―Lemonish," she said flatly. ―Really."

He leaned in. ―Why, I wonder, do you dislike me so much?"

Annabel shot a frantic glance at her cousin.

―She can‘t hear me," he said.

―You don‘t know that."

He looked over at Louisa and Lady Olivia, who were now kneeling next to Frederick. ―They‘re much too busy with the dog. Although…" He frowned. ―How Olivia is going to get back to standing in her state is beyond me."

―She‘ll be fine," Annabel said without thinking.

He turned to her with raised brows.

―She‘s not far enough along."

―Normally I would assume that such a statement comes from a voice of experience, but as I know that you have no experience, except me, I—"

―I am the oldest of eight," Annabel snapped. ―My mother was with child throughout my entire childhood."

―An explanation I had not considered," he admitted. ―I hate when that happens."

Annabel wanted to dislike him. She really did. But he was making it difficult, with his lopsided grin and self-effacing charm. ―Why did you accept Louisa‘s invitation to the opera?" she asked.

He looked at her blankly, even though she knew his brain was whirring along at triple speed.

―It‘s the Fenniwick box," he said, as if there could be no other explanation. ―I‘m not likely to get such a good seat again."

It was true. Louisa‘s aunt had raved about the location.

―And of course you looked so miserable," he added. ―It was hard to resist."

She shot him a dirty look.

―Honesty in all things," he quipped. ―It‘s my new credo."


He shrugged. ―As of this afternoon, at least."

―And until this evening?"

―Certainly until I reach the opera house," he said with a wicked smile. When she did not return the expression, he added, ―Come now, Miss Winslow, surely you are in possession of a sense of humor."

Annabel nearly groaned. There were so many reasons this conversation was not funny she hardly knew where to start. There were so many reasons it was not funny it was almost funny.

―You needn‘t worry," he said quietly.

She looked up. His face had gone serious. Not dark, not grave, just…serious.

―I won‘t say anything," he said.

Somehow she knew that he was telling the truth. ―Thank you."

He leaned over and kissed her hand again. ―I do believe that today, Tuesday, is a lovely day to make the acquaintance of a young lady."

―It‘s Wednesday," she told him.

―Is it? I‘m terrible with dates. It‘s my only flaw."

She really wanted to laugh. But she didn‘t dare draw attention. Louisa and Lady Olivia were still chatting away, and the longer they were distracted the better.

―You‘re smiling," he said.

―No, I‘m not."

―You want to. The corners of your mouth are puckering."

―They are not!"

He gave her a sly grin. ―They are now."

He was right, the fiend. He‘d managed to make her laugh—or at least make her smile in the struggle not to laugh—in under a minute.

Was it any wonder she‘d asked him to kiss her?


Annabel turned with relief at the sound of Louisa‘s voice.

―My aunt is waving us over," Louisa said, and sure enough, Lady Cosgrove was starting across the grass at them, looking very stern.

―I expect she doesn‘t approve of your talking to me," Mr. Grey said, ―although I would think that Olivia‘s presence would be enough to make me palatable."

―I‘m not that respectable," Lady Olivia said.

Annabel‘s lips parted in shock.

―She is completely respectable," Louisa hastily whispered to Annabel. ―She‘s just, oh, never mind."

Once again, everyone knew everything about everyone else. Except Annabel.

Annabel just sighed. Or not really. She couldn‘t sigh in such a close gathering; it would be hopelessly uncouth. But she wanted to sigh. Something inside of her felt like it sighed.

Lady Cosgrove arrived on the scene and immediately took Louisa‘s arm. ―Lady Olivia," she said with a cordial nod. ―Mr. Grey."

They returned the greeting, Mr. Grey with a smart bow and Lady Olivia with a curtsy so graceful it ought to be criminal.

―I have invited Lady Olivia and Mr. Grey to join us at the opera tonight," Louisa said.

―Of course," Lady Cosgrove said politely. ―Lady Olivia, please do give my regards to your mother. I have not seen her in an age."

―She has had a bit of a cold," Lady Olivia replied, ―but she is almost recovered. I am sure she would be delighted if you called upon her."

―Perhaps I shall do that."

Annabel watched the exchange with interest. Lady Cosgrove had not cut Mr. Grey, but she had managed not to speak a word in his direction after first greeting him. It was curious. She had not thought he was such a persona non grata. After all, he was heir to the earldom of Newbury, even if only the heir presumptive.

She would have to ask Louisa about this. When she was done killing her for inviting him to the opera.

Further pleasantries were exchanged, but it was apparent that Lady Cosgrove meant to remove her charges and depart. Not to mention Frederick, who looked as if he‘d like to conduct some business in the shrubbery.

―Until this evening, Miss Winslow," Mr. Grey said, leaning over her hand once again.

Annabel tried not to react as the touch of his lips on her hand sent a tingle up her arm. ―Until this evening," she repeated.