His head hurt.
Correction, his head really hurt.
It was hard to tell, though, just what sort of pain it was. He might have been shot through the head with a musket ball. That seemed plausible, given his current location in New York (or was it Connecticut?) and his current occupation as a captain in His Majesty’s army.
There was a war going on, in case one hadn’t noticed.
But this particular pounding—the one that felt more like someone was bashing his skull with a cannon (not a cannonball, mind you, but an actual cannon) seemed to indicate that he had been attacked with a blunter instrument than a bullet.
An anvil, perhaps. Dropped from a second-story window.
But if one cared to look on the bright side, a pain such as this did seem to indicate that he wasn’t dead, which was also a plausible fate, given all the same facts that had led him to believe he might have been shot.
That war he’d mentioned… people did die.
With alarming regularity.
So he wasn’t dead. That was good. But he also wasn’t sure where he was, precisely. The obvious next step would be to open his eyes, but his eyelids were translucent enough for him to realize that it was the middle of the day, and while he did like to look on the metaphorical bright side, he was fairly certain that the literal one would prove blinding.
So he kept his eyes closed.
But he listened.
He wasn’t alone. He couldn’t make out any actual conversation, but a low buzz of words and activity filtered through the air. People were moving about, setting objects on tables, maybe pulling a chair across the floor.
Someone was moaning in pain.
Most of the voices were male, but there was at least one lady nearby. She was close enough that he could hear her breathing. She made little noises as she went about her business, which he soon realized included tucking blankets around him and touching his forehead with the back of her hand.
He liked these little noises, the tiny little mmms and sighs she probably had no idea she was making. And she smelled nice, a bit like lemons, a bit like soap.
And a bit like hard work.
He knew that smell. He’d worn it himself, albeit usually only briefly until it turned into a full-fledged stink.
On her, though, it was more than pleasant. Perhaps a little earthy. And he wondered who she was, to be tending to him so diligently.
“How is he today?”
Edward held himself still. This male voice was new, and he wasn’t sure he wanted anyone to know he was awake yet.
Although he wasn’t sure why he felt this hesitancy.
“The same,” came the woman’s reply.
“I am concerned. If he doesn’t wake up soon…”
“I know,” the woman said. There was a touch of irritation in her voice, which Edward found curious.
“Have you been able to get him to take broth?”
“Just a few spoonfuls. I was afraid he would choke if I attempted any more than that.”
The man made a vague noise of approval. “Remind me how long he has been like this?”
“A week, sir. Four days before I arrived, and three since.”
A week. Edward thought about this. A week meant it must be… March? April?
No, maybe it was only February. And this was probably New York, not Connecticut.
But that still didn’t explain why his head hurt so bloody much. Clearly he’d been in some sort of an accident. Or had he been attacked?
“There has been no change at all?” the man asked, even though the lady had just said as much.
But she must have had far more patience than Edward, because she replied in a quiet, clear voice, “No, sir. None.”
The man made a noise that wasn’t quite a grunt. Edward found it impossible to interpret.
“Er…” The woman cleared her throat. “Have you any news of my brother?”
Her brother? Who was her brother?
“I am afraid not, Mrs. Rokesby.”
“It has been nearly two months,” she said quietly.
Mrs. Rokesby? Edward really wanted them to get back to that point. There was only one Rokesby in North America as far as he knew, and that was him. So if she was Mrs. Rokesby…
“I think,” the male voice said, “that your energies would be better spent tending to your husband.”
“I assure you,” she said, and there was that touch of irritation again, “that I have been caring for him most faithfully.”
Husband? They were calling him her husband? Was he married? He couldn’t be married. How could he be married and not remember it?
Who was this woman?
Edward’s heart began to pound. What the devil was happening to him?
“Did he just make a noise?” the man asked.
“I… I don’t think so.”
She moved then, quickly. Hands touched him, his cheek, then his chest, and even through her obvious concern, there was something soothing in her motions, something undeniably right.
“Edward?” she asked, taking his hand. She stroked it several times, her fingers brushing lightly over his skin. “Can you hear me?”
He ought to respond. She was worried. What kind of gentleman did not act to relieve a lady’s distress?
“I fear he may be lost to us,” the man said, with far less gentleness than Edward thought appropriate.
“He still breathes,” the woman said in a steely voice.
The man said nothing, but his expression must have been one of pity, because she said it again, more loudly this time.
“He still breathes.”
Edward felt her hand tighten around his. Then she placed her other on top, her fingers resting lightly on his knuckles. It was the smallest sort of embrace, but Edward felt it down to his soul.
“He still breathes, Colonel,” she said with quiet resolve. “And while he does, I will be here. I may not be able to help Thomas, but—”
Thomas. Thomas Harcourt. That was the connection. This must be his sister. Cecilia. He knew her well.
Or not. He’d never actually met the lady, he felt like he knew her. She wrote to her brother with a diligence that was unmatched in the regiment. Thomas received twice as much mail as Edward, and Edward had four siblings to Thomas’s one.
Cecilia Harcourt. What on earth was she doing in North America? She was supposed to be in Derbyshire, in that little town Thomas had been so eager to leave. The one with the hot springs. Matlock. No, Matlock Bath.
Edward had never been, but he thought it sounded charming. Not the way Thomas described it, of course; he liked the bustle of city life and couldn’t wait to take a commission and depart his village. But Cecilia was different. In her letters, the small Derbyshire town came alive, and Edward almost felt that he would recognize her neighbors if he ever went to visit.
She was witty. Lord, she was witty. Thomas used to laugh so much at her missives that Edward finally made him read them out loud.
Then one day, when Thomas was penning his response, Edward interrupted so many times that Thomas finally shoved out his chair and held forth his quill.
“You write to her,” he’d said.
So he did.
Not on his own, of course. Edward could never have written to her directly. It would have been the worst sort of impropriety, and he would not have insulted her in such a manner. But he took to scribbling a few lines at the end of Thomas’s letters, and whenever she replied, she had a few lines for him.
Thomas carried a miniature of her, and even though he said it was several years old, Edward had found himself staring at it, studying the small portrait of the young woman, wondering if her hair really was that remarkable golden color, or if she really did smile that way, lips closed and mysterious.
Somehow he thought not. She did not strike him as a woman with secrets. Her smile would be sunny and free. Edward had even thought he’d like to meet her once this godforsaken war was over. He’d never said anything to Thomas, though.
That would have been strange.
Now Cecilia was here. In the colonies. Which made absolutely no sense, but then again, what did? Edward’s head was injured, and Thomas seemed to be missing, and…
Edward thought hard.
…and he seemed to have married Cecilia Harcourt.
He opened his eyes and tried to focus on the green-eyed woman peering down at him.
Having the story take place in the colonies during the Revolutionary War was an interesting decision. I wasn’t sure at first, what to make of a book in the Bridgerton universe that doesn’t take place in England, but I can honestly say that once the story got going, I didn’t miss London or the ton at all. Since Edward wasn’t fit to fight for the bulk of the story and New York Town was under British control at the time, there wasn’t a lot of war drama going on, but that’s fine, because Cecelia and Edward brought their own drama to the table.
I loved the way Ms. Quinn used letters in this book–how Cecelia and Edward fell in love through them, and the way she used snippets of those to start each chapter. The ones that weren’t received or weren’t sent practically slayed me, and the two toward the end that were in there in full? Oh. My. Gosh. Reduced me to tears. In fact, the whole end of the novel was fantastic, full stop. I wanted to stop time right there and then and just bask in the perfectness of the moment as I got to the end.
(Except for the bit where she teases us about Andrew’s story. Seriously, Ms. Quinn, are you trying to kill me here? How am I supposed to be able to wait patiently after that?)
The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband (phew, that title’s a mouthful) can absolutely work as a standalone, since its events occur concurrently with the first book in the series (Because of Miss Bridgerton ) and Cecelia and Edward have no idea what’s going on back home until the very end either. In some ways, it might even be better that readers don’t realize a certain plot point that concerns book one until the end anyway 😉
Rating: 4 1/2 stars / A-
I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book
Julia Quinn is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty-five novels for Avon Books, and one of only sixteen authors ever to be inducted in the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family.