Lord Winstead regarded her with an oddly penetrating stare, then finaly said, “I still don’t think you’re a Wynter,” he said.
How odd that he seemed so stuck on the idea. still, she shrugged. “There is not much for me to do about it. Unless I marry.” Which, as they both knew, was an unlikely prospect. Governesses rarely had the opportunity to meet eligible gentlemen of their own station. And Anne did not want to marry, in any case. It was difficult to imagine giving any man complete control over her life and her body.
“Look at that lady, for example,” he said, motioning with his head toward a woman who was disdainfuly dodging Frances and Elizabeth as they leapt across the path. “She looks like a Wynter. Icy blond, cold of character.”
“How can you possibly judge her character?”
“Some dissembling on my part,” he admitted. “I used to know her.”
Anne didn’t even want to think about what that meant.
“I think you’re an autumn,” he mused.
“I would rather be spring,” she said softly. To herself, realy.
He did not ask her why. She didn’t even think about his silence until later, when she was in her small room, remembering the details of the day. It was the sort of statement that begged for explanation, but he hadn’t asked. He’d known not to.
She wished he had asked. She wouldn’t have liked him so well if he had.
And she had a feeling that liking Daniel Smythe-Smith, the equal parts famous and infamous Earl of Winstead, could lead only to downfal.
As Daniel walked home that evening, after having stopped by Marcus’s house to convey his formal congratulations, he realized that he could not recall the last time he had so enjoyed an afternoon.
He supposed this was not such a difficult achievement; he had spent the last three years of his life in exile, after al, frequently on the run from Lord Ramsgate’s hired thugs. It was not an existence that lent itself to lazy outings and pleasant, aimless conversation.
But that was what his afternoon had turned out to be. While the girls counted their steps along Rotten Row, he and Miss Wynter had sat and chatted, talking about very little in particular. And all the time he could not stop thinking how very much he’d wanted to take her hand.
That was al. Just her hand.
He would bring it to his lips, and bow his head in tender salute. And he would have known that that simple, chivalrous kiss would be the beginning of something amazing.
That was why it would have been enough. Because it would be a promise.
Now that he was alone with his thoughts, his mind wandered to everything that promise might hold. The curve of her neck, the lush intimacy of her undone hair. He could not recall wanting a woman this way. It went beyond mere desire. His need for her went deeper than his body. He wanted to worship her, to—
The blow came out of nowhere, clipping him below his ear, sending him tumbling back against a lamppost.
“What the hel?” he grunted, looking up just in time to see two men lunging toward him.
“Aye, there’s a good guv,” one of them said, and as he moved, snakelike in the misty air, Daniel saw the glint of a knife, flashing in the lamplight.
These were his men. They had to be.
Damn it, Hugh had promised him it was safe to return. Had Daniel been a fool to believe him, so desperate to go home he’d not been able to bring himself to see the truth?
Daniel had learned how to fight dirty and mean in the last three years, and while the first of his attackers lay curled on the pavement from a kick to the groin, the other was forced to wrestle for control of the knife.
“Who sent you?” Daniel growled. They were face-to-face, almost nose to nose, their arms stretched high as they both strained for the weapon.
“I jest want yer coin,” the ruffian said. He smiled, and his eyes held a glittery sheen of cruelty. “Give me yer money, and we’ll all walk away.” He was lying. Daniel knew this as well as he knew how to draw breath. If he let go of the man’s wrists, even for one moment, that knife would be plunged between his ribs. As it was, he had only moments before the man on the ground regained his equilibrium.
“Hey now! What’s going on here?”
Daniel flicked his eyes across the street for just long enough to see two men running out from a public house. His attacker saw them, too, and with a jerk of his wrists, he flung the knife into the street. Twisting and shoving, he freed himself from Daniel’s grasp and took off running, his friend scrambling behind him.
wrists, he flung the knife into the street. Twisting and shoving, he freed himself from Daniel’s grasp and took off running, his friend scrambling behind him.
Daniel sprinted after them, determined to capture at least one. It would be the only way he would get any answers. But before he reached the corner, one of the men from the pub tackled him, mistaking him for one of the criminals.
“Damn it,” Daniel grunted. But there was no use in cursing the man who’d knocked him to the street. He knew he might well be dead if not for his intervention.
If he wanted answers, he was going to have to find Hugh Prentice.
Hugh lived in a small set of apartments in The Albany, an elegant building that catered to gentlemen of exceptional birth and modest means. Hugh certainly could have remained in his father’s enormous manse, and in fact Lord Ramsgate had tried everything short of blackmail to force him to stay, but as Hugh had told Daniel on the long journey home from Italy, he no longer spoke to his father.
His father, unfortunately, still spoke to him.