Home > A Cold Legacy (The Madman's Daughter #3)(5)

A Cold Legacy (The Madman's Daughter #3)(5)
Author: Megan Shepherd

Thunder clapped close enough to wake Lucy with a shudder. Her eyes met mine.

“Just a storm,” I said softly.

Balthazar reached over and patted her hand, his dark paw engulfing her delicate fingers. There had been a time when Lucy had been terrified of the hulking man, but now she squeezed his hand in return and reached over to straighten his shirt collar, which had gone askew.

“Will the staff at Ballentyne be afraid of me?” he asked her.

She scoffed. “Everyone is afraid of you at first sight. You look a walking terror.” She brushed dust off his threadbare coat tenderly. “But once they get to know you, they’ll adore you just as I do.”

When I turned back to the window I saw lights ahead of us, unmoving. Another hamlet. No, larger than that. A village. After only a handful of signs of life for the past few days, the prospect of a village, tiny and crumbling though it must be, made me anxious. Lucy’s brow was knit, too.

“Surely they wouldn’t have a police outpost in such a small place, would they?” She laid a protective hand on Edward’s chest. His lips moved, but no sound came out.

“I can’t imagine they would,” I said hesitantly. “Anyway, I’m positive they’ll give up the search after a few more days.”

It felt like a hollow promise, and the hard look Lucy gave me confirmed it.

As we rode closer the lights took shape—candles in windows, lanterns hung outside doors. The village was nothing more than a few intersecting dirt roads, but after the desolation of the moors, the breath of civilization was comforting.

Montgomery stopped the horses outside a tavern. He came to the carriage door, opening it just a crack to keep the rain from drenching us. “I’m going to ask directions. We can’t be far now.”

We watched him saunter over the muddy street as though he didn’t even feel the bite of freezing rain. A face appeared in the tavern window. The door opened and he spoke to a woman in a wool dress for a few moments, then stomped back through the mud. “This village is called Quick,” he told us. “The manor’s only five miles from here.”

“Did you hear that?” Lucy murmured to Edward, still stroking his hair. “We’re almost there. Just hold on. Everything will be all right once we arrive.”

Montgomery’s eyes shifted to me. Neither of us wanted to remind Lucy that the prospect of Edward’s fever breaking—and the Beast’s reappearance—was almost more frightening than the fever itself. Delirious, he was less of a threat.

“Let’s go then,” I whispered to Montgomery. “We can’t get there soon enough.”

He closed the door and in another moment we were moving again, passing through the rest of Quick. Then all too soon the village was nothing but fading lights. The storm grew and the road became rougher, and all the while Edward’s eyes rolled back and forth beneath shuttered lids.

Thunder struck close by, and Lucy shrieked. Montgomery whipped the horses harder, pulling us along the uneven road impossibly fast, trying to outrun the storm. I twisted in the seat to look out the back window at the pelting rain. A stone fence ran alongside us.

“We must be getting close,” I said.

“Not soon enough,” Lucy breathed. “We’re going to crash if he keeps driving like this!”

The road widened, straightening, letting us travel even faster. Lightning struck close by, blinding me. The horses bolted. Lucy screamed and covered her eyes, but I couldn’t tear mine away. The lightning had struck an enormous oak tree, twisted from centuries of wind. The oak took flame, blazing despite the rain. A smoking gash ran down the trunk—the lightning’s death mark. I watched until the rain put out most of the flames, but it still smoldered, billowing hot ash into the night.

The horses pawed the earth, and I grabbed the window to steady myself. At this wild speed, just hitting a single rock at the wrong angle would send the carriage shattering to the ground. It was madness to go so fast. Couldn’t Montgomery calm the horses?

Just when I feared the carriage would careen out of control, it stopped short, throwing me against the opposite wall. I tangled in Lucy’s limbs as the chains around Edward’s body clinked. Balthazar grunted, jerking awake at last. We scrambled in the bottom of the carriage until the door flew open.

Montgomery stood in the pelting rain. I feared he’d say we’d broken another strut or the horses had gone lame or we’d have to spend the night in the harsh storm.

But then I saw the lights behind him, and the night took shape into a turreted stone manor with bright lamps blazing and gargoyles on the roof vomiting rain into a stone courtyard.

Montgomery’s eyes met mine beneath the low brim of his hat.

“We’ve arrived,” he said.

THE IRON KNOCKER WAS freezing beneath my bare palm, but I pounded it again and again. Lucy huddled by my side, blanket hooded over her head, rain streaking down both our faces. In the courtyard Montgomery held the horses to keep them from bolting again. Balthazar remained in the carriage with Edward and Sharkey, hidden from view. It was one thing for strangers to arrive in the middle of a storm: quite another if they had a monster, a delirious patient wrapped in chains, and a scruffy black dog with them.

At last, the door creaked open. Knowing I must look a mess, I brushed the rain off my face and fumbled for the letter of introduction pressed safely within my dress’s folds. Elizabeth had told me her housekeeper’s name, Mrs. McKenna, and I expected to see a severe woman with a tight gray bun on the other side of that door. Instead, a startlingly beautiful young woman with clover-honey skin stared at us. If rain-soaked strangers arriving unannounced after dark surprised her, she didn’t show it.

“I’m sorry to arrive without notice,” I called over the pounding rain. “Elizabeth von Stein sent us. I’m her ward.”

The young woman didn’t open the door a crack wider. No expression crossed her face save one of mild suspicion. Her dress was old-fashioned and puritanical in style, covering her body from feet to chin. She wore white gloves, though for religious reasons or because of the cold, I wasn’t sure.

Lucy gave me a questioning look, and I knew what she was thinking. The girl, with her black hair and dark complexion, looked to be Romany. What was a Gypsy doing this far into Scotland, and dressed like a puritan?

“May we come in?” I asked at the girl’s sullen silence.

Her eyes flickered to Montgomery in the courtyard, and her hand went to the old-fashioned high collar around her neck, fumbling with the upper button. “Elizabeth’s ward?” she asked in a flat voice. “Elizabeth has no ward.”

 

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