McAlistair's Fortune(10)

By: Alissa Johnson

“Very convenient.”

“It was, rather.” Lizzy frowned absently at the contents of the trunk. “Does he seem at all familiar to you?”

“Mr. Hunter?” Evie set down her work. “Kate asks me that every time we see the man.”

Lizzy nodded. “There’s something about him, something that niggles at my memory. And he seems to always have this look about him, as if he knows exactly why that might be, and won’t tell.”

“Has he been unkind to you? Has he—”

“Oh, no, miss. Nothing of the sort.” Lizzy shook her head. “He’s very much a gentleman to the staff—more so, in my opinion, than some who’ve been born to the position. I think he has a secret, that’s all.”

“Perhaps I can ferret it out at dinner for you.”

Lizzy winced. “Dinner. Oh dear, I’d forgotten. Lady Thurston says you’re to take dinner in your room tonight.”

Evie blinked at that news. “Did she say why?”

“Not to me, but I overheard her informing Mrs. Summers she was uncomfortable with the idea of you being downstairs late at night.”

“Conveniently in the parlor again?”

“No, I was eavesdropping.”

Evie snorted out a laugh. “Well, it’s an absurd idea. She can’t possibly mean it.”

A knock on the door and the arrival of a maid carrying a tray of food told Evie that Lady Thurston was very much in earnest. Uncertain whether to be amused or annoyed at being banished to her room for dinner, Evie directed that the tray be set on the bed. After seeing the maid out, she sat down and reached for a roll.

“I repeat, this is absurd.”

“There are an awful number of doors and windows in this house,” Lizzy pointed out.

“I thought you said there was too much bother being made of all this.”

“I’m not sure I’d consider being served dinner in bed such a bother.”

Evie stopped with the roll halfway to her mouth. “You have a point.”

An excellent one, Evie admitted silently. And now that she thought on it, she didn’t particularly care for the idea of going downstairs for dinner. She never did when there were guests in the house. Guests at the table meant stares and a pressure to speak. With McAlistair as one of those guests, the staring and the pressure would be infinitely worse. Well, the staring would be.

She wondered if being relieved by the knowledge she wouldn’t have to face him across the dinner table made her a coward. She bit into her roll, thought about it, and decided she didn’t much care. She was who she was. Perhaps she was less than courageous in some areas, but she made up for it with bravery in others.

“All done here, I think.”

Evie swallowed, mentally shook herself from her woolgathering, and looked up to find Lizzy standing over a pair of closed trunks. “Beg your pardon?”

“You’re all packed,” Lizzy repeated. “Unless we forgot something.”

Evie took mental inventory of everything they’d fit into the trunks. “I’ve enough, I think. I’ll not be gone for more than a fortnight.”

Lizzy nodded in approval. “That’s the spirit. Lord Thurston will take care of this business before you’re halfway to Norfolk.”

Evie muttered a noncommittal, nonsensical reply. Whether the ridiculous business was done or not, she was returning to Haldon at the end of the fortnight.

Her agenda was clear for now, but in two weeks’ time, Mrs. Nancy Yard from London would be expecting someone to meet her behind Maver’s tavern in the nearby village of Benton. It was Evie’s job to be that someone—to see that the woman received instructions and funds for the next leg of her trip. If all went well, Mrs. Yard would have a new life in Ireland, free from the violent whims of her husband.

William Fletcher had a fortnight to set his conscience at ease, and not a day more.

Lizzy glanced about the tidied room. “Well, if there’s nothing else, miss, I’m going for my own dinner and an early bed.”

Evie nodded and tried to generate some interest in her meal as Lizzy closed the connecting doors between their rooms. She wasn’t particularly hungry, but the food was there and she had little else to occupy her time. She managed another bite of her roll, picked at the chicken, poked at the carrots, and otherwise turned her plate of food into a wholly unappetizing mess. Giving up, she set the tray on the vanity and, deciding not to bother Lizzy again, managed to change into her night rail on her own.