Much to his surprise, Daniel felt himself smile. “I’m glad you did.”

She looked at him with surprise.

“You should have cut him somewhere else.”

Her eyes widened, and then she let out a snort of laughter.

“Call me bloodthirsty,” he murmured.

Her expression grew a little bit wicked. “You’ll be pleased to know that tonight, while I was getting away . . .”

“Oh, tell me you kneed him in the bals,” he begged. “Please please please tell me that.” She pressed her lips together, trying not to laugh again. “I might have done.”

He tugged her close. “Hard?”

“Not as hard as I kicked him once he was on the ground.”

Daniel kissed one of her hands, and then the other. “May I say that I’m very proud to know you?” She flushed with pleasure.

“And I’m very very proud to call you mine.” He kissed her, lightly. “But you will never be my mistress.” She drew back. “Dan—”

He stopped her with a finger to her lips. “I have already announced that I plan to marry you. Would you make me a liar?”

“Daniel, you can’t!”

“I can.”

“No, you—”

“I can, ” he said firmly. “And I wil.”

Her eyes searched his face with frantic movement. “But George is still out there. And if he hurts you . . .”

“I can take care of the George Chervils of the world,” he assured her, “as long as you can take care of me.”

“But—”

“I love you,” he said, and it felt as if the whole world settled into place when he finaly told her. “I love you, and I cannot bear the thought of a moment without you. I want you at my side and in my bed. I want you to bear my children, and I want every bloody person in the world to know that you are mine.”

“Daniel,” she said, and he couldn’t tell if she was protesting or giving in. But her eyes had filed with tears, and he knew he was close.

“I won’t be satisfied with anything less than everything,” he whispered. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to marry me.” Her chin trembled. It might have been a nod. “I love you,” she whispered. “I love you, too.”

“And . . . ?” he prodded. Because he was going to make her say it.

“Yes,” she said. “If you’re brave enough to want me, I will marry you.”

He puled her against him, kissing her with all of the passion, and fear, and emotion he’d been holding inside of him for a week. “Bravery has nothing to do with it,” he told her, and he almost laughed, he was so exquisitely happy. “It’s self-preservation.” Her brow furrowed.

He kissed her again. He couldn’t seem to stop. “I believe I would die without you,” he murmured.

“I think . . . ,” she whispered, but she didn’t finish, at least not right away. “I think that before . . . with George . . . I don’t think it counts.” She lifted her face to his, her eyes shining with love and promise. “Tonight is going to be my first time. With you.” Chapter Nineteen

And then Anne said one word. Just one.

“Please.”

She didn’t know why she said it; it certainly wasn’t the result of rational thought. It was just that she had spent the last five years of her life reminding people that it never hurt to use good manners and say please for the things one wanted.

And she wanted this very badly.

“Then I,” Daniel murmured, bowing his head in a courtly gesture, “can say only ‘thank you.’ ” She smiled then, but not the smile of amusement or humor. It was a different thing altogether, the kind of smile that took a body by surprise, that wobbled on the lips until it found its bearing. It was the smile of pure happiness, coming so deep from within that Anne had to remind herself to breathe.

One tear roled down her cheek. She reached up to wipe it away, but Daniel’s fingers found it first. “A happy tear, I hope,” he said.

She nodded.

His hand cupped her cheek, the pad of his thumb brushing lightly over the faint bruise near her temple. “He hurt you.” Anne had seen the bruise when she had looked at her reflection in the bathroom looking glass. It didn’t hurt much, and she couldn’t even remember exactly how she’d got it. The fight with George was a blur, and she decided it was better that way.

still, she smiled slyly, murmuring, “He looks worse.”

It took Daniel a moment, but then his eyes flared with quiet humor. “Does he?”

“Oh, yes.”

He kissed her softly behind her ear, his breath hot on her skin. “Wel, that’s very important.”

“Mmm-hmm.” She arched her neck as his lips moved slowly toward her colarbone. “I was told once that the most important part of a fight is making sure your opponent looks worse than you do when you’re through.”

“You have very wise advisors.”

Anne sucked in her breath again. His hands had moved to the silken tie of the dressing gown, and she could feel the belt grow loose as he undid the knot. “Just one,” she whispered, trying not to lose herself completely when she felt his large hands slide along the tender skin of her bely and then around to her back.

“Just one?” he asked, cupping her bottom.

“One advisor, but he’s—oh, my!”

He squeezed again. “Was this the ‘oh my’?” Then he did something entirely different, something that involved just one very wicked finger. “Or this?” He squeezed again. “Was this the ‘oh my’?” Then he did something entirely different, something that involved just one very wicked finger. “Or this?”

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