“Sir,” Daniel began, because he had to say something. He couldn’t just stand there and take it. “I must tell you—”
“No, I’m teling you,” Ramsgate spat. “I don’t care who you are, or what title your godforsaken father has passed down to you. You will die. Do you understand me?”
“I think it is time we left,” Marcus intervened. He put his arm between the two men and carefuly widened the space between them. “Doctor,” he said, nodding toward the physician as he ushered Daniel past. “Lord Ramsgate.”
“Count your days, Winstead,” Lord Ramsgate warned. “Or better yet, your hours.”
“Sir,” Daniel said again, trying to show the older man respect. He wanted to make this right. He needed to try. “I must tell you—”
“Don’t speak to me,” Ramsgate cut in. “There is nothing you could say that will save you now. There is no place you will be able to hide.”
“If you kill him, you will hang, too,” Marcus said. “And if Hugh lives, he will need you.” Ramsgate looked at Marcus as if he were an idiot. “You think I will do it myself? It’s an easy thing to hire a kiler. The price of a life is low indeed.” He flicked his head toward Daniel. “Even his.”
“I should leave,” the doctor said. And he fled.
“Remember that, Winstead,” Lord Ramsgate said, his eyes landing on Daniel’s with venomous disdain. “You can run, and you can try to hide, but my men will find you. And you won’t know who they are. So you will never see them coming.”
Those were the words that haunted Daniel for the next three years. From England to France, from France to Prussia, and from Prussia to Italy. He heard them in his sleep, in the rustle of the trees, and in every footfal that came from behind. He learned to keep his back to wals, to trust no one, not even the women with whom he occasionaly took his pleasure. And he accepted the fact that he would never again step foot on English soil or see his family, until one day, to his great surprise, Hugh Prentice came limping toward him in a small vilage in Italy.
He knew that Hugh had lived. He received the occasional letter from home. But he hadn’t expected to see him again, certainly not here, with the Mediterranean sun baking the ancient town square and cries of arrivederci and buon giornio singing through the air.
“I found you,” Hugh said. He held out his hand. “I’m sorry.”
And then he uttered the words Daniel never thought he’d hear:
“You can come home now. I promise.”
For a lady who had spent the last eight years trying not to be noticed, Anne Wynter was in an awkward position.
In approximately one minute, she would be forced to walk onto a makeshift stage, curtsy to at least eighty members of the crème de la crème of London society, sit at a pianoforte, and play.
That she would be sharing the stage with three other young women was some consolation. The other musicians—members of the infamous Smythe-Smith quartet
—all played stringed instruments and would have to face the audience. Anne, at least, could focus on the ivory keys and keep her head bowed. With any luck, the audience would be too focused on how horrific the music was to pay any attention to the dark-haired woman who had been forced to step in at the last minute to take the place of the pianist, who had (as her mother declared to anyone who would listen) taken dreadfuly—nay, catastrophicaly—il.
Anne didn’t believe for one minute that Lady Sarah Pleinsworth was sick, but there wasn’t anything she could do about it, not if she wanted to keep her position as governess to Lady Sarah’s three younger sisters.
But Lady Sarah had convinced her mother, who had decided that the show must go forth. And then, after delivering a remarkably detailed seventeen-year history of the Smythe-Smith musicale, she had declared that Anne would take her daughter’s place.
“You told me once that you have played bits and pieces of Mozart’s Piano Quartet no. 1,” Lady Pleinsworth reminded her.
Anne now regretted this, deeply.
It did not seem to matter that Anne had not played the piece in question in over eight years, or that she had never played it in its entirety. Lady Pleinsworth would entertain no arguments, and Anne had been hauled over to Lady Pleinsworth’s sister-in-law’s house, where the concert was to be held, and given eight hours to practice.
It was ludicrous.
The only saving grace was that the rest of the quartet was so bad that Anne’s mistakes were hardly noticeable. Indeed, her only aim for the evening was that she not be noticeable. Because she realy didn’t want it. To be noticed. For any number of reasons.
“It’s almost time,” Daisy Smythe-Smith whispered excitedly.
Anne gave her a little smile. Daisy did not seem to realize that she made terrible music.
“Joy is mine,” came the flat, miserable voice of Daisy’s sister Iris. Who did realize.
“Come now,” said Lady Honoria Smythe-Smith, their cousin. “This shal be wonderful. We are a family.”
“Wel, not her,” Daisy pointed out, jolting her head toward Anne.
“She is tonight,” Honoria declared. “And again, thank you, Miss Wynter. You have truly saved the day.” Anne murmured a few nonsensical words, since she couldn’t quite bring herself to say that it was no trouble at al, or that it was her pleasure. She rather liked Lady Honoria. Unlike Daisy, she did realize how dreadful they were, but unlike Iris, she still wished to perform. It was all about family, Honoria insisted. Family and tradition. Seventeen sets of Smythe-Smith cousins had gone before them, and if Honoria had her way, seventeen more would folow. It didn’t matter what the music sounded like.