Chapter Twenty-Four

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After Nicholas had left me alone on the bench seat, I didn't rejoin the party. I was too emotionally drained to socialise.

Instead, I went upstairs to check on Isabella, who had discarded her gown on the bedroom floor, and was curled up in her bed fast asleep.

It was only seven o'clock when I entered my bedroom, the music from downstairs wafting up the staircase and through the hall.

Closing the door behind me, I was reminded that Constable Doyle had been in my room, touching everything with his filthy hands. I shivered at the thought of it and wasted no time locking the door, not chancing him sneaking in here again.

As I walked over to my desk, I noticed the drawer was slightly ajar, my journal open on the desktop. I made sure to always put my journal away in the drawer when I had finished writing in it, so prying eyes didn't read it. Constable Doyle must have found it when hiding the pocket watch, read it, and didn't have the courtesy to put it back.

Opening the drawer to make sure nothing else was hidden in there, I placed the journal back inside, shutting it firmly.

My paranoid self also checked under the bed and inside my closet for any objects that weren't mine. Satisfied there was nothing else hidden in my room, I removed my gown and corset with a sigh of relief.

I fell back onto the bed, not even bothering to crawl under the blankets.

What a night.

My mind was racing, replaying everything that had happened; thinking Nicholas had proposed, the arrival of Constable Doyle, Desmond being an obnoxious pig, finding out Constable Doyle had been in my room, Robbie's confession of love for Isabella, Constable Doyle hiding expensive items in my room, Constable Doyle blackmailing me, Robbie and Isabella getting caught by Mr. Valentine, Mr. Valentine announcing Isabella is engaged to Nicholas, lots of tears, Nicholas wanting to be more than friends, me turning him down, more tears...

I couldn't face tomorrow.

How was I going to break the news to the family that I was leaving? They would be so disappointed.

How was I going to tell Isabella and Robbie after they'd just found out they'd never be able to marry each other? Talk about kicking them when they're down.

And Nicholas would most likely just flat out refuse to talk to me.

So I decided I wouldn't face tomorrow. I decided I would do what I had planned to do all along.

Travel through the painting. Vanish without a trace, just as I had done when I first arrived here.

Everyone, including Constable Doyle will just think I had gone back to Hobart. Which was technically true; just 150 years into the future.

Tonight was my only chance to do this.

I had to take the cottage painting back to Clay's Cottage. I had to put it back in its original frame and hang it up above the fireplace where it belonged.

That's how it was when I found it. That's how it was when I travelled through it. It had to work, it just had to.

I prayed I could pull it off without getting caught.

Guests had been coming and going all night, so it wouldn't look too unusual for another buggy to leave the party.

Nicholas had mentioned he was staying in one of the guest rooms over night, so I knew I wouldn't run into him at the cottage.

And as far as I knew, Constable Doyle was still downstairs making a nuisance of himself.

I sat up, ready to put my plan into motion.

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