Percy, who said, “Indeed,” and then returned to the ladies, who were still gazing down at the blue bonnet.
“Here you are,” Miss Wynter said, finaly handing it back to Mrs. Percy. “I shal certainly tell Lady Pleinsworth how lovely your bonnets are. I am sure that she will wish to take her daughters shopping while she is visiting.”
“Daughters?” Mrs. Percy echoed, brightening at the prospect.
“Four of them,” Daniel told her amiably. “And my mother and sister are at Whipple Hil, as wel.” While Mrs. Percy was fanning herself, flushed from the excitement of having seven aristocratic ladies in residence so close to her hat shop, Daniel took the opportunity to offer his arm to Anne.
“May I escort you on your next errand?” he asked her, knowing full well how awkward it would be for her to refuse in front of Mrs. Percy.
“I’m almost done,” she told him. “I’ve only to buy a bit of sealing wax.”
“Luckily for you, I know exactly where that can be purchased.”
“The stationer’s, I would imagine.”
Good gracious, she was making this difficult. “Yes, but I know where the stationer’s is, ” he said.
She motioned with her finger someplace vaguely to the west. “Across the street, I think, and up the hil.” He shifted his position so that Mr. and Mrs. Percy could not easily watch their conversation. Under his breath, he said, “Will you stop being so difficult and let me escort you to buy your sealing wax?”
Her mouth was pressed shut, which meant that the little snort of laughter he heard must have come through her nose. All the same, she still looked quite dignified as she said, “Wel, if you put it that way, I don’t see how I could possibly refuse.”
He thought of several replies, but he had a feeling none would be as witty from his lips as they were in his head, so instead he nodded in acknowledgment and held out his arm, which she took with a smile.
Once they stepped outside, however, Anne turned to him with narrowed eyes and asked, quite bluntly, “Are you folowing me?” He coughed. “Wel, I wouldn’t say following, exactly.”
“Not exactly?” Her lips were doing a very good job of not smiling, but her eyes were not.
“Wel,” he said, adopting his most innocent expression, “I was in the hat shop before you came in. Some might even say that you were folowing me.”
“Some might,” she agreed. “But not me. Or you.”
“No,” he said, biting back a grin. “Definitely not.”
They began walking uphil toward the stationer’s shop, and even though she had not pressed the matter any further, he was enjoying the conversation far too much to let it go, so he said, “If you must know, I had been made aware of your possible presence in the vilage.”
“Clearly, I must know,” she murmured.
“And as I was also required to complete a few errands—”
“You?” she interrupted. “Required?”
He decided to ignore that. “And as it looked as if it might rain, I thought it my duty as a gentleman to make my trip into the vilage today, lest you get caught in inclement weather without proper conveyance home.”
She was quiet for just long enough to level a dubious stare in his direction, then said (not asked, said), “Realy.”
“No,” he admitted with a grin, “I was mostly just looking for you. But I do need to visit with all the shopkeepers eventualy, and I—” He stopped, looked up. “It’s raining.”
Anne held out her hand, and sure enough, a fat drop landed near her fingertips. “Wel, I suppose that shouldn’t be a surprise. The clouds have been gathering all day.”
“Shal we see about your sealing wax and be off, then? I came in my curricle and am more than happy to see you home.”
“Your curricle?” she asked, eyebrows up.
“You’ll still get wet,” he alowed, “but you’ll look very stylish while doing so.” At her answering grin, he added, “And you’ll get back to Whipple Hill faster.” By the time they took care of her sealing wax, choosing a deep, dark blue the exact color of the bonnet she’d left behind, the rain was coming down lightly but steadily. Daniel offered to wait with her in the vilage until it let up, but she told him she was expected back by teatime, and besides, who was to say that it would let up? The clouds were covering the sky like a thick blanket; it could very well rain until next Tuesday. “And it’s not raining that hard,” she said, frowning out the stationer’s window.
True enough, but when they reached Percy’s Fine Hats and Bonnets, he stopped and asked her, “Do you recall if they sold umbrelas?”
“I think they did.”
He held up a finger, signaling for her to wait, and was back out with an umbrela in no more time than it took for him to direct them to send the Bill to Whipple Hill and Mr. Percy to say, “Indeed.”
“My lady,” Daniel said, with enough galantry to make her smile. He pushed the umbrela open and held it above her as they made their way down to the posting inn.
“You should hold it over yourself as wel,” she said, carefuly stepping over puddles. The hem of her dress was getting wet, even as she tried to lift it off the ground with her hands.
“I am,” he lied. But he didn’t mind getting wet. His hat would resist the rain far better than her bonnet, in any case.
The posting inn wasn’t much farther, but when they arrived, the rain was coming down with a bit more vigor, so Daniel suggested once again that they wait for the rain to let up. “The food is rather good here,” he told her. “No kippers this time of day, but I’m sure we can find something to your liking.” She chuckled, and to his great surprise, she said, “I am a bit hungry.”