If something happened to her . . .

“I need to know how you can be so certain,” Daniel said, his voice dropping into a furious hush.

“Well. . .” Hugh brought his glass to his lips and took something deeper than a sip. “If you must know, I told him that if anything happens to you, I would kill myself.”

If Daniel had been holding anything, anything at al, it would have crashed to the ground. It was a remarkable thing that he did not crash to the ground.

“My father knows me well enough to know that I do not say such a thing lightly,” Hugh said, lightly.

Daniel couldn’t speak.

“So if you would . . .” Hugh took another drink, this time barely touching his lips to the liquid. “I would appreciate if you would endeavor not to get yourself kiled in an unhappy accident. I’m sure to blame it on my father, and honestly, I’d rather not see myself off unnecessarily.”

“You’re mad,” Daniel whispered.

Hugh shrugged. “Sometimes I think so. My father would certainly agree.”

“Why would you do such a thing?” Daniel could not imagine anyone else—not even Marcus, who was truly a brother to him—making the same sort of threat.

Hugh was silent for a very long while, the unfocused stare of his eyes broken only by the occasional blink. Finaly, just when Daniel was sure that he would never answer, he turned and said, “I was stupid when I caled you a cheat. I was drunk. And I believe you were drunk, too, and I did not believe you had the ability to beat me.”

“I didn’t,” Daniel said. “All I had was luck.”

“Yes,” Hugh agreed. “But I don’t believe in luck. I never have. I believe in skil, and even more in judgment, but I had no judgment that night. Not with cards, and not with people.”

Hugh looked at his glass, which was empty. Daniel thought about offering to refil it, then decided that Hugh would ask if that was what he wanted.

“It was my fault that you had to leave the country,” Hugh said, setting his glass on the table next to him. “I could not live with myself any longer, knowing that I had ruined your life.”

“But I have also ruined yours,” Daniel said quietly.

Hugh smiled, but it only touched one side of his mouth, and neither of his eyes. “It’s just a leg.” But Daniel didn’t believe him. He didn’t think Hugh believed himself, either.

“I will see to my father,” Hugh said, bringing a briskness to his tone that signaled their interview was coming to an end. “I do not believe he would be foolish enough to have been responsible for what happened to you this evening, but just in case, I shal remind him of my threat.”

“You will inform me of the outcome of the meeting?”

“Of course.”

Daniel made his way to the door, and as he turned to say good-bye, he saw that Hugh was struggling to rise to his feet. His tongue touched the top of his mouth, ready to say, Don’t, but he bit back the word. Every man needed his pride.

Hugh reached out and grasped his cane, then made his achingly slow progress across the room to see Daniel out. “Thank you for coming this evening,” Hugh said.

He held out his hand, and Daniel took it.

“I am proud to call you my friend,” Daniel said. He left then, but not before he saw Hugh turn swiftly away, his eyes wet with tears.

The folowing afternoon, after spending the morning in Hyde Park doing three remeasurements of Rotten Row, Anne sat at a writing desk in the Pleinsworth sitting room, tickling her chin with the feather of her quil as she considered which items to put on her to-do list. It was her afternoon free, and she’d been looking forward all week to running errands and shopping. Not that she ever had much to purchase, but she rather enjoyed poking about in shops. It was lovely to have a few moments during which she had responsibility for no one but herself.

Her preparations, however, were interrupted by the arrival of Lady Pleinsworth, who came sailing into the room in a swish of pale green muslin. “We leave tomorrow!” she announced.

Anne looked up, thoroughly confused, then stood. “I beg your pardon?”

“We cannot remain in London,” Lady Pleinsworth said. “Rumors are flying.”

They were? About what?

“Margaret told me that she has heard talk that Sarah was not actualy ill on the night of the musicale and was instead trying to spoil the concert.” Anne did not know who Margaret was, but it could not be denied that the lady was well informed.

“As if Sarah would do such a thing,” Lady Pleinsworth continued. “She is such a superior musician. And a dutiful daughter. She looks forward to the musicale all year.”

There was no comment Anne could make about that, but fortunately for her, Lady Pleinsworth did not seem to require a response.

“There is only one way to combat these vicious lies,” she continued, “and that is to leave town.”

“To leave town?” Anne echoed. It seemed extreme. The season was just getting underway, and she’d thought that their main objective was to find a husband for Lady Sarah. Which they were unlikely to do back in Dorset, where the Pleinsworths had lived for seven generations.

“Indeed.” Lady Pleinsworth let out a brisk sigh. “I know that Sarah looks as if her health has improved, and perhaps it has. But as far as the rest of the world is concerned, she must be at death’s door.”

Anne blinked, trying to folow the countess’s logic. “Wouldn’t that require the services of a physician?” Lady Pleinsworth waved this off. “No, just healthful country air. Everyone knows one can’t properly convalesce in the city.” Anne nodded, secretly relieved. She preferred life in the country. She had no connections in the southwest of England, and she liked it that way. Plus there was the complication of her infatuation with Lord Winstead. It behooved her to nip that squarely in the bud, and two hundred miles of countryside between the two of them complication of her infatuation with Lord Winstead. It behooved her to nip that squarely in the bud, and two hundred miles of countryside between the two of them seemed the best way to do it. Setting down her pen, she asked Lady Pleinsworth, “How long will we be in Dorset?”

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