But after five minutes in the library, he could not bear it any longer. He was not a man who liked to mope, and so finaly, after he realized that he had been resting his forehead on the table for at least a minute, he sat up, considered all the reasons why he might need to head down to the vilage (this took about half a second), and decided to head on out.
He was the Earl of Winstead. This was his home, and he’d been gone for three years. He had a moral duty to visit the vilage. These were his people.
He reminded himself never to utter those words aloud, lest Honoria and Sarah expire from laughter, and he donned his coat and walked out to the stables. The weather was not quite so fine as the day before, with more clouds above than sky. Daniel did not think it would rain, at least not in the immediate future, so he had his curricle readied for the two-mile journey. A coach was far too ostentatious for a trip to the vilage, and there seemed no reason not to drive himself. Besides, he rather liked the touch of the wind on his face.
And he’d missed driving his curricle. It was a fast little carriage, not as dashing as a phaeton, but also not as unstable. And he’d had it for only two months when he’d been forced to leave the country. Needless to say, smart little curricles had not been thick on the ground for exiled young Englishmen on the run.
When he reached the vilage, he handed off his reins to a boy at the posting inn and set off to make his cals. He would need to visit every establishment, lest someone feel slighted, so he started at the bottom of the high street at the chandler and worked his way up. News of his appearance in town spread quickly, and by the time Daniel entered Percy’s Fine Hats and Bonnets (only his third call of the day), Mr. and Mrs. Percy were waiting at the front of their store with identicaly wide smiles on their faces.
“My lord,” Mrs. Percy said, dropping into as deep a curtsy as her largish frame would alow. “May I be one of the first to welcome you home? We are both so honored to see you again.”
She cleared her throat, and her husband said, “Indeed.”
Daniel gave both of them a gracious nod, surreptitiously glancing about the establishment for other customers. Or rather, one other customer. Specificaly. “Thank you, Mrs. Percy, Mr. Percy,” he said. “I am delighted to be home.”
Mrs. Percy nodded enthusiasticaly. “We never believed any of the things they said about you. Not a thing.” Which led Daniel to wonder what sorts of things had been said. As far as he knew, every tale that had been spread about him had been true. He had dueled with Hugh Prentice, and he had shot him in the leg. As for his fleeing the country, Daniel didn’t know what sort of embelishment that story might have acquired; he rather thought that Lord Ramsgate’s ranting vows of revenge would have been titilating enough.
But if Daniel hadn’t wanted to debate the merits of blue-lavender and lavender-blue with his mother, he definitely did not wish to discuss himself with Mrs. Percy.
The Sad, Strange Tale of Lord Winstead. That’s what it would be.
So he simply said, “Thank you,” and moved quickly to a display of hats, hoping that his interest in their merchandise might overshadow Mrs. Percy’s interest in his life.
Which it did. She immediately launched into a list of the qualities of their most recent top hat design, which, she assured him, could be made to fit his head precisely.
Mr. Percy said, “Indeed.”
“Would you care to try one on, my lord?” Mrs. Percy asked. “I think you’ll find that the curve of the brim is most flattering.” He did need a new hat, so he reached out to take it from her hands, but before he could place it onto his head, the door to the shop opened, tugging onto a small bell that tinkled merrily through the air. Daniel turned, but he didn’t need to see her before he knew.
The air changed when she walked into a room.
“Miss Wynter,” he said, “what a lovely surprise.”
She looked startled, but only for a moment, and while Mrs. Percy regarded her with obvious curiosity, she bobbed a curtsy and said, “Lord Winstead.”
“Miss Wynter is governess to my young cousins,” he said to Mrs. Percy. “They are visiting for a short spell.” Mrs. Percy expressed her pleasure in making the acquaintance, Mr. Percy said, “Indeed,” and Anne was whisked off to the ladies’ side of the shop, where Mrs.
Percy had a dark blue bonnet with striped ribbons that would suit her perfectly. Daniel ambled along after them, still holding the black topper in his hands.
“Oh, your lordship,” Mrs. Percy exclaimed, once she realized that he had folowed, “won’t you tell Miss Wynter how lovely she looks?” He preferred her without a bonnet, with the sun glinting on her hair, but when she looked up at him, the sooty sweep of her lashes framing the dark, dark blue of her eyes, he didn’t think there was a man in Christendom who would have disagreed with him when he said, “Most lovely, indeed.”
“There, you see,” Mrs. Percy said to Anne with an encouraging smile. “You look like a vision.”
“I do like it,” Anne said wistfuly. “Very much. But it’s terribly dear.” She untied the ribbons with reluctant fingers, puled it from her head, then looked down at it with obvious longing.
“Such workmanship would cost you twice as much in London,” Mrs. Percy reminded her.
“I know,” Anne said with a rueful smile, “but governesses aren’t paid twice as much in London. So I rarely have much left over for bonnets, even those as lovely as yours.”
Daniel suddenly felt like a bit of a cad, standing there with the top hat in his hand, a top hat they all knew he could have bought and sold a thousand times without even feeling a pinch in his pocket. “Excuse me,” he said, clearing his throat awkwardly. He popped back over to the men’s side of the shop, handed the hat to Mr.