“Enough of that,” she said briskly, giving the overdiscussed handwear a pat. She looked up at him again, about to say something completely benign about the weather, but he was smiling at her in a way that made his eyes crinkle, and—
“I think you’re healing,” she heard herself say. She hadn’t realized how much sweling there had been along with the bruise that wrapped around his eye, but now that it was gone, his smile was different. Perhaps even more joyful.
He touched his face. “My cheek?”
“No, your eye. It’s still a bit discolored, but it doesn’t look swolen any longer.” She gave him a regretful sort of look. “Your cheek looks much the same.”
“Wel, actualy worse, I’m sorry to say, but that’s to be expected. These things usualy look worse before they look better.” His brows rose. “And how is it that you have come to be such an expert on scrapes and bruises?”
“I’m a governess,” she said. Because realy, that ought to be explanation enough.
“Yes, but you teach three girls—”
She laughed at this, cutting him off rather neatly. “Do you think that girls never get into mischief?”
“Oh, I know that they do.” He tapped one hand against his heart. “Five sisters. Did you know that? Five.”
“Is that meant to invoke pity?”
“It certainly should, ” he said. “But still, I don’t recall them ever coming to blows.”
“Half the time Frances thinks she’s a unicorn,” Anne said plainly. “Trust me when I tell you that she acquires more than her fair share of bumps and bruises. And besides that, I’ve taught little boys, too. Someone must give them instruction before they go off to school.”
“I suppose,” he said with a little shrug of concession. Then, with a cheeky quirk of his brows, he leaned forward and murmured, “Would it be improper of me to admit that I am inordinately flattered by your attention to the details of my face?”
Anne snorted out a laugh. “Improper and ludicrous.”
“It is true that I have never felt quite so colorful,” he said, with a clearly feigned sigh.
“You are a veritable rainbow,” she agreed. “I see red and . . . wel, no orange and yelow, but certainly green and blue and violet.”
“You forgot indigo.”
“I did not,” she said, with her very best governess voice. “I have always found it to be a foolish addition to the spectrum. Have you ever actualy seen a rainbow?”
“Once or twice,” he replied, looking rather amused by her rant.
“It’s difficult enough to note the difference between the blue and violet, much less find the indigo in between.” He paused for a moment, then, lips twitching with humor, said, “You’ve given this a lot of thought.” Anne pressed her own lips together, trying not to smile in return. “Indeed,” she finaly said, then burst out laughing. It was the most ridiculous conversation, and so perfectly lovely at the same time.
Daniel laughed with her, and they both sat back as a maid came by with two steaming mugs of tea. Anne instantly put her hands around hers and sighed with pleasure as the warmth seeped through her skin.
Daniel took a sip, shivered as the hot liquid went down his throat, then sipped again. “I think I look very dashing,” he said, “all mottled and bruised. Perhaps I should start making up stories of how I was injured. Fighting with Marcus lacks all excitement.”
“Don’t forget the footpads,” she reminded him.
“And that,” he replied in a dry voice, “lacks all dignity.”
She smiled at that. It was a rare man who could poke fun at himself.
“What do you think?” he asked, turning as if to preen. “Shal I say I wrestled with a wild boar? Or perhaps fought off pirates with a machete?”
“Wel, that depends,” she returned. “Did you have the machete or did the pirates?”
“Oh, the pirates, I should think. It’s far more impressive if I held them off with my bare hands.” He waved them about as if practicing some ancient Oriental technique.
“Stop,” she said, laughing. “Everyone is looking at you.”
He shrugged. “They would look, regardless. I haven’t been here in three years.”
“Yes, but they’ll think you a madman.”
“Ah, but I’m alowed to be eccentric.” He gave her a dashing half smile and let his eyebrows bob up and then down. “It’s one of the perks of the title.”
“Not the money and the power?”
“Wel, those, too,” he admitted, “but right now I’m most enjoying the eccentricity. The bruises help the cause, don’t you think?” She roled her eyes, taking another sip of her tea.
“Perhaps a scar,” he mused, turning to present her with his cheek. “What do you think? Right along here. I could—” But Anne did not hear the rest of his words. She only saw his hand, slicing through air from his temple to his chin. A long, furious diagonal, just like—
She saw it—George’s face as he ripped the bandages from his skin in his father’s study.
And she felt it, the awful plunge of the knife when it had gone through his skin.
She turned away quickly, trying to breathe. But she couldn’t. It was like a vise around her lungs, a great weight sitting on her chest. She was choking and drowning at the same time, desperate for air. Oh, dear God, why was this happening now? It had been years since she’d felt this kind of spontaneous terror. She’d thought she was past it.
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