A Night Like This

Page 32

“—is five years your elder.”

“We shal have a grand time in the nursery,” Anne announced, walking over to pluck her charge off Lord Winstead. He turned to face her, his eyes flaring with a familiarity that made her skin turn warm. She could tell he was about to say something about her joining the family for supper, so she quickly added, in a voice that everyone could hear, “Normaly I take my supper in my room, but with Nanny Flanders sick, I am more than happy to take her place with Elizabeth and Frances in the nursery.”

“Once again, you are our savior, Miss Wynter,” chimed Lady Pleinsworth. “I don’t know what we would do without you.”

“First the musicale and now this,” Lord Winstead said approvingly.

Anne glanced at him, trying to discern his motive for saying such a thing, but he had already turned his attention back to Frances.

“Perhaps we shal stage a concert while we are here,” Elizabeth suggested. “It would be great fun.” It was hard to tell in the twilight, but Anne thought she might have seen Lord Winstead blanch. “I did not bring your viola,” she said quickly. “Nor Harriet’s violin.”

“What about—”

“And not your contrabassoon, either,” Anne said to Frances before she could even ask.

“Oh, but this is Whipple Hil,” Lady Pleinsworth said. “No Smythe-Smith home would be complete without a generous assortment of musical instruments.”

“Even a contrabassoon?” Frances asked hopefuly.

Lord Winstead looked dubious, but he said, “I suppose you can look.”

“I shal! Miss Wynter, will you help me?”

“Of course,” Anne murmured. It seemed as good an enterprise as any to keep her out of the way of the family.

“Of course,” Anne murmured. It seemed as good an enterprise as any to keep her out of the way of the family.

“With Sarah feeling so much better, you won’t have to play the pianoforte this time,” Elizabeth pointed out.

It was a good thing Lady Sarah had already entered the house, Anne thought, because she would have had to stage an elaborate relapse right then and there.

“Let us all come inside,” Lord Winstead said. “There is no need to change from your traveling clothes. Mrs. Barnaby has seen to an informal supper, of which we may all partake, Elizabeth and Frances included.”

And you, too, Miss Wynter.

He didn’t say it. He didn’t even look at her, but Anne felt the words nonetheless.

“If you will be dining en famille, ” Anne said to Lady Pleinsworth, “I should be most grateful to retire to my room. I find myself weary from the journey.”

“Of course, my dear. You will need to reserve your energy for this week. I’m afraid we shal be working you to the bone. Poor Nanny.”

“Don’t you mean poor Miss Wynter?” Frances asked.

Anne smiled at her charge. Indeed.

“Never fear, Miss Wynter,” Elizabeth said. “We shal go easy on you.”

“Oh you shal, shal you?”

Elizabeth assumed an innocent mien. “I am wiling to forgo all mathematics for the duration.” Lord Winstead chuckled, then turned to Anne. “Shal I have someone show you to your room?”

“Thank you, my lord.”

“Come with me. I shal see to it.” He turned to his aunt and cousins. “The rest of you, go along to the breakfast room. Mrs. Barnaby had the footmen set up supper there, since we are so informal this evening.”

Anne had no choice but to folow him through the main hall and then to a long portrait galery. She appeared to be at the early side of it, she thought, judging from the Elizabethan ruff on the rather portly man staring down at her. She looked about for a maid, or a footman, or whoever it was he planned to have show her to her room, but they were quite alone.

Except for two dozen Winsteads of years gone by.

She stood and clasped her hands primly in front of her. “I’m sure you wish to join your family. Perhaps a maid . . .”

“What kind of host would I be?” he asked smoothly. “Pawning you off like a piece of baggage.”

“I beg your pardon?” Anne murmured with some alarm. Surely he could not mean . . .

He smiled. Like a wolf. “I shal see you to your room myself.”

Daniel did not know what manner of devil had come over him, but Miss Wynter had looked so unbearably fetching as she squinted up at the third Earl of Winstead (too many turkey legs shared with Henry VIII, that much was clear). He’d planned to summon a maid to show her to her room, truly he had, but apparently he could not resist the delicate wrinkle of her nose.

“Lord Winstead,” she began, “surely you recognize the impropriety of such a . . . such a . . .”

“Oh, don’t worry,” he said, happy to save her from her articulation difficulties. “Your virtue is safe with me.”

“But not my reputation!”

She did have a point there.

“I shal be quick as a . . .” He paused. “Wel, whatever it is that is quick and not terribly unattractive.” She stared at him as if he’d sprouted horns. Unattractive horns.

He smiled gamely. “I shal be down to supper so quickly no one will even realize I went with you.”

“That is not the point.”

“Isn’t it? You said you were concerned for your reputation.”

“I am, but—”

“So quick,” he interrupted, putting an end to whatever manner of protest she’d been working toward. “I’d hardly have time to ravish you even if that were my intention.”

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