Her eyes widened, and then she burst out laughing, a lovely, throaty sound that wasn‘t musical in the least. She did not laugh delicately, Miss Winslow.

He loved it.

―I beat no one who did not deserve it," she told him, once she‘d regained her composure.

He felt himself chuckling along with her. ―But Miss Winslow," he said, affecting an earnest expression, ―we have only just met. How can I trust your judgment in such a matter?"

She gave him a wicked grin. ―You can‘t."

Sebastian‘s heart lurched dangerously. He couldn‘t seem to take his eyes off the corner of her mouth, that little spot where her skin dimpled and turned up. She had wonderful lips, full and pink, and he rather thought he‘d like to kiss them again, now that he‘d had a chance to see her by the light of day. He wondered if it would feel different, having a perfectly colored portrait of her in his mind as he kissed her.

He wondered if it would feel different, knowing her name.

He tilted his head, as if the motion might bring her into sharper focus. It did, somehow, and he realized that yes, it would feel different.


He was saved from having to ponder the meaning of this by the appearance of his cousins. Harry and Olivia arrived with pink cheeks and slightly mussed hair, and after greetings were exchanged all around, the not-quite-newlyweds took seats in the back row.

Sebastian settled happily into his seat. It wasn‘t as if he was alone with Miss Winslow; there were six others in the box, not to mention hundreds below in the opera house, but they were alone in their row, and for now, it felt like enough.

He turned to look at her. She was peering out over the edge of the box, her eyes alight with excitement. Sebastian tried to remember the last time he‘d felt such anticipation. He‘d been in London since his return from the war, and this—the parties, the operas, the liaisons—had all become routine. He enjoyed it all, of course, but he did not think he could say that there was anything he truly anticipated .

She turned, then. Looked at him and smiled.

Until now.

Chapter Ten

Annabel‘s breath caught as the lights of the Royal Opera House dimmed. She‘d been looking forward to this night since she‘d arrived in town, could hardly wait to relate all the details in a long missive to her sisters back home. But now, as the curtains lifted to reveal a strangely barren set, she realized that she didn‘t just want this performance to be breathtaking, sheneeded it.

Because if it wasn‘t amazing, if it wasn‘t everything she‘d dreamed of, it was not going to distract her from the gentleman in the seat next to her, whose every movement seemed to somehow disrupt the air just enough to make her skin tingle.

He didn‘t even have to touch her and she tingled. This was very, very bad news.

―Are you familiar with the story?" came a warm voice in her ear.

Annabel nodded, even though she had only a cursory knowledge of the libretto. Her program had contained a synopsis, which Louisa had told her was mandatory for anyone who did not understand German, but Annabel had not had time to read it carefully before Mr. Grey had arrived. ―I know a little," she whispered. ―Some."

―That is Tamino," he said, pointing to the young man who had entered the stage. ―Our hero."

Annabel started to nod, then gasped as a monstrous serpent took the stage, writhing and hissing.

―How did they make that?" she could not help but murmur.

But before Mr. Grey could offer an opinion, Tamino fainted with fear.

―I‘ve never found him very heroic myself," Mr. Grey said.

She glanced over at him.

He gave a little one-shouldered shrug. ―A hero really shouldn‘t swoon on the first page."

―The first page?"

―The first scene," he amended.

Annabel was inclined to agree. She was far more interested in the odd feather-coated man who had arrived on the scene, along with three ladies who promptly killed the snake. ―No cowards they," she murmured to herself.

Beside her she heard Mr. Grey smile. She heard him smile. How that was possible she did not know, but when she stole a glance at his profile, she saw it was true. He was watching the singers, his chin slightly lifted as he gazed over the crowd below, and his lips were curved into a small smile of kinship.

Annabel drew in a breath. Here in the half-light of the theater, she was reminded of how she‘d first seen him, on the darkened heath. Had that been only one night earlier? It seemed strange that a mere twenty-four hours had passed since their accidental meeting. She felt different inside, changed far more than one day ought to allow.

She let her eyes fall on his lips. His smile had melted away, and now he looked intent, concentrating on the unfolding drama. And then—

He turned.

She almost looked away. But she didn‘t. She smiled. Just a little.

He smiled back.

She moved her hands against her belly, which was doing all sorts of strange flips and wiggles.

She should not be flirting with this man. It was a dangerous game that could go nowhere, and she knew better, truly she did. But she couldn‘t seem to help herself. There was something so compelling, so infectious about him. He was her personal pied piper, and when she was near him, she felt…

She felt different. Special. As if she might possibly exist for some reason other than to find a husband and produce a baby and do it specifically in that order, with the proper person, as picked out by her grandparents, and—

She turned back to the stage. She didn‘t want to think about this now. This was supposed to be a good night. A wonderful night.

―Now he‘s going to fall in love," Mr. Grey whispered in her ear.