To Love a Lord(7)

By: Christi Caldwell

The woman inclined her head and with a flick of her hand, indicated the meeting was at an end.

With the pilfered contents in her apron, Jane marched, head held high, from the room. She made her way down the narrow, whitewashed corridors. When she’d placed distance between herself and Mrs. Belden, she came to a stop beside the silver-plated knight oddly out of place in the finishing school. Positioning herself behind the massive armor from long ago, she withdrew the missive and perused the page once more.

The Marquess of Waverly’s sister required a companion. At one and twenty, the young lady, a powerful marquess’ sister, was likely no different than all the unkind, self-absorbed women Jane had confronted since she’d been the sneered at, giggled about bastard child, living in a country cottage kept by the duke. Jane could brave the discomforts of such an assignment. She caught her lower lip between her teeth, troubling the flesh. Could she, however, in good conscience slip into a post assigned to another?

Then, no one had truly been assigned the post. And any one of Mrs. Belden’s other instructors already were in possession of a post. They were not dependent upon another position the way Jane was.

Yet, it was still not her missive. Jane tightened her grip upon the page, wrinkling the sheet. It was a level of underhandedness she disdained and she hated herself in this moment for being so very desperate that she’d abandon all honor. She lightened her grip. It wouldn’t do to ruin the page. With the tip of her ragged fingernail, she ran it over the inked word “two”.

Two months.

She’d sacrifice her honor and pride for just two months. Jane thrust aside all guilt and hardened her mouth into a determined line. After the abuses and injustices she’d known at the hands of the peerage, she had no compunction in entering into another one of their households so she might steal her freedom. After all, noblemen and their snobbish kin were the same. She’d not feel any remorse in lying to them.

Jane drew in a shuddery sigh. “Liar,” she said under her breath.

Except, when faced with the option of survival or her own sense of guilt for her deception, Jane chose survival.

Chapter 3

In the muddied London streets, with rain stinging her cheeks, Jane at last had reservations in absconding with a note intended for Mrs. Belden and leaving in the dead of night without a word to anyone.

She jumped as the driver of the hired hack tossed down her lone valise. It landed with a hard thump in a rather impressive puddle. Water splashed the hem of her skirts and soaked her boots. She glowered up at the gap-toothed man who stuck his hand out. “Yer coin.”

“Your coin,” she muttered and fished around her reticule. She handed over the coins, eager for the foul-stenched, leering driver to be on his way. It wouldn’t do to be discovered, arriving in a rented hack. He stuffed the half pence into his pocket and then climbed aboard his carriage—leaving her alone.

In the biting London rain. At the front steps of the Marquess of Waverly’s residence. The seeds of misgivings, which had rooted around her brain the moment she’d arrived in London and blue skies had been replaced with black storm clouds and ominous rumblings of thunder, grew in her chest. She stole a skyward glance and blinked as raindrops trailed down the lenses of her spectacles, blurring the world before her. With a silent curse, she removed the pair and dried them with the fabric of her dampened cloak. To no avail. Jane placed the glasses on once again seeing the world through a rainy blur.

She sighed. It was a sign.

“Don’t be silly,” she muttered to herself. “The sign was a favorable one.” She’d paid attention to the blasted sign. Two months. What was the likelihood of that precipitous amount of time coinciding with the timing of her attaining control of her trust?

Lightning cracked across the sky and she jumped, propelled into forward motion. She swiped her waterlogged valise from the ground and, with an unladylike speed that would have gotten her sacked by Mrs. Belden if there hadn’t been the whole treasonous Mrs. Wollstonecraft talk on Jane’s part, she made her way up the handful of steps.

The new signs all seemed to point to the folly in her plan. Even so, she still didn’t care to be smote by lightning on a stranger’s doorstep. She dropped her valise and knocked. Thunder rumbled overhead, burying the staccato rhythm of her rapping.

Another blasted sign.

“I’ve quite tired of signs,” she said, glaring at the door. A glint of gold snagged her notice and she raised her attention up from the black panel. She wiped the rain from her eyes and stared transfixed at the erect dragon, with his vicious grip upon the knocker, daring her to knock.