still barely able to stand, Daniel searched franticaly from his spot next to the curricle, turning in circles as he held on for support, looking for any sign of Anne.
What had she been wearing? Brown. She’d been in brown, a medium shade of it, perfect for blending in with the mud.
She must be behind him. The curricle had roled and skidded for some distance after she’d been thrown out. Daniel tried to make his way to the back of the carriage, his boots finding little traction in the deepening mud. He slid, losing his balance, and he pitched forward, his hands flailing for anything that might keep him upright. At the last moment, they closed around a thin strip of leather.
Daniel looked down at the leather in his hands. It was the trace, meant to connect the horse to the carriage shaft. But it had been cut. Only the very end looked frayed, as if it had been left dangling by a thread, ready to snap at the slightest pressure.
His body filed with rage, and Daniel finaly found the energy to move beyond the broken curricle and search for Anne. By God, if anything had happened to her
. . . If she was seriously injured . . .
He would kill Lord Ramsgate. He would eviscerate him with his bare hands.
“Anne!” he yeled, spinning madly in the mud as he searched for her. And then—was that a boot? He rushed forward, stumbling through the rain until he saw her clearly, crumpled on the ground, half on the road, half in the wood.
“Dear God,” Daniel whispered, and he ran forward, terror grabbing at his heart. “Anne,” he said franticaly, reaching her side and feeling for a pulse. “Answer me.
God help me, answer me now.”
She did not respond, but the steady pulse at her wrist was enough to give him hope. They were only about half a mile from Whipple Hil. He could carry her that far. He was shaking, and bruised, and probably bleeding, but he could do this.
Carefuly, he lifted her into his arms and began the treacherous walk home. The mud made each step a balancing act, and he could barely see through his hair, plastered over his eyes by the rain. But he kept going, his exhausted body finding strength through terror.
Ramsgate would pay for this. Ramsgate would pay, and maybe Hugh would pay, too, and by God, the whole world would pay if Anne’s eyes never opened again.
One foot in front of the other. That’s what he did, until Whipple Hill came into view. And then he was on the drive, and in the circle, and finaly, just when his muscles were screaming and quivering, and his knees threatened to buckle, he made it up the three steps to the grand front entrance and kicked the door, hard.
And again and again and again until he heard footsteps hurrying toward him.
The door opened, and there was the butler, who let out a loud “My lord!” And then, as three footmen rushed forward to relieve Daniel of his burden, he sank to the floor, spent and terrified.
“Take care of her,” he gasped. “Get her warm.”
“Right away, my lord,” the butler assured him, “but you—”
“No!” Daniel ordered. “Take care of her first.”
“Of course, my lord.” The butler rushed over to the terrified footman who was holding Anne, oblivious to the rivers of water rushing down his sleeves. “Go!” he ordered. “Go! Take her upstairs, and you” —he jerked his head toward a maid who had come into the hall to gawk—“begin heating water for a bath. Now!” Daniel closed his eyes, reassured by the flurry of activity unfolding around him. He had done what he needed to do. He had done all he could do.
When Anne finaly came to, her mind slowly shifting from unrelenting black to swirling clouds of gray, the first thing she felt were hands, poking and prodding, trying to remove her clothing.
She wanted to scream. She tried to, but her voice would not obey. She was shivering uncontrolably, her muscles were aching and exhausted, and she wasn’t sure she could open her mouth, much less make a sound.
She’d been cornered before, by overconfident young men who viewed the governess as fair game, by a master of a house who figured he was paying her salary, anyway. Even by George Chervil, who had set her life down this road in the first place.
But she had always been able to defend herself. She’d had her strength, and her wits, and with George even a weapon. Now she had none of those things. She could not even open her eyes.
“No,” she moaned, squirming and shifting on what seemed to be a cold, wooden floor.
“Shhh,” came an unfamiliar voice. It was a woman, though, which Anne found reassuring. “Let us help you, Miss Wynter.” They knew her name. Anne could not decide if that was a good thing or not.
“Poor dear,” the woman said. “Your skin is like ice. We’re going to put you in a hot bath.” A bath. A bath sounded like heaven. She was so cold—she couldn’t remember ever being so cold before. Everything felt heavy . . . her arms, legs, even her heart.
“Here we are, love,” came the woman’s voice again. “Just let me get at these buttons.”
Anne struggled once more to open her eyes. It felt as if someone had placed weights on her lids, or submerged her in some sort of sticky goo she couldn’t quite escape.
“You’re safe now,” the woman said. Her voice was kind, and she seemed to want to help.
“Where am I?” Anne whispered, still trying to force her eyes open.
“You’re back at Whipple Hil. Lord Winstead carried you back through the rain.”