Without preamble, he said, “I’m leaving for London this morning.”
She didn’t say anything.
“I’m sure you know by now that the harness was cut.”
“It was Lord Ramsgate,” he said. “One of his men. Probably the one I went out to investigate. The one I told you was a drunkard.”
“You said he wreaked havoc from the stables to the inn,” she whispered.
“Indeed,” he said, every muscle in his body straining to keep himself perfectly still as he spoke. If he moved, if he let down his guard for even one moment, he did not know what would happen. He might scream. He might beat the wals. All he knew was that something furious was building within him, and every time he thought it was done, that his rage could not possibly expand further, something inside seemed to pop and crackle. His skin grew too tight, and the anger, the fury—it fought to break free.
Hotter. Blacker. Squeezing at his very soul.
“Lord Winstead?” she said quietly, and he could not imagine what sliver of rage had shown on his face, because her eyes had grown wide and alarmed. And then, in the barest of whispers: “Daniel?”
It was the first time she had said his name.
He swalowed, clenching his teeth together as he fought for control. “This would not be the first time he has tried to kill me,” he finaly said. “But it is the first time he has very nearly kiled someone else in the attempt.”
He watched her closely. She was still clutching the covers under her chin, her fingers wrapped over the edge. Her mouth moved, as if she wanted to say something. He waited.
She did not speak.
He remained still, his body straight, his hands clasped behind his back. There was something so unbearably formal about the tableau, despite the fact that Anne was in bed, her hair mussed with sleep, a single thick braid resting on her right shoulder.
They did not usualy speak with such stiffness. Perhaps they should have done, perhaps that would have saved him from such infatuation, which would have saved her from being in his company on the day Ramsgate had chosen to make his move.
It would have been better for her if they had never met, clearly.
“What will you do?” she finaly asked.
“When I find him?”
She gave a small nod.
“I don’t know. If he’s lucky I won’t strangle him on sight. He was probably behind the attack in London, too. The one we all thought was just bad luck, a couple of petty thieves out for a heavy purse.”
“It might have been,” she said. “You can’t know. People are robbed all the time in London. It’s—”
“Are you defending him?” he asked incredulously.
“No! Of course not. It’s just that . . . Well. . .” She swalowed, the convulsive movement rippling down her throat. When she spoke again her voice was quite small. “You don’t have all of the information.”
For a moment he just stared at her, not trusting himself to speak. “I spent the last three years running from his men in Europe,” he finaly said. “Did you know that?
No? Wel, I did. And I’m sick of it. If he wanted revenge on me, he has surely wrought it. Three years of my life, stolen. Do you have any idea what that’s like? To have three years of your life ripped from you?”
Her lips parted, and for a moment he thought she might actualy say yes. She looked dazed, almost hypnotized, and then finaly she said, “I’m sorry. Go on.”
“I will speak to his son first. I can trust Lord Hugh. Or at least I always thought I could.” Daniel closed his eyes for a moment and simply breathed, trying to keep hold of an equilibrium that would not stay still. “I don’t know whom I can trust any longer.”
“You can—” She stopped. Swalowed. Had she been about to say that he could trust her? He looked at her closely, but she had turned away, her eyes focused on the nearby window. The curtains were drawn, but she was still staring at it as if there were something to see. “I wish you the safest of journeys,” she whispered.
“You’re angry with me,” he said.
Her head whipped around to face him. “No. No, of course not. I would never—”
“You would not have been injured had you not been in my curricle,” he cut in. He would never forgive himself for the injuries he had caused her. He needed her to know that. “It is my fault that you—”
“No!” she cried out, and she jumped from the bed, rushing toward him but then stopping abruptly. “No, that’s not true. I— I just— No,” she said, so firmly that her chin bobbed in sharp punctuation. “It’s not true.”
He stared at her. She was almost within his reach. If he leaned forward, if he stretched out his arm, he could take hold of her sleeve. He could pull her to him, and together they would melt, he into her, she into him, until they would not know where one ended and the other began.
“It’s not your fault,” she said with quiet force.
“I am the one upon whom Lord Ramsgate wishes revenge,” he reminded her softly.
“We are not—” She looked away, but not before she wiped one of her eyes with the back of her hand. “We are not responsible for the actions of others,” she said. Her voice shook with emotion, and her gaze did not meet his. “Especialy not those of a madman,” she finished.
“No,” he said, his voice a strange staccato in the soft morning air. “But we do bear responsibility for those around us. Harriet, Elizabeth, and Frances—would you not have me keep them safe?”