“It’s shameful, that’s what it is,” Daphne insisted. “Catherine Ramsden is not the sort of woman you
as a relation, even if she was once a countess. Moreover, Welbourne Manor is the most infamousestate in England. It would be the ruination of any young woman to even set foot in the place.”The scornful declaration caught Emma’s attention. She sat up. Her cousin’s words echoed in her head.
It would be the ruination of any young woman to even set foot in the place.
And just like that, Emma had her solution. Somehow, someway, she was going to Welbourne Manor.
* * *
They were nearly upon him. Robert Marchwell did not look over his shoulder. By some miracleRowland’s hirelings hadn’t spotted him yet. He knew he must make himself less conspicuous. Heremoved his fine beaver hat and ducked into an alley. At the end he emerged into a back lane, startling alaborer unloading a cart.“A fair trade, good man?” he asked. “My hat for yours?” He tossed the fellow a coin. “And a littlesomething extra to ensure that you never saw me.”Bemused, the laborer handed over his worn hat. Robert placed it on his head, pleased to find it too largeand hanging low over his forehead. He nodded his thanks and entered the open door at the man’s back.“Eh?” He’d found a storeroom and surprised another chap. This one, swathed in a large apron, wasshelving the supplies as they came in. “Who’re you?” the clerk demanded. “What’re you doing?”“A nice brisk business, thank you,” Robert answered affably. “That’s a fine apron, with nice deeppockets.” He tried to wiggle out of his tightly fitted coat. “Will you take this coat in trade, sir? Sewed bythe finest London tailors.” He grimaced. “But you’ll have to help me out of it.”He’d only just got the apron wrapped around him and his precious cargo stored in one those deeppockets when a ruckus sounded outside.“Hey, now!” the laborer protested. “That’s mine! I made a fair trade for it.”Robert was through the storeroom to the front of the building in a flash. He erupted into a busy generalstore, where several of its patrons stared in disapproval of his haste. Smoothly, he stepped behind afabric counter. He snatched off the hat, hefted a bolt of cambric from a shelf and pretended to start insurprise along with the rest of the room when two large men burst through the door behind him. The pair moved through the storefront, cursorily inspecting the clientele before heading out onto the street.Robert grinned. Rowland’s bullies were proving easier to elude than he’d feared. He slipped back intothe storeroom.“Here now, you can’t just come and go back here,” protested the clerk.“I’m off, I promise.” Robert grabbed a pair of stacked crates. “Might I have use of these, though?”The man waved a weary hand and Robert was gone. He kept to the alleys until he was forced to makehis way back to Maidenhead’s main street. Keeping the crates raised carefully before his face, he madehis way east toward the edge of town.A carriage accident outside a posting house delayed him. A crowd had gathered to cheer the shouting,sparring drivers. With careful steps, Robert worked his way through the happy spectators. He’d nearlyreached the middle of the crush when he felt an ominous tingle at the back of his neck.