, and I think we both knew in that instant that the past was behind us. We could never be to each other what we had been once.
“Today, Gil,” I said softly. “What do you feel for her right now, with everything in the open?”
“I ... I do still care for her,” he said, and it seemed to me that with the words there came a certain relief. He looked happy, lighter somehow.
“Then you should tell her.”
“I’m not even sure she’ll have me. I made a terrible mistake in not trusting her.”
“She’ll have you. Though you did misjudge her. She never cared for Rupert. She told me so. She’s not like me, you know, not fickle in her emotions.”
“Amory, don’t,” he said gently.
I bit my lip, tears threatening to spill over. Gil pulled me to him then, and I leaned against him, taking comfort in the embrace of a cherished friend. For a moment, I relished the security of his arms, the warm solidity of him. Then I stepped back, wiping my face, drawing in a bracing breath of sea air. “I’ve made such a mess of everything,” I said with a humorless laugh.
He looked down at me. “None of us make the clearest decisions when we’re in love. And you are still in love with him.”
I sighed and nodded, admitting it to myself for the first time. “Yes. I still love him.”
“I expect I’ve known that all along.” He smiled, a bit crookedly. “I suppose I thought it was worth a chance to see what might have been.”
“I’m not at all sure things will work out ... but I need to try.”
“I understand.” Gil leaned against the railing as Milo had done only moments before. “You’re suited, really,” he said with a smile. “He needs a calming influence, and you need a little excitement. You’d have been terribly bored with me, Amory.”
“I’m so sorry, Gil, for everything.”
He took my hand, and we faced each another one last time. “You’ve nothing to be sorry for, Amory. You followed your heart. Most of the time, that’s all any of us can do.”
“Thank you.” I drew in a deep breath, refusing to allow myself to cry again. I had already shed more tears this week than I had in the last year. “Shall I see you in London?”
“Certainly. I should always like to be your friend, Amory.”
“And I yours, Gil.”
He smiled and squeezed my hand. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I have some things I need to discuss with Olive.”
“Of course. I wish you both every happiness.”
He brushed a kiss across my cheek and left me alone on the terrace.
I stood there for a few moments longer, looking out at the sea. So much had happened in the short time I had been here. And yet so much had not really changed at all.
Rousing myself at last, I went back into the hotel. I would need to gather my things in order to catch the evening train. I would send a telegram to Laurel so she would meet me at the station. I didn’t want to return alone to an empty house. Perhaps we could spend a few days shopping in London before I returned to the country and tried to sort out the astounding mess that was my marriage.
“I expect you will be glad to leave the Brightwell behind you, Mrs. Ames.”
I turned to see Inspector Jones approaching. Though I had given him my official statement last night, I was not entirely surprised to see him. I had felt that, perhaps, he would have a few more things to say to me before I departed. I was glad to see him. Though my behavior had been trying to him, I had the feeling that he had grown rather fond of me. And I found that I admired him a great deal.
“I will indeed, Inspector. I don’t think I shall ever look at a seaside holiday in the same way.”
“You’re going home today?”
“Yes, I was just about to leave for the station.”
He didn’t ask about Milo, and for that I was grateful. Insightful man that he was, I had a feeling he had a good grasp of the situation.
“You may be surprised to hear this, given my stern views on the matter, but I actually came to thank you for your help,” he said grudgingly.
Despite the unwillingness of his confession, I felt flattered at the admission.
“You would have found her out,” I said, and I meant it. Inspector Jones was a very clever man, and I had no doubt he would have solved the case. My continual interference had, perhaps, forced Mrs. Hamilton’s hand, but she could not have eluded him forever.
“Perhaps not in time,” he said gravely. “I would not have been at all surprised should she have decided Emmeline Trent would be the next to be disposed of. She had been the one to ruin all of Mrs. Hamilton’s dreams, you know.”
It was a dreadful thought, and one I did not care to dwell on.
“Will she hang, do you think?” I asked. As horrid as her crimes had been, I still couldn’t help but feel a bit of sympathy for the quiet woman who had finally been pushed too far.
“I doubt it. From what the doctors have said, I gather she’s not entirely in possession of her faculties. It’s likely she’ll be committed.”
“Perhaps that would be best,” I said.
“And what of your plans?” he asked. “Do you intend to make a habit of interfering in police investigations?” Though his expression was perfectly serious, I knew that he was teasing me.
“I think not. One murder was enough, Inspector. I plan to leave crime far behind me.”
He smiled. “You say that now, but I think if something intriguing came along, you would jump at the chance to involve yourself in it.”
The porter brought my bags down, and I willingly surrendered my room key to the clerk at the desk.
“May I drive you to the station, Mrs. Ames?” the inspector asked as we walked back out of the Brightwell and into the warm sunshine.
“Thank you, Inspector Jones.” I smiled. “Given my experiences over the last week, I think a police escort would be lovely indeed.”
I sat in my train compartment looking out at the passing landscape, the sea fading into the distance as we traveled northward. The sun had come out today, as if to signal brighter things to come, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit forlorn. With all that had happened, I was terribly tired and ready to be home.
I looked up at the familiar voice, thinking for a moment I had imagined it. I was more than a little surprised to see Milo standing in the door of the compartment. I hadn’t seen him at the station, and I certainly hadn’t seen him board this train.
“I thought you’d gone on an earlier train,” I said. My voice was calm, though my heart had begun racing at the sight of him. I had admitted to Gil that, despite everything, I was still in love with Milo. I hadn’t wanted Milo to leave with things unsettled, and now here he was. Nevertheless, my mind refused to form any expectations; I had long ago learned that it was better not to get my hopes up.
I watched him warily as he came into the compartment and closed the doors behind him. “I’ve decided not to go back to the Continent just now,” he said.
I was unsure of how to react, what part I should assume in this little drama that was unfolding. I had felt certain that our marriage had fallen apart this morning, and yet here he stood, as casually as if he had come into the drawing room for tea.
“Oh?” I managed to say. “What changed your mind?”
“I gave it a bit of thought, and I considered it best not to leave you alone. I don’t much like the company you’ve been keeping lately.”
“Indeed.” He took the seat across from me, his expression smooth and unworried. “In fact, I’d come with the express intention of throwing Gilmore Trent off of this train.”
My lips twitched at the corners, a smile coming against my will as I felt a spark of hope. “Gil isn’t on this train.”
Our eyes met.
“No?” he asked. I suspected then that he had already known as much, that he had waited at the station for me to make my choice, once and for all, before he took any sort of action.
“No,” I said softly, and we both knew how much the simple word conveyed.
He shrugged, relaxing in his seat. “Just as well. I should have hated for your opinion of my ruthless nature to be justified.”
“Milo, I ...”
He waved a hand. “Never mind. It doesn’t matter. Perhaps I did look guilty there for a while. In any event, it was interesting being the prime suspect for a moment or two.”
“If only we’d confided in one another,” I said. “But we’ve never been very good at that, have we?”
“It could be worse. At least you’ve never tried to drown me in my bathtub.”
I let out a sound that was some cross between a laugh and a sigh. “Do be serious, Milo.”
“I’m perfectly serious. There are worse marriages than ours, certainly.”
“I mean it, though,” I persisted, my gaze dropping to my hands. For some reason I found it impossible to look him in the face and say what needed to be said. “We’re like strangers half the time. I often wonder if you still care for me at all.”
I had forced myself to say it, despite the fact that I expected a flippant answer. But when I raised my eyes to his, I found that there was no amusement in his expression.
“You know perfectly well that I adore you, Amory,” he said.
He was watching me intently, his eyes deep blue pools into which I could feel myself sinking. It was one of those rare moments in which he gave the impression of perfect sincerity, and I felt strongly the pull of my desire to believe him.
“Do you?” I asked softly. “I can never be sure.”
He took my hand in his, his thumb caressing the finger where my rings should have been. I felt a little shiver of heat travel up my arm. He brought my hand to his mouth and brushed his lips across it, and my breath caught in my throat.
“I’d like to come home with you,” he said. “I’m a bit tired of traveling at present.”
I hesitated. He was always so very good at saying the right things. I wanted so much to be sure that he meant it, to be certain that he wasn’t merely telling me what I needed to hear. I knew perfectly well, however, that at that moment I was willing to risk it. I was not completely certain I believed him, but, looking into his eyes as he waited for my answer, I believed that he believed himself. Perhaps that was enough. At least for now.
“Yes, Milo,” I said. “I should like very much for you to come home.”
He came up from his seat and sat beside me, pulling me into his arms as he leaned to kiss me.
I have never been like the silly girls in novels, for whom rational thought flees at the first brush of lovers’ lips. However, I will admit that, at that particular moment, I found it very difficult to think of anything other than how much I loved this infuriating man.
A few moments later, a passing porter forced us into some semblance of propriety, and as I leaned against Milo, his arm still around me, my thoughts cleared enough for me to remember the telegram I had sent before leaving the Brightwell.
“Laurel’s coming to meet my train,” I said. “She won’t be expecting you.”
“Send her away,” he replied, his lips brushing my hair. “We’ve much better things to do than spend the evening sipping tea with your cousin. In the meantime, the porter’s gone. How much time until we reach our next stop?”
I glanced at my wristwatch, an absurd fluttery feeling in my stomach. “Nearly an hour.”
“Excellent,” he said, lowering his mouth again to mine. “Let’s make the most of it.”
And so we did.
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