Scandal in Spring Page 81

Daisy had slept only fitfully, unable to stop her racing thoughts. She had woken repeatedly in the night, wondering what would happen to Matthew. She was afraid for his well-being. Only the knowledge that Westcliff was with him—or at least close by—kept her reasonably calm.

She kept reliving the moments in the parlor when Matthew had finally revealed the secrets of his past. How vulnerable and alone he had looked. What a burden he had carried all these years…and what courage and imagination it had taken for him to reinvent himself.

Daisy knew she wasn’t going to be able to wait in Hampshire for very long. She wanted desperately to see Matthew, to reassure him, to defend him against the world if necessary.

Earlier in the evening Mercedes had asked Daisy if the revelations about Matthew had affected her decision to marry him.

“Yes,” Daisy had replied. “It’s made me even more determined than before.”

Lillian had joined the conversation, admitting that she was far more predisposed to like Matthew Swift after what they had learned about him. “Although,” she had added, “it would be rather nice to know what your future married name is going to be.”

“Oh, what’s in a name?” Daisy had quoted, pulling a piece of paper from a lap desk and fidgeting with it.

“What are you doing?” Lillian had asked. “Don’t say you’re going to write a letter now?”

“I don’t know what to do,” Daisy had admitted. “I think I should send word to Annabelle and Evie.”

“They’ll find out soon enough from Westcliff,” Lillian said. “And they won’t be one bit surprised.”

“Why do you say that?”

“With your fondness for stories with dramatic twists and characters with mysterious pasts, it’s a foregone conclusion you wouldn’t have a quiet, ordinary courtship.”

“Be that as it may,” Daisy had replied wryly, “a quiet, ordinary courtship sounds very appealing at the moment.”

After a restless sleep, Daisy awakened in the morning as someone entered the room. At first she assumed it was the maid come to light the grate, but it was too early. Daybreak had not yet arrived, and the rain had slowed to a sullen drizzle.

It was her sister.

“Good morning,” Daisy croaked, sitting up and stretching. “Why are you up so early? Is the baby fretful?”

“No, she’s resting.” Lillian’s voice was husky. Wearing a heavy velvet robe, her hair in a loose braid, she came to the bed with a steaming cup of tea in hand. “Here, take this.”

Daisy frowned and obeyed, watching as Lillian levered herself onto the edge of the mattress. This was not the usual pattern of things.

Something had happened.

“What is it?” she asked, a feeling of dread crawling down her spine.

Lillian nodded toward the tea cup. “It can wait until you’re a bit more awake.”

It was too soon for any news to have come from London, Daisy reflected. This couldn’t have anything to do with Matthew. Maybe their mother had taken ill. Maybe something dreadful had happened in the village.

After downing a few swallows of tea, Daisy leaned over to set the cup on the bedside table. She returned her attention to her sister. “This is as awake as I’m going to get today,” she said. “Tell me now.”

Clearing her throat roughly, Lillian spoke in a thick voice. “Westcliff and Father are back.”

“What?” Daisy stared at her in bewilderment. “Why aren’t they in London with Matthew?”

“He’s not in London either.”

“Then they’re all back?”

Lillian gave a stiff little shake of her head. “No. I’m sorry. I’m explaining badly. I…I’ll just be blunt. Not long after Westcliff and Father left Stony Cross, their carriage had to stop because of an accident ahead at the bridge. You know that creaky old bridge you have to cross to stay on the main road?”

“The one that spans the little creek?”

“Yes. Well, the creek isn’t little right now. Thanks to the storm, it’s a big rushing river. And apparently the bridge was weakened by the current, and when Mr. Waring’s carriage tried to cross, it collapsed.”

Daisy froze in confusion. The bridge collapsed. She repeated the words to herself, but they seemed as impossible to interpret as some ancient forgotten language. With an effort, she gathered her wits. “Was everyone saved?” she heard herself ask.

“Everyone but Matthew.” Lillian’s voice shook. “He was trapped in the carriage as it was swept downstream.”

“He’s all right,” Daisy said automatically, her heart beginning to thrash like a caged wild animal. “He can swim. He probably ended up downstream on one of the banks—someone has to look for him—”

“They’re searching everywhere,” Lillian said. “Westcliff is organizing a full-scale effort. He spent most of the night searching and returned a little while ago. The carriage broke into pieces as it went downstream. No sign of Matthew. But Daisy, one of the constables admitted to Westcliff…” She stopped and her brown eyes sparkled with furious tears. “…admitted…” She continued with effort. “…that Matthew’s hands were tied.”

Daisy’s legs moved beneath the bedclothes, her knees bending, drawing up tight. Her body wanted to occupy as little physical space as possible, shrinking away from this new revelation.

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