Home > A Twist of Fate (A Stitch in Time #2)(9)

A Twist of Fate (A Stitch in Time #2)(9)
Author: Kelley Armstrong

“What if she’s not here? My aunt was supposed to arrive from London an hour ago, but what if her train has been delayed?”

“Then I suppose you’ll have an hour to yourself. One last gasp of freedom.”

I smile, but worry darkens her face, and she looks out the window. “It is much busier than Whitby. Do I wait in the station? That’s safest, don’t you think?”

I want to tell her it’s fine to go out and find supper, perhaps a spot of late tea. Yet the sun is dropping, and she is right to be nervous.

“If your aunt is not there, I will wait with you,” I say.

She gushes her gratitude, and shame prickles in me. While I’m happy to help, I’m also aware of how this could help me. She will introduce me to her aunt, who will ask where I’m staying, and I will admit I do not have a room yet. While I don’t expect an invitation to share theirs, it will be much easier to rent a room if I’m accompanied by a respectable elderly woman.

We disembark while Emma cranes her neck to look for her aunt. I’m no help at all. At my height, all I see are men’s cravats.

“We should check whether her train arrived,” I say.

Emma nods. “I’ll speak to— Oh, there’s a station clerk. I’ll ask him.”

She zips through the crowd, and I’m about to follow when I notice her bright yellow carpetbag on the ground. Good thing the color blazes like sunlight on the dingy platform.

I clutch both our bags as people jostle past.

“There you are!” a voice booms.

A hand clasps my arm. I turn to see a middle-aged woman, sharp nosed and sharp chinned, with a gaze that skewers me like a mouse in a hawk’s sights.

Her grip tightens, and she propels me ahead of her.

“Thank goodness for that hideous bag,” she says. “I would never have found you without it.”

“Bag?” I glance back at her. “Oh! You must be—”

“Mrs. Landon, of course.” She glowers at me. “Did the voyage addle your brain, child? Come along. The coach is waiting.”

This must be a companion or lady’s maid of Emma’s aunt. She’s mistaken me for the girl. Either she’s nearsighted, or she’s never met Emma, because the only thing we share in common is dark hair and dark eyes.

I try again to protest, but the woman is surprisingly strong for her age. The train whistles, drowning me out. I look around and—

There is Emma, atop a grassy rise less than twenty feet away. She’s looking right at me, her expression calm, and I decide she clearly does not recognize me. I wave madly to get her attention. She still doesn’t react. She just looks at me. Then her lips part.

“I’m sorry,” she mouths . . . and then scampers into the gathering dark.

 

 

5

 

 

I’m hauled along another ten steps before I fully comprehend what has happened. Before I understand I’ve been duped. Emma left her yellow carpetbag at my feet because someone was looking for a dark-haired woman with a yellow carpetbag. Now that someone is dragging me toward a waiting coach.

In London, I’d heard this story many times. Even in the modern world, I heard variations on it. A young woman, on her own, met by someone who promises her a position and then bustles her off into a waiting coach or car, beginning a journey that will end in horror and despair. A young woman forced into service, where indentured servitude will be the best of the options laid before her.

My journey will not end that way. I’m no innocent and naive girl, no helpless chit to be meekly propelled into a coach to hell.

I do not fight, though. I simply right myself, getting my balance. I’ll play along for a few moments as I walk toward the—

The coach.

It’s shining black with matching horses whose harnesses bear a family crest. The coach of a wealthy family. That is not, however, what stops me. It is the crest emblazoned on the side.

“Courtenay?” I whisper. “This is the Earl of Tynesford’s coach.”

“Yes,” the woman says. “The earl’s own coach, come to take you to Courtenay Hall. I hope you appreciate that, girl.”

I stand there, blinking, as the door opens, and I turn to see the man holding it for me, and I blink again. It takes me a moment to place the face. It’s been four years, and he was but a boy when I last saw him. The head groom’s son, Hugh. My mouth opens, his name on my lips, and I snap it closed.

I get into the coach. I do not leap in. Nor do I need to be prodded.

Hugh takes my bag and then reaches for the yellow one, but I collect myself enough to murmur that I require something from it and keep it clutched as I climb into the coach.

I move as if in a sleep trance. I am in a sleep trance. I must be. This is what dreams are like, are they not? A young woman bursts into my train cabin. She abandons me with a bright yellow bag, which causes me to be identified and bustled into a coach heading to my husband’s family estate.

Disjointed and dreamlike circumstances culminating in the thing I want most. To go home.

I fell asleep on the train, and I’m dreaming. So I follow the fantasy, climbing into the coach with its leather-trimmed seats and fur blankets, the smell so familiar it makes my eyes well with tears.

The woman—Mrs. Landon—talks briefly to Hugh, her tone curt and perfunctory.

I rouse from my stupor enough to open the yellow carpetbag before she climbs in. What fanciful treasures will it contain? A flight of doves, perhaps?

No, this is my fantasy, and so it will contain magical recipes straight out of a fantastical novel. Apple pies that taste of crisp autumnal days. Ginger biscuits that taste of Christmas morning. Candied tartlets that taste of a carousel ride. And, of course, a fairy eager to help with the cleanup.

I smile, open the bag, and then laugh under my breath as I do indeed find a piece of paper. Then I open it and stop smiling.

Dearest train companion,

By now you will find yourself in quite a pickle, and I do apologize, but it is hardly my fault. The fool was so desperate for a governess that he offered the first quarter’s wages in advance. Naturally, I could not ignore such an opportunity.

Imagine my delight on learning your trade. It is as if Fate herself led me to that train compartment. I went in search of a dark-haired woman who could pass for a governess, and what did I find? An actual governess!

I would advise most strongly against attempting to correct the misunderstanding. The earl’s housekeeper knows only that I am dark-haired, carrying a yellow carpetbag and coming from Whitby. If you protest, you will surely be arrested for theft. That is why I did not simply abscond with the forwarded funds. If you must flee, I would strongly suggest, from experience, that you do it under cover of night.

The position is yours if you wish it. Of course, you will not receive payment for the first quarter, but food and lodgings in an earl’s hall should compensate adequately. I even considered taking the position myself, but as my mum always said, while I’m a good little actress, I’m not ready to take the stage.

Admittedly, and I warn you of this because you seem such a lovely woman, the fact that the earl’s brother has been unable to retain a governess suggests the boy is an absolute terror. You do seem a capable sort, though. Perhaps you can manage it, reminding the child that such behavior might be acceptable in an earl’s son, but not in the child of an earl’s second son.

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