But then Lady Pleinsworth turned and looked at her directly. “I assume you know the story.”
“Most of it, I believe.”
“Yes, of course. The girls would have told you everything.” She crossed her arms, then uncrossed them, and it occurred to Anne that she had never seen her employer so distraught. Lady Pleinsworth gave her head a shake, then said, “I don’t know how Virginia is going to bear it. It nearly kiled her before when he left the country.”
Virginia must be Lady Winstead, Daniel’s mother. Anne had not known her given name.
“Wel,” Lady Pleinsworth said, then abruptly added, “I suppose you can sleep now. The sun’s gone down.”
“Thank you,” Anne said. “Please give—” But she stopped there.
“Did you say something?” Lady Pleinsworth inquired.
Anne shook her head. It would have been inappropriate to ask Lady Pleinsworth to give her regards to Lord Winstead. Or if not that, then unwise.
Lady Pleinsworth took a step toward the door, then paused. “Miss Wynter,” she said.
Lady Pleinsworth turned slowly around. “There is one thing.”
Anne waited. It was not like her employer to leave such silences in the middle of conversation. It did not bode wel.
“It has not escaped my notice that my nephew . . .” Again, she paused, possibly searching for the correct combination of words.
“Please,” Anne blurted out, certain that her continued employment was hanging by a thread. “Lady Pleinsworth, I assure you—”
“Don’t interrupt,” Lady Pleinsworth said, although not unkindly. She held up a hand, instructing Anne to wait as she gathered her thoughts. Finaly, just when Anne was sure she could not bear it any longer, she said, “Lord Winstead seems quite taken with you.” Anne hoped Lady Pleinsworth did not expect a reply.
“I am assured of your good judgment, am I not?” Lady Pleinsworth added.
“Of course, my lady.”
“There are times when a woman must exhibit a sensibility that men lack. I believe this is one of those times.” She paused and looked at Anne directly, indicating that this time she did expect a reply. So Anne said, “Yes, my lady,” and prayed that was enough.
“The truth is, Miss Wynter, I know very little about you.”
Anne’s eyes widened.
“Your references are impeccable, and of course your behavior since joining our household has been above reproach. You are quite the finest governess I have ever employed.”
“Thank you, my lady.”
“But I don’t know anything about your family. I don’t know who your father was, or your mother, or what sort of connections you might possess. You have been well brought up, that much is clear, but beyond that . . .” She held up her hands. And then she looked directly into Anne’s eyes. “My nephew must marry someone with a clear and unstained status.”
“I realize that,” Anne said quietly.
“She will almost certainly come from a noble family.”
Anne swalowed, trying not to let any emotion show on her face.
“It is not strictly necessary, of course. It is possible he might marry a girl from the gentry. But she would have to be most exceptional.” Lady Pleinsworth took a step toward her, and her head tilted slightly to the side, as if she were trying to see right down inside of her. “I like you, Miss Wynter,” she said slowly, “but I do not know you. Do you understand?”
Lady Pleinsworth walked to the door and placed her hand on the knob. “I suspect,” she said quietly, “that you do not want me to know you.” And then she departed, leaving Anne alone with her flickering candle and tortuous thoughts.
There was no misconstruing the meaning of Lady Pleinsworth’s comments. She had been warning her to stay away from Lord Winstead, or rather, to make sure that he stayed away from her. But it had been bittersweet. She’d left a sad little door open, hinting that Anne might be considered a suitable match if more were known of her background.
But of course that was impossible.
Could you imagine? Teling Lady Pleinsworth the truth about her background?
Well, the thing is, I’m not a virgin.
And my name is not really Anne Wynter.
Oh, and I stabbed a man and now he’s madly hunting me until I’m dead.
A desperate, horrified giggle popped out of Anne’s throat. What a resumé that was.
“I’m a prize,” she said into the darkness, and then she laughed some more. Or maybe she cried. After a while, it was hard to tell which was which.
The folowing morning, before any female member of his family could put a stop to what Daniel knew was improper behavior, he strode down the hall and rapped sharply on the door to the blue guest bedroom. He was already dressed for traveling; he planned to leave for London within the hour.
There was no sound from within the chamber, so Daniel knocked again. This time he heard a bit of rustling, folowed by a groggy “Enter.” There was no sound from within the chamber, so Daniel knocked again. This time he heard a bit of rustling, folowed by a groggy “Enter.” He did, shutting the door behind him just in time to hear Anne gasp, “My lord!”
“I need to speak with you,” he said succinctly.
She nodded, scrambling to pull her covers up to her chin, which he frankly thought was ridiculous, given the thoroughly unappealing sack she appeared to have put on in lieu of a nightgown.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, blinking furiously.