“Edwina’s suitor,” Anthony muttered to himself. Damn. He supposed he ought to be happy for his sister-in-law, but the timing was bloody annoying. He’d just made a life-altering decision regarding his wife; it would have been nice if she’d been home.
“Her creature went as well,” the butler said with a shudder. He’d never been able to tolerate what he considered the corgi’s invasion into his home.
“She took Newton, eh?” Anthony murmured.
“I imagine they’ll be back within an hour or two.”
Anthony tapped his booted toe against the marble floor. He didn’t want to wait an hour. Hell, he didn’t want to wait even a minute. “I’ll find them myself,” he said impatiently. “It can’t be that difficult.”
The butler nodded and motioned through the open doorway to the small carriage in which Anthony had ridden home. “Will you be needing another carriage?”
Anthony gave his head a single shake. “I’ll go on horseback. It’ll be quicker.”
“Very well.” The butler bent into a small bow. “I’ll have a mount brought ’round.”
Anthony watched the butler make his slow and sedate way toward the rear of the house for about two seconds before impatience set in. “I’ll take care of it myself,” he barked.
And the next thing he knew, he was dashing out of the house.
Anthony was in jaunty spirits by the time he reached Hyde Park. He was eager to find his wife, to hold her in his arms and watch her face as he told her he loved her. He prayed that she would offer words returning the sentiment. He thought she would; he’d seen her heart in her eyes on more than one occasion. Perhaps she was just waiting for him to say something first. He couldn’t blame her if that was the case; he’d made a rather big fuss about how theirs would not be a love match right before their wedding.
What an idiot he’d been.
Once he entered the park, he made the decision to turn his mount and head over to Rotten Row. The busy path seemed the most likely destination for the threesome; Kate certainly would have no reason to encourage a more private route.
He nudged his horse into as fast a trot as he could safely manage within the confines of the park, trying to ignore the calls and waves of greeting that were directed his way by other riders and pedestrians.
Then, just when he thought he’d made it through without delay, he heard an aged, female, and very imperious voice call out his name.
“Bridgerton! I say, Bridgerton! Stop at once. I’m speaking to you!”
He groaned as he turned about. Lady Danbury, the dragon of the ton. There was simply no way he could ignore her. He had no idea how old she was. Sixty? Seventy? Whatever her age, she was a force of nature, and no one ignored her.
“Lady Danbury,” he said, trying not to sound resigned as he reined in his mount. “How nice to see you.”
“Good gad, boy,” she barked, “you sound as if you’ve just taken an antidote. Perk up!”
Anthony smiled weakly.
“Where’s your wife?”
“I’m looking for her right now,” he replied, “or at least I was.”
Lady Danbury was far too sharp to miss his pointed hint, so he could only deduce that she ignored him apur-pose when she said, “I like your wife.”
“I like her, too.”
“Never could understand why you were so set on courting her sister. Nice gel, but clearly not for you.” She rolled her eyes and let out an indignant huff. “The world would be a much happier place if people would just listen to me before they up and got married,” she added. “I could have the entire Marriage Mart matched up in a week.”
“I’m sure you could.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Are you patronizing me?”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Anthony said with complete honesty.
“Good. You always seemed like the sensible sort. I…” Her mouth fell open. “What the devil is that?”
Anthony followed Lady Danbury’s horrified gaze until his eyes fell on an open-topped carriage careening out of control as it rounded a corner on two wheels. It was still too far to see the faces of the occupants, but then he heard a shriek, and then the terrified bark of a dog.
Anthony’s blood froze in his veins.
His wife was in that carriage.
With nary a word to Lady Danbury, he kicked his horse into motion and galloped full speed ahead. He wasn’t sure what he’d do once he reached the carriage. Maybe he’d grab the reins from the hapless driver. Maybe he’d be able to pull someone to safety. But he knew that he could not sit still and watch while the vehicle crashed before his eyes.
And yet that was exactly what happened.
Anthony was halfway to the drunken carriage when it veered off the path and ran up over a large rock, upsetting the balance and sending it tumbling onto its side.
And Anthony could only watch in horror as his wife died before his eyes.
Contrary to popular opinion, This Author is aware that she is viewed as something of a cynic.
But that, Dear Reader, could not be further from the truth. This Author likes nothing better than a happy ending. And if that makes her a romantic fool, so be it.
LADY WHISTLEDOWN’S SOCIETY PAPERS, 15 JUNE 1814
By the time Anthony reached the overturned carriage, Edwina had managed to crawl from the wreckage and was clawing at a mangled piece of wood, trying to open a hole on the other side of the carriage. The sleeve of her dress was torn, and the hem was ragged and dirty, but she seemed not to notice as she tugged frantically at the door. Newton was jumping and squirming at her feet, his barks sharp and frenzied.
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