Margaretta Fortescue desperately needs to disappear from London society, and her only hope is to follow the rumors of another young woman who recently made a life for herself away from the glare of society. Her search leads her to the market town of Marlborough where, in spite of her efforts to avoid attention, she can’t seem to elude local solicitor, Nash Banfield.
All Nash wants is a quiet, sedate life—no risks or surprises. When Margaretta, clearly on the run and unwilling to answer questions, interrupts his solitude, his curiosity and his principles won’t let him leave this determined woman without assistance.
But will the truth of what Margaretta is running from be worth finally opening his heart up to a chance at love?
Read an Excerpt
Margaretta had used the word desperate many times in her life, but she'd never truly known the meaning until she stood in the open door of a mail coach, clutching an eight-month-old letter and praying that someone in this minuscule market town would know where the writer had gone when she moved on.
And that Margaretta could find that writer before Samuel Albany found her.
Because that writer was Margaretta's last hope. And hope was something Margaretta desperately needed to find. In the truest sense of the word.
“Are you getting out here, miss?”
Margaretta forced her gaze away from the broad stone-cobbled street lined with red-bricked buildings and porticoed storefronts. The man holding the door and growing justifiably impatient wore the red coat of the English mail service and thick layer of travel dust. To him, Margaretta likely appeared a woman without a care in the world compared to his current discomfort.
If he knew she was running for her life, would he still think that?
Not that it mattered. His opinion couldn't matter. No one's could. Margaretta knew the truth, knew what decisions she would be willing to live with, and that was all that could be allowed to matter.
“Yes, I'm getting off.” She shoved the letter into the pocket of her bright yellow cloak and wrapped her hand around the worn leather handle of her valise. The heavy bag bumped against her knee as she climbed down, threatening to toss her on top of the dirty mail worker and flatten his nose even more. She jumped instead, jarring her knees as her walking boots hit the ground. It was an unladylike exit from the vehicle to say the least, but far better than landing on the ground on her backside.
Blowing a hard breath out between pursed lips, Margaretta stepped to the side and set her valise at her feet. She adjusted the hood of her cloak so that it shadowed her face. Yes, it made it difficult to see around her, but it also kept people from seeing her. She'd much rather people remember the enormous hood of a ridiculous bright yellow cloak than her face. As a woman traveling alone on the stage, people were going to look at her. It was either wear something memorable and distracting or cover herself in the somber colors of mourning, which she wasn't willing to do. That would be like admitting defeat before she'd even begun.
Lifting her valise, she turned her head to survey the town with a critical eye. It was charming, with a considerable openness she'd never experienced in London, but she didn't have the luxury of standing around, pondering the benefits of fresh air and space. Her time was limited, her funds even more so. If she was going to solve her problems before both of those commodities ran out, she was going to have to be smart. And while she'd tried very hard to always be prudent and practical, clever had never been required of her.
She slid a hand into her pocket and curled it around the already wrinkled paper. Her friend Katherine had always been clever, though, and Margaretta was counting on being able to follow her friend's clever path to make sure everything turned out as it should and everyone stayed safe for at least the next few months.
Hopefully Katherine hadn't been so clever that Margaretta's efforts were entirely futile. This letter was the last connection Margaretta had to her friend, and it held pitifully little information.
Exhaustion crowded Margaretta's mind. She'd been traveling for three days straight, taking mail coach after mail coach on a wide route around London to avoid anyone who might be looking for her. As long as everyone thought her safely tucked away in Margate, sea-bathing with Mrs. Hollybroke and her daughters, she would have time. Time to hide, time to come up with a plan, time to accomplish the impossible task of finding Katherine. Since complete disappearance seemed to be part of Katherine's solution, Margaretta could only hope her letter was the start of a small trail of breadcrumbs.
So the questions was, if Margaretta wanted to find someone who didn't particularly want to be found—where would she start?
Her stomach grumbled and clenched, reminding her that the meat pie she'd consumed at a roadside inn for breakfast had been eaten a very long time ago.
She wasn't going to do anyone any good, particularly not herself, if she collapsed from hunger and weariness in the middle of the street. Food and lodging first, then. Tomorrow she could start her search.
The large three-gabled inn to her right looked promising and comfortable. It also looked like it catered to the expensive tastes of those traveling from London on the stagecoaches. Not only would staying there make her purse dwindle faster than she'd like, it would also put her at risk of running into someone she knew. She couldn't have anyone going back to London with the news that Margaretta was in Marlborough.
So she started walking. Away from the inn and the delightful smells drifting out of it. Away from the coach and the people with whom she'd spent the past several hours sharing a tiny space.
Away from everything she was familiar with.
Travel was something she'd done a great deal of in her life. One didn't have a father in the business of saddles and harnesses without getting a chance or two to test out the leather creations. But never had she wandered alone, away from the areas populated with other travelers like herself.
A deep breath trembled its way into her tight lungs. She could do this. One foot in front of the other. Breathing in for two steps and out for two steps. Absorb the idyllic calm of the wide street that grew quieter the farther she got from the stable. Find something to focus on and just keep moving until a solution presented itself. It was a scary prospect that made her normally pragmatic self shake in her boots, but for the past month and a half it had served her well. Pick a point and move toward it.
Farther down the street, a woman swept the pavement in front of a store. The sign simply read Lancaster's, but the array of bundled herbs hanging in the window and the barrels of food beneath indicated the store was likely a grocer. Margaretta's stomach grumbled again. It wouldn't be a gourmet meal, but if she could patch together a meal of fruit and cheese and perhaps other foods not requiring much preparation, she'd spend less than half of what she'd have to spend in an inn's public room.
It was as good as any other option she had at the moment. Her lips flattened into a line of determination as she gathered her strength together and moved toward the grocer, trying to ignore the nervous fear that made her want to glance over her shoulder to see if anyone was following her.
(Spoiler alert from the next line in the book… someone is… )