Daniel clamped his mouth shut, gritting his teeth so hard he fuly expected to taste powder.
“You may call upon her tomorrow,” Lady Pleinsworth granted. “At eleven in the morning. The girls plan to go shopping with Sarah and Honoria. I would prefer not to have them in the house while you are . . .” She appeared not to know how to describe it, instead flicking her hand distastefuly in the air.
He nodded, then bowed, then left.
But like his aunt, he did not see Anne, watching them from a crack in the door to the next room, listening to every word they said.
Anne waited until Daniel stormed out of the house, then looked down at the letter in her hands. Lady Pleinsworth hadn’t been lying; she had gone out to run her errands. But she’d returned through the back door, as was her usual practice when she did not have the girls with her. She’d been on her way up to her room when she realized that Daniel was in the front hal. She shouldn’t have eavesdropped, but she could not help herself. It wasn’t so much what he said; she just wanted to hear his voice.
It would be the last time she would hear it.
The letter was from her sister Charlotte, and it was a bit out of date, as it had been sitting at the receiving house where Anne preferred to pick up her mail since well before she had left for Whipple Hil. The receiving house she hadn’t gone to that day she’d run into the bootmaker’s shop in a panic. If she’d had this letter before she’d thought she’d seen George Chervil, she wouldn’t have been frightened.
She’d have been terrified.
According to Charlotte, he’d come by the house again, this time when Mr. and Mrs. Shawcross were out. He’d first tried to cajole her into revealing Anne’s whereabouts, then he’d ranted and screamed until the servants had come in, worried for Charlotte’s safety. He’d left then, but not until he had revealed that he knew Anne was working as a governess for an aristocratic family, and that this being springtime, she was likely in London. Charlotte did not think he knew which family Anne was working for; else why would he have expended so much energy trying to get the answer from her? still, she was worried, and she begged Anne to take caution.
Anne crumpled the letter in her hands, then eyed the tidy fire burning in the grate. She always burned Charlotte’s letters after she received them. It was painful every time; these wispy slips of paper were her only link to her old life, and more than once she had sat at her small writing table, blinking back tears as she traced the familiar loops of Charlotte’s script with her index finger. But Anne had no ilusions that she enjoyed perfect privacy as a servant, and she had no idea how she might explain them if they were ever discovered. This time, however, she happily threw the paper into the fire.
Wel, not happily. She wasn’t sure she would do anything happily, ever again. But she enjoyed destroying it, however grim and furious that joy might be.
She shut her eyes, keeping them tightly closed against her tears. She was almost certainly going to have to leave the Pleinsworths. And she was bloody angry about it. This was the best position she’d ever had. She was not trapped on an island with an aging old lady, caught in a endless circle of endless boredom. She was not bolting her door at night against a crude old man who seemed to think he should be educating her while his children slept. She liked living with the Pleinsworths.
It was the closest she’d ever felt to home, since . . . since . . .
Since she’d had a home.
She forced herself to breathe, then roughly wiped her tears away with the back of her hand. But then, just as she was about to head into the main hall and up the stairs, a knock sounded at the door. It was probably Daniel; he must have forgot something.
She darted back into the sitting room, puling the door almost shut. She ought to close it completely, she knew that, but this might very well be her last glimpse of him. With her eye to the crack, she watched as the butler went to answer the knock. But as Granby swung the door open, she saw not Daniel but a man she’d never seen before.
He was a rather ordinary-looking felow, dressed in clothing that marked him as someone who worked for a living. Not a laborer; he was too clean and tidy for that. But there was something rough about him, and when he spoke, his accent held the harsh cadence of East London.
“Deliveries are in the rear,” Granby said immediately.
“I’m not here to make a delivery,” the man said with a nod. His accent might be coarse but his manners were polite, and the butler did not close the door on his face.
“What, then, is your business?”
“I’m looking for a woman who might live here. Miss Annelise Shawcross.”
Anne stopped breathing.
“There is no one here by that name,” Granby said crisply. “If you will excuse me—”
“She might call herself something else,” the man cut in. “I’m not sure what name she’s using, but she has dark hair, blue eyes, and I’m told she is quite beautiful.” He shrugged. “I’ve never seen her myself. She could be working as a servant. But she’s gentry, make no mistake of it.” He shrugged. “I’ve never seen her myself. She could be working as a servant. But she’s gentry, make no mistake of it.” Anne’s body tensed for flight. There was no way Granby would not recognize her from that description.
But Granby said, “That does not sound like anyone in this household. Good day, sir.”
The man’s face tightened with determination, and he shoved his foot in the door before Granby could close it. “If you change your mind, sir,” he said, holding something forth, “here is my card.”