“What do you mean, first?” Anne whispered.
But she didn’t know why she asked. She knew. She’d known all along, and when he puled out a knife, they both knew exactly what he planned to do with it.
Anne didn’t scream. She didn’t even think. She couldn’t have said what she did, except that ten seconds later, George was lying on the cobbles, curled up like a fetus, unable to make a sound. Anne stood over him for one final moment, gasping for breath, and then she kicked him, hard, right where she’d kneed him before, and then, her hands still bound, she ran.
This time, however, she knew exactly where she was going.
At ten that evening, after another fruitless day of searching, Daniel headed home. He watched the pavement as he walked, counting his steps as he somehow puled each foot in front of the other.
He’d hired private investigators. He’d combed the streets himself, stopping at every receiving house with Anne’s description and both of her names. He’d found two men who said they remembered someone of that description dropping off letters, but they didn’t recall where she sent them to. And then finaly there was one who said that she matched a description of someone else altogether, someone named Mary Philpott. Lovely lady, the proprietor of the receiving house said. She never posted letters, but she came by once per week like clockwork to see if she’d received any, except for that one time . . . was it two weeks ago? He’d been surprised not to see her, especialy since she hadn’t received a letter the week before, and she almost never went more than two weeks without one.
Two weeks. That would correspond with the day Anne had come running into Hoby’s looking as if she’d seen a ghost. Had she been on her way to pick up her mail when she’d run into the mysterious person she had not wished to see? He had driven her to a receiving house to post the letter she’d held in her reticule, but it had not been the same one “Mary Philpott” used to receive her letters.
At any rate, the man at the receiving house had continued, she’d come back a few weeks later. Tuesday, it was. Always Tuesday.
Daniel frowned. She had disappeared on a Wednesday.
Daniel had left his name at all three receiving houses, along with a promise of a reward should they notify him of her appearance. But beyond that, he didn’t know Daniel had left his name at all three receiving houses, along with a promise of a reward should they notify him of her appearance. But beyond that, he didn’t know what to do. How was he supposed to find one woman in all of London?
And so he just walked and walked and walked, constantly searching faces in crowds. It would have been like the proverbial needle in the haystack, except that it was worse. At least the needle was in the haystack. For all he knew, Anne had left town entirely.
But it was dark now, and he needed sleep, and so he dragged himself back to Mayfair, praying that his mother and sister would not be at home when he arrived.
They had not asked what he was doing each day from dawn to late evening, and he had not told them, but they knew. And it was easier if he did not have to see the pity on their faces.
Finaly, he reached his street. It was quiet, blessedly so, and the only sound was his own groan as he lifted his foot to the first stone step at the entrance to Winstead House. The only sound, that was, until someone whispered his name.
He froze. “Anne?”
A figure stepped out of the shadows, trembling in the night. “Daniel,” she said again, and if she said anything more, he did not hear it. He was down the stairs in an instant, and she was in his arms, and for the first time in nearly a week, the world felt steady on its axis.
“Anne,” he said, touching her back, her arms, her hair. “Anne, Anne, Anne.” It seemed the only thing he could say, just her name. He kissed her face, the top of her head. “Where have you—”
He stopped, suddenly realizing that her hands had been bound. Carefuly, very carefuly so as not to terrify her with the extent of his fury, he began to work at the knots at her wrists.
“Who did this to you?” he asked.
She just swalowed, nervously wetting her lips as she held out her hands.
“Anne . . .”
“It was someone I used to know,” she finaly told him. “He— I— I will tell you later. Just not now. I can’t— I need—”
“It’s all right,” he said soothingly. He squeezed one of her hands, then went back to work on the knots. They had been tied furiously tight, and she had probably made it worse with her struggles. “It’ll just be a moment,” he said.
“I didn’t know where else to go,” she said tremulously.
“You did the right thing,” he assured her, yanking the cloth from her wrists and tossing it aside. She had started to shake, and even her breath began to tremble.
“I can’t stop them,” she said, staring down at her quivering hands as if she did not recognize them.
“You will be fine,” he said, covering her hands with his. He held them tight, trying to keep her steady. “It is only your nerves. The same thing has happened to me.” She looked up at him, her eyes huge and questioning.
“When Ramsgate’s men were chasing me in Europe,” he explained. “When it was through, and I knew I was safe. Something inside of me let go, and I shook.”
“It will stop, then?”
He gave her a reassuring smile. “I promise.”
She nodded, in that moment looking so terribly fragile that it was all he could do not to wrap his arms around her and try to protect her from the entire world.