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A Cold Legacy (The Madman's Daughter #3)(4)
Author: Megan Shepherd

This far north the days were shorter, eaten on both ends by darkness, but now early morning light streamed through the hallway windows. Balthazar slept on the floor outside Edward’s room, keeping watch, with my little dog Sharkey curled against his chest. I stepped over them carefully and tiptoed to the door of Montgomery’s room. When I cracked it open, I found the bed empty.

Voices came from the dining room downstairs along with the smell of freshly baked scones and coffee. My stomach reminded me that I hadn’t eaten more than a bite of soup the night before. I descended the stairs, stepped into the dining room, and froze.

Four British police officers faced the bar with their backs to me, speaking with the bar maid from last night. I went rigid. A single creaking board might alert them to my presence.

“Two girls under the age of eighteen traveling with a twenty-year-old servant, a large deformed man, and possibly a young gentleman,” an officer said.

I didn’t dare move a step. The barmaid’s eyes flickered to mine just long enough for me to read the warning written in them. It was us they were after and she knew it.

“You’re certain they came this way, are you?” she asked.

“Clean out your ears, woman. I said we aren’t certain of anything. The dispatch said they haven’t been spotted since fleeing London, so all the major thoroughfares are being checked as a precaution. Train stations and the ports to the Continent and the Americas as well.”

His fellow officer picked at the broken edge of the bar, bored. “I can’t imagine they’d have left London for these parts. Not even criminals would want to hide out in muddy bogs filled with sheep’s dung.”

The barmaid narrowed her eyes. Relations had never been easy between the English and the Scottish, and these officers were as English as weak tea. I could practically see her face flushing with anger as another one of the officers riffled through the ledgers on the counter.

She flipped a bar towel at him. “You can’t go poking about through there.”

“Keep that rag to yourself,” the officer snarled. Tension crackled between them. With my breath held, I took a single step backward.

“Well?” the lead investigator pressed. “Have you seen anyone matching their description or haven’t you? We’ve other work to do.”

The barmaid glanced at me again, chewing the inside of her cheek. The woman had no loyalty to us. We were just as English as the officers. One word from her and we’d be thrown in the back of their police carriage and dragged to London to face trial for murder.

Once more, the image of Dr. Hastings’s scratched-out eyes flashed in my head.

I took another step backward and the floorboard squeaked. Before the officers could think to look, the barmaid slammed her rag on the bar and said, “If they passed this way, I haven’t seen ’em.”

Relief flooded me, but it was short-lived. As she noisily pulled out some tankards, someone seized me from behind and dragged me into the side hallway. My heart shot to my throat as I lurched for the knife stashed in my boot until I recognized Montgomery’s smell—hay and candle wax. My shoulders eased.

“They’re looking for us,” I whispered.

“I know. I’ve readied the carriage and hidden it behind the barn. Balthazar and I will get Edward. Fetch Lucy and bring our bags to the back as quickly as you can.”

I dashed up the back stairs with fast, quiet steps. I had scoffed at Montgomery the previous night when he set the horses to pasture and hid the carriage behind the barn. His preparations didn’t seem quite so overly cautious now.

I woke Lucy, who gasped awake, and helped her struggle into her dress.

“How did they find us?” she whispered in a fearful hush.

“They haven’t found us, not yet. They’re checking all the major roads. We’ll have to stick to back roads from now on. It’ll slow us down, but we dare not risk anything else.” Together we loaded our meager belongings into carpetbags and carried them down the back steps silent as mice, with Sharkey tucked under one arm. Day was just breaking over the eastern moors, shrouded in a thick silver fog. If we could disappear into that fog while the police were distracted, we would have a chance.

Behind the inn, the horses stamped at the hardened earth, blowing jets of warm steam into the cold morning air as Montgomery harnessed them. “I’ve put Edward inside the carriage. I don’t need to tell you how fragile his condition is. Balthazar will ride inside with you—his appearance is too distracting, and we don’t need anyone paying extra attention to us.”

I opened the door to the carriage, where Edward lay flat on the bench-seat, moaning incomprehensibly. His eyes were closed, the chains still wrapped tight. I climbed in, pulling Lucy with me. Balthazar lumbered in behind her and held Sharkey in his lap. Quietly as he could, Montgomery drove the horses to the road, letting their soft steps get lost in the mist, until we were so swallowed up in the fog that I could no longer see the inn. He cracked the whip, and the horses bolted.

I grabbed the window for balance. Lucy sat next to Edward, his head in her lap, her fingers trailing through his sweat-soaked hair as she muttered sweet reassurances to him that he would come through the fever and be eating cinnamon cake again in no time. I didn’t have the heart to tell her he likely couldn’t hear her, nor would he remember anything she said. Balthazar soon nodded off. The man was able to sleep through anything.

I pushed aside the gauzy curtain every few minutes to make certain we weren’t being followed. After an hour, then two, I began to relax. The fog burned off as the morning stretched into midday, but the heather was endless, a sea of rolling red hills and frozen earth, beautiful in its desolation, hypnotic in its monotony. Twice we passed small hamlets, nothing more than clusters of stone cottages with smoke rising from mossy chimneys; once a peasant man, wizened and bent, riding a donkey down the dirt road.

Other than that, there was nothing but the moors, the storm clouds building to the north, and the ceaseless pounding in my heart.

THREE

THE AFTERNOON TURNED DARK as the storm grew. A sudden clap of thunder shook the carriage, making me jump. The first drops of freezing rain fell against the glass. I thought of Montgomery alone outside, hunched in his oilskin coat against the wind and the rain.

A flash of lightning lit up the dark clouds. I peered through the window, looking for bobbing lanterns on the horizon that would mean the police carriage was following us, but there was nothing.

 

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