McAlistair's Fortune(2)

By: Alissa Johnson


“You weren’t so dismissive when it was your Sophie we set out to match. Nor you,” he added, turning to Lady Thurston, “when it was Whit and Mirabelle.”

“Yes, but that was Sophie, Whit, and Mirabelle,” Lady Thurston returned evenly. “Not Evie.”

“Nevertheless, the promise was made, and I intend to keep it.” Mr. Fletcher held out against the ensuing silence for a solid thirty seconds—an impressive show of fortitude to Evie’s mind. She’d been subjected to that knowing silence from the inestimable Lady Thurston. It was daunting.

“I intend to at least try,” Mr. Fletcher finally added.

Lady Thurston gave a delicate shrug of her shoulders. “If you feel you must.”

“I do. I’ll begin by—”

Evie would never be entirely certain of how, exactly, Mr. Fletcher intended to begin, because the sound of laughter and approaching footsteps necessitated her immediate retreat to the small parlor across the hall. It was doubtful that the intruding staff would tattle, but it was best to not take chances.

No matter, she’d been privy to the most important bits of the conversation, or at least enough of them to be quite confident that she was, once again, very much in the know.

As Evie slipped out the side door of the parlor, Lady Thurston and Mrs. Summers patiently listened as William Fletcher finished outlining his plan, again.

Lady Thurston smoothed the pale green silk of her gown. A diminutive woman with a soft voice and round, rosy cheeks, she was sometimes taken, by those who didn’t know her well, for a kindly sort who perhaps needed a bit of looking after.

A mistaken impression invariably short-lived.

“Your plan is certainly…detailed,” she allowed when William finished. “Unfortunately, it is also poorly conceived. Such a scheme would only serve to frighten Evie. I will not allow it. And I will not agree to using her work with mistreated women as the source of your faux threat. It touches too close to the truth.”

“But—”

“She is quite right,” Mrs. Summers cut in. “Evie faces very real danger as a result of her work. Adding a contrived threat would be unconscionable.”

William blanched. “Unconscionable seems a bit—”

“Did I tell you what happened to Mrs. Kirkland last summer?” Lady Thurston asked, turning to Mrs. Summers.

Mrs. Summers nodded sadly. “Exposed by the very woman she sought to help.”

“And her home burned to the ground the very next day. She was lucky to have escaped.”

Mrs. Summers took a sip of her tea. “The authorities ruled it an accident.”

Lady Thurston gave a most genteel sniff. “Shameful.”

“That is most unfortunate.” William tried again. “But I hardly intend to start fires or—”

Mrs. Summers shook her head. “It is no good, William. Not only does your plan go too far, the strategy itself is flawed. In order for the ruse to work, Evie would need to believe in the threat. If she believes in the threat, she will be too preoccupied to notice the attentions of a young man. No sensible young woman would be thinking of love whilst her life was in jeopardy.”

“Sophie did,” he pointed out quickly, rather surprised he was able to get a word in edgewise.

Mrs. Summers pursed her lips thoughtfully. “True, but Sophie, though I adore her, is not always the most sensible of women.”

Lady Thurston nodded in pleasant agreement.

William scowled. “And you’re absolutely certain Evie is a sensible young woman?”

“Yes,” both women answered simultaneously.

“Blast.” He frowned a moment longer before sighing and finally reaching for his own cup. “Well, I still say it was a clever idea.”

Mrs. Summers smiled at her old friend fondly, if a bit condescendingly. “Exceedingly. But you shall have to think of something else.”





Two


Two Weeks Later

It was conceivable that ten years ago, Mr. James McAlistair would have laughed out loud at the notion that he might one day fall in love. It was easier to imagine, however, that he would have simply hooked up one corner of his mouth in the sort of cool and unfathomable expression that can really only be successfully affected by either a profound poet or a talented assassin.