Chapter Twenty One
Stone didn’t even blink when I told him what happened, his eyes still fixed on that fire. “He’s had that book since the day I met him,” he told me. “Back then, there about ten people in it. Needless to say, the number has risen significantly in the past seven years.”
I stared, bewildered. “It doesn’t bother you?”
“You are aware that pirates are—by definition—criminals?”
“Yes, for stealing. Not murder.”
He shrugged. “Any illusion you’ve concocted where we are simply misunderstood men is purely your own fiction. We have never pretended to be anything other than what we are.”
I shook my head as I gazed into the fire with him, hoping an answer would somehow be dancing there among the flames.
I saw nothing. “He said he wanted me to find it.”
“And you did,” he said. “And then you left him.”
I turned to him when I caught the tinge of disapproval in his tone, surprised to find him gazing back at me, disappointed. “Of course I did,” I said. “He is a murderer.”
“So am I. So is everyone else on this ship.”
“That doesn’t make it acceptable.”
“And yet you have no qualms confiding this newfound knowledge in me. A murderer,” he added helpfully.
“You…” I trailed off as I looked away again, unable to handle the look in his brown eyes. “I expected it from you.”
“Gee, thank you, li'le lady. As if I wasn’t in enough pain already.”
“You know what I mean. You never pretended to be—"
“Neither did he. You simply blinded yourself to it. If I’m not mistaken, you witnessed one of his murders.” He cocked an eyebrow at me. “The fisherman and his son?”
“I assumed there was some sort of reason behind it. Not in cold blood.”
“Did he tell why he killed those in the book?”
I paused. “No. Because it wouldn’t matter.”
“Then why do you need to know why he killed the fisherman?” When I didn’t say anything right away, he asked, “You know he cares for you?”
“Yes.” And now I wasn’t so sure how to feel about that fact. A murderer cared for me? The very thought made me shudder, and yet it was Carter, the man who had protected me nearly the entire time I’d been in this foreign world. My mind was locked in an internal war that was making my stomach roil.
“And yet he wanted you to find that book.” He stared at me as if he expected me to gasp in amazement at the wise words he had spoken.
I frowned. “I don’t understand.”
He sighed. “The question is, if he cares for you, why would he want you to find something he knew would leave you with no choice but to see him as a monster?”
Again, my gaze went back to the flame. Did it matter why he showed me the book? Whether the reasons were noble or cruel, it didn’t change the fact that all those people had been killed at his hand. I stood, turning my back to Stone as my mind did its best to come up with a solution.
I turned around to find my mother rushing toward me, and I grunted as she slammed into me, her arms wrapping around me so tightly I could barely breathe. “Mom, what are you doing?”
“It’s him, Lizzie. I’m sure of it.”
I pulled back and looked at her beaming face, narrowing my eyes. “Sure of what?”
She gazed behind her and pointed at Robert Sharp who was staring peacefully into the calm water of the port. “It’s him.”
My jaw dropped. “You brought him here?”
“Well, I wasn’t gonna leave him.” She took my hands in hers, her smile stretching even wider across her face. “I knew it. In my bones, I knew your father was alive. I could feel it. And there he is, standing right there—"
“Mom, slow down.” I pulled my hands from hers to grab her shoulders and stop her excited shaking. “I know he looks like him, but it isn’t—"
“He knew my name.”
I paused. “What?”
“When we were at the stables, you heard him. He called me Jenny when not a single person had told him my name. He knew it because he knows me because that is Tom,” she insisted, taking my hands in hers again.
“He must’ve overheard—"
“And after you left,” she cut me off, “he saw me. He really saw me. He knew who I was, who he was, for a split second. I saw it in his eyes.”
I took a deep breath, wanting more than anything for her to be right, but knowing it couldn’t be. “Mom, it isn’t possi—"
“And everything else is?” She raised her eyebrows as if to admonish me without actually using the words. “If you are here and I am here—in this world that doesn’t really exist and yet somehow does—why is it so crazy that he would be, too?”
“Because Dad’s dead, Mom!”
Her smile dropped and her hands went limp.
My blood was suddenly made of molten lava, and I threw her hands off me. “He’s gone! And he’s never coming back. Seeing Robert was a shock for me too, but that doesn’t mean he’s Dad resurrected or reincarnated or anything like that. Dad is dead, and no matter how much you wish or pray or desperately try to delude yourself, that won’t change!”
“But his eyes—"
“A trick of the light!” I crossed my arms of my chest, cursing the fact that tears were burning my eyes. I took a deep breath, softening my voice when I saw the matching tears in her eyes. “I miss him, too, Mom. Every single day. But if he had somehow been drawn into this place, don’t you think we would have known?”
“No,” Robert said.
Mom and I snapped our heads his way, the tension in both our bodies permeating the air around us. “What did you say?” I barely whispered.
Robert blinked, staring at me. “I beg your pardon?”
I think Mom had stopped breathing. I told him, “You said 'no.'”
“Did I? My apologies.” He smiled. “It was none of my business.”
Mom grabbed my hand in her iron grip, murmuring to me, “And was that just a coincidence?” I watched Robert as he turned back to the sea, that usual warmth and kindness still emitting from him, the moon shining on the scar on his face.
I shook my head. My mother had simply put ideas in my head. Besides his appearance, that was not Dad. It just wasn’t.
“They’re back,” Nathaniel called and we all turned to see Lydia, William, Catherine, and the other pirates coming toward us.
I glanced at Mom, seeing the hopeful look in her brown eyes. I bit my lip before saying, “It isn’t him, Mom. It isn’t.”
She looked back at Robert, nodding jerkily. “I guess I should ask him to leave the ship.”
There was still anger and pain where my mother was concerned, but watching her face at that moment, looking so small, so fragile, I found myself saying, “I suppose he would be of more use here than in his shack of a house.”
She turned to me with wide eyes.
“Plus, your patient is on this ship. It only makes sense for the two of you to be here. In case Stone needs you.”
“Of course.” She smiled. “Thank you.”
Stone had risen from his seat by the fire, his voice hard but his eyes worried. “What took you all so long?”
“You hadn’t missed me so quickly, had you?” Lydia teased, grinning at him. “Surely the great and horrible Stone could manage one evening without me.”
“You underestimate the power of your beauty, love,” he responded. “I could hardly find the strength to breathe without the motivation your presence brings.”
“He isn’t joking,” Nathaniel said, which earned him a a metal cup thrown at his head by Stone. Laughing, he just barely dodged it.
“Before my dinner decides to make an encore appearance,” I said, returning to my seat by the fire, “would you tell us what happened?”
“Her Ladyship wasn’t satisfied with simply buying supplies,” Catherine said as she plopped down beside Nathaniel, a full knapsack clanging down beside her.
“What were you doing?” I asked.
“What I do best,” Lydia said, pulling her cloak tighter around herself.
“And what would that be, pray tell?” asked Stone.
She grinned, some of her mischievous finally returning to her blue eyes. “Gossip.”
My brows furrowed. “Gossip?”
“Not to brag, but I have often been referred to as the biggest gossip in England.” She settled by the fire, and Stone sat down close by.
“Oh, would you tell them what you heard, already?” Catherine said, taking Nathaniel’s cup from his hand and downing its contents.
“Perhaps you ought to get the captain for this,” Lydia said, eyeing me. “I know where James is.”