Several days later, the Endurance and the Valiant finally reached Port Royal. As excited as the men were to return home, business had to be immediately seen to as soon as the ships were anchored. The men's families would have to wait for their return just a little longer.
Word spread quickly through the small town that the ships had returned. Lord Caldwell and Woodrow remained under a house arrest, Emma remained incarcerated, and Groves's duties were at a minimal until word was sent to England and an answer was received. Fortunately, another officer locked Emma back into Port Royal's prison, leaving Groves free of the obligation.
Norrington felt he couldn't ride home fast enough once his day ended. Apparently the word had spread to his home, for his wife and servants awaited him outside the front door.
"Welcome home, Admiral," the butler and others greeted as he dismounted, the butler taking hold of the reins. He greeted them quickly before they returned to their duties, Sophie exclaiming a mighty supper was in store.
"And there will be plenty for your friend, the Commodore, should you wish to invite him," she added, receiving an amused smile in reply.
"I may see to that," Norrington answered, wondering if Groves would be up for an invitation.
Finally, he was able to run to Annabelle once the servants left, embracing her and giving her one, long kiss.
"It fills my heart to be at home again," he said.
"I'm always relieved to see you home safe," Annabelle replied. "Come into the parlor and rest."
"I'll be able to rest after supper, and after I answer your questions about the journey." His voice dropped a bit. "There's much to tell."
"And he still wishes to pursue her?" Annabelle asked later that night. She and Norrington retired to their room early for privacy as he told her of the journey.
"This woman has changed him," Norrington confirmed. "It will be a long road for both of them, no matter how it ends, but it's obvious his affections for her have deepened."
"And does she know that?" Annabelle asked.
Norrington shook his head. "She may have an inkling, but I'm also curious if he's aware of her affections for him. I can see it in her."
Annabelle pursed her lips together. "It seems like something still bothers you."
Norrington sighed, knowing he'd be caught sooner or later. "I worry for them if she stays here. Adjusting to an entirely new life will not be easy, even if…people know of her old life."
"And yet you still married me: a girl with no family, no legacy from my parents…" Annabelle added.
Norrington gently placed his hand over hers. "I married you because I love you, even though it took me far too long to realize that." He saw a smile tease her face before he solemnly added, "But there are circumstances of hers certain members of society won't ignore."
Annabelle sighed, knowing it was true. Some might never be willing to accept Emma if she did stay, but then again, what business would it be of theirs? It should be her choice whom she wanted to know about it, although there may be unfortunate times where it might not work that way. Gossip was still prevalent in some circles, sadly, and it was likely Emma would battle it in a harsher way than others for the rest of her life should she stay. Sadly, gossip was a prevalent hobby, and society was not always kind. Annabelle knew that, though her story was very different than Emma's.
Slowly, she suggested, "As long as we accept her, I believe she could fit into our society very well. I know there will be exceptions, but that is the case with everyone, isn't it?" Norrington was silent, but his eyes told her he was absorbing it. "And we know Groves far better than that. We know certain affairs do not inhibit his treatment of other people. It appears with Emma it is no different, although there is some healing to be had."
Annabelle paused for a moment before quickly adding, "It won't be easy, but at the risk of sounding optimistic, perhaps a character as strong as his will help overshadow some of the darkness, if not only bring to light the people that really matter." She didn't dare vocalize it, but Annabelle was also certain that Groves' reputation, coupled with Norrington's and the reverence it garnered, could prove a type of security from the wagging tongues and shaking heads.
They were both quiet for a few more moments before Annabelle blinked, an idea coming to her.
"Suppose she does remain here and begins a new life-do you think Groves would object to my offering a helping hand as well? With the girl's consent, of course."
Warmth spread through Norrington at his wife's enthusiasm and thoughtfulness, feeling ashamed he hadn't thought of some way to help himself. She would be putting herself at risk if she did this, but he would proudly encourage it. Not to mention, Annabelle could certainly help Emma with matters that would be out of Groves's reach. To the dogs what society said! Helping a friend was much more important.
His face softened as he lifted Annabelle's hand to his lips. "I am sure Groves would be most grateful."
In his own home, Groves slept with some difficulty, still plagued with the pain, yet still wanting to help the woman he had grown to care for. He hoped that in spite of it, he could heal, not wanting to wallow in the ache forever. He still feared, however, how painful it would be whichever path she chose.