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5.79% Annie's Perfect Husband / Chapter 8: OFF TO GET HELP

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Chapter 8: OFF TO GET HELP

looking up through the snow at the lowering clouds. "Be as quick as you can, man."

He pulled a small sack of coins out of the pocket of his cloak and, opening it, spilled the contents into the Palm of his leather glove. "If this is not enough, promise them the moon, but get someone out here before nightfall."

"We won't fail you, Mr Sinclair," the groom said.

"I'm counting on that," Ian said, slapping him on the shoulder and smiling.

Major Sinclair had known very well how to get the best from his troops. This sit was little different. Lives depended on these two men accomplishing the task they'd been given as quickly as possible.

"We'll get someone, Sir," John said. "You stay inside the coach, Mr Sinclair, and you'll both be right as rain. We'll be back before you you'll even know we're gone. Surely there'll be a house within a couple of miles. And if not, there'll be a posing inn only a few farther."

Ian nodded, wishing he were half as confident as the coachman sounded. Of course, being able to take action always made one more positive about the outcome of any venture. Ian had an intimate if enforced acquaintance with prolonged inaction, however, and he would have to deal with it, just as he had for more than a year.

"Off with you then," he said. "And good luck."

He turned and limped back to the closed door of the coach, his lips lifting, despite their predicament, at the remembrance of the bang with which it had been shut.

He resisted the urge to knock, opening the door instead and using his cane and the strength of his right arm to pull himself up the steps.

Thankfully, instead of watching that awkward manoeuvre, Annie Darlington was rather patently engaged in looking out of the window on the opposite side of the carriage. Since there was nothing there but snow-covered trees and shrubs, their shapes darkened by the early-descending twilight, her concentration on the scenery likely had less to do with its attractions than with her anger or embarrassment over his supposed rebuke.

"They're off," he said, settling himself with gratitude on the seat.

He stretched out his leg, stifling the small groan the resulting relief evoked. Despite the fact that Annie had opened the carriage door for those few minutes, the interior was still far warmer than the frigid air outside. And they were sheltered from the wind.

He turned his head, studying her profile. She still hadn't looked at him, and right now he felt as if her displeasure were a blessing. It had given him a few seconds to recover from the cold and the climb up into the carriage, as well as a chance to compose his features.

Just as he thought that, Annie turned, her eyes examining his face. As he watched, they seemed to change, the spark of temper fading to be replaced be an expression of sympathy. He discovered that he much preferred her anger to her pity.

"I'm sorry i opened the door," she said. "I didn't think that we might be forced to spend some hours in the coach."

"I hope it won't come to that. There will surely be some house nearby that can offer us shelter."

"And if there isn't?"

"They'll bring a carriage from the nearest inn. It shouldn't take long. I think we shall manage to keep warm enough in the meantime," he said.

"And you? Are you going to be..."

The soft words faded. Perhaps his frustration was visible in his eyes. Or perhaps she read there his reluctance to discuss his health. In any case, she held his gaze only a second or two, and then she turned hers once more to the window, pretending to contemplate the rapidly darkening woods.

After a moment spent regretting his surge of anger and her resulting withdrawal, he turned his attention to the window on the other side. And twilight faded into night, as Ian Sinclair awaited the rescue he had confidently promised his ward.

*~*~*~*

The temperature had fallen with each passing minute, and Ian's anxiety had risen proportionally. When he finally heard the muffled sound of horses' hooves approaching on the snow-covered roadway, his relief was almost physical.

At least until he realized that was all he had heard. No carriage. No sounds at all that might be interpreted as emanating from a coach or even a wagon. In the darkness, he heard Annie, who had been dozing off and on, begin to stir. Ian reached out, touching the rug that rested over her knees.

"Shh," he cautioned, his ears straining to follow the noises outside, which were coming nearer and nearer.

Ian couldn't have said what had first Kindled his uneasiness. Perhaps because there had been no hail or situation from John or the groom as they approached.

Whatever the reasons for his apprehension, as the hoof beats neared, it had gradually increased. Ian fumbled in the side pocket of the carriage, which held the ever-present traveller's pistol.

Although highwaymen abounded on English high ways, or at least tales of them did, Ian doubted this weapon had ever before been removed from it's pouch.


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