He tilted his head to the right. “I believe she’s off rooting about in the bushes.”

Anne folowed his gaze uneasily. “Rooting?”

“She told me she was practicing for the next play.”

Anne blinked at him, not folowing.

“For when she gets to be a unicorn.”

“Oh, of course.” She chuckled. “She is rather tenacious, that one.”

Lord Winstead grinned, and Anne’s stomach did a little flip. He had such a lovely smile. Wickedly mischievous, but with . . . oh, Anne had no idea how to describe it except that he was good man, an honorable man who knew right from wrong, and no matter how naughty his grins . . .

She knew he would not hurt her.

Even her own father had not proved so dependable.

“You look very serious of a sudden,” Lord Winstead said.

Anne blinked herself out of her reverie. “Oh, it’s nothing,” she said quickly, hoping she wasn’t blushing. Sometimes she had to remind herself that he could not peer straight into her thoughts. She looked over at Harriet and Elizabeth, who were still arguing, although by now they had moved off the topic of the inteligence (or lack thereof) of the beautiful princess and had started in on—

Good Lord, were they discussing wild boars?

“I think we need to take a break,” she said.

“I’ll tell you one thing,” Lord Winstead said. “I am not playing the boar.”

“I don’t think you need to worry on that score,” Anne said. “Frances will certainly snatch that one up.” He looked at her. She looked at him. And together they burst out laughing, so hard that even Harriet and Elizabeth stopped their sniping.

“What’s so funny?” Harriet asked, folowed by Elizabeth’s extremely suspicious “Are you laughing at me?”

“We’re laughing at everyone,” Lord Winstead said, wiping tears from his eyes. “Even ourselves.”

“I’m hungry,” Frances announced, emerging from the bushes. There were a few leaves stuck to her dress and a small stick jutting out from the side of her head.

Anne didn’t think it was meant to be a unicorn’s horn, but the effect was quite charming nonetheless.

“I’m hungry, too,” Harriet said with a sigh.

“Why doesn’t one of you run back to the house and ask the kitchen for a picnic hamper?” Anne suggested. “We could all use some sustenance.”

“I’ll go,” Frances offered.

“I’ll go with you,” Harriet told her. “I do some of my best thinking while I’m walking.” Elizabeth looked at her sisters, then at the adults. “Wel, I’m not going to stay here by myself,” she said, the adults apparently not counting as proper company, and the three girls took off for the house, their pace quickly moving from brisk walk to out-and-out race.

Anne watched as they disappeared over the rise. She probably shouldn’t be out here alone with Lord Winstead, but it was difficult to muster an objection. It was the middle of the day, and they were out of doors, and more to the point, she’d had so much fun that afternoon that she didn’t think she could muster an objection to anything just then.

She had a smile on her face, and she was quite happy to keep it there.

“I would think you could remove your sash,” Lord Winstead suggested. “No one needs to be evil all the time.” Anne laughed, her fingers sliding along the length of black ribbon. “I don’t know. I find I’m rather enjoying being evil.”

“As well you should. I must confess, I’m rather jealous of your evildoings. Poor Lord Finstead, or whatever his name turns out to be, could use a bit more malevolence. He’s a rather hapless felow.”

“Ah, but he wins the princess in the end,” Anne reminded him, “and the evil queen must live the rest of her life in an attic.”

“Which begs the question,” he said, turning toward her with furrowed brow. “Why is Lord Finstead’s tale sad? The strange bit is abundantly clear, but if the evil queen ends up in the attic—”

“It’s his attic,” Anne interrupted.

“Oh.” He looked like he was trying not to laugh. “Wel, that changes everything.”

And then they did laugh. The both of them. Together.

Again.

“Oh, I’m hungry, too,” Anne said, once her mirth had melted down to a smile. “I hope the girls don’t take too long.” And then she felt Lord Winstead’s hand take hers. “I hope they take long enough,” he murmured. He tugged her to him, and she let him, far too happy in the moment to remember all the ways he would surely break her heart.

“I told you I would kiss you again,” he whispered.

“You told me you would try.”

His lips touched hers. “I knew I would succeed.”

He kissed her again, and she puled away, but only an inch or so. “You’re rather sure of yourself.”

“Mmm-hmm.” His lips found the corner of her mouth, then floated softly along her skin until she couldn’t help herself and her head fell back to alow him access to the curve of her neck.

Her pelisse slipped away, baring more of her skin to the cool afternoon air, and he kissed her, right along the edge of her bodice, before coming back to her Her pelisse slipped away, baring more of her skin to the cool afternoon air, and he kissed her, right along the edge of her bodice, before coming back to her mouth. “Dear God, I want you so much,” he said, his voice nothing more than a rasp. He held her more tightly, both of his hands cupping her bottom and puling her forward . . . up . . . until she was seized by a mad urge to wrap her legs around him. It was what he wanted, and God help her, it was what she wanted, too.

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