smiled, glad to learn he had a sense of humor, and it had survived his situation.
His gaze caught hers, the green eyes compelling. âTell me more about myself.â
She hesitated, thinking how quickly the situation was getting complicated. âI think it better if you remember on your own. There is much I donât know about your background. We were acquainted only briefly before becoming husband and wife.â An amazingly brief timeâless than an hour. She continued, âI donât want to plant memories that might turn out to be less than correct.â
He looked as if he was about to protest, then exhaled roughly. âThat is sensible, I suppose. My mind is so empty that I had best take care how I fill it.â He still held her hand, and his thumb stroked her palm gently. It felt entirely too good.
She removed her hand and offered him the broth. âHow long were you adrift?â
âIt seemed likeâ¦forever. I remember at least two nights, two dawns. Perhaps more. It all runs together in my mind.â He sipped the chicken broth cautiously. âI knew the cold water was deadly, so I slowed my breathing and retreated to a quiet corner of my mind to preserve myself.â
âSlowed your breathing and retreated in your mind?â she asked, puzzled.
He looked equally puzzled. âThis is not something you do? It seemed very natural to me.â
âIâve never heard of such a thing, but it seems to have worked.â Despite his flawless English, she wondered again if he was a foreigner. Retreating into a corner of oneâs mind to survive dangerous conditions seemedâ¦rather foreign. But it must have worked for him to have survived for so long.
He asked, âWhy was I at sea?â
Again thinking of the rapid lies she had offered George Burke, she said, âYou had been away on the Continent and were on your way to join me here. You must have been shipwrecked near the end of your journey.â
She was relieved when they were interrupted before he could ask more questions. Julia Bancroft entered the room, escorted by Tom Hayes, the groom who had brought Julia to the manor. âI came as soon as I could, Mariah. This is the injured man?â
Julia set down her satchel of medicines and approached the bed. Adamâs spurt of energy was gone and he now looked utterly exhausted. Mariah said, âMrs. Bancroft, meet Adam Clarke.â
Adam said in a thin, rasping voice, âMy apologies for not rising to greet you, Mrs. Bancroft.â
Julia smiled as she bent her dark head over him. âThere is a time for gallantry, Mr. Clarke. This isnât it.â As Mariah held the lamp close, Julia examined his injured head. âThis is a nasty gash.â
âIâm not so badly injured, maâam,â Adam protested. âMy wife has taken good care of me.â
Juliaâs glance shot to Mariah. Mariah shook her head slightly, wanting to defer questions. Understanding, Julia asked, âCould you find Mr. Clarke a clean nightshirt? The warmest one available.â
Mariah nodded and left. After learning of her fatherâs death, she had entered his bedroom and touched his belongings, inhaled his scent, which made her think of safety. Then she had left, weeping, unable to dispose of his possessions. Now she was glad, because his garments could be used by Adam, who was of a similar size and build. She collected a heavy flannel nightshirt and a worn but warm wool banyan that would be useful when Adam was able to rise from his bed.
By the time she returned to the sickroom, Adam was asleep, his face gray with exhaustion. Julia rested her hands on his chest, her eyes distant and her expression intent. When Mariah entered, Julia returned her attention to the room. âI was praying,â she said simply. âI thought it couldnât hurt.â
Mariah nodded, thinking the man from the sea needed all the help he could get. âHow is he