“There you are,” he said, smiling as if greeting a long-lost friend. There was nothing like an unexpected smile to set someone off balance.
She lurched with shock, and a staccato scream flew from her lips.
“Good Lord,” Daniel said, clamping a hand over her mouth. “Don’t do that. Someone will hear you.” He puled her against him—it was the only way to keep a firm grip over her mouth. Her body was small and slight against his, and shaking like a leaf. She was terrified.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he said. “I just want to know what you’re doing here.” He waited for a moment, then adjusted his position so he could see her face more directly. Her eyes met his, dark and alarmed.
“Now then,” he said, “if I let you go, will you be quiet?”
He considered this. “You’re lying.”
She roled her eyes, as if to say, What did you expect, and he chuckled. “Who are you?” he mused.
And then the strangest thing happened. She relaxed in his arms. A little, anyway. He felt some of the tension lift away, felt her breath as it sighed into his hand.
Interesting. She hadn’t been worried that he didn’t know who she was. She’d been worried that he did.
Slowly, and with enough deliberation to make sure she knew he could change his mind at any time, he lifted his hand from her mouth. He didn’t remove his arm from her waist, though. Selfish of him, he knew, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to let her go.
“Who are you?” he murmured, tilting his words toward her ear.
“Who are you?” she returned.
He quirked a smile. “I asked you first.”
“I don’t speak to strangers.”
He laughed at that, then twirled her around in his arms so that they were face-to-face. He knew he was behaving abominably, all but accosting the poor thing. She wasn’t up to anything naughty. She’d been playing in his family’s quartet, for heaven’s sake. He ought to thank her.
But he was feeling light-headed—almost light-bodied. Something about this woman set his blood fizzing in his veins, and he was already a bit giddy at having finaly reached Winstead House after weeks of travel.
He was home. Home. And there was a beautiful woman in his arms whom he was quite certain was not planning to kill him.
It had been some time since he’d savored that particular sensation.
“I think . . .” he said wonderingly. “I think I might need to kiss you.”
She jerked back, not looking scared precisely, but rather puzzled. Or maybe concerned.
Smart woman. He did sound rather like a madman.
“Just a little,” he assured her. “I just need to remind myself . . .”
She was silent, and then, as if she could not help herself, she asked, “Of what?”
He smiled. He liked her voice. It was comforting and round, like a good brandy. Or a summer’s day.
“Of goodness,” he said, and he touched her chin, tilting her face toward his. Her breath caught—he could hear the rasp of air rushing over her lips—but she did not struggle. He waited, just a moment, because if she fought him he knew he would have to let her go. But she didn’t. Her eyes held his, as mesmerized by the moment as he was.
And so he kissed her. Tentatively at first, almost afraid she’d disappear in his arms. But it wasn’t enough. Passion swirled to life within him and he puled her closer, reveling in the soft press of her body against his.
She was petite, small in that way that made a man want to slay dragons. But she felt like a woman, warm and lush in all the right places. His hand ached to close around her breast, or to cup the perfect curve of her bottom. But even he would not be so bold, not with an unknown lady in his mother’s house.
still, he was not ready to let her go. She smeled like England, of soft rain and sun-kissed meadows. And she felt like the best kind of heaven. He wanted to wrap himself around, bury himself within her, and stay there for all of his days. He hadn’t had a drop to drink in three years, but he was intoxicated now, bubbling with a lightness he’d never thought to feel again.
It was madness. It had to be.
“What is your name?” he whispered. He wanted to know. He wanted to know her.
But she did not reply. She might have done; given more time he was sure he could have teased it out of her. But they both heard someone coming down the back stairs, just down the hall from the spot where they were still locked in their embrace.
She shook her head, her eyes wide with caution. “I can’t be seen like this,” she whispered urgently.
He let her go, but not because she’d asked him to. Rather, he saw who was coming down the stairs—and what they were doing—and he forgot all about his dark-haired vixen.
A furious cry rose from his throat, and he took off down the hall like a madman.
Fifteen minutes later, Anne was in the same spot she’d found herself in fifteen minutes earlier, when she’d dashed down the hall and hurled herself through the first unlocked door she’d come across. Her luck being what it was (dreadful) she had ended up in some sort of dark and windowless storage room. A brief, blind exploration revealed a celo, three clarinets, and possibly a trombone.
exploration revealed a celo, three clarinets, and possibly a trombone.
There was something fitting in this. She had come to the room where the Smythe-Smith musical instruments came to die. And she was stuck here, at least until the insanity in the halway was over. She had no idea what was going on out there, except that there was a great deal of shrieking involved, rather a lot of grunting, and quite a few noises that sounded sickeningly like fist on flesh.