A Night Like This

Page 52

“Wel, I’ve been in a gig,” she said. “My former employer had one, and I had to learn to drive it. She was quite elderly, and no one trusted her with the reins.”

“Was this on the Isle of Man?” he asked, keeping his voice deliberately light. It was so rare that she offered pieces of her past. He was afraid she would bottle herself back up if he questioned too intensely.

But she did not seem put off by his query. “It was,” she confirmed. “I’d only driven a cart before that. My father would not have kept a carriage that seated only two people. He was never a man for impracticalities.”

“Do you ride?” he asked.

“No,” she said simply.

Another clue. If her parents had been titled, she would have been placed in a sidesaddle before she could read.

“How long did you live there?” he asked conversationaly. “On the Isle of Man.”

She did not answer right away, and he thought she might not do so at al, but then, in a soft voice, laced with memory, she said, “Three years. Three years and four months.”

Keeping his eyes scrupulously on the road, he said, “You don’t sound as if you have fond memories.” Keeping his eyes scrupulously on the road, he said, “You don’t sound as if you have fond memories.”

“No.” She was quiet again, for at least ten seconds, then she said, “It was not dreadful. It was just . . . I don’t know. I was young. And it was not home.” Home. Something she almost never mentioned. Something he knew he should not ask about, so instead he said, “You were a lady’s companion?” She nodded. He just barely saw it out of the corner of his eye; she seemed to have forgotten that he was watching the horses and not her. “It was not an onerous position,” she said. “She liked to be read to, so I did quite a lot of that. Needlework. I wrote all of her correspondence, as wel. Her hands shook quite a bit.”

“You left when she died, I presume.”

“Yes. I was quite fortunate in that she had a great-niece near Birmingham who was in need of a governess. I think she knew that her time was near, and she made the arrangements for a new position before she passed.” Anne was quiet for a moment, then he felt her straighten beside him, almost as if she were shaking off the foggy mantle of memory. “And I’ve been a governess ever since.”

“It seems to suit you.”

“Most of the time, yes.”

“I should think—” He cut himself off sharply. Something was amiss with the horses.

“What is it?” Anne asked.

He shook his head. He couldn’t talk right now. He needed to focus. The team was puling to the right, which made no sense. Something snapped, and the horses took off at breakneck speed, puling the curricle along with them until—

“Dear God above,” Daniel breathed. As he watched in horror, still struggling to control the team, the harness came separated from the shaft and the horses took off to the left.

Without the carriage.

Anne let out a little cry of surprised terror as the curricle sped down the hil, tilting wildly on its two wheels. “Lean forward!” Daniel yeled. If they could keep the carriage balanced, they could ride out the hill until they slowed down. But the canopy weighted it down at the back, and bumps and ruts in the oft-traveled road made it nearly impossible to hold their positions leaning forward.

And then Daniel remembered the turn. Halfway down the hill the road curved sharply to the left. If they continued straight on, they’d be tossed down the hil, into a thick wood.

“Listen to me,” he said to Anne urgently. “When we reach the bottom of the hil, lean left. With everything you have, lean left.” She gave a frantic nod. Her eyes were terrified, but she was not hysterical. She would do what she needed to do. As soon as—

“Now!” he yeled.

They both threw themselves to the left, Anne landing half atop him. The curricle lifted onto one wheel, its wooden spokes protesting with a horrible shriek at the extra burden. “Forward!” Daniel yeled, and they heaved themselves forward, causing the carriage to turn left, narrowly missing the edge of the road.

But as they turned, their left wheel—the only one in contact with the ground—caught on something, and the curricle pitched forward, bouncing into the air before landing back on its wheel with a sickening crack. Daniel held on for dear life, and he thought Anne was doing the same, but as he watched in helpless terror, the curricle spit her out, and the wheel— Oh, dear God, the wheel! If it ran over her—

Daniel did not stop to think. He hurled himself to the right, toppling the curricle before it could strike Anne, who was somewhere on the ground, somewhere to the left.

The curricle smacked against the earth, skidding for several yards before coming to a halt in the mud. For a moment Daniel could not move. He’d been punched before, he’d falen off horses; hel, he’d even been shot. But never had his breath been so completely ripped from his body as when the curricle hit the ground.

Anne. He had to get to her. But he had to breathe first, and his lungs felt as if they’d gone into a spasm. Finaly, still gasping for air, he crawled out of the overturned carriage. “Anne!” he tried to below, but it was all he could do to wheeze her name. His hands squelched into the mud, and then his knees, and then, using the splintered side of the curricle for support, he managed to stagger to his feet.

“Anne!” he caled again, this time with more volume. “Miss Wynter!”

There was no response. No sound at al, save for the rain, slapping against the sodden ground.

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