“I realy do have to leave now,” she told him.
“To go where?”
“Home.” And then, because it seemed she ought to say something more, she added, “I’m quite tired. It has been a very long day.”
“I will escort you,” he told her.
“That is not necessary.”
He glanced up at her and pushed back against the wal, wincing as he rose to his feet. “How do you intend to convey yourself?” Was this an inquisition? “I will walk.”
“To Pleinsworth House?”
“It is not far.”
He scowled at her. “It is too far for a lady unescorted.”
“I’m a governess.”
This seemed to amuse him. “A governess is not a lady?”
She let out an unconcealed sigh of frustration. “I will be perfectly safe,” she assured him. “It is well lit the entire way back. There will probably be carriages lining the entire route.”
“And yet that does not ease my mind.”
Oh, but he was stubborn. “It was an honor to meet you,” she said firmly. “I am sure that your family is most eager to see you again.” His hand closed over her wrist. “I cannot alow you to walk home unescorted.”
Anne’s lips parted. His skin was warm, and now hers was hot where he touched her. Something strange and vaguely familiar bubbled within her, and with a prickle of shock she realized it was excitement.
“Surely you understand,” he murmured, and she almost gave in. She wanted to; the girl she used to be desperately wanted to, and it had been so long since she’d opened her heart wide enough to let that girl out.
“You can’t go anywhere looking as you do,” she said. It was true. He looked like he’d escaped from prison. Or possibly hel.
He shrugged. “The better to go unrecognized.”
“My lord . . .”
“Daniel,” he corrected.
Her eyes widened with shock. “What?”
“My name is Daniel.”
“I know. But I’m not going to use it.”
“Wel, that’s a pity. still, it was worth a try. Come now . . .” He held out his arm, which she did not take. “Shal we be off?”
“I’m not going with you.”
He smiled rakishly. Even with one side of his mouth swolen and red, he looked like a devil. “Does that mean you’re staying with me?” He smiled rakishly. Even with one side of his mouth swolen and red, he looked like a devil. “Does that mean you’re staying with me?”
“You’ve been hit in the head,” she said. “It’s the only explanation.”
He laughed at that, then avoided it entirely. “Have you a coat?”
“Yes, but I left it in the rehearsal room. I— Don’t try to change the subject!”
“I am leaving,” she stated, holding up a hand. “You are staying.”
But he blocked her. His arm came out in a stiff, horizontal line, his hand connecting flat with the wal. “I might not have made myself clear,” he said, and in that moment she realized that she had underestimated him. Happy-go-lucky he might be, but that was not all that he was, and right now, he was deadly serious. His voice low and fixed, he said, “There are a few things about which I will not compromise. The safety of a lady is one of them.” And that was that. He would not be budged. So with an admonishment that they must remain in the shadows and aleys where they would not be seen, she alowed him to escort her to the servants’ entrance of Pleinsworth House. He kissed her hand, and she tried to pretend she did not love the gesture.
She might have fooled him. She certainly did not fool herself.
“I will call upon you tomorrow,” he said, still holding her hand in his.
“What? No!” Anne yanked her hand back. “You can’t.”
“No. I am a governess. I can’t have men caling upon me. I will lose my position.”
He smiled as if the solution could not be easier. “I will call upon my cousins, then.”
Was he completely ignorant of proper behavior? Or merely selfish? “I will not be home,” she replied, her voice firm.
“I’ll call again.”
“I won’t be home again.”
“Such truancy. Who will instruct my cousins?”
“Not me, if you are loitering about. Your aunt will terminate me for sure.”
“Terminate?” He chuckled. “It sounds so grisly.”
“It is.” Good heavens, she had to make him understand. It did not matter who he was, or how he made her feel. The excitement of the evening . . . the kiss they’d shared . . . these were fleeting things.
What mattered was having a roof over her head. And food. Bread and cheese and butter and sugar and all those lovely things she’d had every day of her childhood. She had them now, with the Pleinsworths, along with stability, and position, and self-respect.
She did not take these things for granted.
She looked up at Lord Winstead. He was watching her closely, as if he thought he could see into her soul.
But he did not know her. No one did. And so, wearing formality like a mantle, Anne drew back her hand and curtsied. “Thank you for your escort, my lord. I appreciate your concern for my safety.” She turned her back to him and let herself in through the back gate.
It took a bit of time to sort things out once she was inside. The Pleinsworths returned only a few minutes after she did, so there were excuses to be made, pen in hand as she explained that she had been about to send a note explaining her departure from the musicale. Harriet could not stop talking about the excitement of the evening—apparently, Lord Chatteris and Lady Honoria had indeed become betrothed, in quite the most thriling manner possible—and then Elizabeth and Frances came running downstairs, because it wasn’t as if either of them had falen asleep in the first place.