Maybe . . . just maybe . . . this time, her hoping wouldn’t end in disappointment. Perhaps dreams could come true. She wasn’t wishing on a star. She had a comet now.
Adding in the coach journey, by the time they returned to Mayfair it was mid-morning. Alex planned to do nothing with the day, save for dragging herself into the house for a bath and a nice long sleep—in Chase’s arms, if it could possibly be managed.
Upon arriving at Reynaud House, however, their plans for a rest were immediately abandoned. Mrs. Greeley rushed from the house before the carriage had even come to a halt.
“Oh, Mr. Reynaud. Thank the Lord you’ve returned.”
“Good God, what is it?”
“Rosamund and Daisy, sir. They’re gone. They’ve run away.”
“Run away?” Alex echoed, hoping that she might have misheard the housekeeper.
Mrs. Greeley broke down in tears.
Chase didn’t wait for further confirmation. He bolted into the house, and Alex followed him.
Together they rushed up to the nursery and across the room to the open window. A knotted rope ladder dangled from the windowsill down to the street.
Alex flew to the girls’ trunk and dug through it frantically, all the way to the bottom. Just as she’d feared. “It’s gone.”
“Rosamund’s bundle. I came upon it by accident once, weeks ago. She had money squirreled away. All those pennies and shillings added up to a significant amount. There were other things, too. Like maps and coaching timetables.”
“And you didn’t do anything about it? Christ, Alex.”
She wilted under his stare. “I didn’t want her to know I’d found it.”
“You should have told me. You should have taken it away.”
“She would have only packed a new one. The best way to keep her from running was to make her feel she had a home. And I thought she was feeling that way lately. I can’t imagine what might have changed her mind.”
Chase shook his head. “The letters. It has to have been the letters.”
“Letters from every decent boarding school in England, offering the girls admission. I left them on the desk last night.”
“She probably came down hoping to pocket a shilling or two and saw them.” He pushed a hand through his hair. “Where will they have gone?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps toward a port city.”
She briefly closed her eyes, feeling sick. “They may be planning to pose as boys and find work aboard a ship.”
Chase swore with a viciousness to rival even the most black-hearted pirate.
Alex cursed herself. She ought to have known. Rosamund hadn’t joined the piracy game to indulge her whims. She’d been paying attention. Not only gaining the skills required of a ship’s boy, but learning how and where to find work. All this time, Alex had been striving to make the girls feel they had a home. Instead, she’d given Rosamund lessons in how to run away, so fast and fearlessly that no one could catch them.
Chase left the nursery as decisively as he’d entered it, bounding down the stairs. And once again, Alex followed.
“I’m so sorry,” she said weakly. “This is my fault. It’s all my fault.”
He didn’t slow down to apportion blame. “I’ll have the groom ready a fresh horse. I’ll begin with the southerly coaching inns, ask if anyone fitting the girls’ description has purchased tickets, and if so to what destination. If that turns up nothing . . . Well, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”
“No. You’d only slow me down, and one of us should remain here in case they return.”
“Stay.” Chase went to her and held her face in his hands. “I’ll find them. No matter where they’ve gone. I’ll find them, and I will bring them home.”
Night was falling when Chase finally returned to the house. He wasted no words on pleasantries. “Tell me they’re here.”
Alex dearly, fervently, with every fiber of her being, wished she could tell him just that.
Instead, she had to shake her head in the negative. “I sent notes to Penny and Nicola. Neither has seen them, but they’ve promised to send word first thing if they do. I wrote to your brother, as well. John’s gone out searching.”
The pale, bleak cast of his face was like no expression she’d ever seen him wear. He staggered to a chair, fell into it, and dropped his head in his hands.
“Oh, Chase.” She hurried to him, kneeling on the carpet and wrapping her arms around his shoulders. “We’ll find them. We will.”
“I’ll go back out.” He braced his hands on the chair’s arms and pushed himself to a standing position. “I can’t just sit here.”
“You’re exhausted. Let me go instead.”
She laid her hand on his chest, firmly pushing him back. “It should be me. I have the best chance of finding them. I all but drew them their escape plan.”