He stood by and watched her desperate gesticulations, absurdly enchanted by them. Good for you, pet. Good for you.
As the carriage rolled to a halt, she reached for her smallest trunk. She looked to him, smiling. “Last chance. Are you coming or aren’t you?”
T he road to London was dusty, rutted, bumpy, and miserable.
And Minerva rejoiced in every passing mile.
That was to say, she rejoiced quietly, and without moving so much as a muscle. She hadn’t any space to move at all.
Inside the coach, they were packed four to a seat. Two more passengers shared space with the driver. Minerva was almost afraid to count how many people rode atop the carriage. From her view through the carriage window, their legs hung down like stalactites. Beyond them, she caught the occasional glimpse of Colin, riding on horseback alongside the coach. She envied him the fresh air and freedom of movement.
But all in all, she was thrilled. The agonized decisions and frantic preparations were behind her, and now she could simply bask in the exhilaration of having done it. After spending all of her girlhood fervently wishing she could run away from home—she’d actually done it. And this wasn’t a childish dash into the forest with a hastily packed picnic basket and petulant note reading simply, “Adieu.” This journey had serious, professional significance. It was practically a business trip.
This morning, she’d taken her life into her own hands.
But she was glad she wasn’t making the journey alone.
When they stopped to rest or change horses, Colin excelled at playing the attentive, would-be bridegroom. He stayed by her side and looked out for her in small ways, such as procuring their refreshments or keeping a watchful eye on her trunks. He made a point of touching her often. Subtly laying a hand to her elbow, handing her into the coach.
She knew the touches weren’t for her pleasure or his, but for the benefit of those around them. Those small physical cues made a point. Every time he touched her, he said without words, This woman is under my protection.
And every time he sent that message, she felt a little thrill.
Minerva was especially grateful for the protection when they arrived in London late that afternoon and reached the coaching inn. She was so road weary, she could scarcely stand. Colin dealt with the innkeeper, registering the two of them under a fictitious name without so much as a blink. He made certain all her trunks came upstairs, ordered a simple dinner, and even sent an errand boy to procure his traveling necessities—a few clean shirts, a razor, and so forth—rather than do his own shopping and leave Minerva alone.
In fact, he made her feel so safe and comfortable, they were halfway through their meal of roast beef and boiled carrots when Minerva felt suddenly struck—smacked in the face—by reality. She was in a small bedchamber, with a single bed. Alone with a man who was not her relation, nor her husband.
She put down her fork. She chased her last bite of food with a healthy swallow of wine. She took a slow look around at the room.
This was it. This was ruination in the making. Roast beef and boiled carrots and ugly, peeling wallpaper.
“You’re very quiet,” she said. “You haven’t even teased me all day.”
He looked up from his plate. “That’s because I’m waiting for you, Morgana.”
She set her teeth. Really, she couldn’t even be bothered to correct him anymore. “Waiting for me to do what?”
“Come to your senses.” He gestured about the room. “Call this all off. Demand I take you straight back home.”
“Oh. Well, that’s not going to happen.”
“You’re not having any second thoughts?”
She shook her head. “None.”
He poured them both more wine. “It doesn’t make you at all anxious, to share this room with me tonight and know what it will mean for you tomorrow?”
“No,” she lied.
Even though he’d been nothing but
David VanDyke, Drew VanDyke