Anne nodded again, but she wasn’t quite looking at him. Some little part of him thought this was curious, but then some other, larger part of him promptly forgot about it. He was far too concerned with the painful results of unfulfiled desire to think about the fact that she wouldn’t look him in the eye when she nodded.

“I will call upon you when you arrive in town,” he said.

She said something in return, so softly that he couldn’t make out the words.

“What was that?”

“I said—” She cleared her throat. Then she did it again. “I said that I don’t think that’s wise.” He looked at her. Hard. “Would you have me pretend to visit my cousins again?”

“No. I— I would—” She turned away, but he saw her eyes flash with anguish, and maybe anger, and then, finaly, resignation. When she looked back up, she met his gaze directly, but the spark in her expression, the one that so often drew him to her . . . It seemed to have gone out.

“I would prefer,” she said, her voice so carefuly even it was almost a monotone, “that you not call at al.” He crossed his arms. “Is that so?”

“Yes.”

He fought for a moment—against himself. Finaly he asked, somewhat beligerently, “Because of this?” His eyes fell to her shoulder, where the sheet had slipped, revealing a tiny patch of skin, rosy pink and supple in the morning light. It was barely an inch square, but in that moment he wanted it so badly he could barely speak.

He wanted her.

She looked at him, at his eyes, so firmly fixed to one spot, then down at her bare shoulder. With a little gasp she yanked the sheet back up.

“I—” She swalowed, perhaps summoning her courage, then continued. “I would not lie to you and say that I did not want this.”

“Me,” he cut in peevishly. “You wanted me.”

She closed her eyes. “Yes,” she finaly said, “I wanted you.”

Part of him wanted to interrupt again, to remind her that she still wanted him, that it wasn’t and would never be in the past.

“But I can’t have you,” she said quietly, “and because of that, you can’t have me.” And then, to his complete astonishment, he asked, “What if I married you?”

Anne stared at him in shock. Then she stared at him in horror, because he looked just as surprised as she felt, and she was fairly certain that if he could have taken back the words, he would have done.

With haste.

With haste.

But his question—she couldn’t possibly think of it as a proposal—hung in the air, and they both stared at each other, unmoving, until finaly her feet seemed to recognize that this was not a laughing matter, and she leapt up, skittering backward until she had managed to put the wingback chair between them.

“You can’t,” she blurted out.

Which seemed to rouse that masculine don’t-you-tel- me-what-to-do reaction. “Why not?” he demanded.

“You just can’t,” she shot back, tugging at the sheet, which had snagged on the corner of the chair. “You should know that. For heaven’s sake, you’re an earl.

You can’t marry a nobody.” Especialy not a nobody with a falsified name.

“I can marry anyone I damn well please.”

Oh, for heaven’s sake. Now he looked like a three-year-old who’d had his toy snatched away. Didn’t he understand that she couldn’t do this? He might delude himself, but she would never be so naïve. Especialy after her conversation with Lady Pleinsworth the night before.

“You’re being foolish,” she told him, yanking at the damned sheet again. Dear God, was it too much just to want to be free? “And impractical. And furthermore, you don’t even want to marry me, you just want to get me into your bed.”

He drew back, visibly angered by her statement. But he did not contradict.

She let out an impatient breath. She hadn’t meant to insult him, and he should have realized that. “I do not think that you meant to seduce and abandon,” she said, because no matter how furious he made her, she could not bear his believing that she thought him a scoundrel. “I know that sort of man, and you are not he. But you hardly intended to propose marriage, and I certainly will not hold you to it.”

His eyes narrowed, but not before she saw them glint dangerously. “When did you come to know my mind better than I do?”

“When you stopped thinking.” She puled at the sheet again, this time with such violence that the chair lurched forward and nearly toppled. And Anne very nearly found herself naked. “Aaargh!” she let out, so frustrated she wanted to punch something. Looking up, she saw Daniel standing there, just watching her, and she nearly screamed, she was so bloody angry. At him, at George Chervil, at the damned damned sheet that kept tangling her legs. “Will you just go?” she snapped.

“Now, before someone comes in.”

He smiled then, but it wasn’t anything like the smiles she knew of him. It was cold, and it was mocking, and the sight of it on his face tore through her heart. “What would happen then?” he murmured. “You, dressed in nothing but a sheet. Me, rather rumpled.”

“No one would insist upon marriage,” she snapped. “That much I can tell you. You’d go back to your merry life, and I would be cast out without a reference.” He stared at her sourly. “I suppose you’re going to say that that was my plan all along. To bankrupt you until you had no choice but to become my mistress.”

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