“They’re back!” someone cries, and Anna glances up out of a curiosity that quickly turns to cold dread.
“So few,” someone else says, though Anna doesn’t pay attention to who it was. It doesn’t matter, not with what she’s seeing.
Another anonymous voice answers. “It’s good that some came home, these are mad times we live in.”
“Yes it’s very fortunate,” Anna finds herself saying by default, feeling the beginnings of panic start to creep up her spine.
She quickly sets down the rag she was using to clean a table and goes as quickly as she can into the backroom of the tavern. When Saturday passed with no word she had hope, but now not two days later… Part of her refuses to believe it, while the other part is numb and unsurprised. Of the dozen soldiers that were sent to the rebel safe house that she and Abe reported to the rebels as compromised, only three have returned. One of them is Captain Simcoe.
“Of course,” Anna mutters, pacing around the small space. “Of course, why did I…” she trails off, pressing her hand against her forehead. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. She waits.
She waits for five minutes, then ten. When he doesn’t immediately turn up at the tavern, Anna throws herself back into her work. Fearing that she might faint and not at liberty to excuse herself, she makes herself busy, trying to occupy her mind before it breaks. Questions and terrors flit through her mind about how she would make it through the night, if she should run to Abe or even the Major, and what she would say when he inevitably finds her. She had indicated her interest to him when they were in the basement together. She had touched his shoulder and watched him lean into it. She had done all those things thinking that she would never see him again, and he would surely respond.
“Strength, peace, wisdom," she mutters to herself as she often heard her mother do in trying times. Feeling blessedly detached, Anna gets her job done, using the words when no one can hear her. “Wisdom, peace, strength.”
She turns over her options in her head, trying to decide the most likely way in which to avoid him. If he arrives at her house before her, he will likely stay up and wait somewhere she can’t avoid him. Anna bites her lip, weighing her choices. She should beat him there, if possible. When her day finally ends she flies back to her house, hoping against hope that Simcoe will still be engaged in his debriefing and she could hide herself away for the night, giving her time to prepare. Unsurprisingly, luck is not with her.
“Mrs. Strong!” he calls out to her as she eases the front door shut, making her jump.
She spins to face him, heart pounding wildly. “Captain Simcoe, you surprised me.”
He steps closer to her, looking the same as ever and unhurt. He’s smiling down at her. “My apologies, I didn't mean to frighten you, or to worry you for that matter. I know I said I would be back two days ago. I hope it’s not too late to pick up my laundry.”
“No, of course not.” Anna tries not to lean away. “I am glad to see you safely returned. We were all worried.” She says, trying to both distance herself and avoid giving offence.
His smile broadens and he reaches out, moving a strand of hair behind her ear. “Most did not, but I knew that I had something to return to.”
“Were your losses very bad?” Anna could make a comment about his indelicate manner towards his dead men, but she restrains herself. She doubts he cares in any case.
“Terrible. We lost all but three men, myself included.”
“How horrible, you must be-”
“Very hungry. In fact, I just got out of my interview a few hours ago and I know you just finished work. Will you eat with me?”
Anna blinks, alarmed. Hours. He had waited for hours. And she can’t think of a good reason to refuse.
“Of course,” she says, and lets him put his hand on her lower back and guide her through her own house. Her mind spins the entire time, looking for the solution she knows exists if she could only find it. A very disturbed looking Abigail greets them in the dining room, which is already prepared for two. She and Anna share a look as he seats himself across from her, in Selah’s place. Anna keeps her expression as pleasant as possible, but inside she’s seething.
“How was your day Mrs. Strong?” Simcoe asks as the food is being brought out.
“It was fine,” Anna lies, though it’s not as if she can tell him the truth. She meets his eyes openly, determined not to show weakness or confusion. “I expect your’s was far more interesting, however.”
He smiles at her, eyes gleaming. “Nonsense, I find everything about you interesting.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Anna sees Abigail freeze in the middle of serving them. She does her best not to do the same. “That’s kind of you to say but it was just a normal day in the tavern. How was your meeting with the Major?”
“Productive,” Simcoe says after careful consideration. He smiles at Abigail as she fills his glass before turning back to Anna. “I can’t go into details, you understand, but I was pleased with the outcome.”
Anna nods. “I hope that you will be able to bring justice to the rebels that ambushed you.”
“Actually, I have requested to stay close to home for a while.”
Anna is saved from responding right away by Abigail, who rushes to serve her next, allowing her to pause to thank her. She turns back to Simcoe with a slightly clearer head.
“That sounds like a good idea. The experience must have been horrible for you, I don’t blame you for wanting time to recover yourself,” she says, hoping to wound his pride enough to send him rushing out again.
He shakes his head slightly. “No, that’s not the reasoning. I am trained to sustain such trauma, but I have matters to attend to here. It also seems that there were some suspicious circumstances at the scene that are to be addressed by others.”
Better trained, more detail oriented, Anna thinks, wondering if these better soldiers would find evidence of her friend’s involvement. “Suspicious circumstances?”
“A cap from the Queen’s Rangers special militia was found,” he says, seeming eager to tell her such an interesting piece of news.
“What are the Queen’s Rangers?” She tilts her head. She knows what they are of course, but he doesn’t have to know that. If she’s going to play dumb when it comes to his desires for her, she might as well do it for everything else. With any luck, he’ll completely underestimate her. It would certainly be useful if she’s going to continue to be a spy with a rebel officer living down the hall.
“A provincial force of mercenaries fighting for the crown.” He nods to her plate. “Are you not hungry?”
Anna looks down as well and realizes she had not eaten a single bite. “Oh, no of course I am. I was merely distracted by our conversation.” She picks up her fork and spears a potato to prove it, watching him watch her from across the table. When she eats, he smiles and goes back to eating as well.
Grateful to have a break from speaking to him, Anna concentrates on the mechanical aspects of eating, putting her knife and fork into the food she barely tastes and bringing it to her mouth. She makes sure her hands don’t shake and that she doesn’t grip her knife too tightly or stare at it for too long. When Simcoe asks her a question, she answers it with the same focus. If the silence stretches for a suspicious amount of time, she asks him a question and pretends to care about the response.
Propriety, she thinks, nodding along to something he’s saying. Courtesy might be my answer. To be a lady above reproach, untouchable.
Finally, they run out of food on their plates and Abigail hadn’t served them any more. Anna stands up and he copies her, looking at her hopefully. She places her hands primly in front of her. “Captain, I’m sure you must be exhausted.”
“I’m quite alright.” He starts walking around the table, slowly, coming at her. Anna doesn’t move. He’ll either have to stop at a reasonable distance or run into her, she decides.
“Really Sir, you’ve been through a terrible experience. I insist you get some rest.”
He stops, his gaze roaming over her freely. For a moment, she wonders if he’ll deny her again, but then he nods. “Of course. Thank you for a wonderful evening.”
“It was no trouble.” She nods her head politely.
He opens his mouth as if to say something else and Abigail is suddenly at his shoulder. “Sir, I’ve readied your room.”
“Thank you.” Simcoe doesn’t look away from Anna. “I’ll see you tomorrow Mrs. Strong.”
“Goodnight Captain.,” Anna says, and watches him follow Abigail out of the room. She waits until she hears his door close before sitting back down in the dining room chair, her palm pressed to her forehead. She takes a deep breath and stands back up to wait for Abigail to come back, which she does shortly, nodding to Anna seriously.
“I put him in the same room but I don’t expect he’ll stay there, he’s a wild thing.”
Anna could laugh. “I know, thank you so much for everything you’ve done tonight, I couldn’t have gotten through it without you. If I have anything left to me by Christmas, you can expect a lovely present.”
“Thank you.” Abigail doesn’t smile. “I should tell you though, I don’t think self pity is going to help you right now.”
“You’re right.” Anna runs a hand over her face. “What do you think I should do?”
Abigail sets a comforting hand on her arm. “For tonight? Try to get some sleep. I’ll tell the rest of the staff to make sure there’s always one person awake all night.”
The reasoning behind that offer makes Anna shake, but she nods. “I’m grateful.”
“I’ll walk you upstairs,” Abigail says, and Anna doesn’t bother to protest that she’s a grown woman. Right now she feels like a little girl.
Abigail sees her to her room and helps her get out of her dress, essentially bundling her into her bed as well before she leaves. She doesn’t try to talk to her again, seeming to sense that Anna had retreated into her own thoughts. When Abigail leaves, Anna gets out of her bed again and goes to sit at her desk vanity. She doesn’t light any candles. Part of her waits for him to pace outside her door, or even to come in. He never does, but she can’t seem to stop waiting. Overwhelming despair at the loss of her husband and her failure to get rid of Simcoe washes over her, threatening to break her down and send her fleeing from her home, crawling back to Abe or perhaps to the rebels. Then it passes.
Anna straightens her back and focuses. Simcoe’s behavior at dinner and before in the entryway had been fairly different in comparison to his behavior in the cellar of the tavern. What she had expected him to do, what he had essentially threatened to do with his talk of catching someone over a barrel, had so far not come to pass. In the cellar he had commanded and inserted himself into her space. He told her that his men do what he tells them to do because they know what’s good for them. The implication had been clear. She casts a glance at her door, still undisturbed.
“So why not act on it?” Anna mutters to herself, picking at the skin around her nails nervously. She had been trying to prepare herself to be Simcoe’s victim, had been in the process of convincing herself that she could survive it and get him back one way or another, but he doesn’t seem to be moving in that direction anymore. She reviews his behavior since he had returned. From his near death experience. She realizes, wondering if that had something to do with his strange politeness, or perhaps he was simply trying to lure her in.
Anna thinks about him waiting for her to come home, requesting dinner together, sitting in her husband’s place across from her.
He wants to be my husband, she realizes, suddenly infuriated. He’s trying to take his place, and he wants me to know it.
Anna stands and starts pacing the length of her room, not even trying to stay quiet about it. She won’t do it, that much she knows. She won’t become Simcoe’s wife in any sense of the word. Frustrated, she goes to the window to stare out at the water like she used to do as a child. It doesn’t calm her like it used to do, but it helps.
“Wife or victim,” she murmurs, her gaze turning into a glare. “Or neither.”
Anna goes back to bed with anger in her heart and no plan yet for how to release it.