A Useful Woman (Rosalind Thorne Mysteries #1) - Darcie Wilde Page 0,1

and they whispered in merry agreement that this surely meant they’d get on famously all their lives.

Lady Blanchard had taken note. She was another problem and she’d have to be talked ’round quickly. Maybe even before Charlotte. Thankfully, Lady Blanchard wouldn’t go to Mother, at least not yet. She had warned Rosalind, though.

Be careful, my dear. Do not fix your heart on someone who can do so little when your family needs so much.

It’s my marriage, not theirs! Rosalind squeezed her eyes shut. She’d have to apologize for that, and quickly. Lady Blanchard’s title and standing, not to mention her longtime attachment to Mother, would be a marvelous help if Rosalind was to navigate the tricky shoals of parental approval.

But one way or another she would do so, because Devon waited on the far shore.

That was when Rosalind heard curtains rustle, followed by the stealthy slide of fabrics. She turned over and tried to ignore it. Probably Charlotte just needed to make use of the chamber pot. But that particular noise did not occur. Instead, there was more furtive rustling, and the grating noise of something heavy dragging across the floorboards. Curiosity got the better of her. Rosalind hooked one finger around the velvet bed curtains and eased them back to peek.

A single candle flickered on the bedside table. Rosalind had to blink before she could correctly make out what she was seeing. There was Charlotte, fully dressed and kneeling down by her bed, pulling out a bandbox from underneath. Another, larger box sat beside her.

Rosalind flung the curtains back and scrambled out of her bed. Charlotte whirled, clutching her coat to her chest.

“Rosalind!” Charlotte hissed. “What are you doing? Go back to bed, you little idiot!”

Rosalind ignored this. “What’s happening? Are you eloping?”

Charlotte hesitated for a single heartbeat and then began pulling her coat on. “Yes,” she answered acidly. “How very clever of you. I’m eloping. He’s waiting downstairs now.”

“You can’t! Mother will have a fit! And Father . . .” If you elope now, they’ll never consent to Devon! They’ll lock me in the attic!

But Charlotte wasn’t listening. “I’ll write, I promise.” She grabbed up her boxes, pushed past Rosalind, and shouldered her way out the boudoir door. Rosalind ran out into the corridor in time to see Charlotte struggling to get herself and her luggage down the back stairs. Charlotte was not naturally stealthy or subtle, especially when encumbered, and she banged and clattered down the stairs.

If the servants aren’t all awake now, they will be soon.

“Who is he?” Rosalind demanded as she thudded down the stairs behind Charlotte. “At least tell me that!”

Charlotte didn’t so much as pause. They reached the kitchen and she marched to the garden door. “Go back to bed, Rosalind! You’ll ruin everything!”

“I won’t!” Rosalind grabbed her sister’s wrist. “Not until you tell me. You don’t understand, Charlotte.” She added more softly. “Something’s happened to me as well.”

“Something’s always happening to you. Now get off!”

Charlotte yanked her wrist from Rosalind’s startled grip and shoved through the door to the back garden. Rosalind stared, but only for a moment. Then, her determination hardened and she ran out behind her sister. The cold of the flagstones bit into the soles of Rosalind’s toes despite her woolen stockings. Beyond the garden wall, the watchman shouted, “Five of the clock and all’s well!”

No it’s not!

Even running gingerly on her toes, Rosalind still managed to catch up with Charlotte, who was wrestling with boxes and hems. This time when she grabbed Charlotte’s arm, Rosalind hung on tight. “Tell me who it is, or I’ll wake the house!” She wanted to believe she was thinking of her sister and her good. She wanted to help, to do the right thing. An elopement would be a scandal. Mother and Father would be beside themselves and they’d never listen to her or hear reason about Devon. Ever.

Charlotte brought her booted foot down hard on Rosalind’s toes. Rosalind squeaked in pain, and surprise, and let go. Charlotte ran, or at least trotted, for the gate.

What doesn’t she want me to see? thought Rosalind as she staggered behind. I must know the man.

Rosalind reached the gate. A hired coach and four waited in the muddy lane outside. The coach door was open and Charlotte was climbing in. Rosalind hesitated, straining for a glimpse of the man, afraid she’d made the wrong decision, that she should have run back at once, screaming to wake their parents as well as the servants . .