A lady always wears her hat in public.
“Do you repent now?”
Gillian Ames paused in the clearing behind her cottage, fighting a chill that had nothing to do with the latewinter snow falling silently into her hair. Then Reverend Hallowsby’s voice came again, echoing in the frigid air even though the man was inside the small building.
“Mary Ames, I ask you again, do you repent? Your daughter is dead. Your sins exposed. Do you repent?”
Gillian hurried to the back of the cottage, crouching beside the wall as she strained to hear what was happening inside. She closed her eyes, imagining the scene. Her mother would be huddled by the fire, coughing that hacking cough that had sent Gillian out searching for herbs.
Reverend Hallowsby would be towering over her, his narrow face and clutching hands no doubt florid with holy fervor.
But then Gillian heard other sounds. A murmured agreement, a whisper of encouragement. At least five “amens.” The biddies were with him. Reverend Hallowsby’s two holy women were always there, acting as his chorus as he went out to terrify people to heaven.
“Repent, Mary Ames! Repent, I say!”
Gillian pressed her fist against her mouth, stifling the rage that burned within her. She wanted to dash inside. She wanted to rush to her mother’s defense with a broad stick and use it to beat the sanctimonious reverend about the head until he bled.
She had done it before. But she could not. Not this time. She was supposed to be dead. So she stood in the snow, quivering with anger, powerless to stop the holy harangue.
“It is too late for Gillian, Mary Ames. She now twists in the eternal fires of torment. God takes His vengeance!”
Then her mother responded. “Aw, go on w’ ye. Git out already. Tis time I took a piss.”
Gillian froze at her mother’s deliberately coarse tone, knowing that if she allowed herself one breath she would burst into laughter. She should know better than to imagine that the arrogant vicar could intimidate her mother. Mary Ames was made of sterner stuff than that.
Gillian pressed her ear to the back wall, trying to hear more. The deafening silence from within told her that her mother’s visitors were shocked speechless. Imagine anyone having the audacity to mention bodily functions before the holy reverend!
“Very well,” continued her mother. Then she paused as a coughing fit consumed her. Gillian waited, afraid that this might be the time her mother failed to catch her breath. Was this the fit that would…The coughs ended; then Mary Ames spoke again, her voice strong in the still air. “Ye can watch me if ye like. We ain’t got no curtain, and I’m too old to be going outside.” Gillian heard the telltale sound of the chamber pot being dragged across the floor.
“Good God, Mary, have you no shame?” That was Mrs. Smithee, her voice shaking with horror, her prune face likely squeezed into a knot of disdain.
“Wot I got is a touchy bladder an’ a need t’ piss.”
There was another long moment of silence as the holy man apparently stood there, calling her mother’s bluff. It would be a waste of time. After over fifty years on this earth, Mary Ames had no modesty left. She would do her business right in front of the good cleric and not think twice about it.
Gillian was not surprised when, moments later, she heard the sound of hurried feet as the Reverend Hallowsby and his two harridans rushed out of the Ames cottage. Wishing to see their backs despite the risks, Gillian eased around the cottage wall. Her hand was still pressed tightly against her mouth to keep her giggles from escaping. Typically, her mother had no such restraint. Mary Ames was cackling like a proud hen as she used her cane to thump on the front door.
“Go back t’ yer parish, Reverend,” her mother called. “On this moor, we like t’ sin in peace!”
Gillian watched from the shadows as the reverend snapped the reins of his fine carriage and rode away in a huff. Though he did not deign to look back at the cottage, his two holy shrews did, managing to glare with both hate and pious disgust at the same time.
Gillian instinctively drew backward, hiding deeper in the shadows, too used to shrinking away from hostile stares to even wonder if they could see her.
Then they were gone.
Soon afterward, she heard her mother slam the door, thumping around inside the cottage as she released her anger. But Gillian did not enter. She stood where she was for twenty more minutes, shivering from the cold before finally daring to sneak inside.
“There ye be,” her mother said with a cackle from her seat by the fire. “Ye missed that twit Hallowsby.”
“I saw him,” Gillian answered smoothly, pulling off her cloak and hanging it carefully on a peg. Then she stepped to the fire, touching the older woman as she passed, feeling warmth and vitality still in her mother’s frail body. “I’m sorry you—”
“Don’t apologize for ’im, girl,” her mother interrupted, her accent smoothing out now that the minister was gone. “You ’ave yer own answering to do without adding ’is sins to yours.”
Gillian straightened, turning to the fire, where she quickly set water on to heat. “Would you like some tea?” she asked.
Without waiting for an answer, Gillian pulled her mother’s misshapen tin mug down from the warped plank that served as a shelf. Choosing carefully, she pulled a single leaf out of her pocket, crushing it before dropping it into the tin.
“This snow will kill off the new growth,” she commented as casually as she could manage. “But the melt will be welcome once it warms.” There was no answer. Truthfully she had not expected one, but she had hoped. So in the end she turned, facing her mother’s steady regard with as much strength as she could manage. “Mama?”
“It gives me chills, it does, seeing your name on her gravestone.”
Gillian busied herself with pouring hot water into the cup and carefully offering it to her mother. “You should not be walking by the graveyard anyway. It is too far.”
“I’ll decide what is too far and not too far, my girl!”
Gillian nodded as she stood beside her mother, still offering the tea. In the end, it took another coughing fit before her mother grabbed the brew and began sipping. Moments later she put it down, her breathing noticeably easier.
“I leave early tomorrow morning, Mama. I need to explain some things before I go.”
Her mother snorted, glaring across her tea at Gillian. “You’ll put me in my grave with your foolishness, girl. There is nothing wrong with being a maid. I am proud to be a maid. My mama before me, too, and her mama before her. We ’ave served the Wyndhams for generations.”
“And now we will be the Wyndhams,” Gillian quipped as she turned away.
“Mind your tongue, girl. That’s sacrilege, it is.” Her words were sharp, but Gillian was relieved to see a flash of humor sparkle in her mother’s eyes. “Besides, you are nothing like that namby-pamby Amanda Wyndham. See through you in a second, they will.”
“No one has seen Amanda for nearly two years. I have run her estate, corresponded with the solicitor, and done all she would.”
“You cannot go! It is evil thinking.”
Gillian did not respond, knowing the words were nothing more than bravado. Her mother feared their coming separation, and in truth, Gillian shared some of her worries. But they had to do something quickly.
It had been a rough winter, and the harshness of it was etched in her mother’s sallow features and the hacking cough that still shook her frail body. If the early thaw had not warmed the air, the woman might not have survived at all. Amanda had certainly succumbed, despite Gillian’s nursing.
Now with Amanda dead, all Gillian’s worries were for her mother. She and Mary had to find better circumstances before another Yorkshire winter. That meant Gillian had to marry well. But the only way to many well was to become legitimate.
“I leave before dawn tomorrow, Mama. Mrs. Hobbs will bring you food and wood every Tuesday. She even promised apples late this summer.”
“I despise her pasty-face ways.”
Gillian sighed. Her mother had fought this plan from the start. She would rather die in honorable poverty than take matters into her own hands to achieve a better life. But Gillian was different. She would happily damn her soul to hell if it meant giving her mother a warmer home and some decent food.
She reached forward, clasping her mother’s bony hands between her own. “You could come with me. As a lady’s maid.”
Her mother stomped her foot on the floor. “I told you. This is foolishness.”
“But Mama, all her life Amanda wanted to be healthy and strong like me.”
“And all you ever wanted was to be ’er.” Gillian grinned. “Now we shall both get our wish.”
“You are a by-blow, Gillian. The old baron liked my smile and nine months later you were born. You will never be ’appy unless you accept that without wishin’ to be something you ain’t.”
“Mama, I am ruler of the Wyndham estate. I have been for years. There is nothing his legitimate daughter could do that I cannot. There is nothing she could be that I cannot become.”
“You are Gillian Ames and nothing will change that.”
“Starting tomorrow, I am Amanda Faith Wyndham. And when I return from London, I will be a rich, married lady.” Gillian leaned forward and dropped a kiss on her mother’s wan cheek. “Then I will take you away from this hovel and set you up in style.”
Gillian stood, meaning to tidy the cottage, but her mother grabbed her wrist, holding her still with amazing strength. “Take the cap.”
Gillian’s eyes went to her hated maid’s cap, tossed in the corner the day Amanda had died. She’d sworn that night she would never put it on again. Gently disentangling herself from her mother’s fingers, Gillian shook her head. “I have no need of it.”
“There is no going forward, Gillian Ames, till you start in the right place. And you start there. With a mobcap.”
She spoke the words, and she meant them. But in the morning, as she crept out of the tiny cottage, the maid’s cap was buried deep in her valise.
A lady does not sit on top of coaches.
London was cold and wet and dirty. But for Gillian
Ames, it held all the wonder of the royal palace. Every filthy street, every pathetic urchin fascinated her. All those people crammed together. It made her head spin, both literally and figuratively. As the mail coach worked its ponderous way through the smelly streets, Gillian found herself swiveling and twisting to see more sights, more buildings and shops, more and more people.
Why, there were so many people, a person could get entirely lost with no one knowing one’s name or business! It was marvelous!
She could not wait for the coach to stop.
Thank heavens economy had forced her to sit on the coach’s upper perch. The view here was incredible, and she literally hopped up and down trying to see more.
They finally pulled into the courtyard of the Bull and Mouth coaching inn, and Gillian could not help but gasp. So many coaches and people. It seemed as if all of London had gathered on this drizzly day just to greet her. She knew, of course, it was not true, but it seemed such a delightful reception she did not care.
She waited for the inside passengers to disembark, and for once she thanked the delay. It gave her a moment to regain her bearings, as much as one could in this shifting mass of humanity.
The yard held four other mud-splattered, heavy-seated mail coaches, each in a different stage of unloading. The coachmen and regulators called cheerfully to one another while a line of postboys waited for the next conveyance to pull in. She spotted a pie man with a berry-stained apron; at least two cripples, one clearly a veteran; a hawker selling little toys; and a number of children and dogs dashing this way or that. She even saw a peep-show man with bells sewn onto his colorful jacket as he tried to lure people to his box of surprises.
“Look lively, miss!”
Gillian started out of her reverie to see the guard urging her to descend. With a small “Oh!” of surprise, Gillian dropped quickly to the ground next to her slight, battered valise.
“Thank you, sir,” she called up to the heavy coachman, grinning at his delighted wink. She knew his behavior was probably scandalous, not to mention her own, but it felt so marvelous to finally be in London, she did not want to bother about propriety.
She turned slowly around, trying to take in all the sights from ground level, but she never got the chance. She was quickly surrounded by vendors. The pie man pushed his meat pasties beneath her nose while the toy vendor offered her a miniature toy sheep.
“ ’Ave a pie, miss? Just wot one needs after a long ride.”
“Uh, no thank—”
“Young lambs to sell! ’Ow ’bout a toy for a little ’un, miss?”
“Come see me surprises, miss. Pretty entertainment for a pretty miss.” The peep-show man motioned her over, showing off his gaily colored boxes.
Gillian hesitated, sorely tempted. She ought to head straight for Grosvenor Square and the earl’s residence, but it had been a long journey. Surely she deserved a treat.
But as she stepped forward, something—or, more property, someone—bumped against her leg. She looked down, surprised by the dirty face of an impish little boy. She reached out to touch the child’s thin face, but with a quick grin, he twisted away and disappeared. She would have gone after him, but the show man pressed closer.
“Come see me box, miss. Mysteries to delight your lovely eyes.”
“Uh, perhaps in a moment—”
“I believe, miss, this is yours.” A deep voice cut through the clamor, effectively silencing everyone around her, even the jingling peep-show man. It was amazing, Gillian thought as she slowly turned around, that a single voice could hold such authority. It seemed to get inside her and force her to listen.
Who could have spoken?
At first all she could see were the polished buttons of a dark blue greatcoat. Looking up, Gillian took in broad shoulders, a firm chin, and dark hair topped by a tall beaver hat. She bit back a gasp of surprise. If ever a voice matched a man, this was the time. It was not so much his height and size, which were remarkable. No, it was more the dark, stern lines of his angular face. Although he appeared perfectly congenial, Gillian saw no softness in his blue eyes, no laughter in the precise curve of his lips. She saw only an exciting hunger in his expression, a brooding intensity as he raked her figure with a long, appreciative stare.
He desired her, and he made no effort to hide the fact.
“I…I beg your pardon, sir?”
He did not answer her flustered question. Instead he held up the unmistakable worn blue fabric of her reticule, taking pains to direct her attention to the cut ends of the string that had once held it to her wrist. Then she noticed the wiggling, twisting child effortlessly restrained by the gentleman’s other hand.
“That is the sweet boy who bumped into me!” she exclaimed, only now realizing what had happened.
“This is the sweet boy who robbed you.”
She felt herself color, seeing what a country fool she must appear to this man. “Well, yes, I suppose you are right.” She took her bag back and carefully tucked it into the pocket of her gown.
“Shall I have my coachman call a constable?”
Glancing at his face, she knew he cared little about her response, so long as they dispensed with the boy quickly. His thoughts were clearly centered elsewhere, and she pulled her coat more tightly about her throat to cover the neckline of her dress.
“I ain’t ’urt no one!” squeaked the boy, diverting her attention away from his captor. “Don’t give me over to the constable, miss! Please!”
“Oh, dear.” Gillian bit her lip as the gentleman handed the distraught child to a large man in burgundy livery. The boy was a tiny scrap of a thing, dwarfed by the two men who held him. As if sensing her gaze on him, the boy lifted meltingly beautiful brown eyes up to her, silently imploring.
He was a pathetic sight. With the filth and the drizzle, the boy looked nothing short of a half-drowned puppy dog squirming in the coachman’s hand. She shuddered to think what would happen to the child in a London prison. “No,” she said softly. “No, I cannot think a constable will be necessary.”
“Very well.” The gentleman nodded to the coachman.
“You may release him.”
Both men turned to her with identical expressions of shock. The gentleman went so far as to lift his quizzing glass. “I beg your pardon?” he drawled.
His tone finally stirred her outrage. She understood she appeared a countrified miss with more hair than wit. It was incredibly stupid to gawk at her surroundings without heed to her silly reticule. Still, he need not stare at her as though she were an escaped Bedlamite. She pulled herself up to her full height, which though impressive for a woman, could not approach that of the dark gentleman.
“I suggest we talk to the child,” she said firmly. Ignoring the coachman’s undignified snort, she crouched down to look eye-to-eye with the boy. “What is your name, young man?”
He would not answer at first, but after a shake and a growl from the coachman, the boy spoke with a tiny explosion of anger.
“Well, Tom, we seem to be in a bit of a muddle. You stole something of mine, and though I am reluctant to hand you over to the authorities, I find I cannot simply let you go free.” She waited, trying to gauge the child’s measure, and was startled to see the same calculating look in his eyes. “What do you suggest we do with you?” she asked.
It began as a slight glimmer in his soft brown eyes, but it quickly grew to a watershed of pathos. He spoke haltingly, sniffing into his sleeve and biting his hp. “Aw, miss,” he stammered between sobs. “It be me poor mum. She died last year of a ’orrible sickness.” He coughed once for effect, peaking at her face between his fingers.
“I see,” she said dryly. “And your father?”
“Oh, ’e’s a cruel ’un, miss. Drinks mean and knocks me about just for me earnings.”
“But he is alive, and we can find him?”
“Oh, no!” the child quickly retracted. “’E left us weeks ago. Years.”
Despite the child’s exaggerated display, Gillian felt her sympathies rise. Most of his story was probably true. “So you wander the streets cutting purses to survive?”
“Oh, no, miss. I am a good boy, I am. But I am terrible ’ungry.” He clutched his stomach. “I just wanted a bite of black bread.”
“Good boys do not cut purses, Tom.” She tried to be stern, but it was hard when looking into such soulful eyes.
“I am a crossing sweep, miss.” Then he dropped his chin and squeezed a fat tear from his left eye. “Leastways I was until someone stole me broom. It is ’orrible ’ard to sweep without a broom.” Then he descended into loud wails of despair.
She was not fooled, of course. The child was simply playacting. And from his looks, the gentleman knew it, too. Still, it was excruciating to stand idle before an entire courtyard while a tiny child wailed at their feet. All three adults fidgeted as they encountered the icy stares of more than one casual observer.
The gentleman broke first. “This is outside of enough!”
“I quite agree,” added Gillian, but Tom was so caught up in his performance he would not stop. “Very well, sir. I suppose we must call a constable.”
She expected her comment to stop the child’s wailing, but the sobs only intensified. He became positively hysterical. Glancing up, she saw the gentleman’s face darken. The man was clearly at the end of his patience. He bent down, careful to keep his clothing out of the muck, and spoke fiercely and quietly to the child. She could not understand what he said, but she could hear the low throb of authority infusing his tone.
Tom stopped crying mid wail.
Gillian breathed a sigh of relief. Whoever the dark gentleman was, he certainly possessed a talent for cutting through juvenile hysterics. But then she noticed the gentleman’s clenched jaw muscles and decided to get man and boy separated as soon as possible. Patience clearly was not one of his virtues.
She smiled as winningly as possible. “Thank you for your help, sir. I believe Tom and I can handle things now.”
He straightened, looking for all the world like a large black panther slowly uncurling before his prey. “Truly?” he drawled. “I am absolutely breathless with curiosity. How do you intend to control the brat?”
Gillian winced at the cruel term and became more determined than ever to escape this domineering man. “I am sure Tom will control his own behavior. Am I correct, Tom?”
As expected, the boy nodded vigorously, probably intending to run the moment the coachman released him.
“Of course you will, Tom,” she continued, “because you and I will find something to eat, and then we shall speak with my guardian. I am certain he can find a position for a good boy in his household.”
“Indeed.” There was a wealth of understatement in the man’s one word, but Gillian was not one to be intimidated by his arrogance. “And just who is this paragon of virtue who will hire a cutpurse?”
Gillian grinned, anticipating her moment of triumph. “The Earl of Mavenford,” she said loftily, “and a kinder, more understanding gentleman I have yet to find.” Her expression indicated that the dark gentleman was nothing close.
But far from appearing stunned by the mention of her guardian, the man actually began to smile. It was a bitter smile, cold and mocking, and it sent a tremor of fear up her spine despite her confidence.
“I believe you are mistaken,” he said softly.
“Nonsense. My guardian is Stephen Conley, fifth Earl of Mavenford.”
“And you are Miss Amanda Faith Wyndham?”
She lifted her chin, determined to lie with a straight face. “Yes, I am.”
“Well, Miss Wyndham, I am quite intimately acquainted with his lordship, and I can assure you, he is neither kind nor understanding.”
“Piffle,” she said, reaching for Tom. She was gratified to see the coachman release him, and the boy sidled quickly into her protective embrace. “In any event, this is no longer your affair.”
She made to leave, taking Tom with her, but the gentleman reached out and grabbed her, his large hand clamping like iron about her arm.
“You are going nowhere, you impertinent chit!” His hand tightened around her arm.
“Sir, you are offensive.”
“I intend to get a good deal more offensive before the day is much older. Where is your companion? And why were you on top of the coach?”
“Just who are you, sir, to demand such questions of me?” She had practiced that tone before, imitating her half sister at her most condescending.
“I, Miss Wyndham, am the fifth Earl of Mavenford.” He smiled grimly. “Your guardian.”
Gillian felt her jaw go slack in shock. It could not be true. Why would the Earl of Mavenford pick up his nearly impoverished cousin from a coaching inn on a drizzly, gray day? At most he should have sent a servant, and she had scrupulously checked the courtyard for someone who appeared to be a footman or driver for the earl. No one had caught her attention, so she’d assumed the man simply had not bothered. After all, that was exactly what Amanda would have done if some nobody cousin came to visit her. It was inconceivable that this person could be the earl himself.
“I assure you,” he said, clearly guessing her thoughts, “I am the Earl of Mavenford.”
Despite his words, desperation compelled Gillian to glance at the coachman. He gave her a single, grave nod, and for the first time in years, Gillian wished she had died at birth.
“Do not bother cutting up sweet, my dear. I assure you, you have already used up my store of patience.”
“I suggest you let the boy go on his misguided way and apply yourself to finding an explanation for your outrageous behavior.”
Gillian stared at the dark gentleman, narrowing her eyes as she came to grips with situation. The man was condescending, tyrannical, and arrogant to the bone. He had to be the earl. Still, she had spent the better part of her life nursing the shrewish Amanda Wyndham. She knew how to handle autocrats.
“I am sorry, my lord, but I am afraid I cannot comply. I have made a promise to this boy, and I intend to keep it.”
“A promise! What promise?” A vein in his neck visibly pulsed, but the earl kept his voice level, his blue eyes narrow and intense. Somehow his very control made her fear him even more.
“I…” She faltered, but was still determined. “I promised to help him find employment.”
He did not answer, but she could feel his anger mount exponentially with his every indrawn breath. It practically vibrated in the air between them, and she wondered why the passersby did not flee in terror.
Gillian swallowed and tried a different tack. “My lord, surely you can see this child must be helped.”
“He is a common cutpurse!”
“No, my lord. He is a child who needs a little guidance.” “You are a naive fool,” he retorted.
“No doubt. But at least I shall have tried.”
The earl fell silent, surprising her by appearing to consider her comment. Determined to take advantage of any tempering within him, Gillian smiled as winningly as she knew how. “Please, my lord. True, the child’s a liar and a thief, but he is also alone and hungry. We cannot just abandon him.”
She expected some softening in his expression, but to her horror, his face grew harder, colder, more filled with disdain. “You will do better not to try your wiles on me, Miss Wyndham. You will find me particularly immune.”
“Oh!” Gillian actually stomped her foot in frustration, something she had not done in fifteen years. She knew the child was not evil; why could he not see that as well? “You cannot abandon him, my lord. It would be…” She groped desperately for the appropriate word. “It would be unpatriotic!”
That, at least, gave him pause. “Unpatriotic?”
“Why, yes,” she stammered as she tried to explain. “Suppose you were in some foreign country, and you saw a destitute English boy. You would help him then.” “I would?” His disbelief was obvious.
“Of course you would. Have I not said you are the kindest and most understanding man?”
He folded his arms across his chest. “You did indeed say that.”
“Then it stands to reason you would help a poor English boy lost in a foreign land.” She pushed Tom forward. “Only think, my lord, Tom is English and destitute. You cannot penalize the child merely because he is orphaned in
England rather than in some foreign part?”
“To do so would be unpatriotic?”
“Exactly!” She beamed at him, pleased he understood her twisted logic.
He shook his head. “This is why women will never be allowed into Oxford.”
“And that is why men will never be allowed in women’s drawing rooms!” she shot back.
He blinked at her. “I beg your pardon?”
“Oh, never mind. I needed to say something, and that tumbled out.” She saw the gleam of humor spark in his eyes and judged it the best time to press her case. “Please, my lord, could we not keep him?”
“Keep him?” The earl’s eyebrows climbed straight up beneath his hair. “Like a pet?”
“No.” She tried to smile, but she felt off balance before the earl, unsure of exactly how to act. “I mean care for him like a child who has nowhere to go and no one else to turn to.”
Then Gillian saw something she never expected: the man’s face shifted, not easing in the way of a man giving in to a pretty woman, but twisting as a man remembering something cruel that was finally over. He sighed heavily. “You cannot go about saving every lost soul in London.” “No, my lord. Just this one today. I promise to leave the others for tomorrow.”
He released a sudden bark of laughter, apparently surprising himself as much as her. “Very well, though damned if I know what I shall tell my mother.”
Gillian grinned. “Just remind her it is her patriotic duty. I am sure she will understand.”
The earl glanced down at the dirty boy still clutched in her arms, then closed his eyes with a pained expression. “Clearly you know as little about my mother as you did about me.” Then he gestured her toward a waiting landau. It was a grand four-wheeled vehicle with the earl’s golden crest emblazoned on both sides. Only a fool could have missed it, she realized with horror, but truly, she had not thought he would send anyone, much less come himself.
She was still ruminating on her stupidity when the earl shut the carriage door. Though the landau was quite spacious, Gillian suddenly felt short of breath. The earl seemed to dominate the interior of his carriage, looming large as he peered at her from the opposite seat. Unconsciously she pulled Tom closer, as though the boy could protect her. But the child was more interested in the novelty of riding in a richly appointed carriage than in comforting her. Currently he occupied himself by rubbing his hands across the burgundy velvet squabs, a look of ecstasy on his young face.
“Do not imagine for one moment I have forgotten.” The earl’s low voice filled the interior, sending a small shiver of awareness up her spine.
“Forgotten what, my lord?” She strove for an innocent expression and knew he was not fooled.
“I will demand an explanation for your outrageous behavior before this day is over.” He spoke congenially, but Gillian knew he was as good as his word. She would receive a severe drubbing very soon. She sighed unhappily, knowing better than to rail at fate. After all, what was the worst that could happen? He could refuse to frank her Season, send her back to York, and thereby condemn her to a life of hardship and brutality, if not worse.
Gillian dropped her chin into her hand, her spirits lowering with every clip-clop of the horse’s hooves. At the moment, York almost seemed preferable to a severe dressing-down by her formidable guardian.