“But Leo,” Poppy protested, “you remember the days when you were doing the same things that Michael is doing. I would have thought you’d have sympathy for him.”
Letting go of her hands, Leo smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “The circumstances were a bit different. I had to watch a girl I loved die in my arms. And yes, afterward I behaved very badly. Even worse than Bayning. But a man on that path can’t be rescued, sweetheart. He has to follow it off a cliff. Perhaps Bayning will survive the fall, perhaps not. In either case . . . no, I have no sympathy for him.”
Poppy picked up her tea and took a hot, bracing swallow. Presented with Leo’s viewpoint, she felt uncertain and even a bit sheepish. “I’ll let the matter drop, then,” she said. “I may have been wrong to ask it of Harry. Perhaps I should apologize to him.”
“Now that,” Leo said softly, “is one of the things I’ve always adored about you, sis. The willingness to reconsider, and even change your mind.”
After her visit to her brother had concluded, Poppy went to the jeweler’s shop on Bond Street. She retrieved a gift that she’d had made for Harry, and returned to the hotel.
Thankfully, she and Harry had planned to have supper sent up to their apartment that night. It would allow her the time and privacy she needed to discuss their argument of the previous evening. And she would apologize. In her desire to help Michael Bayning, she hadn’t stopped to consider Harry’s feelings, and she wanted very much to atone.
The situation reminded her of something her mother had often said about marriage: “Never remember his mistakes, but always remember your own.”
After taking a perfumed bath, Poppy donned a light blue dressing gown and brushed out her hair, leaving it loose in the way he liked.
Harry entered the apartment as the clock struck seven. He looked more like the Harry she remembered from the beginning of their marriage, his face grim and tired, his gaze wintry.
“Hello,” she murmured, going to kiss him. Harry held still, not rebuffing her, but he was hardly warm or encouraging. “I’ll send for dinner,” she said. “And then we can—”
“None for me, thank you. I’m not hungry.”
Taken aback by his flat tone, Poppy regarded him with concern. “Did something happen today? You look all in.”
Harry shrugged out of his coat and laid it on a chair. “I’ve just returned from a meeting at the War Office, where I told Sir Gerald and Mr. Kinloch that I’ve decided not to work on the new gun design. They receive my decision as nothing short of treason. Kinloch even threatened to lock me in a room somewhere until I’d come up with a set of drawings.”
“I’m sorry.” Poppy grimaced in sympathy. “That must have been dreadful. Are you . . . are you disappointed that you won’t be doing the work for them?”
Harry shook his head. “As I told them, there are better things I could do for my fellow countrymen. Working on agricultural technology, for one thing. Putting food in a man’s belly is a vast improvement over inventing a more efficient way to put a bullet in him.”
Poppy smiled. “That was well done of you, Harry.”
But he didn’t return the smile, only leveled a cool, speculative stare at her. His head tilted a bit. “Where were you today?”
Poppy’s pleasure dissolved as she understood.
He was suspicious of her.
He thought she had gone to visit Michael.
The injustice of that, and the hurt of being mistrusted, caused her face to stiffen. She answered in a brittle voice. “I went out for an errand or two.”
“What kind of errand?”
“I’d rather not say.”
Harry’s face was hard and implacable. “I’m afraid I’m not giving you a choice. You will tell me where you went and whom you saw.”
Reddening in outrage, Poppy whirled away from him and clenched her fists. “I don’t have to account for every minute of my day, not even to you.”
“Today you do.” His eyes narrowed. “Tell me, Poppy.”
She laughed incredulously. “So you can verify my statements, and decide whether I’m lying to you?”
His silence was answer enough.
Hurt and furious, Poppy went to her reticule, which had been set on a small table, and rummaged in it. “I went to visit Leo,” she snapped without looking at him. “He’ll vouch for me, and so will the driver. And afterward I went to Bond Street to pick up something I had bought for you. I had wanted to wait for an appropriate moment to give it to you, but apparently that’s not possible now.”
Extracting an object encased in a small velvet pouch, she resisted the temptation to throw it at him. “Here’s your proof,” she muttered, pushing it into his hands. “I knew you would never get one of these on your own.”
Harry opened the pouch slowly, and let the object slide into his hand.
It was a pocket watch with a solid gold casing, exquisitely simple except for the engraved initials JHR on the lid.
There was a perplexing lack of reaction from Harry. His dark head was bent so that Poppy couldn’t even see his face. His fingers closed around the watch, and he let out a long, deep breath.
Wondering if she had done the wrong thing, Poppy turned blindly to the bellpull. “I hope you like it,” she said evenly. “I’ll ring for dinner now. I’m hungry, even if you’re—”
All at once Harry seized her from behind, wrapping his arms around her, one hand still gripped around the watch. His entire body was trembling, powerful muscles threatening to crush her. His voice was low and remorseful.