Can this day possibly get any worse?

Emmie’s legs wobbled as she raised out of the mud pit she and her maid had been tossed into when the vehicle had thrown them. Her heartbeat still hammered out of control, and the spinning in her head hadn’t subsided. She glanced up the small slope to where the vehicle had rolled before stopping in the muck.

One minute they were riding along just fine, and the next minute, the coach jerked fitfully and flipped over. Within seconds, the door had broken open, throwing both Emmie and Anna out.

Anna groaned and rose to her feet, but slipped and fell on her backside once again.

“Here, let me help,” Emmie offered, holding out a shaky hand.

Once Anna was standing, she tried to swipe the mud off her dress but it mostly stuck on her fingers. “What happened?” Her voice shook.

Emmie examined the scene closer—over turned coach with broken door, but the four wheels were still held together and connected to the vehicle. Where the horses had run off to, she didn’t know. “I wish I knew what happened. Perhaps the vehicle hit a large rock and overturned.”

“I can’t see the driver.”

Panic raced through her blood. “Neither can I.” Emmie lifted her soaked skirt and walked to the knoll not far from them. “He’s not down in the ravine…although our trunks are.” She searched again, this time calling, “Sir? Driver? Where are you?” She turned toward Anna and shrugged.

“Heavens, Lady Sarah. Your face has smudges of mud all over it.”

Emmie swiped the muck off her face, knowing she probably made it worse.

“Oh, Lady Sarah, this has been the worst day of my life, and yours as well. I blame your uncle and his selfishness for putting us in this predicament.” Anna pouted and slipped again, but Emmie caught her maid’s elbow, steadying her.

Sighing heavily, Emmie nodded. “I agree. Today has been simply horrid. But we must not blame my uncle. Not fully, anyway. This senseless world in which we live has many emotions running high. People don’t always make the best decisions when they are angry.” She glanced up and down the empty road, searching for their driver. “Sad to think we have only been in Hampshire for a few hours and already we have had a very trying day.”

“I want to return home.” Anna sniffed. “Oh, Lady Sarah, look at your dress.” She brushed her hands over Emmie’s traveling dress, but only managed to smear the caked on dirt instead of remove it.

“Not to worry, Anna. Since this was something we could not avoid, we should not fret. However, I wonder what happened to our driver.” She scanned the area once more. “Without him, how shall we get to our destination?”

“Oh, dear. Do you suppose he’s terribly hurt from being thrown?”

Silently, Emmie grumbled. If only the soldiers had stayed with them the whole journey, perhaps she and her maid wouldn’t be in this predicament. Then again, in order for Emmie to begin her charade, she was relieved the others had turned back. “I cannot see any trace of him. Unless…” She sucked in a breath and trudged through the mire toward the overturned coach. “I pray he’s not trapped underneath.”

“Oh, no!” Anna moved around the other side of the vehicle. “He’s not here, either.”

Worry seized Emmie’s throat and she walked slowly around the vehicle, hoping she didn’t see any feet sticking out...or Heaven forbid, a head! “I cannot see him underneath.” At least she prayed he wasn’t completed crushed and sucked into the wet ground. But she felt he wasn’t. Something else happened to him. It was like he’d…disappeared. Very strange, indeed.

“I want to go home,” Anna whined again.

Emmie nodded, but at the same time she wished her maid would stop complaining. “Unfortunately, we cannot. Not until my father lets us know it’s safe.”

“I know, but being here in an unfamiliar place is just as frightening.”

“Very true.”

Anna released another cry and pointed to the bottom of the hill. “How will we retrieve our trunks?”

Heaving a sigh, Emmie rubbed her forehead. The painful tic throbbing behind her eyes threatened to expand into a huge pound before too long. If only she could go back to this morning and start all over from when she crawled out of bed, maybe things would have worked out better. Then again, if she could go back to eight weeks ago, she’d still be in Paris. Yes, that would be much better. Obviously, she’d made the wrong choice to accompany her father. At least she was in the country where her mother had been born and raised. Part of her heart wanted to search for relatives, but she didn’t dare.

Emmie adjusted her crooked bonnet and tightened the bows under her chin—now dripping with filth. At least she could act dignified, even though she appeared far from it at the moment.

From up the road, the rumble of another coach pulled her from her thoughts. She held her breath, hoping good fortune had decided to smile upon them after all. Anna scooted closer to her side and clutched Emmie’s arm.

The vehicle slowed as it neared, the driver’s gaze roaming over both Emmie and her maid. Emmie wanted to sigh aloud but didn’t dare. The coach appeared to be one of someone with wealth. The gold crest of eagle wings on the door hinted that the vehicle’s owner could possibly be noble.

Once the horses stopped, the driver shifted on his seat, leaning toward them. “What’s happened here?”

Emmie took a step closer. “We are stranded, Sir. Our coach overturned, and we cannot find the driver.”

The door to the vehicle opened and a head poked out mere seconds before the man’s frame followed. Emmie’s mouth hung open as she stared at the man emerging. Very tall, and muscular, she couldn’t believe someone so robust would be incredibly handsome as well. His dark brown hair was pulled back away from his face and secured with a leather tie. Dark brown eyes widened as he gazed over both Emmie’s and Anna’s appearance. Never in her life had she felt so unclean before, but concern registered on the man’s face even though she and Anna looked a fright.

“What happened?” The handsome man glanced at the wrecked vehicle.

“I wish I knew. We were riding along smoothly, then the wheel must have hit something and we were thrown into the mud.” She pointed to the sloping hill just off the road. “Our trunks ended down at the bottom, but I can’t seem to locate the driver.”

He blew a heavy sigh between his teeth, and it whistled. “I’m relieved to know you are unharmed. Where are you heading, may I ask?”

“Mr. and Mrs. Crampton’s estate—”

“Henry and Martha Crampton?” His gaze slid over both women once again before his eyes widened. “Are you perhaps their guests from France?”

Emmie hitched a breath in surprise. “Indeed, we are from France.”

He studied them again, slower this time, until he rested his gaze on Emmie’s maid, Anna. He smiled. “Then you must be Lady Sarah Lucia.”

Emmie held her breath, praying Anna would remember what they’d discussed this past week. The charade. But what if Anna forgot…or Heaven help her, what if the maid was too frightened? Quickly, before Anna could respond, Emmie squeezed her maid’s hand and said, “Yes, this is Lady Sarah Lucia. I’m her companion.”

Anna’s wide-eye expression clashed with Emmie’s, but she gave her maid a small reassuring smile and nod to follow along.

The handsome man tilted his head toward Emmie. “And does Lady Sarah’s companion have a name as well?”

Emmie swallowed hard. “Indeed she does. You may call me Miss Emmie.”

He bowed. “It’s a pleasure to meet both of you.” When he straightened, he turned to his driver and motioned. “Come help me assist these two lovely ladies.” He shrugged out of his waistcoat and laid it across the lip of the coach. The driver jumped down. The younger man pointed toward the vehicle. “Let’s see if we can turn this aright.”

“Splendid idea.” Emmie cheered. “I shall help as well.” She glanced at Anna who still looked a loss for words. “Lady Sarah, please stand over there so you don’t hurt yourself.”

“Uh, I—I think I should help, too. More hands are better.”

The handsome man held up his hand, stopping Anna. “Please, my lady. I fear you may strain yourself if you try to help.” He paused and looked at Emmie. “I think you should stand aside with your lady. My driver and I can see to the matter ourselves.”

“Nonsense. I’m very adept. I think you should allow me to assist.” Emmie lifted her chin, challenging the man.

Shrugging, he walked to the coach. “Suit yourself. My uncle taught me never to argue with a woman.”

“Wise man.” She chuckled.

Emmie hurried to the handsome stranger, admiring the way he looked in the beige shirt and cravat once he’d removed his coat. His wide shoulders captured her attention first, and as her gaze slowly slid down his lean waist and muscular legs, her throat turned dry. Although it was most improper to admire the way he looked so masculine in his clothes, it was hard to stop.

She wanted to wave her hand in front of her face to cool herself from such wicked thoughts, but then he looked over his shoulder at her and smiled, which nearly melted her legs right from underneath her.

“If this is too much for you Miss Emmie, please don’t push yourself. I would hate for you to get injured.”

She wanted to chuckle at his remark. Little did people know, Emmie did things a governor’s daughter should not do—and her father had scolded her several times in the past year because of her stubbornness. She rather liked being her own woman. “I assure you, I know my limits.”

He nodded, turned and grabbed a section of the vehicle. Together the three of them lifted, pushed, and set the coach aright. Immediately, Emmie studied the space where the overturned vehicle had lain. Thankfully, her driver had not been trapped underneath. Yet the thought still remained…where had he gone?

The nice man placed his hands on each wheel, pulling to assure they still were in working order. His driver had found where the horses had wandered off, brought them back and hitched them up. Then the two men lugged their trunks up the hill and lashed them back to the vehicle.

“It appears everything is in working condition, except for the broken door.”

“We shall drive without a door, then.” Emmie smiled.

The handsome stranger stepped to Anna and offered his hand. “My lady, let me help you back into your coach. I shall have my driver take you to Mr. and Mrs. Crampton’s estate.”

“What about you?” Emiline asked. After all, he was a gentleman of means, she was certain, so didn’t he need a driver?

He glanced her way for a second before leading Anna to the coach. “I shall have no problems driving my own vehicle, thank you.”

“Oh, Sir…what about our driver?” Emmie shook her head. “I didn’t see him anywhere. He couldn’t possibly have been thrown so far from the coach, could he?”

He glanced at her over his shoulder. “If you wait here, I shall go up the road a bit and try to locate him.”

“Would you like me to help?” Emmie offered.

The man shook his head. “I fear if he’s lying broken or bleeding, that’s not the sight a young lady needs to see. Wait right here.”

As the man hustled up the road, Anna clutched Emmie’s hands. Both of them had been through so much within the past little while, and Emmie prayed the Good Samaritan would find their driver. During their wait, the man’s driver tried to fix the broken door to their carriage, but there wasn’t much he could do without tools. Nevertheless, they could travel without a door, just as long as they didn’t have much further to go.

Soon the helpful stranger returned. A frown marred his handsome face and he shook his head. “I couldn’t see him. When I return to town, I shall summon the authorities and have this investigated posthaste.”

Sighing, Emmie nodded. “You are extremely kind, Sir. I thank you for taking the time to look, anyway.”

He helped Anna inside the coach and she offered a shy smile to the man. “I thank you, Sir.”

Emmie bit her lip to keep from grinning. Her maid was certainly acting out of character. Usually her servant flirted outrageously with handsome men. Perhaps Anna was thinking about her new role and remembering a governor’s daughter wouldn’t be so bold...even though sometimes Emmie was.

She walked to the door, waiting for him to step aside so she could climb in. “Pardon me, but what is your name? How do you know Mr. and Mrs. Crampton?”

“Most everyone around these parts knows of Mr. and Mrs. Crampton. They own a large piece of land and live in a beautiful estate.”

“You did not tell me your name.”

“I’m Gabriel Lawrence.”

She smiled. “Thank you for your kindness, Mr. Lawrence. We certainly appreciate your assistance.”

He took her hand and helped her inside. After the man walked back to his vehicle, Emmie looked at her maid and sighed with relief. So far it had worked. She wouldn’t believe it any other way.

Anna shook her head. “Lady Sarah, I really don’t know what your father was thinking to have us switch roles.” She spoke low. “I feel as if I have to think about every word before I say it.”

Emmie arched an eyebrow. “But Anna, you told my father you could play this role without any instruction.”

A blush stole across the maid’s cheeks. “Well, perhaps I didn’t know what I was saying. Thinking and doing are entirely two different things.”

Emmie chuckled. “Indeed they are. But you are doing fine.” She nudged her maid’s arm. “Besides, you look more like a governor’s daughter than I ever did.”

“No, I don’t.” Anna shook her head. “I bet you are glad you made me wear this fancy traveling dress. Otherwise, Mr. Lawrence may have been suspicious.”

“Indeed, I’m very grateful. I knew we would reach Mr. and Mrs. Crampton’s house today, and now we won’t have to worry about first appearances.” She patted Anna’s clasped hands. “No need to fret. Nobody will know the difference.”

“As long as you believe in me, I think I can do this.”

“I do believe in you.”

The clip-clop from the horse’s hooves and the swaying of the vehicle lulled Emmie, causing her eyes to droop. Yet her mind wouldn’t sleep. Many ideas swam in her head, and excitement danced in her body, keeping her awake.

Originally, she had abhorred her father’s plan. But now…

She wanted to accomplish so much without the restrictions of being a governor’s daughter hanging over her. She would finally get to ride through the countryside without one of her father’s servants escorting her. She could talk the way she wanted, and pretty much do whatever she wanted without seeing her father’s scowl or hearing his raised voice when he scolded her for being hard-headed and having her own mind.

How would it be if a man could look at her as a woman and not as a wealthy lady? Plenty of men vowed their loyalty and love to her, but none she believed. How could she when she knew it was her dowry they were after?

Closing her eyes, she leaned back on the seat. A man’s face appeared in her mind, and she smiled. Mr. Lawrence. Would she ever meet him again? Although he rode in the coach of someone who had money, he certainly didn’t act like he was used to being waited on. When he volunteered to help turn over their vehicle, then said he’d drive the coach himself, Emmie was certain he didn’t hold a title.

When the coach slowed and surprised voices rang out, Emmie snapped her eyes open and peeked out of the broken door. The old trees lining the drive appeared as if they had been tended with care throughout the years, as had the acreage of manicured lawns rolling out as far as she could see. She gasped in awe of its beauty. When a house came into view, she gazed upon the two-story artwork that looked to be a cross between Gothic and Tudor styles. This, she was informed, was where the Crampton family liked to spend their off season.

As the vehicle came to a stop, the front door to the house opened and an older gentleman, tall, stocky with thinning brown hair hustled out. Not far behind him came a woman about the same age, tall and thin, wearing a lovely blue gown. She adjusted her bonnet as she aimed her gaze at the coach.

Emmie smiled. This must be her father’s friends, Mr. and Mrs. Crampton.

Anna stirred on the seat, stretched and yawned. “Have we arrived?”

“Indeed we have, Lady Sarah.”

Anna rubbed her eyes then blinked as she looked at Emiline. “Do you know how hard it is going to be for me to answer to that name?”

“You shall do fine. Just remember to call me Miss Emmie.”

As the driver hopped down, Emmie prepared herself for a new adventure. Freedom from France society’s rules were in her grasp. At least for a little while, and she planned on taking advantage of a perfect opportunity.

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