Author's Bio. Shirley Korpi credits her infatuation with historical fiction to Jane Austen.
A Los Angeles native, she works in the entertainment industry for the Directors Guild-Producer Training Plan helping others pursue their own passion. She lives with her husband Michael Korpi in Sherman Oaks, California, and enjoys escaping into the realms of books, films and television, yelling at referees when watching football and hockey all while drinking copious amounts of coffee.
Liverpool, England, September 1817
“Captain, come quick!” a sailor hollered while peering through his spyglass. Far in the horizon were the distinct shores of England, thin as a reed, but a welcome sight after nothing but days of endless blue-ocean. When the Captain announced they would make landfall by mid-morning, Verity Stevenson’s heart began to race. Nearly a year of planning would bring this part of her journey to an end.
News spread amongst the passengers. They spent their last night in the dining hall reminiscing over a successful crossing, playing cards and various parlor games, itching to feel the soft earth beneath their feet once again. This crossing was a return home for some, while others were looking to make England their new home.
Verity distanced herself from the revelry, as was her habit. It was easier to put on airs to discourage conversation rather than make excuses, keeping her answers impersonal. Even now as many were carousing in the dining hall, Verity chose solitude beneath the twinkling stars.
She heard the familiar foot-fall of Captain Morris approaching, languid and self-assured. Over the course of the journey, he took a paternal interest in Verity as his daughter was of similar age. He sensed this young woman was troubled.
Without prompting, Verity pointed skyward, drawing an imaginary line with her index finger.
“Follow the two stars of Ursa Major which point to… Polaris.” She looked to Captain Morris to confirm her understanding.
“Very good! Rest assured you shall never stray so long as you can find your way north.”
“I’m not certain that is a guarantee anyone can make, but your faith gives me hope,” she sighed. Captain Morris frowned.
“Are you all packed, Mrs. Stone?” It took her several days before she grew used to this name, but responding now became second nature.
“My maid is packing my portmanteau as we speak. It should not take long as I have only the one.”
“For a lady of fashion, I am amazed you travel so light.” He meant it as a compliment, but for Verity it seemed suspicious.
“I intend to amend that and have several dresses made. I shall be the envy of all in Paris,” she teased.
“You continue your journey to Paris then?” he asked, surprised she offered that tidbit of guarded information.
“Y-yes,” Verity lied. Though it pained her, her story was more believable if she did not reveal much. She learned this valuable lesson the hard way. Moreover, her natural aversion to deception showed in her features. It was why she never played at cards as her opponent knew when she carried the trump. Sensing her reticence, the captain decided to leave her to her thoughts.
“I wish you pleasant travels, Mrs. Stone.”
“Thank you Captain for transporting us safely.”
“It’s the North Star that is constant. Put your trust in its direction and it will never fail you.” Verity nodded, unsure to which metaphor he meant. His ship was named Polaris. Was she to interpret his advice literally, or otherwise? Constancy seemed out of reach for her, much like the stars in the heavens, but it was something to strive for.
Captain Morris bowed respectfully, hands clasped behind his back, he continued his unhurried inspection of the lines and mastheads above.
Despite her detached attitude, bachelors and straying-husbands onboard pursued her. Verity was viewed as more than a classic beauty, but rather, exotic. With inky-black hair contrasting to her sun-kissed complexion, delicate smile, and pale blue eyes that shone like ice, she was striking to behold. These features gave her a look of sophistication that suggested experience, though she was as innocent as a lamb. She carried herself with a grace that many women emulated but did not embody naturally, evoking desire in men, and disdain in their women. Verity felt too much emphasis was placed on her looks rather than intelligence. She believed herself ordinary, her coloring the opposite of what was en vogue. Immune to what endeared her to many added humility to her charm.
Donning a gold wedding band and dressing in greys and lavenders strengthened her story of a widow returning to her family home. However, men saw this as a vacancy to fill her husband’s place. These men who hid behind masks of polite society reviled her. Looking at her hand now, she did not miss the ornate ruby ring encrusted with diamonds. Shedding that ring had the effect of washing away years of self-loathing and worthlessness. Marrying Marcus Stevenson was the biggest regret of her young life and she would be branded no longer.
Marcus Stevenson’s family were connected to some of the oldest families in England that could be traced back to the 12th century. While charming and handsome, Marcus was believed to be a reformed rake looking to finally wed. Being the eldest son, he knew his duty to family and the fortune he stood to inherit.
Although Verity’s father was a respectable gentleman, they were not wealthy, and Verity’s mother had ambitions for her only child to marry well. Her coming out ball was an overwhelming success, and where she first danced with Marcus.
He singled-out Verity, a favorite of the ton, and went through all the notions of courtship with the propriety and decorum expected. The night of the ball held at his family’s Mayfair estate, he proposed to Verity during a clandestine meeting in the orangery. She was never happier, already halfway in love with him. At the ripe age of seventeen, Verity married Marcus, thirteen years her senior.
But all of that changed the night of their wedding. It was the first time Marcus hit her, but certainly not the last.
As soon as the vows were said and they breakfasted with family, they entered his London townhome, the wolf emerging from sheep’s clothing. After over-imbibing, as he did that day, he was unpredictable and had a temper of the devil. That evening he attempted to make love to his blushing bride, but was clumsy and rough, using derogatory words to describe their lovemaking. When Marcus had problems staying erect, he blamed her and struck Verity hard across her cheek with an open palm. When she cried out indignantly, he struck her other side with the back of the same hand, effectively silencing her. She would never forget the metallic taste of blood from where the inside of her cheek had cut on her teeth, nor his words of justification.
“How am I to get you with child?” he growled, almost feral. “Considering your meager dowry, my recompense should bring about the whore I know you are. Did your mother never teach you how to spread your legs and please your husband?” The odor of brandy emanating from him was dizzying, and no amount of pleading or crying broke through his drunken haze.
Marcus held her down, taking what he wanted from her. There was no gentleness from this supposed gentleman. When finished, he left her alone in her bedchamber for the solitude of his own. Verity wept in agony and despair. Lit by candlelight in front of the cheval mirror, she inspected the damage. She still bled and was sore, already showing bruises along her arms and thighs, and the right side of her bottom lip had split where he struck her. Her cheeks were sensitive to the touch. Using a clean square of linen set aside for her monthly courses, she washed herself gingerly next to the basin, the water too cool to feel clean afterwards. Changing into a fresh nightgown, Verity stripped the bed of the stained linens which joined the nightgown on the floor and rocked herself to sleep.
She awoke the next morning in throbbing pain. Assessing further damage, she had a black eye and bruises lining her neck where he held her down. More astonishing were the maids looking away when they saw her injuries. Apparently, this did not come as a shock to them. She could see pity in their eyes as they removed the stained bedclothes and drew her a hot bath to ease the soreness.
Verity would later learn that all the servants in her new home were flagrantly loyal to her husband. Particularly, the housekeeper, Mrs. Vernon, and Perry, the butler. They would essentially become her jailers, Marcus her warden. They reported her every move, read her letters and reported anything suspicious, locked her in her bedchamber at Marcus’ request, denied her food or drink if he so wished it. Verity thought she would at least have the running of the house to keep her preoccupied, but Mrs. Vernon believed it to be her duty since Verity was too young to know any better. This excess of power made the under-staff fearful as they were paid well to turn a blind eye, otherwise be easily replaced with no recommendation for future employment. Marcus, Mrs. Vernon and Perry made her life a living hell.
Verity refused to attend social functions, lost touch with her close family and friends, and retreated into herself and her boudoir. When her mother or any acquaintances came to call, she was not at home to visitors and they were turned away. Usually because Verity was never fit to be seen. No amount of powder or paint could cover up the blue and purple bruising often found on her body as her tormentor visited her regularly. They grew concerned, but not enough to involve themselves.
A year after they wed, rumors of Marcus’ gambling debts and late-night debaucheries were becoming well known. His father instructed Marcus relocate to New York to oversee their business affairs there. Marcus sulked like a small child for weeks, but he had no choice. There was speculation that Marcus would be cut off financially if he did not go. But Verity believed it was something more as he blamed her, his disdain palpable. Duty-bound, his London townhouse was let and they moved overseas. To Verity’s dismay, Mrs. Vernon and Perry also came with. Thusly uprooted, there was no hope of forming an alliance with her American staff now with the trifecta in tow. She was beside herself, the final nail in the coffin to complete her endless regret.
The upside was that Marcus was less physically violent when first in New York. Verity believed his need to make a good impression around new business associates outweighed his desire to cause her bodily harm. Intent on making his own fortune and upstage his father, he invested into volatile stocks which had little success, losing a large portion of his fortune with no way to recoup. Marcus was on a proper rage that night. Verity tried to lock herself in her bedchamber, which only infuriated him more. Since he had taken up a mistress during this time, she did not expect he would try to share her bed. But he did. It was a savage coupling and all Verity could do was lie there until he finished.
He called her broken, worthless, and a list of other colorful names as she was not yet with child. What he did not know was that soon after their wedding, she learned of a potent tonic to drink after coupling to prevent pregnancy. It was the most painful decision she’d had to make, sacrificing her desire for motherhood if it meant not bringing a child into this world; his world. Binding herself to this vicious man made her physically ill. It was the only semblance of control she had over her body.
When one of the maids found her hidden bottle and brought it to Mrs. Vernon’s attention, it was the first time Marcus struck her with a closed fist. He was hatred personified. That first beating took nearly six weeks for her to completely heal. She had a permanent scar just beneath her chin where his signet ring cut deep. Her eyes pleaded with the doctor tending her, but was met with more willful ignorance. It was then she began to plot her escape.
Verity could not live like a battered animal who shirked at the sight of a raised hand, or must always walk on eggshells around her own home. The law was not on her side, and none of her acquaintances felt cause for alarm, which made her feel most betrayed. Rumors about the abuse circulated, but being a subservient female under the protection of her husband would never bring her justice.
At her wits end, she secretly posted a letter to her mother outlining the abuse and her pleas for help. What she received in return she will remember for as long as she lived.
My dear, what have you done to upset your husband so that he should resort to punish your behavior? You know your duty as a wife as my example has taught you. Deign to be more docile and compassionate. Perhaps the lack of an heir has made him impatient? Stevenson’s fortune is tied to securing a male heir. I heartily pray that you may conceive a child as soon as may be. You must learn to confide in your husband in all matters of the heart as he will always know what is best.
Outrage, disdain and incredulity filled her. His fortune relied on producing a male heir! Now she understood the root of his hate, marrying but a broodmare. Verity crumpled the missive and threw it into the fire, but not before memorizing every word to etch on her stony-heart, and never wrote her mother again. Verity did not have one friend in the world, save for cook, Mrs. Clarke. It was she who had slipped her cheese and bread when food was denied her. She who had kept bottles of ointments and tinctures to dab on her cuts and bruises. She who now slipped the tonic into her tea on those precarious mornings. And she who had suggested her sister in England could offer Verity sanctuary.
Over the course of ten months, Verity’s plan was set in motion. She had taken up a correspondence with a school friend who lived in France to give the appearance that she may flee to her for protection. Mrs. Clarke posted an anonymous advertisement on Verity’s behalf seeking a woman who would accompany her one-way across the Atlantic to England. It took four months, but she finally received an inquiry from a willing companion. The timing was perfect to make her escape. Around late August, Marcus would be attending a stag party in Newport for several weeks.
Verity met with her intended companion, Helen Barnaby. They sat for afternoon tea and she introduced herself as Mrs. Stone. Helen wasn’t the most ideal candidate, but she was kind enough and desirous to return to England to keep house for her brother. For her efforts and discretion, Verity offered to pay her passage and £50 once they arrived in England. Helen’s eyes grew round at the tidy sum and accepted the offer, realizing Mrs. Stone was hiding something.
On that fateful day, all went as planned. Marcus had been away one week hence, and Verity feigned ill, choosing to rest undisturbed in her room. Early the next morning, Verity arose and snuck downstairs to exit through the servant’s entrance, unseen by any of the staff. She had a tearful goodbye with Mrs. Clarke, who packed her enough food to last her several days. With nothing but her reticule, bonnet and cloak, she hired a hackney that drove her to her dressmakers, who kept and filled a portmanteau with enough new clothes to last her two weeks. By the time the household discovered her missing, she and her belongings were hours long on a ship set sail for Liverpool. Verity hoped the trail of crumbs she left would lead her husband on a chase in the wrong direction.
Moving to port side of the ship, Verity was hopeful yet nervous as she would be looking over her shoulder for signs of her husband. For all his rage and abusive tendencies, he was still a jealous man who saw Verity as a mere possession which no man could lay claim to but himself. He would travel to the ends of the earth to find her if only so he could hit her back into submission where he felt she belonged.
She would miss Mrs. Clarke dearly, but nothing would have compelled her to remain at home. Each night aboard the ship, she watched the sun dip past the horizon and said a word of thanks to those who helped her get here. For the first time in a long while, surrounded by a vast body of water in the middle of the Atlantic, far from terror and oppressiveness, Verity felt free.
“Your trunk is all packed, ma’am. Dinner is being served if you wish to dine,” a voice disrupted her reverie.
“Thank you, Helen. Let us go down together and say our farewells.”
Lavender and rosemary were the first to invade her senses. Sounds were muffled but growing pronounced as if rising to the water’s surface. Vision blurred until sharpening into focus.
The canopy bed she was lying in was vast. Sturdy mahogany draped in velvet the color of robin’s egg blue. A woman with grey curls sat nearby in an overstuffed chair, head bowed with rapt attention on her embroidery.
Her right arm felt stiff yet numb. Lifting it, a searing pain pulsed through each nerve that nearly caused her to faint. The woman spoke to her in a subdued, yet insistent tone.
“You mustn’t move it, my dear. You were in an accident and it broke clean through.” Overwhelming pain flooded in earnest. The older woman clamored orders that set the room in a flurry.
“Here, drink this.” The woman brought a cold glass to her dry lips. A familiar bitterness was intermixed. Laudanum. She didn’t care. It amazed her how thirsty she was once cool water coated her mouth and throat. She drank it too fast, coughing and expending energy she didn’t have that jolted her arm more. She knew pain, but this was excruciating.
A man standing beside the fireplace came into view. His figure was pleasing. Lean, yet muscular. He wore a finely tailored blue riding coat over buckskin breeches. Hessian boots polished till they shone. She did not recognize him, nor the woman.
“Easy… there now,” the woman murmured, “Dr. Foley will be here shortly to examine you now that you’re awake.” But she was confused and disoriented. Panic arose as her situation grew more ominous.
The man approached the foot of her bed. He had kind eyes but appeared reserved at the same time. His ambiguity distressed her more than not knowing how she came to be here. It took all her power to concentrate on the woman’s words as she was feeling the effects of the laudanum.
“I am Regina Hesby. This is my son, William Hesby, the Earl of Wyland. Can you tell me your name?”
Tears fell as her fear became tangible. Her mouth moved to speak, but the words came out in a coarse whisper. She tried again as both leaned forward to hear her better.
“I cannot … I do not know it.”
The next week was difficult for Jane; that was the name bestowed upon her by Regina, the Dowager Countess of Wyland. Jane learned of her carriage accident where Lord Wyland discovered her four days ago. A fever ravaged her body and they nursed her until it finally broke the night before. She remembered none of it.
Dr. Foley became a frequent visitor. He attributed Jane’s memory loss to a severe blow to the head. It affected her long-term memory, but Jane had moments of clarity. She knew she took her tea without milk and that the London season would be beginning shortly. A promising prognosis except everything else was surrounded in fog.
The Dowager became a constant companion to Jane, and Lord Wyland visited her sickroom when necessary. She suspected beneath her son’s quiet reserve that he was drawn to Jane. It was hard to ignore her innate beauty. Beneath the bruises she was a diamond of the first water, almost exotic with her inky-black hair and crystal-blue eyes. It was evident she was quality. Her manner, gentility, and costly wardrobe recovered at the accident site were proof enough, but the fine jewelry and nearly £800 in bank notes intricately sewn into her corset and petticoat gave them pause.
Who is she? Wyland was intent on finding out. He suspected Jane may have fabricated the memory loss, but regretted doubting her as she truly could not recall anything, frustration converted into silent tears when he prodded her. Yet while she remained shrouded in mystery, Jane was inherently kind and spoke to everyone with benevolence. And despite her situation, found humor in it.
That evening, Lord Wyland noticed his mother looked fatigued and insisted she begin resting before dinner. He would sit with Jane. The Dowager smiled at her son, relenting. She received reports that he visited Jane in the late hours while she slept. He never let on and the Dowager never pressed him.
During Wyland’s first visit, he brought a book to read aloud, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.It boosted Jane’s spirits, and both were eager to expound on the play long after they finished it.
“Is it not interesting how well Shakespeare captures the follies of man? Even with absurd circumstances, you rather sympathize with their struggles,” Jane thought. “The audience delves-in knowing they will come to a happy ending. Does that not temper what they encounter?” Wyland asked.
“Perhaps, but for most hardships in life we do not always have the luxury of forethought, so the struggles to reach that ending allow one to more appreciate the happy,” she retorted. Lord Wyland couldn’t help but grin—Jane was sentimental. He also found conversing with her came easily. She was eloquent yet undaunted by speaking her mind. It was refreshing for so young a lady.
The next day, the Dowager found her son in the library selecting a book. “Twelfth Night? Interesting choice,” the Dowager raised one brow.
He knew his mother wasn’t one to mince words, and said as much. “She recalls liking Shakespeare, so we’re reading Shakespeare.” Wyland tried not to sound defensive, but did not succeed.
“Certainly. Let me not keep you. I’m late for my nap, and you for your companion.” She patted her son’s cheek and walked past, smug as rain on a picnic.
Twelfth Night proved to be an engrossing read for both. They were on the final act of the play when Wyland observed Jane lost in thought. “Is this not to your liking? I can read another.”
“I’m enjoying it immensely,” Jane assured, but pondered sullenly, “I wonder if I, like Viola, have a brother or anyone missing me.” Wyland remembered his mother’s words about his “interesting choice” and felt a twinge of guilt.
“If you have a Sebastian out there, I’m certain he is searching the ends of the earth for you. I would.” Jane’s cheeks grew warm with pleasure. She searched his eyes and found him sincere. Their reverie was interrupted by the clang of the dinner gong and he left her with her thoughts as a maid brought up her tray.
Jane was certainly attracted to Wyland. He was a kind, intelligent man who generously let a stranger into his home. If there was any doubt to his character, one need only observe how devoted he was to his mother, or listen to how his staff spoke well of him. She couldn’t fathom why he was not yet married as he surely must sire an heir, and learned the Dowager also wished to see her son settled.
“He was betrothed once, but the girl eloped with her childhood beau before the banns were read. Poor William, though I don’t believe he truly loved her. He declines all invitations in London unless strictly business related.”
“Indeed?” Jane felt sympathetic of his mistrust of the marriage market. At times it was no better than bartering wares or auctioning cattle.
“He knows his duty, yet he cannot expect a woman to merely show up on his doorstep.” The Dowager teased, sipping her tea to hide a smile meant for Jane.
Lord Wyland continued his daily visits with a book and ready conversation. Jane was honored by his lordship’s attention, and told him so, but she couldn’t entertain thoughts of this man without first remembering her name, where she was from, or if she may already be betrothed. It only left her discontented and determined to recover.
So when Dr. Foley prescribed light exercise, as the added stimulation may help trigger her memories, Jane quickly embraced it. The Dowager was encouraged, but Lord Wyland less enthusiastic. He argued her arm would still be in a splint for several weeks, and Jane’s refusal of heavier doses of laudanum made her discomfort evident. “Why should you choose pain when the laudanum will help ease it?” he asked. “I’d rather be painfully astute than let the days run together. No sense in muddling more memories,” she chuckled, shrugging her good shoulder.
“You’re a courageous woman,” he said, and meant it.
“Stubborn, more like. And terribly restless,” she frowned. “I do confess that without it I find myself focusing more on the pain.” In light of this, Wyland conceded to the light exercise, but insisted she was to be escorted at all times.
It wasn’t easy at first, but by the third day Jane breakfasted in the dining room, eating toast with marmalade. Her joy in becoming autonomous was infectious. By the week’s end, she was going for quick strolls down the lane with Wyland offering the support of his arm.
“You look exceedingly well,” Wyland commented.
“Thank you, I feel stronger each day,” she beamed.
Locked arm-in-arm became a routine. They toured his vast estate often sitting beneath an ancient oak tree for Jane to rest. With a babbling brook nearby it was quite picturesque. Wyland told stories of his fondest childhood memories that took place under this very tree, making Jane laugh with delight.
The farther they went, the later their return would be. The Dowager grew worried one evening when they missed dinner, so sent a man on horseback in search of them. He had not traveled far as he discovered them perched on a hill, Wyland pointing out various constellations to Jane in the northern sky. He did not wish to intrude on such an intimate scene and the Dowager assured he did right.
Six weeks passed and Jane was recovering nicely, save for her memory. Lord Wyland was intent on showing her the orangery that bore the fruit used to make cook's infamous marmalade. Upon entering it, the scent of citrus made Jane dizzy.
In a flash, a lifetime of memories flooded her consciousness. Pepe, her childhood dog. Father’s memorial. Sunday breakfast with mother. Her debut ball, and the darkest memory of all—Marcus Stevenson, charming and eligible suitor. Gift of ripe oranges. Marriage. Wedding night. The roughness, the callousness. The way he forced her. The first time he struck her. Another split lip. Her plans. Her companion. A carriage accident… and now Jane. But she wasn’t Jane… Jane.
Wyland anxiously called to her until she came to, tapping her cheek repeatedly. She awoke lying on the floor of the orangery, gathered against his chest. Recognizing Wyland, new memories and anguish flooded her thoughts now. Shakespeare. The Dowager’s embroidery. Ancient oak trees. His French cologne. The first time he held her hand. A shared kiss beneath the stars. She knew what she must do next.
“Verity,” she whispered. Wyland looked at her confusedly. “My name,” she elaborated. Surprised but elated, Wyland gripped her in a fierce hug and kissed the top of her head, repeating her name with reverence.
“Welcome, Verity. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
Dr. Foley believed there was no cause for alarm as her memory returning was merely a shock to her mind. The Dowager showed the good doctor to the door which gave Wyland a moment alone with Verity.
“How are you feeling?” He asked, reaching for her left hand. His touch was warm and gentle, which made it harder to begin.
“I don’t think I can truly express my gratitude for the kindness you and your mother have bestowed on me these past weeks. It is thanks to you all that I am recovered as well as I have.”
Wyland sensed a foreboding that he did not like. He knew there was a chance her past could reveal aspects that would prove difficult, but it was a risk he took. The last several weeks he had never felt happier, more at peace. It was thanks to her.
“Please, call me William. Surely we are past all formalities.”
“William," Verity’s voice shook with the pleasure and pain of calling him by his given name. "I have… obligations. In my absence they have been sorely neglected.”
“You need not do it alone. You are not friendless,” he said with such earnestness that Verity could not bear it. But it occurred to Wyland that his worst fears had materialized; she likely had many friends, perhaps even a husband. Children?
“I regret that I must be gone by morning.”
“Morning?” Wyland asked, alarmed. “Can we not discuss this? I believe I’ve earned your trust and I hope your regard as well.” A statement more than a question as he was certain she reciprocated his feelings.
“Please understand.” It took all of Verity’s resolve to remove her hand from Wyland’s grasp. He nodded to himself quietly. Dejected. He had lost what was never his to begin with. Duty bound, he donned his mask of propriety as the Earl of Wyland.
“Forgive me for bringing up this sensitive matter so soon, but your departure necessitates it. I’ve delayed the magistrate, but he wishes to speak with you regarding the accident. It seems prudent to return his call.”
“Magistrate?” The blood drained from Verity’s face.
“He requires a description of the gunman and an inventory of any stolen property.” Off her distressed look he asked, “Do you not recall the accident?” She shook her head no.
It was the first time she lied to him.
His brow furrowed, thankful he did not mention the dead body which they had yet to identify. Perhaps her memory hadn’t returned fully.
“I will have the carriage convey us to the village in the morning, then wherever you wish to travel afterwards. Is that acceptable to you?” Verity nodded, unable to meet his eyes. He paused hoping she would confide in him. That their days spent together secured the hope that she could trust him with her concerns, such as a wife would to a husband. But to no avail.
“Very well. I am glad you have recovered well enough and wish you good health and happiness.” Wyland bowed quickly and walked past his mother who witnessed the exchange. Verity broke down in tears, the Dowager rushing to her side. “There now. He will understand in his own time.”
“It is not that I do not trust him. I love him. But—”
“You are beholden to another?” The Dowager searched Verity for a clue. Her look of regret was answer enough.
“If circumstances were different…” Verity began, but could not finish.
“My dear, I believe that may make him feel worse rather than better. But he will come around and realize you are in the right. In these extraordinary circumstances, there is no blame.”
But Verity did blame someone. She did not think she could hate Marcus Stevenson any more than she did at this moment. And she had to move.
“I’m on borrowed time. It may already be too late.” Verity moved to the armoire and shoved essential items into a satchel, including a strongbox she discovered had contained her jewels and money that someone, likely Wyland, had the prudence of storing for her. Despite the secrets she must hold, he still thought fondly of her. Her heart broke more at that revelation. She donned her bonnet, coat and reticule.
“You are not leaving?” The Dowager was stunned.
“It’s for his safety and yours that I must,” she brushed away tears, guilt-ridden for the harm she may have brought on these people she grew to love. The less they knew, the better.
“Child, whatever could you mean?”
“I have my pin money and will purchase a seat on the next coach to London. Promise me you won’t say a word until I am discovered. Please?” she begged. The desperation in her eyes chilled the Dowager to the bone, weighing her options before replying. “I may yet live to regret this. Tell Sanderson to ready my curricle for the dower house, but leave it with the smithy in the village. The servants will be instructed not to disturb you. Have a care! Your arm is not fully healed.”
“Thank you, my lady, for everything. I will always cherish you and William for your kindness and only hope to return the favor someday.” Verity kissed her cheek and rushed out the door towards old plans renewed as she made her escape.