The clock on the mantel chimed two. Lady Amanda Easton started up from her seat in the frilly pink and cream bedroom at Monk’s Copse. If she was going through with this desperate plan, it was time to put it into action. She closed her eyes briefly, took a deep breath and slipped to the door. Pressing her ear against it, she hoped to catch the sound of Sara returning. The stillness of the corridor concerned her and she opened it a crack.
Gaslights flickered down the hallway at intervals, but no one stirred. Good. But where was Sara? Her plan couldn’t work without the maid. She didn’t want to ring the bell again. It might draw unwanted attention to her. Should she go in search of her instead?
Just as she was about to slip out of the door, Sara appeared around the corner, her cap askew, her cheeks a hectic pink.
With a sigh of relief, Amanda eased out of her room, closed the door with a soft click and beckoned the maid to follow her down the passageway.
“Where are you going, my lady?” Puzzlement fought with exhaustion in Sara’s face.
“I need you to come with me, please Sara. I need you to help me with something.” She started down the corridor, gaze darting hither and yon to detect any other movement.
“Help you with what, my lady?” The maid’s tone was suspicious, but the well-trained girl followed Amanda nonetheless.
“Just come with me.” Amanda’s heart beat a wild tattoo at every imagined sound as she wound her way through the corridors, but no actual danger materialized. At last, she turned into the hall she sought—the gentlemen’s wing—and headed for the last chamber on the right where her soon-to-be lover awaited her. The flutter in her stomach escalated at the thought.
And a little more for good measure…
With her hand on the handle, a creak behind Amanda made her whirl around, certain she’d been discovered, but the hallway remained empty save for the maid and the weak yellow light of the oil sconces. “Sara, I need you to find my father and Lord Armstrong, and fetch them to this room.”
“This room, Lady Amanda?” The frown on Sara’s face showed only her incomprehension of the task given her. “Whatever for?”
“I believe there is someone desperately ill inside.” It was the only excuse she could think of that would bring her father and Lord Armstrong at this time of night. “It’s one of my cousins, Lord Abercrombie, who I dined with tonight. He said he wasn’t feeling well and I should come check on him before I retired.”
“But you shouldn’t be here, my lady. This is the gentlemen’s wing.” According to the scandalized tone of her voice, Sara’s fatigue had given way to ingrained propriety.
“Yes, I know. And I’ll leave as soon as my father arrives. Lord Armstrong should be summoned as well, in case he thinks the doctor should be summoned.” That should satisfy Sara. “You wouldn’t want anything to happen to Lord Abercrombie, would you?”
“Oh, no, my lady.” Sara squared her shoulders. “I’ll go straight away.”
“They were both in the library when I last left them.”
“Very good, my lady. I’ll be back in three ticks.” The young maid spun around and took off at a brisk pace.
Amanda stayed completely still until Sara turned the corner, then she let out the breath she’d been holding. Leaning gently against the door, she paused as the enormity of what she was about to do sank in. It was the only way. If she wanted Raiford Tolbert, wanted this struggle to be over, she had to seize her chance. She straightened her shoulders, shook back her hair and, with a determined nod, turned the handle.