The Captain’s Midwinter Bride – Liana De la Rosa

A wedding took a bloody hell lot more work than Phillip ever imagined. But then when was the last time he’d had the luxury to consider anything but the wind and tides? Sighing a heaving breath, he returned his attention to his wife, who was reviewing the seating chart for the wedding breakfast. Their daughter’s wedding breakfast. Annalise darted a quick glance at him, so quick he would have missed it if he hadn’t been paying attention. We’re almost done. I warned you this would be tedious, but you insisted upon being here. This is important to Beth, so do try to act interested. Despite his many absences over their twenty-five years of marriage, Phillip still managed to glean a whole conversation in the span of a few looks. “But Mama, the MacKenzies cannot sit with the Packwoods. They have not spoken—” “Civilly,” Phillip murmured under his breath, earning himself a brief look of reproach from his wife. “—since Mr. MacKenzie accused Mr. Packwood of theft,” Beth continued, as if he had not interrupted. Phillip supposed that since he had largely been a nomadic figure in her childhood, his daughter had become accustomed to ignoring him. She turned to Annalise for all things and valued her mother’s opinion above all others.

Such deference had stung him countless times over the years. He had been the one sailing the ocean, protecting the empire from enemies far and near, and yet his opinion had never been worth much to his daughter. Beth had ceased asking him to bring her trinkets from his port stops around her tenth birthday, and he could not remember the last time she had asked him to tell her a story from his travels. Oliver, his son, had always been curious about his adventures on the high seas, but the lad was now in London where he worked as an engineer for Great Western Railway, and could not stroke his father’s wounded ego with his enthusiastic questions. It was a bitter tonic to feel like an unwelcome stranger in his own home, and Phillip was still not comfortable in his own bed. After years on a ship, he needed the waves to rock him to sleep every night. He hadn’t been certain of his reception upon returning home for good a fortnight before. Would his wife and children welcome him but become annoyed at the everyday realities of his presence? After two decades of issuing commands and running a tight ship, would he be able to throw off the mantle of captain? Would he try to run his household, admirably captained by his wife for the past twenty years, the way he ran his ship? Would his family be patient with his transition? So far they had been—for the most part. Phillip was well aware of his faults and limitations, and every morning when he arose from bed, he endeavored to keep his autocratic tendencies to himself. It was easier than he anticipated, probably because Annalise was more than a competent homemaker. “Beth, that unfortunate incident occurred ten years ago.” Annalise shook her head. “Mrs. MacKenzie and Mrs. Packwood speak daily at the market.

It is their husbands that carry the old grudge. Perhaps your wedding breakfast will encourage them to finally let sleeping dogs lie.” She said this with easy grace, her suggestion sensible as always. She was always practical. Phillip appreciated practical. She treated his retirement in the pleasant manner in which she treated all things, and if her smile at the breakfast table was a tad tight, she still looked to him for input when decisions needed to be made. He suspected that was difficult for her, as she made all the decisions when he was at sea. “I hadn’t realized Packwood and MacKenzie were still up to their antics,” he murmured, taking a sip of tea and trying to focus on the present situation. “You would be familiar with the feud if you were around long enough to know our neighbors.” Phillip had been a captain in Her Majesty’s Navy for almost three decades and had stared down any number of threats, foreign and domestic. But none of them had prepared him for the look of mutiny in the green eyes of his nineteen-year-old daughter. A daughter who would marry a well-situated and well-connected future barrister the week after next and leave her childhood home—his home—behind. The wee daughter he remembered holding in his hands, a pink-tinged, dark-haired babe he thought the most beautiful creature in the world…who he then had to kiss goodbye for a mission to France a fortnight later. Resentment and anger flashed across her face like a kaleidoscope, and for a swift second Phillip grappled with how to respond. If she were a young greenhorn under his command, he would order her to scrub the decks.

But Beth was an altogether different creature, and he felt out to sea with how to respond. “Are you hungry, my dear? Feeling lightheaded? Overtired? We can continue to review the seating chart at another time.” Annalise’s questions were uttered calmly, and yet both he and Beth jerked their heads to her. His wife considered their daughter with a cocked brow. Beth blinked. “I’m fine, Mama.” A “Are you certain?” The corners of Annalise’s eyes narrowed ever so slightly. “For surely something must be amiss if you think it your place to scold your father in such a way.” Phillip watched with muted satisfaction as Beth’s face turned florid. This confrontation had been building since he arrived home for good at the beginning of December, with Beth’s disrespectful behavior amplifying every time they conversed. He could ignore it no longer. Placing his teacup on its saucer, he cleared his throat. “Beth, love, I understand you’re upset. In many ways, I’m upset too. I missed out on so many moments with you and Oliver.

I will always mourn that loss.” He smoothed his hands down his thighs. “But remember this career of mine that kept me from being a present father to you is the reason you are able to have this grand wedding you’re planning. As you gleefully choose between lilies and roses, beef or lamb, and rearrange the seating details at the wedding breakfast, remember that such choices are available to you because I was off protecting queen and country, mourning the time away from my family.” With a nod to his wife, Phillip slipped from the room, doing his best not to let the guilt follow him out. nnalise fought the urge to roll her eyes as she watched her daughter battle with her emotions. Since her father’s return, Beth seemed to take it upon herself to make him feel like an outsider, and her sharp tongue had lashed him more times than she could count. Sliding her gaze to Phillip’s retreating back, she understood Beth’s struggles, although she would never admit it. Her husband was both familiar yet foreign. The gentle, earnest young man she agreed to marry a quarter of century prior had grown into the gruff, intimidating, still painfully handsome man who occupied her house with all the aplomb of an irritable bear. It was his house, she supposed. It was his hard work as a captain aboard the Queen Elizabeth for years and years upon end that allowed her, Oliver, and Beth to live comfortably, and even thrive, in Bristol. So many times during his many absences did Annalise wonder why she had consented to marry a sailor. Surely she knew her new husband would spend more time aboard the rocking deck of a ship than he would in their home with her. And yet when she was flanked by a crying two-year-old and a grumpy sixyear-old with little money to spare for more than necessities, all Annalise knew was resentment for her husband and the job that took him far from her and the help she so desperately needed.

But she tried not to let that resentment bleed into her actions. So often when Phillip had leave, he was exhausted. The grooves in the tanned skin around his blue eyes had always been stark, the droop in his shoulders testament to his weariness. Yet he never wanted to rest. He had insisted on spending time with the children. He met them at the breakfast table in the mornings, sat in on their lessons, frolicked with them in the park, and napped when they napped. He insisted that they eat dinner at the family table instead of the nursery, and Annalise had consented without telling him the children always ate dinner with her in the dining room. He was a good father, and she was grateful. If he had been a bit of a reserved husband, well, she supposed she could forgive him that too. But the children that were the common thread between Annalise and her absent husband would soon be gone from the house, and she would be left with the man she knew as well as the fishmonger who sold her cuts of cod and snapper every Wednesday. That was unfair. Phillip may have been on the seas more than he was home, but she had certainly come to know the man he was, and she could genuinely say she liked him. He possessed a sharp wit and a keen eye that had always kept Annalise on her toes. He had earned her respect over the years. Their marriage may have begun out of convenience, but she was proud of the accord they had built together for their children.

His return home for good had been a challenge for her, however. No longer did the servants turn to her with their questions, and suddenly her whereabouts and schedule were accountable to someone else. Annalise would be a liar if she said she didn’t chafe under her husband’s watchful eye. Still, she suppressed her annoyance, determined that she and Phillip would be friends. If part of her fanciful heart wished for more from her marriage, she ruthlessly silenced it. “I’m so sorry I’m leaving you alone with him.” Annalise blinked, jerking her attention to her daughter. “I beg your pardon?” Playing with a sprig of holly that adorned the center of the table, Beth shrugged. “I feel guilty for getting married exactly when Father is retiring from the navy. He’s going to be here all the time, and you will have to put up with him.” “He is my husband.” Annalise frowned. “Your father. Of course he’s going to retire here. This is his home as much as it is yours or mine.

” “But not exactly,” Beth murmured. “This is simply a place he rested while on leave. I suspect his real home will always be at sea.” Annalise did not know how to argue with that assertion. “And he’s always so dour. So gruff. How depressing it will be to share a breakfast table with him.” “Your father is not dour,” Annalise declared curtly. “Do you not remember all the times he took you and Oliver out during his leaves? Or of the plays he reenacted with the two of you in the nursery?” Beth’s eyes glazed over in memory, a ghost of a smile haunting her lips. “That seems so long ago. I had forgotten.” “Your father may be many things, but dour is not one of them.” “I suppose not.” Beth stared at her hands. “We did enjoy ourselves though, didn’t we?” “You did.

You and Oliver always had bright eyes when he took you off for an adventure. And you came home exhausted, with exciting stories to tell.” Annalise had always been a little jealous that her husband could return and engage the children in fun activities, then be gone on his next voyage when parenting became a challenge with illness, tantrums, and growing pains. Beth scowled, the expression more confused than upset. “What happened, Mama? How did Father go from…that,” she said, as if the memories were tangible, “to the stranger he is now?” Annalise considered how best to explain this to her headstrong daughter. Setting her empty cup aside, she folded her hands on the table in front of her. “As you and Oliver grew older, you questioned his absences more. Became impatient…and perhaps a tad bitter that he was not there when you needed him. Or wanted him. And you each had your own lives, with friends and social activities. So when he did have leave, you did not want to sacrifice your plans for him. You no longer had time for him.” Nodding slowly, Beth worried her lip. “That makes sense, I suppose.” Reaching for her hand, Annalise squeezed it tight.

“Your father is not your enemy. He could not help that he was away any more than you or I could. Instead of becoming belligerent every time he speaks to you, perhaps remember the happy times you enjoyed with him and give him a chance.” “Oh Mama,” her daughter sighed, stroking her thumb over Annalise’s knuckles. “I don’t know what I’m going to do without you. Who is going to talk sense to me when I am upset and being unfair?” Certainly not your new husband, she thought. Mr. Newell will just belittle and demean you until eventually you don’t even know to be upset. Pushing those unkind thoughts aside, she smiled. “Darling, you will be living within a ten-minute walk of here. I daresay you won’t have to do without me much at all.” Beth released her, extracting a handkerchief from her pocket and pressing it to her face for a long moment. “Will you stay here after Silas and I marry?” Annalise blinked. “Where would I go? And why would I go?” “The estate in Wales, perhaps.” When Annalise shook her head in confusion, Beth sighed.

“I don’t understand why you would want to stay here, with him.” Something about her daughter’s words made her flush, her skin growing warm underneath her day dress. Annalise was certain Beth was unaware of her struggles, and she was thankful for it. Gathering her poise about her, she cleared her throat. “Before you and Oliver were born, your father and I lived together alone. We’ll do so again when you’re gone.” They could—but oh, how the prospect made her nervous.


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Updated: 19 April 2021 — 18:37

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