“My cheek?” He shook his head, then contradicted himself. “Wel, a little.”
“But the thieves look worse than you do?” she said with a smile.
“Oh, much worse,” he said. “Much, much worse.”
“Is that the point of fighting? To make sure one’s opponent emerges in a worse state than oneself?”
“Do you know, I think it might be. Foolish, wouldn’t you think?” He looked at her with a strange, ponderous expression. “It’s what got me sent out of the country.”
She did not know all of the details of his duel, but— “What?” she asked. Because realy, even young men could not be so foolish.
“Wel, not exactly,” he alowed, “but it’s the same sort of inanity. Someone caled me a cheat. And I nearly kiled him for it.” He turned to her, his eyes piercing.
“Why? Why would I do that?”
She didn’t answer.
“Not that I tried to kill him.” He sat back in his seat, the motion oddly forceful and sudden. “It was an accident.” He was silent for a moment, and Anne watched his face. He did not look at her when he added, “I thought you should know.”
She did know. He could never be the sort of man who would kill so trivialy. But she could tell he did not wish to say any more about it. So instead she asked,
“Where are we going?”
He did not answer immediately. He blinked, then glanced out the window, then admitted, “I do not know. I told the coachman to drive aimlessly about until given further direction. I thought perhaps you needed a few extra minutes before returning to Pleinsworth House.” She nodded. “It is my afternoon free. I am not expected anytime soon.”
“Have you any errands you need to see completed?”
“No, I— Yes!” she exclaimed. Good heavens, how had she forgotten? “Yes, I do.”
His head tilted toward her. “I should be happy to convey you to wherever you need to go.” She clutched her reticule, finding comfort in the quiet crinkling sound of the paper inside. “It is nothing, just a letter that must be posted.”
“Shal I frank it? I never did manage to take my seat in the House of Lords, but I assume I possess franking privileges. My father certainly used his.”
“No,” she said quickly, even though this would have saved her a trip to a receiving house. Not to mention the expense for Charlotte. But if her parents saw the letter, franked by the Earl of Winstead . . .
Their curiosity would know no bounds.
“That is very kind of you,” Anne said, “but I could not possibly accept your generosity.”
“It’s not my generosity. You may thank the Royal Mail.”
“still, I could not abuse your franking privilege in such a way. If you would just see me to a receiving house . . .” She looked out the window to determine their precise whereabouts. “I believe there is one on Tottenham Court Road. Or if not there, then . . . Oh, I had not realized we were so far to the east. We should go to High Holborn instead. Just before Kingsway.”
There was a pause.
“You have quite a comprehensive knowledge of London receiving houses,” he said.
“Oh. Wel. Not realy.” She gave herself a swift mental kick and wracked her brain for an appropriate excuse. “It is only that I am fascinated by the postal system.
It’s realy quite marvelous.”
He looked at her curiously, and she couldn’t tell if he believed her. Luckily for her, it was the truth, even if she’d said it to cover a lie. She did find the Royal Mail rather interesting. It was amazing how quickly one could get a message across the country. Three days from London to Northumberland. It seemed a miracle, realy.
“I should like to folow a letter one day,” she said, “just to see where it goes.”
“To the address on its front, I would imagine,” he said.
She pressed her lips together to acknowledge his little gibe, then said, “But how? That is the miracle.” He smiled a bit. “I must confess, I had not thought of the postal system in such biblical terms, but I am always happy to be educated.”
“It is difficult to imagine a letter traveling any faster than it does today,” she said happily, “unless we learn how to fly.”
“There are always pigeons,” he said.
She laughed. “Can you imagine an entire flock, lifting off to the sky to deliver our mail?”
“It is a terrifying prospect. Especialy for those walking beneath.”
That brought another giggle. Anne could not recall the last time she had felt so merry.
“To High Holborn then,” he said, “since I would never alow you to entrust your missive to the pigeons of London.” He leaned forward to open the flap in the landau’s top, gave the driver instructions, then sat back again. “Is there anything else with which I might help you, Miss Wynter? I am entirely at your disposal.”
“No, thank you. If you would just return me to Pleinsworth House . . .”
“So early in the afternoon? On your day off?”
“There is much to be done this evening,” she told him. “We go to— Oh, but of course you know. We go tomorrow to Berkshire, to . . .”
“Whipple Hil,” he supplied.
“Yes. At your suggestion, I believe.”
“It did seem more sensible than your traveling all the way to Dorset.”
“But did you—” She cut herself off, then looked away. “Never mind.”
“Are you asking if I had already intended to go?” He waited a moment, then said, “I did not.” The tip of her tongue darted out to moisten her lips, but still, she did not look at him. It would be far too dangerous. She should not wish for things that were out of her reach. She could not. She’d tried that once, and she’d been paying for it ever since.