Home > A Twist of Fate (A Stitch in Time #2)(8)

A Twist of Fate (A Stitch in Time #2)(8)
Author: Kelley Armstrong

I search through their correspondence for hints about August’s whereabouts and, yes, his marital status. I discover that William’s wife’s name is Bronwyn. I discover that he’s retained his London townhouse, but his solicitor still needs to beg him to return, even briefly. I discover that, with marriage, William has become slightly more sociable, but that only means they accept the occasional invitation from country neighbors. All this is lovely . . . and does not help me one whit. If there is personal correspondence, it is not retained.

As the fourth day dawns, I make the only choice I can. Or, perhaps more accurately, the only choice I can without going mad. I must find my husband and negotiate this situation without the aid of a friend who can confirm my outlandish story.

I am already prepared to depart. I did not sit on my hands for three days. I discover to my relief that William has allowed his housekeeper to continue storing secondhand gowns here for her side business. In guest room wardrobes, I locate two traveling dresses and a day gown with all the required undergarments. As I don a dress that morning, I unreservedly admit that of all the things I missed in my world, the complexity and discomfort of the undergarments is not one of them.

My bag contains several items accumulated for a very specific purpose: to allow me to affect a disguise. I knew years ago that I might require one when I returned, and so I had all the accoutrements in my flat.

Two years ago, I cut my hair to shoulder length. The style flatters me and is much easier to care for. Yet it is not the hair of a Victorian woman. So I require a wig. I’d chosen one of long dark hair, thicker and straighter than my own. I also have contacts to change my blue eyes to brown. Modern makeup allows me to shade my skin and alter my cheekbone structure, as well as covering my freckles and adding a birthmark. Yes, I watched far too many YouTube makeup videos—being in a strange world with no social life meant I’d had plenty of free time on my hands.

I’ve lost weight, too. I’ve always been slight of build, and Victorian friends had teased I was a poor advertisement for my pastries. Since leaving that world, my appetite has dropped to nil, and I’ve grown unhealthily thin. It does help me now, though, along with a stuffed brassiere to alter that aspect of my figure. Add a pair of spectacles, and I look so little like Rosalind Courtenay that August himself might not even recognize me. I do not, however, intend to deceive him. I simply need to make inquiries about August—to determine his current whereabouts—without arousing suspicion.

Next, I steal Victorian currency from William. Of course, I have every intention of repaying him, and so borrow would be the correct term even if it feels like theft. I know from experience that he keeps money in a kitchen drawer for Mrs. Shaw to pay whomever requires paying, William not being fond of purchasing on credit. I open the box, expecting to discover a handful of shillings, perhaps even a full pound. There are shillings, and there are also pounds, for a total of nearly twenty guineas.

Really, William? You leave this unlocked in the kitchen drawer?

If asked, he’d say that no one dares steal from him. True, perhaps, if Mrs. Shaw found the box empty, William might rage in public, but in private, he’d say what my parents did when we came home one day to find our house burgled.

I trust that whoever took it needed it more than we did.

While I consider taking only part of the money, practicality wins out. I can guarantee the Thornes full repayment from my funds in the twenty-first century. To be safe, I’ll take it all. I leave a note apologizing for the theft and promising it will be repaid with interest. I do not sign it.

One last look around the house. One last peer down the lane in hopes I’ll see Mrs. Shaw coming to open the manor, presaging her lord’s imminent arrival. All stays still and quiet. I take a deep breath, lift my bag and walk out into this new-old world.

 

 

I walk to Whitby. It’s a brisk autumn morning, the wind blasting over the moors as I cut through them. It’s a shortcut to the seaside town, letting me take the bridle paths that cross the open fields, but it also means I can avoid people, particularly those who might notice I wear white shoes emblazoned with the name of a Greek god. When I draw close to Whitby, I replace my Nikes with far less comfortable footwear.

I have chosen the Whitby train because a coach from High Thornesbury to York would have prompted questions for a Victorian woman traveling alone. If anyone asks, I’m a governess on my way to a new position. My appearance fits the stereotype of the part—an unflattering, ill-fitting but quality dress; spectacles perched on my nose, and soft hands and clear skin that suggest I’m not accustomed to manual labor.

Catching a train in the busy seaside town means I will attract little notice on my journey. Once in York, I will make inquiries regarding August Courtenay. He had a son, did he not? Of age for a governess? All my questions about his current abode and marital status will seem innocent enough then.

When I board the train, it seems I will have a compartment to myself. Yet after the journey begins, a young woman pops her head in, takes a look at me and enters with a sigh of relief.

“Please tell me that seat is empty,” she says, gesturing at the one across from me.

I smile. “It is.”

She collapses into it with another deep and dramatic sigh. “I was nearly trapped with two gentlemen who drank far too much gin in town.” She wrinkles her nose. “And ate far too many fish. From the smell, I almost wonder whether they were rolling in both.”

“You are safe here,” I say. “If they bother us, we will fend them off together. I have a very sharp shoe in my satchel.”

She laughs and slumps in the seat to catch her breath. We sit in companionable silence for a few moments before she asks where I’m headed. I practice my story on her.

“A governess?” Her eyes widen with such delight you’d think I claimed to be a princess. “My sister is a governess. In York, no less. I must give you her address. Let me find my notebook.”

As she rummages in her bag, she asks more questions, and I answer, happy for this excuse to test my performance. Nothing in my story—or my speech or behavior—strikes her as odd, which is an incredible relief, and soon we’re caught up in conversation, the notebook forgotten.

The young woman—Emma—is traveling to York to fetch an aged aunt back to Whitby, where she’s staying with several elderly relatives enjoying a seaside visit. Emma was supposed to travel with another aunt to pick up the newly arrived one, but that aunt took ill, and so she is making the trip alone, and she is delightfully giddy at the prospect.

I try to picture a modern girl being so thrilled at a solo voyage. It would more likely be a chore. For Emma, though, it is as dangerously and scandalously thrilling an adventure as a solo flight across the Atlantic, and I’m thoroughly charmed.

We arrive as the sun is dipping behind the horizon. I’m quiet for the last half hour of our journey. Emma is busy writing in her notebook, and I’m contemplating where I’ll spend the night.

“Oh!” she says, slapping shut her book and tucking it aside. “We’re here!”

I startle, so deep in my thoughts that I didn’t notice the train slowing. She leaps to her feet as only a girl of her age can, fairly clapping her hands in delight. As I gather my things, her fingers clasp mine, and I look up into round eyes shadowed with worry.

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