A Night Like This

Page 18

“And not with me,” she added.

“Who are you, I wonder?”

She turned, sharply.

“That’s quite a reaction for so basic a question,” he murmured.

“I am Anne Wynter,” she said evenly. “Governess to your cousins.”

“Anne,” he said softly, and she realized he was savoring her name like a prize. He tilted his head to the side. “Is it Wynter with an i or a y?”

“Y. Why?” And then she couldn’t help but chuckle at what she’d just said.

“No reason,” he replied. “Just my natural curiosity.” He was silent for a bit longer, then said, “It doesn’t suit you.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Your name. Wynter. It does not suit you. Even with the y.”

“We are rarely given the choice of our names,” she pointed out.

“True, but still, I have often found it interesting how well some of us are suited to them.” She could not hide an impish smile. “What, then, does it mean to be a Smythe-Smith?”

He sighed, with perhaps too much drama. “I suppose we were doomed to perform the same musicale over and over and over . . .” He looked so despondent she had to laugh. “Whatever do you mean by that?”

“It’s a bit repetitive, don’t you think?”

“Smythe-Smith? I think there is something rather friendly about it.”

“Hardly. One would think if a Smythe married a Smith, they might be able to settle their differences and pick a name rather than saddling the rest of us with both.” Anne chuckled. “How long ago was the name hyphenated?”

“Several hundred years.” He turned, and for a moment she forgot his scrapes and his bruises. She saw only him, watching her as if she were the only woman in the world.

She coughed, using it to mask her tiny motion away from him on the bench. He was dangerous, this man. Even when they were sitting in a public park, talking about nothing of great importance, she felt him.

Something within her had been awakened, and she desperately needed to shut it back away.

“I’ve heard conflicting stories,” he said, seemingly oblivious to her turmoil. “The Smythes had the money and the Smiths had the position. Or the romantic version: The Smythes had the money and the position but the Smiths had the beautiful daughter.”

“With hair of spun gold and eyes of cerulean blue? It sounds rather like an Arthurian legend.”

“Hardly. The beautiful daughter turned out to be a shrew.” He tilted his head to her with a dry grin. “Who did not age wel.” Anne laughed, despite herself. “Why did the family not cast off the name, then, and go back to being Smythes?”

“I have no idea. Perhaps they signed a contract. Or someone thought we sounded more dignified with an extra sylable. At any rate, I don’t even know if the story is true.”

She laughed again, gazing out over the park to watch the girls. Harriet and Elizabeth were bickering over something, probably nothing more than a blade of grass, and Frances was powering on, taking giant steps that were going to ruin her results. Anne knew she should go over to correct her, but it was so pleasant to sit on the bench with the earl.

“Do you like being a governess?” he asked.

“Do I like it?” She looked at him with furrowed brow. “What an odd question.”

“Do I like it?” She looked at him with furrowed brow. “What an odd question.”

“I can’t think of anything less odd, considering your profession.”

Which showed just how much he knew about having a job. “No one asks a governess if she likes being one,” she said. “No one asks that of anyone.” She’d thought that would be the end of it, but when she glanced back at his face, he was watching her with a true and honest curiosity.

“Have you ever asked a footman if he likes being one?” she pointed out. “Or a maid?”

“A governess is hardly a footman or a maid.”

“We are closer than you think. Paid a wage, living in someone else’s house, always one misstep away from being tossed in the street.” And while he was pondering that, she turned the tables and asked, “Do you like being an earl?”

He thought for a moment. “I have no idea.” At her look of surprise, he added, “I haven’t had much chance to know what it means. I held the title for barely a year before I left England, and I’m ashamed to say I didn’t do much with it during that time. If the earldom is thriving, it is due to my father’s excelent stewardship, and his foresight in appointing several capable managers.”

still, she persisted. “But you still were the earl. It did not matter what land you stood upon. When you made an acquaintance you said, ‘I am Winstead,’ not ‘I am Mr. Winstead.’ ”

He looked at her frankly. “I made very few acquaintances while I was abroad.”

“Oh.” It was a remarkably odd statement, and she did not know how to respond. He didn’t say anything more, and she did not think she could bear the touch of melancholy that had misted over them, so she said, “I do like being a governess. To them, at least,” she clarified, smiling and waving at the girls.

“I take it this is not your first position,” he surmised.

“No. My third. And I have also served as a companion.” She wasn’t sure why she was teling him all this. It was more of herself than she usualy shared. But it wasn’t anything he could not discover by quizzing his aunt. All of her previous positions had been disclosed when Anne had applied to teach the Pleinsworth daughters, even the one that had not ended wel. Anne strove for honesty whenever possible, probably because it so often wasn’t possible. And she was most grateful that Lady Pleinsworth had not thought less of her for having departed a position where every day had ended with her having to barricade her door against her students’ father.

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