“No,” she said curtly, because she could not lie to him, not about this. And then, in a softer voice, she added, “I would never think that of you.” He fell silent, his eyes watching her intently. He was hurting, she could see that. He hadn’t proposed marriage, not realy, but still she’d somehow managed to reject him. And she hated that he was in pain. She hated the look on his face, and she hated the stiff way his arms were held at his sides, and most of all she hated that nothing was ever going to be the same. They would not talk. They would not laugh.
They would not kiss.
Why had she stopped him? She’d been in his arms, skin to skin, and she’d wanted him. She’d wanted him with a fire she’d never dreamed possible. She’d wanted to take him into her, and she’d wanted to love him with her body as she already loved him with her heart.
She loved him.
She didn’t respond.
Daniel’s brow knit with concern. “Anne, are you all right? You’ve gone pale.”
She wasn’t all right. She wasn’t sure she’d ever be all right again.
“I’m fine,” she said.
“Anne . . .” Now he looked worried, and he was walking toward her, and if he touched her, if he so much as reached for her, she’d lose her resolve.
“No,” she practicaly barked, hating the way her voice came from deep in her throat. It hurt. The word hurt. It hurt her neck, and it hurt her ears, and it hurt him, too.
But she had to do it.
“Please don’t,” she said. “I need you to leave me alone. This. . . . This . . .” She fought for a word; she couldn’t bear to call it a thing. “This feeling between us
. . .” she finaly settled upon. “Nothing can come of it. You must realize that. And if you care for me at al, you will leave.” But he did not move.
“You will leave now,” she practicaly cried, and she sounded like a wounded animal. Which was what she was, she supposed.
For several seconds more he stood frozen, and then finaly, in a voice as low as it was determined, he said, “I am leaving, but not for any of the reasons you request. I am going to London to settle the issue with Ramsgate, and then—and then,” he said with greater force, “we will talk.” Silently, she shook her head. She could not do this again. It was too painful to listen to him spin stories about happy endings that would never be hers.
He strode to the door. “We will talk,” he said again.
It wasn’t until after he’d left that Anne whispered, “No. We won’t.”
One week later
She was back.
She was back.
Daniel had heard it from his sister, who had heard it from his mother, who had heard it directly from his aunt.
A more efficient chain of communication he could not imagine.
He hadn’t realy expected the Pleinsworths to remain at Whipple Hill for quite so long after he left. Or perhaps more to the point, he hadn’t given any thought to the matter, not until several days had passed and they’d still remained in the country.
But as it turned out, it was probably for the best that they (and by they, he realy meant Anne) had stayed out of town. It had been a busy week—busy and frustrating, and the knowledge of Miss Wynter’s presence within walking distance would have been a distraction he could not afford.
He had talked to Hugh. Again. And Hugh had talked to his father. Again. And when Hugh had returned, reporting back to Daniel that he still did not think that his father had been involved in the recent attacks, Daniel had flown off the handle. Hugh had done what Daniel should have insisted upon weeks earlier.
He took him to speak with Lord Ramsgate directly.
And now Daniel was at a complete loss, because he, too, did not think that Lord Ramsgate had tried to kill him. Maybe he was a fool, maybe he just wanted to believe that this horrific chapter of his life was finaly over, but the fury just hadn’t been in Ramsgate’s eyes. Not like the last time they’d met, right after Hugh had been shot.
Plus there was the new development of Hugh’s threatened suicide. Daniel was not sure if his friend was briliant or mad, but either way, when he reiterated his vow to kill himself if anything untoward happened to Daniel, it had been chiling. Lord Ramsgate was visibly shaken, even though it was hardly the first time he’d heard his son make the threat. Even Daniel had felt il, being witness to such an unholy promise.
And he believed him. The look in Hugh’s eyes . . . The icy, almost expressionless way he’d delivered the statement . . . It was terrifying.
All this meant that when Lord Ramsgate had practicaly spat at Daniel, vowing that he would do him no harm, Daniel believed him.
That had been two days earlier, two days during which Daniel had had little to do but think. About who else might wish to see him dead. About what Anne could possibly have meant when she’d said that she couldn’t be responsible for him. About the secrets she was hiding, and why she’d said he didn’t have all the information.
What in bloody hell had she meant by that?
Could the attack have been directed toward her? It wasn’t inconceivable that someone might have realized she’d be riding home in his curricle. They’d certainly been inside the inn long enough for someone to sabotage the harness.
He thought back to the day she’d run into Hoby’s, wild-eyed and terrified. She’d said there was someone she did not wish to see.
And didn’t she realize that he could help her? He might be recently returned from exile, but he had position, and with that came power, certainly enough to keep her safe. Yes, he had been on the run for three years, but he’d been up against the Marquess of Ramsgate.