He glanced at the sky. “I don’t think you’ll be home by teatime.”

“It’s all right. I can’t imagine anyone would expect me to walk home in this.”

“I shal be completely honest,” he told her. “They were deep in discussions about the upcoming wedding. I sincerely doubt anyone has even noticed you’re gone.” She smiled as they headed inside to the dining room. “That is how it should be. Your sister should have the wedding of her dreams.” And what of your dreams?

The question traveled to the tip of his tongue, but he held it back. It would make her uncomfortable and ruin the lovely, easy camaraderie that had settled upon them.

And he doubted she would answer.

He was growing to treasure each tiny drop of her past that slipped by her lips. The colors of her parents’ eyes, the fact that she had a sister, and both loved to fish

. . . These were the little things she revealed, and whether she did so by accident or on purpose, he couldn’t be sure.

But he wanted more. When he looked in her eyes, he wanted to understand everything, every moment that had brought her to this moment. He didn’t want to call it obsession—that seemed far too dark for what he felt.

A mad infatuation, that’s what it was. A strange and giddy flight of fancy. Surely he wasn’t the first man to have been so quickly enchanted by a beautiful woman.

But as they settled into their seats in the inn’s busy dining room, he looked at her across the table and it wasn’t her beauty he saw. It was her heart. And her soul.

And he had a sinking feeling that his life was never going to be the same.

Chapter Thirteen

“Oh, my,” Anne said, alowing herself a little shiver as she sat down. She’d been wearing her coat, but the cuffs did not fit tightly, and the rain had slid down her sleeves. She was now drenched to her elbows and freezing to boot. “It’s difficult to imagine that it’s nearly May.”

“Tea?” Daniel asked, signaling to the innkeeper.

“Please. Or anything that is hot.” She puled off her gloves, pausing to frown at a little hole that was growing at the tip of her right forefinger. That wouldn’t do. She needed all the dignity she could muster in that finger. Heaven knew she shook it at the girls often enough.

“Is something amiss?” Daniel inquired.

“What?” She looked up and blinked. Oh, he must have seen her glaring at her glove. “It’s just my glove.” She held it up. “A small hole in the seam. I shal have to mend it this evening.” She gave it a closer inspection before setting it down on the table beside her. There was only so much mending a glove could take, and she suspected hers were nearing the end of their tether.

Daniel asked the innkeeper for two mugs of tea, then turned back to her. “At the risk of revealing myself to be completely ignorant of the realities of life in service, I must say that I find it difficult to believe that my aunt does not pay you enough to purchase a new pair of gloves.” Anne was quite sure that he was, indeed, completely ignorant of the realities of life in service, but she did appreciate that he at least acknowledged the deficit. She also suspected that he was completely ignorant of the cost of a pair of gloves, or just about anything else, for that matter. She had been shopping with the upper classes often enough to know that they never bothered to inquire the price of anything. If they liked it, they bought it and had the Bill sent to their homes, where someone else would take care of making sure it was paid.

“She does,” she said to him. “Pay me enough, that is. But there is virtue in thrift, wouldn’t you say?”

“Not if it means your fingers are freezing.”

She smiled, perhaps a little patronizingly. “It will hardly come to that. These gloves have at least one or two more mendings left in them.” He scowled. “How many times have you mended them already?”

“Oh, goodness, I don’t know. Five? Six?”

His expression turned to one of mild outrage. “That is entirely unacceptable. I will inform Aunt Charlotte that she must provide you with an adequate wardrobe.”

“You will do no such thing,” she said with haste. Good heavens, was he mad? One more show of undue interest from him, and Anne would be out on the street. It was bad enough that she was sitting with him in front of the entire vilage at the posting inn, but at least she had the excuse of the inclement weather. She could hardly be faulted for having taken refuge from the rain.

“I assure you,” she said, motioning to the gloves, “these are in better condition than most people’s.” Her eyes fell to the table, where his gloves, made of gloriously

“I assure you,” she said, motioning to the gloves, “these are in better condition than most people’s.” Her eyes fell to the table, where his gloves, made of gloriously luxurious lined leather, sat in an untended heap. She cleared her throat. “Present company excluded.” He shifted very slightly in his seat.

“Of course it is quite possible that your gloves have been mended and remended as wel,” she added without thinking. “The only difference is that your valet whisks them from your sight before you even notice they require attention.”

He did not say anything, and she instantly felt ashamed of her comment. Reverse snobbery was not nearly so bad as the real thing, but still, she ought to be better than that. “I beg your pardon,” she said.

He stared at her for a moment longer, then asked, “Why are we talking about gloves?”

“I have absolutely no idea.” But that wasn’t quite true. He might have been the one to bring it up, but she had not needed to go on about it. She’d wanted to remind him of the difference in their stations, she realized. Or maybe she’d wanted to remind herself.

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