“Then I accept again.”
He puled her close, needing to feel her in his arms. “We should probably go down. Everyone’s worried.” She nodded, her cheek brushing lightly against his chest.
“My mother is in the carriage, and Aunt—”
“Your mother?” Anne yelped, puling back. “Oh, my heavens, what must she think of me?”
“That you must be amazing, and lovely, and that if she’s very very nice to you, you’ll give her a bushel of grandchildren.” Anne smiled slyly. “If she’s very nice to me?”
“Wel, it goes without saying that I’ll be very nice to you.”
“How many children in a bushel, do you think?”
Daniel felt his soul grow light. “Quite a few, I imagine.”
“We will have to be most industrious.”
He amazed himself by maintaining a serious expression. “I am quite a hardworking felow.”
“It’s one of the reasons I love you.” She touched his cheek. “One of the many, many reasons.”
“That many, eh?” He smiled. No, he was already smiling. But maybe now he was smiling just a little bit more. “Hundreds?”
“Thousands,” she confirmed.
“I might have to request a full accounting.”
And who said women were the only ones who liked to fish for compliments? He was more than happy to sit here and listen to her say lovely things about him.
“Perhaps just the primary five,” he demurred.
“Well. . .” She paused.
He gave her a dry look. “Is it realy so difficult to come up with five?”
Her eyes were so wide and innocent that he almost believed her when she said, “Oh, no, it’s just that it’s a chalenge to pick my favorites.”
“At random, then,” he suggested.
“Very wel.” Her mouth scrunched up on one side as she thought. “There is your smile. I adore your smile.”
“I adore your smile, too!”
“You have a lovely sense of humor.”
“So do you!”
She gave him a stern look.
“I can’t help it if you’re taking all the good reasons,” he said.
“You don’t play a musical instrument.”
He looked at her blankly.
He looked at her blankly.
“Like the rest of your family,” she clarified. “I just don’t know if I could bear it, having to listen to you practice.” He leaned forward with a roguish tilt of his head. “What makes you think I don’t play an instrument?”
“You don’t!” she gasped, and he almost thought she might be ready to reconsider having accepted him.
“I don’t,” he confirmed. “Which is not to say I haven’t taken lessons.”
She gazed at him questioningly.
“The boys of the family are not required to continue lessons once they leave for school. Unless they show exceptional talent.”
“Have any shown exceptional talent?”
“Not a one,” he said cheerfuly. He rose to his feet and held out his hand. It was time to go home.
“Wasn’t I supposed to give you two more reasons?” she asked, letting him help her to her feet.
“Oh, you can tell me later,” he said. “We have lots of time.”
“But I just thought of one.”
He turned with a quizzical brow. “You say that like it took a great effort.”
“It’s actualy more of a moment,” she said.
She nodded, folowing him out the door into the halway. “On the night we first met. I was prepared to leave you in the back hal, you know.”
“Bruised and bleeding?” He tried for outrage, but he rather thought his smile ruined the effect.
“I would lose my position if I were caught with you, and I’d already been trapped in that storage closet for heaven knows how long. I realy didn’t have time to help tend to your wounds.”
“But you did.”
“I did,” she said.
“Because of my charming smile and lovely sense of humor?”
“No,” she said plainly. “It was because of your sister.”
“Honoria?” he asked in surprise.
“You were defending her,” she said with a helpless shrug. “How could I abandon a man who defended his sister?” To Daniel’s embarrassment, his cheeks grew warm. “Wel, anyone would have done so,” he mumbled.
Halfway down the stairs, Anne exclaimed, “Oh, I thought of another one! When we were practicing Harriet’s play. You would have been the wild boar if she’d asked.”
“No, I wouldn’t.”
She patted his arm as they stepped outside. “Yes, you would.”
“Very wel, I would,” he lied.
She looked at him shrewdly. “You think you’re just saying that to placate me, but I know you would have been a good sport.” Good gracious, it was like they were an old married couple already.
“Oh, I thought of another one!”
He looked at her, at her shining eyes, so full of love, and hope, and promise. “Two, actualy,” she said.
He smiled. He could think of thousands.
Another year, another Smythe-Smith musicale . . .
“I think Daisy had better step to the right,” Daniel murmured into his wife’s ear. “Sarah looks as if she might bite her head off.” Anne cast a nervous glance at Sarah, who, having used up her only possible excuse the year before, was back up on the stage, at the piano . . .