Hugh handed him a piece of paper. “I received this.”
Daniel quickly read the missive. The handwriting was neat and tidy, with an angular masculinity to the letters. We have an enemy in common, it read, then gave instructions for how to leave a reply at a public house in Marylebone.
“Chervil,” Daniel said under his breath.
“Then you know who wrote this?” Hugh asked.
Daniel nodded. George Chervil was unlikely to know that he and Hugh were not, and never had been, enemies. But there was ample gossip that might lead one to reach that conclusion.
He quickly related the events of the day to Hugh, who glanced up at the Pleinsworth carriage as it roled up and said, “You have room for one more.”
“It’s not necessary,” Daniel said.
“I’m coming,” Hugh stated. “I may not be able to run, but I’m a bloody good shot.”
At that, both Daniel and Marcus swiveled their heads toward him in disbelief.
“When I’m sober,” Hugh clarified, having the grace to blush. A little. Daniel doubted his cheeks knew how to do more than that.
“Which I am,” Hugh added, obviously feeling the need to make this clear.
“Get in,” Daniel said, jerking his head toward the carriage. He was surprised that Hugh hadn’t noticed—
“We’ll put Lady Frances on her mother’s lap on the way home to make room for Miss Wynter,” Hugh said.
Never mind, Hugh did notice everything.
“Let’s go,” Marcus said. The ladies were already in the carriage, and Marcus had one foot on the step.
It was a strange band of rescuers, but as the coach sped away, four armed footmen serving as outriders, Daniel could not help but think that his was a most marvelous family. The only thing that could make it better would be Anne, by his side, and with his name.
He could only pray that they reached Hampstead in time.
Anne had, in her life, known moments of terror. When she’d stabbed George and realized what she’d done—that had been paralyzing. When Daniel’s curricle had run wild and she’d felt herself sailing through the air after being thrown from the vehicle—that, too, had been terrifying. But nothing— nothing—had ever or would ever compare to the moment when, realizing that the horses puling George Chervil’s carriage had slowed to a walk, she had leaned down to Frances and whispered,
“Run home.” And then, before she had had a chance to second-guess herself, she’d wrenched open the carriage door and pushed Frances out, yeling for her to curl up in a ball when she hit the ground.
She had only a second to make sure that Frances scrambled to her feet before George yanked her back into the carriage and slapped her across her face.
“Do not think you can cross me,” he hissed.
“Your war is with me,” she spat, “not that child.”
He shrugged. “I wouldn’t have hurt her.”
Anne was not so sure she believed him. Right now George was so obsessed with ruining Anne that he could not see past the next few hours. But eventualy, once the rage in his blood had cooled, he would realize that Frances could identify him. And while he might think he could get away with injuring—or even kiling—Anne, even he had to know that kidnapping the daughter of an earl would not be treated so lightly.
“Where are you taking me?” Anne asked.
His brows rose. “Does it matter?”
Her fingers clenched the seat of his carriage. “You won’t get away with this, you know,” she said. “Lord Winstead will have your head.”
“Your new protector?” he sneered. “He won’t be able to prove anything.”
“Wel, there’s—” She stopped herself before she reminded him that Frances could easily recognize his face. The scar took care of that.
But George was instantly suspicious of an unfinished sentence. “There’s what?” he demanded.
His lips twisted into a cruel mockery of a smile. “Is there?”
Her eyes widened with horror.
“Wel, there is,” he murmured. “But there won’t be.”
So he planned to kill her, then. Anne supposed she shouldn’t be surprised.
“But don’t worry,” George added, almost casualy. “It won’t be quick.”
“You are mad,” Anne whispered.
He grabbed her, his fingers grasping the fabric of her bodice and yanking her until they were nearly nose to nose. “If I am,” he hissed, “it is because of you.”
“You brought this on yourself,” she shot back.
“Oh, realy?” he spat, tossing her back against the far wall of the carriage. “I did this.” He motioned sarcasticaly to his face. “I took a knife and sliced myself up,
“Oh, realy?” he spat, tossing her back against the far wall of the carriage. “I did this.” He motioned sarcasticaly to his face. “I took a knife and sliced myself up, making a monster of—”
“Yes!” she cried out. “You did! You were a monster before I ever touched you. I was only trying to defend myself.” He snorted with disdain. “You had already spread your legs for me. You don’t get to say no after you’ve done it once.” She gaped at him. “You realy believe that?”
“You liked it the first time.”
“I thought you loved me!”
He shrugged. “That’s your stupidity, not mine.” But then he turned sharply, regarding her with an expression that approached glee. “Oh, my,” he said, grinning with the worst sort of schadenfreude. “You did it again, didn’t you? You let Winstead plow you. Tsk tsk tsk. Oh, Annie, haven’t you learned anything?”