McAlistair's Fortune(4)

By: Alissa Johnson

He wanted to roll his shoulders again.

He really shouldn’t be there.

Dragging his gaze away from Evie, he looked to the rest of the group. The argument appeared to be at a stalemate, neither side able to claim victory or willing to accept defeat. The futility of it annoyed him, trying his already strained patience. They were wasting time. His hands itched to scoop Evie up, toss her over his shoulder, and carry her off into the woods—his woods, where he knew every trail, every noise, every hidden place. His woods, where he knew he could keep her safe…from everyone but himself

Of its own accord, his gaze tracked back to Evie and trailed up the stiff line of her back, the creamy skin of her narrow shoulders, the delicate arch of her neck. She was such a small thing, barely reaching his shoulders. Too small to defend herself against the violence of a madman. And certainly sensible enough to realize as much.

Bloody hell, she must be terrified.

Evie was having a splendid time of it.

She surveyed the scene before her and decided that it was, without question, the single most absurd bit of artifice she’d ever had occasion to witness. What a superb lot of liars they all were, she thought with affection. Who would have imagined her friends and family held such an affinity for theatrics?

And who would have guessed they’d be so proficient?

Lady Thurston was actually pale. Vale. How did one manage that sort of thing? Mrs. Summers was sitting tight-lipped and straight-backed, her hands gripped in her lap. Whit, pacing back and forth in front of his desk, looked half ready to pull out his hair. And Mr. Fletcher, with his brow furrowed and his cravat coming undone, made the perfect picture of the concerned family friend.

She, of course, was every inch the brave little soldier, keeping her chin up and her shoulders square despite the tremendously dire state of her circumstances. Upon receiving the threatening letter, she had briefly considered trying something even more dramatic—a touch of panic, perhaps even a swoon—but the notion of carrying on in such a fashion for more than a minute or two held little appeal. Besides, she had never swooned in her life and wasn’t entirely certain how to go about it. It seemed the sort of thing one ought to practice a time or two in private first.

She had selected stoicism instead and, at the risk of becoming smug, rather thought she was making a respectable go of it. They were all making a good show of their respective roles—standing-ovation and encore-worthy performances.

They should take to the stage, each and every one of them.

She could admit to some initial surprise at Mr. Fletcher’s suggestion that she leave for the coast with a small group of armed guards. But, confident they couldn’t possibly mean to send her where she would be out of their interfering reach, she chose to argue in favor of the trip. For no other reason, really, than to cause a bit of trouble. She might be willing to play along in the interest of getting the silly matchmaking business over and done with, but there was no point in making it easy on the meddling schemers.

“I’ll not send her half a country away,” Whit snapped. Tall, fit, and gifted with a deep voice suited for authority, her cousin had always struck Evie as very much the quintessential lord of the manner. Not that she was in the habit of ceding to that authority; she merely appreciated the image.

Mr. Fletcher pinched the bridge of his bulbous nose. “Norfolk is hardly half a country. It is a mere two days’ journey.”

“Two days too far from her family,” Lady Thurston replied.

“It’s for the best,” Evie argued, and my, didn’t she sound noble? “My presence here puts everyone else in danger. And with Mirabelle and Kate returning next week from the Rockefortes’, things will only—”

At the mention of his wife, who was currently expecting their first child, and his younger sister, Whit cut her off with a curt wave of his hand. “I can easily extend their visit.”

“They would be more than happy to stay, I’m sure,” Evie agreed. She’d been truly disappointed when a head cold had kept her from making the trip to see Alex and Sophie, the Duke and Duchess of Rockeforte, and their three-month-old son, Henry. ‘At least until word of this reaches them—and it will most certainly reach them—then they’ll insist on returning.”