Today's Reading

PROLOGUE
Scotland, February 1791

Run! Maria hurried on as quickly as her ungainly gait would allow. Anxiously glancing over her shoulder, at every moment she expected them to appear, to find her. If they even saw her again they would surely recognise her...and then she and her unborn child could be in as much danger as her beloved—

No! Thoughts of him could overwhelm her.

Grief. Agony. Loss.

She must be strong now, for his child.

Cursing again the misfortune that had brought her enemies to the same inn as the stagecoach she had been travelling in, Maria scuttled out of the inn yard and out into the narrow village street, desperately hoping they would have no reason to return immediately to their carriage.

Thankfully she had recognised the crest on their well-sprung coach through the small window and had immediately risen, cloak, bonnet, and reticule in hand, making it out through the side door just as they were entering from the yard. Stupidly she had glanced back just as they were entering and for an instant her eyes had met the cold blue gaze of the woman, although thankfully her gaze had seemed to pass over Maria with disinterest.

But I was seen.

In a minute, or two, or ten, the woman might suddenly realise whom she had laid eyes upon, and might wonder why she was here, alone, and dressed as she was. If the woman realised what was occurring then Maria might be in real danger.

This misfortune was, she realised, not so much coincidence as lack of foresight on her part. It was the Great North Road, after all, and this the last stop before Edinburgh. Most of the carriages stopped here, whether a well-sprung private conveyance like the one belonging to her foes, or the common stagecoach. It had always been possible that she might see someone who knew her at one of these stops. The true calamity was the coincidence that had brought precisely the people who meant her harm to this very inn today.

Making her way through the village, Maria now found herself amid fields and hedgerows. Having no idea where the twisting road led, she continued on regardless, anxious to put as much distance as possible between herself and her enemies.

Were they pursuing her? Had they somehow discovered the truth? Or had fate simply made them choose to travel at the same time as her? They would likely be going to the house in Newtown, she realised. A house she had never seen, but had once hoped to visit, perhaps even to make her home. She shuddered. How abruptly her dreams had been shattered, rudely stolen by those who hid their evil behind a veneer of civilisation.

The stagecoach passengers would even now be enjoying a quick bite and a visit to the retiring room. Twenty minutes, the driver had said. If they were not back in the coach on time it would leave without them. Knowing she could not have hidden from her enemies in such a small inn and yard for even ten minutes, Maria had realised instantly that she would have to abandon her stagecoach journey and try to find another way to reach the city.

Ahead was a crossroads. Linton, the painted sign declared, other destinations also highlighted. Gifford. Lennoxlove. Haddington, whence she had come.

Lennoxlove.

She thought for a moment.

Lennox. Love. Maria Lennox.

Trying it out in her mind, she nodded...

It is as good a name as any.

Scurrying past the sign, she took the narrower road. The quieter one. Somewhere here she would find shelter. An abandoned cottage, perhaps, or a barn. A place to hide for a night or two, until she was certain the danger had passed.

On she went, her ears constantly alert for any sounds of pursuit. Hopefully they had not taken her under their lofty notice. Well, why would they? The voice of reason within offered her some reassurance. Dressed in dowdy clothes, clutching a serving maid's cloak and an old bonnet... No, she would have meant nothing to them...a random woman at a coaching inn. And yet terror consumed her still. For if they recognised her, they might surely deduce what had happened.
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