Or him. He closed his eyes for a moment. She probably thought she was protecting him. But if anything happened to her . . .
Nothing would destroy him more completely.
“I will find her,” he told Granby. “You can be sure of it.”
Anne had been lonely before. In fact, she’d spent most of the past eight years feeling lonely. But as she sat huddled on her hard boardinghouse bed, wearing her coat over her nightgown to keep out the chil, she realized that she had never known misery.
over her nightgown to keep out the chil, she realized that she had never known misery.
Not like this.
Maybe she should have gone to the country. It was cleaner. Probably less dangerous. But London was anonymous. The crowded streets could swalow her up, make her invisible.
But the streets could also chew her to bits.
There was no work for a woman like her. Ladies with her accent did not work as seamstresses or shopgirls. She’d walked up and down the streets of her new neighborhood, a marginaly respectable place that squeezed itself in between middle-class shopping areas and desperate slums. She’d entered every establishment with a Help Wanted sign, and quite a few more without. She’d been told she wouldn’t last long, that her hands were too soft, and her teeth too clean. More than one man had leered and laughed, then offered a different type of employment altogether.
She could not obtain a gentlewoman’s position as a governess or companion without a letter of reference, but the two precious recommendations she had in her possession were for Anne Wynter. And she could not be Anne Wynter any longer.
She puled her bent legs even tighter against her and let her face rest against her knees, closing her eyes tight. She didn’t want to see this room, didn’t want to see how meager her belongings looked even in such a tiny chamber. She didn’t want to see the dank night through the window, and most of al, she didn’t want to see herself.
She had no name again. And it hurt. It hurt like a sharp, jagged slice in her heart. It was an awful thing, a heavy dread that sat upon her each morning, and it was all she could do to swing her legs over the side of the bed and place her feet on the floor.
This wasn’t like before, when her family had thrown her from her home. At least then she’d had somewhere to go. She’d had a plan. Not one of her choosing, but she’d known what she was supposed to do and when she was supposed to do it. Now she had two dresses, one coat, eleven pounds, and no prospects save prostitution.
And she could not do that. Dear God, she couldn’t. She’d given herself too freely once before, and she would not make the same mistake twice. And it would be far, far too cruel to have to submit to a stranger when she’d stopped Daniel before they had completed their union.
She’d said no because . . . She wasn’t even sure. Habit, possibly. Fear. She did not want to bear an ilegitimate child, and she did not want to force a man into marriage who would not otherwise choose a woman like her.
But most of al, she’d needed to hold onto herself. Not her pride, exactly; it was something else, something deeper.
It was the one thing she still had that was pure and utterly hers. She had given her body to George, but despite what she had thought at the time, he had never had her heart. And as Daniel’s hand had gone to the fastening of his breeches, preparing to make love to her, she had known that if she let him, if she let herself, he would have her heart forever.
But the joke was on her. He already had it. She’d gone and done the most foolish thing imaginable. She had falen in love with a man she could never have.
Daniel Smythe-Smith, Earl of Winstead, Viscount Streathermore, Baron Touchton of Stoke. She didn’t want to think about him, but she did, every time she closed her eyes. His smile, his laugh, the fire in his eyes when he looked at her.
She did not think he loved her, but what he felt must have come close. He had cared, at least. And maybe if she’d been someone else, someone with a name and position, someone who didn’t have a madman trying to kill her . . . Maybe then when he had so foolishly said, “What if I married you?” she would have thrown her arms around him and yeled, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
But she didn’t have a Yes sort of life. Hers was a series of Noes. And it had finaly landed her here, where she was finaly as alone in body as she had been for so many years in spirit.
Her stomach let out a loud groan, and Anne sighed. She’d forgotten to buy supper before coming back to her boardinghouse, and now she was starving. It was probably for the best; she was going to have to make her pennies last as long as she could.
Her stomach rumbled again, this time with anger, and Anne abruptly swung her legs over the side of the bed. “No, ” she said aloud. Although what she realy meant was yes. She was hungry, damn it, and she was going to get something to eat. For once in her life she was going to say yes, even if it was only to a meat pasty and a half pint of cider.
She looked over at her dress, laid neatly over her chair. She realy didn’t feel like changing back into it. Her coat covered her from head to hem. If she put on some shoes and stockings and pinned up her hair, no one would ever know she was out in her nightgown.
She laughed, the first time she’d made such a sound in days. What a strange way to be wicked.
A few minutes later she was out on the street, making her way to a small food shop she passed every day. She’d never gone inside, but the smels that poured forth every time the door opened . . . oh, they were heavenly. Cornish pasties and meat pies, hot rols, and heaven knew what else.
She felt almost happy, she realized, once she had her hands around her toasty meal. The shopkeeper had wrapped her pasty in paper, and Anne was taking it back to her room. Some habits died hard; she was still too much of a proper lady to ever eat on the street, despite what the rest of humanity seemed to be doing around her. She could stop and get cider across the street from her boardinghouse, and when she got back to her room—