She swalowed. She did not know what to say.
“I can kiss you now,” he said, “without the promise. Or we can do nothing, also without the promise. It is your choice.” If he had sounded overconfident, she would have found the strength to pull away. If his posture had held swagger, or if there had been anything in his voice that spoke of seduction, it would have been different.
But he wasn’t making threats. He wasn’t even making promises. He was simply teling her the truth.
And giving her a choice.
She took a breath. Tilted her face toward his.
And whispered, “Kiss me.”
She would regret this tomorrow. Or maybe she wouldn’t. But right now she did not care. The space between them melted away, and his arms, so strong and safe, wrapped around her. And when his lips touched hers, she thought she heard him say her name again.
It was a sigh. A plea. A benediction.
Without hesitation she reached out to touch him, her fingers sinking softly into his dark hair. Now that she had done it, had actualy asked him to kiss her, she wanted it al. She wanted to take control of her life, or at least of this moment.
“Say my name,” he murmured, his lips moving along her cheek to her earlobe. His voice was warm against her ear, seeping into her skin like a balm.
But she couldn’t. It was too intimate. Why this might be so, she had no idea, since she had already thriled to the sound of her name on his lips, and more to the point, she was wrapped in his arms and desperately wanted to stay there forever.
But she wasn’t quite ready to call him Daniel.
Instead she let out a little sigh, or maybe it was a little moan, and she let herself lean more heavily into him. His body was warm, and hers was so hot that she thought they might go up in flames.
His hands slid down her back, one settling at the small of it, the other reaching down to cup her bottom. She felt herself lifted, pressed hard against him, hard against the evidence of his need for her. And although she knew she should be shocked, or at the very least reminded that she should not be here with him, she could only shiver with delight.
It was so lovely to be so desired. To have someone want her so desperately. Her. Not some pretty little governess one could back into a corner and paw at. Not the companion of some lady whose nephew thought she ought to be grateful for the attention.
Not even some young girl who was realy just an easy mark.
Lord Winstead wanted her. He’d wanted her before he’d even known who she was. That night at Winstead House, when he’d kissed her . . . For all he’d known she was the daughter of a duke, whom he’d be honor bound to marry just for being alone with her in a darkened halway. And maybe that wasn’t so meaningful, because it wasn’t as if they’d shared more than a few sentences, but he still wanted her now, and she didn’t think it was just because he thought he could take advantage of her.
advantage of her.
But eventualy sanity settled upon her, or maybe it was simply the specter of reality, and she forced herself to pull away from his kiss. “You need to get back,” she said, wishing her voice was a bit steadier. “They will be waiting for you.”
He nodded, and his eyes looked a little wild, as if he didn’t quite know what had just happened within him.
Anne understood. She felt precisely the same way.
“Stay here,” he finaly said. “I will send a maid to show you to your room.”
She nodded, watching as he headed across the galery, his gait not quite as purposeful as she was used to seeing in him.
“But this—” he said, turning with one outstretched arm. “This is not over.” And then, in a voice that held desire, and determination, and more than a little bewilderment, he added, “It can’t be over.”
This time she did not nod. One of them had to be sensible. Over was the only thing it could be.
English weather did not have a lot to recommend it, but when the sun and air got it right, there was no place more perfect, especialy in the morning, when the light was still slanted and pink, and the dew-topped grass sparkled in the breeze.
Daniel was feeling particularly fine as he headed down to breakfast. The morning sun was streaming through every window, bathing the house in a celestial glow, the heavenly aroma of bacon wafted past his nose, and—not that there had been much of an ulterior motive to this—the previous night he had suggested that Elizabeth and Frances take their breakfast with the rest of the family rather than up in the nursery.
It was sily for them to eat apart in the mornings. It was extra work for everyone involved, and of course he did not want to be deprived of their company. He had only just returned to the country after three long years away. This, he told them, was the time to be with his family, especialy his young cousins, who had changed so much in his absence.
Sarah might have given him a sarcastic look when he said that, and his aunt might have wondered aloud as to why, then, he was not with his own mother and sister. But he was excelent at ignoring his female relations when it suited him, and besides, he could hardly have responded what with the whooping and cheering coming from the two youngest Pleinsworths.
So it was settled. Elizabeth and Frances would not take their breakfast in the nursery and instead come down with the rest of the family. And if the girls were down, then Miss Wynter would also be there, and breakfast would be lovely, indeed.
With an admittedly goofy spring in his step, he made his way across the main hall to the breakfast room, pausing only to peek through the sitting room at the large window, which some enterprising footman had puled open to let in the warm, spring air. What a day, what a day. Birds were chirping, the sky was blue, the grass was green (as always, but it was still an excelent thing), and he had kissed Miss Wynter.