“Anne!” he shouted, even before he saw her.
But if she caled out his name, it was lost in a shriek of surprise as the chair caught her straight at the knees and she went flying, her hand scrabbling madly for something that flew from its grasp.
Daniel lunged for it. Anne lunged for it. George Chervil, who had been doing a desperate dance with Anne, bouncing his weight from foot to foot as he swiped his hands out for the knife, did an al-out dive for it.
In fact, everyone went for the knife except Hugh, who, unnoticed to al, was standing in the doorway with a pistol trained on Chervil, looking almost bored.
“I wouldn’t if I were you,” Hugh said, but George grabbed the knife anyway, and then jumped atop Anne, who was still scrabbling on the floor, having lost the race for the weapon by mere inches.
“Shoot me and she dies,” George said, holding the blade perilously close to Anne’s throat.
Daniel, who had instinctively rushed forward, skidded to a stop. He set his gun down and then slid it behind him.
“Step away,” George said, clutching his knife like a hammer. “Do it!”
Daniel nodded, holding his hands high as he backed up a step. Anne was lying bely down on the floor, and George was straddling her, one hand on the hilt of his knife, the other clutching onto her hair. “Don’t hurt her, Chervil,” Daniel warned. “You don’t want to do this.”
“Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong. I very much do want to do this.” He tapped the blade lightly against Anne’s cheek.
Daniel’s gut twisted.
But George hadn’t drawn blood. He seemed to be enjoying his moment of power, and he yanked harder on Anne’s hair, puling her head up in what looked to be an agonizingly uncomfortable position.
“You will die,” Daniel promised.
“You will die,” Daniel promised.
George shrugged. “So will she.”
“What about your wife?”
George looked at him sharply.
“I spoke with her this morning,” Daniel said, keeping his gaze firmly on George’s face. He wanted desperately to look at Anne, to meet her eyes. He could tell her he loved her without any words. She would know; he had only to look at her.
But he did not dare. As long as he was looking at George Chervil, George Chervil was looking at him. And not at Anne. Or the knife.
“What did you say to my wife?” George hissed, but a flicker of unease passed over his face.
“She seems a lovely woman,” Daniel said. “What will happen to her, I wonder, if you die here, in a public inn, at the hands of two earls and the son of a marquess?”
George’s head jerked as he turned to Hugh, only just then realizing who he was. “But you hate him,” he said. “He shot you.” Hugh just shrugged.
George paled, and he started to say something, only to interrupt himself with “Two earls?”
“There’s another one,” Daniel said. “Just in case.”
George started breathing hard, his eyes darting from Daniel to Hugh, and occasionaly down to Anne. Daniel could see that he was starting to perspire. He was reaching his edge, and an edge was always a dangerous place to be.
“Lady Chervil will be ruined,” Daniel said. “Cast out of society. Even her father will not be able to save her.” George began to tremble. Daniel finaly alowed himself to steal a glance at Anne. She was breathing hard, clearly frightened, and yet, when their eyes met . . .
I love you.
It was as if she’d said it aloud.
“The world is not kind to women who have been cast out of their homes,” Daniel said softly. “Just ask Anne.” George was beginning to waver; Daniel could see it in his eyes. “If you let her go,” he promised, “you will live.” He would live, but not anywhere in the British Isles. Daniel would see to that.
“And my wife?”
“I shal leave all explanations up to you.”
George’s head twitched, as if his colar had grown too tight. His eyes were blinking furiously, and then, for one moment, he squeezed them shut, and—
“He shot me! Oh, my God, he shot me!”
Daniel’s head snapped around as he realized that Hugh had fired his gun. “Are you bloody insane?” he snapped, even as he rushed forward to snatch Anne away from George, who was now roling on the floor, howling with pain as he clutched his bleeding hand.
Hugh limped into the room and looked down at George. “It’s just a nick,” he said dispassionately.
“Anne, Anne,” Daniel said hoarsely. The whole time she’d been captive to George Chervil he’d held all of his terror at bay. He’d stood straight, muscles tense, but now, now that she was safe . . .
“I thought I might lose you,” he gasped, holding her as close as he possibly could. He buried his face in the crook of her shoulder, and to his mortification, he realized he was soaking her dress with his tears. “I didn’t know— I don’t think I knew—”
“I wouldn’t have shot her, by the way,” Hugh said, walking over to the window. George screamed when he “accidentaly” stepped on his hand.
“You are a bloody madman,” Daniel said, his outrage cutting right through his tears.
“Or,” Hugh said plainly, “I’ve never been in love.” He looked down at Anne. “It does leave one more clearheaded.” He motioned to his gun. “Better aim, too.”
“What is he talking about?” Anne whispered.
“I rarely know,” Daniel admitted.