Haunting Violet Page 60

“What?” I croaked.

“I do beg your pardon.”

“You bloody well should.” I hit my chest, trying to ease the pressure.

Colin looked around wildly. “Where is he? Who is it? Show yourself, you bloody coward!”

The old man in Elizabethan hose grinned. His pointed beard and white teeth gave him a rakish air. I sat up, feeling utterly discombobulated.

“It’s all right, Colin. I think.”

“I’m weary of weeping women in veils,” the man told me. “So depressing. This is a nice change.”

“Which is why you pushed me over?”

He winced. “Terribly sorry about that but you were lurking rather suspiciously. And the only thing worse than a weeping woman is a Spiritualist. They just won’t leave us alone, you know. Very rude.”

“Oh.” I didn’t know what to say to that.

“Lord Rupert Wentworth at your service, my lady.” He executed a perfect court bow.

“I’m looking for Rowena Wentworth, actually,” I said.

“Pity that. Pretty girl too, but she didn’t stay and haven’t seen her here since.”

“Why’s that?”

He shrugged. “Who’s to know? We sometimes get lost or bored or refuse to leave our loved ones. I followed my wife around for a decade until she remarried. He was nice enough,” he confessed. “But a bit of a milksop. When they died, they went off to wherever it is we go off to. I prefer the view from here.”

“He says Rowena’s never here,” I told Colin. I remembered the night in the parlor when Rowena wouldn’t talk to me, only cling to her twin and then fling herself about wailing. “She’s protecting Tabitha,” I murmured, feeling certain. “She flashed once in the mirror, but she won’t leave her sister again. Which means the murderer is still at Rosefield.”

Sir Wentworth leaned closer. “How about a kiss?”

I recoiled. “I don’t think so.”

“Pity.” He drifted away.

“Mind the bloke behind the tree,” he tossed over his shoulder.

I went cold all over. My breath caught.

Colin frowned. “What now?”

I pressed as close as I could against him, breathing my words more than speaking them. “Someone’s watching us from the cedar tree.”

I felt his muscles tighten. “Hell.”

He blew the match out and we eased back onto the path. Colin tugged my wrist and then we were running between the stones, the fog swirling around us. “Faster,” he urged.

“Wait!” A man’s voice called from behind us.

We ran faster. My lungs burned. It was difficult to ignore the hands grabbing at me as we passed by, cold and thin. I was shivering, my teeth chattering violently by the time we reached the iron fence. Colin all but threw me at it. Footsteps pounded behind us. Colin landed next to me on the sidewalk and we broke into a run again, dodging carriages that seemed to jump out of the fog as we darted across the street and lost ourselves in the maze of London streets. My heart hammered. Now that we were safe, I realized I’d recognized that voice.

Mr. Travis.

Once we got home I thought I’d lay in bed awake, but the next thing I knew, sunlight was falling across my eyelids and waking me up. I washed my face and wrote Elizabeth another letter, though I had no hope of her answering that one either. When a knock sounded through the house later that afternoon, I considered pretending I hadn’t heard it, but morbid curiosity got the better of me. I recognized the carriage waiting on the street. Hearing Mother’s lilting tones, I doubled my pace. In my haste I half slid across the wooden floors, nearly bumping into Xavier and sending us both crashing.

“Oh, excuse me,” I said. “A bit slippery there.”

He steadied me, smiling politely. He didn’t remove his hat. Mother’s expression glinted with a fevered triumph. I knew what she was thinking: here was the man who would save our family and take her daughter off her hands.

“Mr. Trethewey,” she said, swaying only slightly. “You are most welcome. Do come in.”

“Mrs … ah … Willoughby.” The pause was not remarked upon but it did not go unnoticed. He cleared his throat awkwardly. “Miss Willoughby.”

“It ought be Lady Violet,” Mother sulked. I could all but see the fumes of sherry from where I stood. I could only hope Xavier had somehow lost his sense of smell. By the way his nose was twitching, I rather thought not. “Violet is an earl’s daughter, you know.”

Xavier swallowed, quite at a loss as to how he should reply, if at all. An earl’s unrecognized bastard daughter hardly received the same consideration as an earl’s legitimate daughter. If anything, I probably ought to be going by Miss Morgan now.

“Mr. Trethewey,” I said loudly to cover her next comment, whatever it might be. “Would you care for some tea?” I led him to the parlor. His expression of relief altered to faint bewilderment as he looked around. The drawing room looked naked, bared of most of the decorative knick-knacks which had previously crowded every surface, as fashion dictated. Mother remained in the hallway, calling for Marjorie to bring the tray in an odd, sing-song voice. I tried to ignore her.

“Miss Willoughby—” He ran a finger nervously under his collar. “I’ve come to see if you’re quite all right.”

“That’s very kind of you.”

He was sitting so far away, and so proper. Just a few days ago he had stolen kisses in the dark. Now it felt as if something sat between us, all sharp edges and spikes. He stood abruptly and began to pace. It was quite unlike him to look so flustered. I narrowed my gaze.

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