“Oh, we’re not going to Dorset. And thank heavens for that. It’s such a grueling journey. We’d have to stay at least a fortnight for anyone to think Sarah had got the least bit of rest and respite.”
“We’re going to Whipple Hil,” Lady Pleinsworth announced. “It is only near Windsor. It won’t even require a full day to get there.” Whipple Hil? Why did that sound familiar?
“Lord Winstead suggested it.”
Anne suddenly began to cough.
Lady Pleinsworth regarded her with some concern. “Are you quite wel, Miss Wynter?”
“Just . . . ehrm . . . some . . . ehrm ehrm . . . dust in my throat. I think.”
“Wel, do sit down, if you think it will help. There is no need to stand on ceremony with me, at least not at the moment.” Anne nodded gratefuly and retook her seat. Lord Winstead. She should have known.
“It is an ideal solution for us al,” Lady Pleinsworth continued. “Lord Winstead wants to leave London, too. The notoriety, you know. Word is getting out that he has returned, and he will be deluged with calers. Who can blame the man for desiring a peaceful reunion with his family?”
“Then he will be accompanying us?” Anne asked carefuly.
“Of course. It is his property. It would seem odd if we traveled there without him, even if I am his favorite aunt. I believe his sister and mother will be coming as wel, although I am not certain.” Lady Pleinsworth paused for breath, looking quite satisfied with the recent turn of events. “Nanny Flanders will supervise the packing for the girls, since it is your afternoon free. But if you would look everything over when you return, I would be most appreciative. Nanny is a dear, but she is getting on in years.”
“Of course,” Anne murmured. She adored Nanny, but she’d long since gone a bit deaf. Anne had always admired Lady Pleinsworth for keeping her on, but then again, she had been nurse to Lady Pleinsworth as a child, and Lady Pleinsworth’s mother.
“We will be gone for a week,” Lady Pleinsworth continued. “Please make sure you pack enough lessons to keep the girls busy.” A week? At the home of Lord Winstead? With Lord Winstead in residence?
Anne’s heart sank and soared at the same time.
“Are you certain you are all right?” Lady Pleinsworth asked. “You’re looking terribly pale. I do hope you have not caught Sarah’s complaint.”
“No, no,” Anne assured her. “That would have been impossible.”
Lady Pleinsworth looked at her.
“What I mean to say is, I haven’t been in contact with Lady Sarah,” Anne said hastily. “I’m perfectly wel. I need only a bit of fresh air. It is as you said. It cures everything.”
If Lady Pleinsworth found that stream of babble to be out of character, she did not say so. “Wel, then, it is good timing that you have the afternoon to yourself.
Do you plan to go out?”
“I do, thank you.” Anne rose to her feet and bustled over to the door. “I had best be on my way. I have many errands to attend to.” She bobbed a quick curtsy, then dashed back up to her room to colect her things—a light shawl, in case the air grew cool, her reticule with a bit of pin money, and —she opened her bottom drawer and slid her hand under her meager stack of clothing—there it was. Carefuly sealed and ready to be posted. Anne had enclosed a half crown in her last letter, so she was confident that Charlotte would be able to pay the postage when this one arrived. The only trick was making sure that no one else realized who had actualy sent the letter.
Anne swalowed, surprised by the lump in her throat. One would think she’d be used to it by now, having to sign a false name in her letters to her sister, but it was the only way. Doubly false, actualy. She didn’t even sign them Anne Wynter, which she supposed was as much her name as Annelise Shawcross had ever been.
Carefuly, she placed the letter in her reticule and headed down the stairs. She wondered if the rest of her family had ever seen her missives, and if so, who they thought Mary Philpott was. Charlotte would have had to have come up with a good story for that.
It was a fine spring day, with just enough breeze to make her wish her bonnet was more securely fastened. She headed down past Berkeley Square toward Piccadily, where there was a receiving house just off the main road where she liked to drop her letters. It wasn’t the closest spot to Pleinsworth House, but the area was busier, and she preferred the deeper cloak of anonymity it offered. Besides, she liked to walk, and it was always a treat to do so at her own pace.
Piccadily was as crowded as ever, and she turned east, passing by several shops before lifting the hem of her skirt a few inches in order to cross the street. A half dozen carriages roled by, but none quickly, and she easily picked her way across the cobbles, stepped onto the pavement, and—
Oh, dear God.
Was it . . . ? No, it couldn’t be. He never came down to London. Or at least he didn’t. That was to say, he hadn’t, and—
Anne’s heart pounded in her chest, and for a moment she felt the edges of her sight begin to blacken and curl. She forced air into her lungs. Think. She had to think.
The same coppery blond hair, the same devastatingly handsome profile. His looks had always been unique; it was difficult to imagine he had an unknown twin in the capital, gadding about on Piccadily.
Anne felt tears, hot and furious, burning behind her eyes. This was not fair. She had done everything that had been expected of her. She had cut off ties with everything and everyone she had known. She had changed her name, and gone into service, and promised that she would never, ever speak of what had happened in Northumberland so very long ago.