He wasn’t going to kiss her now; he had already realized it was not the right time. But he had to let her know. She had to know just what it was he wanted.
What she wanted, too, if only she alowed herself to see it.
“This kiss,” he said, his voice burning with tightly held desire. “This kiss . . . I wish for it with a fervor that shakes my soul. I have no idea why I wish it, only that I felt it the moment I saw you at the piano, and it has only intensified in the days since.” She swalowed, and the candlelight danced across her delicate neck. But she didn’t say anything. That was all right; he had not expected her to.
“I want the kiss,” he said huskily, “and then I want more. I want things you cannot even know about.” They stood in silence, eyes locked.
“But most of al,” he whispered, “I want to kiss you.”
And then, in a voice so soft it was barely more than breath, she said, “I want it, too.” Chapter Nine
I want it, too.
She was mad.
There could be no other explanation. She had spent the last two days teling herself all the reasons why she could not possibly alow herself to want this man, and now, at the first moment when they were truly alone and secluded, she said that?
Her hand flew up to cover her mouth, and she had no idea if it was from shock or because her fingertips had more sense than the rest of her and were trying to prevent her from making a huge, huge mistake.
“Anne,” he whispered, staring at her with searing intimacy.
Not Miss Wynter. Anne. He was taking liberties; she had not given him permission to use her given name. But she could not summon the outrage she knew she should feel. Because when he caled her Anne, it was the first time she felt as if the name was truly hers. For eight years she had caled herself Anne Wynter, but to the rest of the world she was always Miss Wynter. There had been no one in her life to call her Anne. Not a single person.
She wasn’t sure she’d even realized it until this very moment.
She’d always thought she wanted to be Annelise again, to return to a life where her biggest concern was which dress to wear each morning, but now, when she She’d always thought she wanted to be Annelise again, to return to a life where her biggest concern was which dress to wear each morning, but now, when she heard Lord Winstead whisper her name, she realized that she liked the woman she’d become. She might not have liked the events that had brought her to this point, or the still present fear that George Chervil might someday find her and try to destroy her, but she liked herself.
It was an amazing thought.
“Can you kiss me just once?” she whispered. Because she did want it. She wanted a taste of perfection, even if she knew she could pursue it no further. “Can you kiss me once, and then never do so again?”
His eyes clouded, and for a moment she thought he might not speak. He was holding himself so tightly that his jaw trembled, and the only noise was the labored sound of his breath.
Disappointment trickled through her. She didn’t know what she had been thinking, to ask such a thing. One kiss, and then nothing else? One kiss, when she, too, knew that she wanted so much more? She was—
“I don’t know,” he said abruptly.
Her eyes, which she had alowed to drift down to their feet, flew back to his face. He was still watching her with unwavering intensity, staring as if she might be his salvation. His face was not healed, with cuts and scrapes on his skin, and blue-black bruising around his eye, but in that moment he was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.
“I don’t think once will be enough,” he said.
His words were thriling. What woman wouldn’t want to be so desired? But the careful part of her, the sensible part, realized that she was treading down a dangerous path. She had done this once before, alowed herself to fall for a man who would never marry her. The only difference was that this time she understood this. Lord Winstead was an earl—recently disgraced, it was true—but still an earl, and with his looks and charm, society would soon reopen their arms.
And she was . . . what? A governess? A false governess whose life history began in 1816 when she’d stepped off the ferry, seasick and petrified, and placed her feet on the rocky soil of the Isle of Man.
Anne Wynter had been born that day, and Annelise Shawcross . . .
She had disappeared. Gone in a puff like the spray of the ocean all around her.
But realy, it didn’t matter who she was. Anne Wynter . . . Annelise Shawcross . . . Neither one of them was a suitable match for Daniel Smythe-Smith, Earl of Winstead, Viscount Streathermore, and Baron Touchton of Stoke.
He had more names than she did. It was almost funny.
But not realy. His were all true. He got to keep them al. And they were a badge of his position, of every reason why she should not be here with him, tipping her face toward his.
But still, she wanted this moment. She wanted to kiss him, to feel his arms around her, to lose herself in his embrace, to lose herself in the very night that surrounded them. Soft and mysterious, aching with promise . . .
What was it about a night like this?
He reached out and took her hand, and she let him. His fingers wrapped through hers, and even though he did not pull her toward him, she felt the tug, hot and pulsing, drawing her closer. Her body knew what to do. It knew what it wanted.
It would have been so easy to deny it if it hadn’t been what her heart wanted, too.
“I cannot make that promise,” he said softly, “but I will tell you this. Even if I don’t kiss you now, if I turn and walk away and go eat supper and pretend none of this ever happened, I can’t promise that I will never kiss you again.” He lifted her hand to his mouth. She’d removed her gloves in the carriage, and her bare skin prickled and danced with desire where his lips touched it.