Author’s Note: So I managed to come up with something for this story as well. That means the two possible serials stay even, which is good.

A Little Less Awkward

Robert did not know who was more embarrassed, him or Mrs. Winston, but he did know that he had to get away from her aunt. He didn’t think that he could control his temper around her for much longer, and he rather thought that he and Mrs. Winston should settle this matter in private. He did not think anyone else needed to be involved—she had said her piece, and he did not want to argue over it since it would only cause trouble. They didn’t need to make things more difficult than they already were. This situation was complicated enough.

He could not think of a reason to ask the aunt to leave, not and remain polite about it, and he didn’t want to make things worse. He did not want to create more problems, not when that other man had done enough damage already.

“Aunt Beatrice, I do think I could manage to eat something if you would have Harriet bring that tray down.”

“It’ll be cold.”

“I do not care.”

“Of course you do. I’ll see to it that it’s warmed for you,” the older woman said, rising. She moved toward the door, and Robert tried not to show his relief. He could not believe how much easier he could breathe now.

Mrs. Winston watched the door close, and she sighed, rubbing at her back again. He frowned, thinking she should not be put through this in her condition. “I am sorry about my aunt. In some ways, she is very practical and even somewhat… progressive, but in others, she is still from a time before the war. Her opinion on this matter has been clear from the beginning.”

Robert frowned. “She has always held to the opinion that I should—that we should marry?”

Mrs. Winston put a hand to her head. “Since she found out that the marriage was invalid, yes, I think so. She didn’t like the man I married, not from the first time she met him, but I was blind. I didn’t think she had any right to distrust him. Now, it would seem, she did.”

“So because she was right about that she is right about us marrying?”

“No!” Mrs. Winston covered her mouth, shaking her head. Her cheeks were redder than the flowers in the vase on the table. “That is—I meant what I said about not wanting to make another mistake in marriage. I chose poorly before, and it is my child I consider when I say I want to be certain of the decision. It is somewhat of a blessing to have been abandoned instead of abused. Things could have been a lot worse for me and the baby.”

“This is hardly ideal.”

“Of course not. I am not a fool.”

He shook his head. “I did not say that you were. You seem… Repeatedly, your demeanor and grace under the circumstances has impressed me, and I admire your practicality and pragmatism. You have shown yourself strong and far from what one would have expected during these trying times.”

“Have I?”

“You say that as if you think I am being insincere.”

She lowered her head. “You needn’t flatter me. I struggle with my choices and the consequences of those decisions, but I do what I can to face them. I do what I can to continue on, as we all must do.”

“I do not think you should give yourself so little credit for what you are doing,” he told her. “I don’t think that I would cope with it as admirably. I do not think I have accepted my own fate with as much equanimity as you have.”

She smiled. “Thank you, Mr. Winston.”

“Isn’t it… confusing to call me that?”

“Complicated.” She twisted her hands together. “I want to call you by your name. It belongs to you, and he dishonored it. It’s just that… He was Winston first, and that’s how he wanted me to address him, and that is how he remains to me, much as I do not want to… I should like to forget him.”

“I imagine that would be a kindness,” Robert said. He cleared his throat, feeling awkward again. “I’ve always preferred to have people call me ‘Robert.’ There were another two Roberts in our unit, though, and a man with the last name Roberts, so I ended up Robbie, one of the others was Bob, and the third went by his last name, since it wasn’t Smith like Bob’s was.”

“Robbie,” she said, studying him. “I am not certain it fits you. It seems more… carefree than you act, though I admit, I know little of how you are when your name hasn’t been stolen.”

“I think the war changed me as it changed us all.”

She nodded. “Yes, it did. It changed a lot of things, didn’t it?”

“Did you lose someone in the war?”

“Oh, no, I… I lost my father when I was still very young, almost too young to remember, but there’s been no one else to lose. My mother and aunt have never left me.”

He thought it strange that she’d managed to marry without much approval from either of them, but perhaps she’d done it to spite them. Perhaps that was why his imposter had gone for her—in a way, she was a bit of an unattainable prize.

“If I settle upon calling you Robbie, I think you should call me Violet. Perhaps you should anyway, since Mrs. Winston isn’t quite accurate, nor is Miss Carpenter.”

“Violet. That does suit you. You smell of fresh flowers.”

“Hardly—at least, not since I’ve been pregnant.” She sighed. “Then again, I do not know that we should take such liberties with the names. If we do, my aunt may feel that she’s won, that this is a step toward us marrying.”

Robert cursed.