“Oh, he hardly spoke to him,” Lord Winstead replied. But he said it with such nonchalance, as if there was nothing at all peculiar about a father and son who did not speak. It was rather unlike him, Anne thought. Not uncaring, precisely, but . . . Wel, she didn’t know what it was, except that it surprised her. And then she was surprised that she knew him well enough to notice such a thing.
Surprised and perhaps a little bit alarmed, because she shouldn’t know him so wel. It was not her place, and such a connection could lead only to heartbreak.
She knew that, and so should he.
“Were they estranged?” she asked, still curious about Lord Chatteris. She had only met the earl once, and briefly at that, but it seemed they had something in common.
Lord Winstead shook his head. “No. I rather think the elder Lord Chatteris simply had nothing to say.”
“To his own son?”
He shrugged. “It is not so uncommon, realy. Half of my schoolmates probably couldn’t have told you the color of their parents’ eyes.”
“Blue,” Anne whispered, suddenly overcome by a huge, churning wave of homesickness. “And green.” And her sisters’ eyes were also blue and green, but she
“Blue,” Anne whispered, suddenly overcome by a huge, churning wave of homesickness. “And green.” And her sisters’ eyes were also blue and green, but she regained her composure before she blurted that out, too.
He tilted his head toward her, but he did not ask her any questions, for which she was desperately grateful. Instead he said, “My father had eyes exactly like mine.”
“And your mother?” Anne had met his mother, but she had had no cause to take note of her eyes. And she did want to keep the conversation centered on him.
Everything was easier that way.
Not to mention that it was a topic in which she seemed to have great interest.
“My mother’s eyes are also blue,” he said, “but a darker shade. Not as dark as yours—” He turned his head, looking at her quite intently. “But I have to say, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen eyes quite like yours. They almost look violet.” His head tilted the tiniest bit to the side. “But they don’t. They’re still blue.” Anne smiled and looked away. She’d always been proud of her eyes. It was the one vanity she still alowed herself. “From far away they look brown,” she said.
“All the more reason to cherish the time one spends in close proximity,” he murmured.
Her breath caught and she stole a glance at him, but he was no longer looking at her. Instead he was motioning ahead with his free arm, saying, “Can you see the lake? Just through those trees.”
Anne craned her neck just enough to catch a silvery glint peeking between the tree trunks.
“In the winter you can see it quite wel, but once the leaves come out, it’s obscured.”
“It’s beautiful,” Anne said sincerely. Even now, unable to see most of the water, it was idylic. “Does it get warm enough to swim in?”
“Not on purpose, but every member of my family has managed to be submerged at one point or another.” Anne felt a laugh tickle her lips. “Oh, dear.”
“Some of us more than once,” Lord Winstead said sheepishly.
She looked over at him, and he looked so adorably boyish that she quite simply lost her breath. What would her life have been if she had met him instead of George Chervil when she was sixteen? Or if not him (since she could never have married an earl, even as Annelise Shawcross), then someone just like him. Someone named Daniel Smythe, or Daniel Smith. But he would have been Daniel. Her Daniel.
He would have been heir to a baronetcy, or heir to nothing at al, just a common country squire with a snug and comfortable home, ten acres of land, and a pack of lazy hounds.
And she would have loved it. Every last mundane moment.
Had she realy once craved excitement? At sixteen she’d thought she wanted to come to London and go to the theater, and the opera, and every party for which she was issued an invitation. A dashing young matron—that’s what she had told Charlotte she wanted to be.
But that had been the foly of youth. Surely, even if she had married a man who would whisk her off to the capital and immerse her in the glittering life of the ton
. . . Surely she would have tired of it all and wanted to return to Northumberland, where the clocks seemed to tick more slowly, and the air turned gray with fog instead of soot.
All the things she had learned, she had learned too late.
“Shal we go fishing this week?” he asked as they came to the shore of the lake.
“Oh, I should love that above all things.” The words rushed from her lips in a happy flurry. “We’ll have to bring the girls, of course.”
“Of course,” he murmured, the perfect gentleman.
For some time they stood in silence. Anne could have remained there all day, staring out at the still, smooth water. Every now and then a fish would pop to the surface and break through, sending tiny ripples out like rings on a bul’s-eye.
“If I were a boy,” Daniel said, as transfixed by the water as she, “I would have to throw a rock. I would have to.” Daniel. When had she started to think of him as such?
“If I were a girl,” she said, “I would have to take off my shoes and stockings.”
He nodded, and then with a funny half smile, he admitted, “I would have probably pushed you in.” She kept her eyes on the water. “Oh, I would have taken you with me.”
He chuckled, and then fell back into silence, happy just to watch the water, and the fish, and bits of dandelion fluff that stuck to the surface near the shore.