His mouth pressed against the thin bones of her knuckles. He lingered for a breath longer than appropriate and there was something about his eyes at half mast, the way his smile managed to be both rakish and oddly shy. Eliza flushed, delight and something hotter coiling inside of her.
"It hardly seems fair that so much loveliness should be confined to one family." They were doing a turn about the floor and Eliza was drunk on warmth and shared space and those dark, fathomless eyes. She thought of what Angelica would say, that mix of bold and coy that was uniquely, irrepressibly her. They would match wits well, she knew, but Angelica had disappeared into the sea of bustles and uniforms.
She only had her own words in her own mouth. "It's fortunate my father only had three daughters then."
Alexander laughed and there was surprise in the sound, like she had tricked him into it.
At the end of the night he bowed over her hand again but his face was flushed and his eyes were bright.
"May I write you?" he asked.
Eliza caught her breath. "Yes," she said.
"Will you marry him?" asked Peggy, hovering over her shoulder.
Eliza reread the line about her black eyes, cheeks aching from smiling. "I hope so."
"My wife," Alexander said the word slowly, strangely, his smile tinged with wonder and disbelief.
She knew her smile was the same. "Not yet," she said.
"Soon." Alexander's fingers brushed against the pulse of her wrist. Her heart sped up and his smile took on a more rakish quality. "Very soon."
Eliza looked at him, curve of his cheek illuminated by candlelight, eyes and fingers and mouth driving her to distraction, and never thought she could want anyone so much.
Their wedding night revealed new shades, not just of him but of her. A tomcat they called him but Alexander was more than happy to bend to her whims, shy and tentative though they were.
("It's not done," she had protested, steadying her hands on his chest, and fought not to laugh when Alexander waggled his eyebrows up at her.
"You'd be surprised what's done behind closed doors." A slow, sensual smile. "C'mon, Eliza. Didn't I tell you I have a tolerance for pain?"
"You indecent man," she said with immeasurable fondness and bent to kiss him soundly.)
This, Eliza learned, was intimacy:
It was scars in the crooks of elbows and backs of knees. It was inordinate joy at the birthmark above Eliza's left breast. It was the way he laughed and squirmed like a child when she dug playful fingers into his armpit. It was more than physical; more than geography. It was Alexander laying his head on her chest and confessing in a wavering voice how happy he was to have a family.
"I should show you how happy, I think," he said in an effort to save face. His smirk was wobblier than normal.
She caught his face in her hands before he could nose all the way down her stomach. There it was again: that flash of terrified uncertainty at having laid himself so bare.
"I love you."
She had fallen in love with that bashful turn of his smile. "I'd still like to show you," he said.
Eliza kissed him lightly before hooking a leg over his shoulder. "Then by all means."
In the pre-dawn hours he readied to leave her but Eliza clung to his wrist and tugged him back down beside her, boots and uniform and all.
"The war doesn't stop just because we're in love," Alexander said. That didn't stop his arms from coming up around her. Didn't he know it was far too early to be devil's advocate?
"It should," Eliza said and this was the memory she would take out every so often and unfold like one of his letters: his huff of laughter into her hair and his crinkled eyes and his thumb on her cheekbone as they kissed hello and goodbye and stay alive, please in the morning quiet.
He was right, of course. She had the consolation of his letters but some things couldn't be helped. The bed felt large and cold and quiet. Silly, considering he had only spent one night in it. Angelica eventually prodded this out of her and she and Peggy made a habit of sharing a bed with her as they hadn't since they were children.
"He wants a command. What if he gets one?" Her voice thin and scared. Angelica and Peggy tightened their grip on her hands, a wall of safety and love.
"The worst thing that could happen to him right now is he runs out of ink," said Angelica. "Or gets punched in the mouth. Most likely deserving it too. He's a temperamental one your husband."
Eliza smiled into the dark. It was easier with her sisters on either side of her. Then grimaced, feeling her stomach ripple. Peggy, who was lying with her head on Eliza's stomach, sat up excitedly. "Oh, she's moving again!"
Angelica's voice was a smile. "I thought it was mothers who could divine a baby's sex, not sisters."
"I think a girl would be lovely is all," Peggy said. "You could name her Peggy."
Angelica sniffed. "Please. If she's going to name a girl after anyone it's me. She'll sooner name a dog after you."
"He," Eliza corrected because she just knew somehow. Mother's intuition like Angelica said. "So no need to draw blood just yet."
"It's cute that you think Peggy would actually stand a chance," Angelica said.
Eliza could practically feel Peggy bristle. "I'm scrappy!"
"You're adorable," Angelica said lovingly.
The banter was soothing in its familiarity. Eliza drifted off between them, sisters all hair and limbs and girlish laughter, and dreamed of a boy with her eyes and Alexander's smile.
Phillip, she thought. She would name him Phillip.
Her boy came home from the war and looked more wounded by her pregnant stomach than anything else.
"You should have told me." His voice cracked.
"I'm not sorry," she said. He had curled into himself but he was here, miserable, thin, alive. "I knew you would fight until the war was done—"
"The war's not done—"
"But you deserve a chance to meet your son." She took his hand. "Look around," said Eliza softly as Alexander gazed back with glassy eyes, "at how lucky we are to be alive right now."
She had never seen him look so small. "Will you relish being a poor man's wife, unable to provide for your life?"
Her smile blossomed. "I relish being your wife."
Something in his eyes cracked. She could feel it in her throat as she made her case, as heartfelt and earnest as she knew how. They didn't need a legacy. All they needed to be happy was right here.
His eyes. Her hand in his. Their child and all the children after that.
"That would be enough," she said and when Alexander brought her hand to his mouth and kissed the inside of her palm it seemed as good as a yes.