Robert had rented a room for them in a cottage belonging to a Mr. and Mrs. Hogan, and he was eating well now, gaining weight from Mrs. Hogan's excellent cooking. Like nearly everyone else in Helmshead, the Hogans were kind, hardworking people, and their four-year-old twin boys were a miracle of activity and lopsided grins. Elizabeth liked all four Hogans immensely, and if it were left to her, she rather thought she would like to stay there, hidden away forever.

Unlike Robert, she was not eager to leave Britain nor afraid of being found. In a strange sort of way she was finding a numb kind of peace there-she was close enough to Ian to almost feel his presence, far enough away from him to know that nothing he said or did could hurt her.

"That's a long way to fall, missus," Mr. Hogan said, coming up beside her and catching Elizabeth's arm in his calloused hand. "Come away from that ledge, y'hear?"

"I didn't realize I was this close to the edge," Elizabeth said, genuinely surprised to realize the toes of her slippers had been beyond solid ground.

"You come in and rest now. Yer husband explained ter us about the bad time ye've had and how ye need to be free o' worry for the time."

The revelation that Robert had confided something of their plight to anyone-especially the Hogans, who knew they were waiting for a ship bound for America or Jamaica

or some other place he deemed suitable-pierced' her pained daze enough to make her ask, "What did Rob-my husband-tell you about ?the bad time' I've had-"

"He explained yer not to hear nor see nothin' to worry you."

"What I'd like to see," Elizabeth said as she stepped over the threshold of their cottage and inhaled the smell of baking bread, "is a newspaper."

"Especially no newspapers," Mr. Hogan said. "There's not much chance of seeing one," Elizabeth said wearily, with an absent smile at one of the twins, who ran up to put his arms around her legs. "Although I can't conceive of anywhere in England that the newspapers don't eventually reach."

"Yer wouldn't want ter read none o' that stuff. It's allays the same-murder and mayhem and polytics and dances."

During the two years Elizabeth had remained in self-imposed isolation at Havenhurst she had rarely read the papers, because it only made her feel more isolated from London and life. Now, however, she wanted to see if there was any mention of her disappearance, and how much was being made of it. She supposed the Hogans couldn't read, which wasn't unusual, but she still thought it so very odd that Mr. Hogan couldn't locate even an old newspaper anywhere among the villagers.

"I really do need to see a newspaper," she said with more force than she intended, and the twin dropped his arms from her. "Would you like me to help you do something, Mrs. Hogan?" Elizabeth asked to take the sting out of her exclamation over the paper. Mrs. Hogan was in the seventh month of her pregnancy; she was constantly working and constantly cheerful.

"Not a thing, Miz Roberts. You just rest yerself right there at the table, and I'll get you a nice cup of tea."

"I need a newspaper," Elizabeth said under her breath, "more than I need tea. "

"Timmy'" Mrs. Hogan hissed. "Put that away this minute, ye hear? Timmy, " she warned, but as usual the cheerful twin ignored her. Instead he tugged at Elizabeth's skirt just as his father swooped down and snatched something large out of his hand.

"For lady!" he shouted, climbing onto Elizabeth's lap. "I bring for lady!"

Elizabeth almost dumped the child on the floor in her surprise. "It's a newspaper!" she cried, her accusing gaze shifting from Mr. Hogan to Mrs. Hogan, who both had the grace to flush beneath their tanned skin. "Mr. Hogan, please-let me see that."

"Yer becomin' overwrought, jes' like yer husband said would happen if ye saw one."

"I'm becoming overwrought," Elizabeth said as patiently and politely as she could, "because you won't let me see it."

"It's old," he countered. "Mor'n three weeks."

Oddly, it was a quarrel over a stupid newspaper that made Elizabeth feel the first real emotion she'd felt in weeks. His refusal to hand it to her made her angry; his previous remarks about her needing to rest and becoming overwrought made her vaguely uneasy.

"I'm not the least overwrought," she said with a deliberate smile at Mrs. Hogan, who made most of the decisions in the household. "I merely wanted to see frivolous things like what the fashions are this season."

"They're wearin' blue," Mrs. Hogan said, smiling back at her and shaking her head at her husband, indicating he wasn't to give Elizabeth the newspaper, "so now ye know. Ain't that nice-blue?"

"You can read, then?" Elizabeth said, forcing her fingers not to snatch the paper out of Mr. Hogan's hand, though she was fully prepared to do even that if necessary.

"Mama reads," one of the twins provided, grinning at her. "Mr. and Mrs. Hogan," Elizabeth said in a calm, no

nonsense voice, "I am going to become extremely ?overwrought' if you don't let me see that paper. In fact, I will go from cottage to cottage if I have to in order to find someone else who has one or who has read one."

It was the firm tone of a mother speaking to rowdy children who were close to getting on her nerves, and it seemed to register on Mrs. Hogan. "There's naught to be gained if you go about the village searching for other papers," Mrs. Hogan admitted. "There's but one paper among us, far as I know, and it was my turn to read it. Mr. Willys got it from a sea captain last week."

"Then may I see it, please?" Elizabeth persisted, her hand positively itching to snatch it out of Mr. Hogan's big fist while she had a hysterical vision of herself hopping about, reaching for it while he held it over her head.

"Feelin' as strong as you do about fashions and suchlike, I for one can't see that it will hurt, though yer husband was very firm you shouldn't-"

"My husband," Elizabeth said meaningfully, "does not dictate everything to me."

"Sounds ter me," said Mr. Hogan with a grin, "like she wears the trousers when she's feelin' up to snuff, jes' like you, Rose."

"Give her the paper, John," Rose said with an exasperated smile.

"I believe I'll take it into my room to read it," Elizabeth said as her fingers at last closed around it. From the way they watched her walk into her room, she realized Robert must have inadvertently made them think she was almost a refugee from Bedlam. Sitting down on the narrow bed, Elizabeth opened up the paper.


Tags: Judith McNaught Sequels Billionaire Romance
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