“She’s a terrible musician.”

“She was the best violinist on the stage,” Anne said with complete honesty.

He laughed loudly at that. “You would do well as a diplomat, Miss . . .” He paused, waited, then pointed out, “You never did tell me your name.” She hesitated, because she always hesitated when so questioned, but then she reminded herself that he was the Earl of Winstead and thus the nephew of her employer. She had nothing to fear from him. At least not if no one saw them together. “I am Miss Wynter,” she said. “Governess to your cousins.”

“Which ones? The Pleinsworths?”

She nodded.

He looked her straight in the eye. “Oh, you poor, poor thing.”

“Stop! They’re lovely!” she protested. She adored her three charges. Harriet, Elizabeth, and Frances might be more high-spirited than most young girls, but they

“Stop! They’re lovely!” she protested. She adored her three charges. Harriet, Elizabeth, and Frances might be more high-spirited than most young girls, but they had good, kind hearts. And they always meant wel.

His eyebrows rose. “Lovely, yes. Wel-behaved, not as much.”

There was some truth to that, and Anne could not suppress a tiny smile. “I’m certain they have matured greatly since you were last in their company,” she said primly.

He gave her a dubious look, then asked, “How did you come to be playing the piano?”

“Lady Sarah took il.”

“Ah.” There was a world of meaning in that “ah.” “Do convey my wishes for a speedy recovery.” Anne was quite sure that Lady Sarah had begun to feel better the moment her mother had excused her from the concert, but she merely nodded and said that she would be sure to do so. Even though she wouldn’t. There was no way she was teling anyone she’d run into the Earl of Winstead.

“Does your family know that you have returned?” she asked. She regarded him a bit more closely. He realy did look quite like his sister. She wondered if he had the same remarkable eyes—a vividly pale blue, almost lavender. It was impossible to tell for sure in the dim light of the halway. Not to mention that one of his eyes was rapidly sweling shut. “Other than Lady Honoria, of course,” she added.

“Not yet.” He glanced toward the public area of the house and grimaced. “Much as I adore every last soul in that audience for bringing themselves to attend the concert, I’d rather not make such a public homecoming.” He looked down at his disheveled state. “Especialy not like this.”

“Of course not,” she said quickly. She couldn’t even begin to imagine the commotion were he to walk in on the post-musicale reception bruised and bloodied.

He let out a little groan as he shifted position on the floor, then muttered something beneath his breath that Anne was fairly certain she was not meant to hear. “I should go,” she blurted out. “I’m terribly sorry, and . . . ehrm . . .”

She told herself to move, she realy did. Every last corner of her brain was screaming at her to come to her senses and get out of there before someone came along, but all she could think was—he’d been defending his sister.

How could she abandon a man who did that?

“Let me help you,” she said, against all better judgment.

He smiled weakly. “If you wouldn’t mind.”

She crouched down to get a better look at his injuries. She’d treated her share of cuts and scrapes, but never anything like this. “Where are you hurt?” she asked.

She cleared her throat. “Other than the obvious spots.”

“Obvious?”

“Well. . .” She pointed gingerly toward his eye. “You’ve a bit of a bruise there. And there . . .” she added, motioning to the left side of his jaw before moving on to his shoulder, which was visible through his ripped and bloodied shirt. “ . . . and over there.”

“Marcus looks worse,” Lord Winstead said.

“Yes,” Anne replied, biting back a smile. “You’d mentioned.”

“It’s an important detail.” He gave her a loopy grin, then winced and brought his hand to his cheek.

“Your teeth?” she asked worriedly.

“They all seem to be in place,” he mumbled. He opened his mouth, as if testing the hinge mechanism, then closed it with a groan. “I think.”

“Is there someone I can get for you?” she asked.

His brows rose. “You wish for someone to know you’ve been here alone with me?”

“Oh. Of course not. I wasn’t thinking clearly.”

He smiled again, that dry half grin that made her feel rather squirmy on the inside. “I have that effect on women.” Any number of retorts sprang to mind, but Anne bit them all back. “I could help you to your feet,” she suggested.

He cocked his head to the side. “Or you could sit and talk to me.”

She stared at him.

Again, that half smile. “It was just an idea,” he said.

An il-advised idea, she thought immediately. She had just kissed him, for heaven’s sake. She should not be anywhere near him, certainly not beside him on the floor, where it would be so easy to turn to him, and tip her face toward his . . .

“Perhaps I could find some water,” she blurted out, her words spewing forth so quickly she almost had to cough. “Have you a handkerchief? You will want to clean your face, I should think.”

He reached in his pocket and puled out a wrinkled square of cloth. “The finest Italian linen,” he quipped in a tired voice. He frowned. “Or at least it once was.”

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