A Night Like This

Page 44

Thank heavens for her skirt, which was possibly the only thing stopping her from behaving with utter shamelessness. But still, when one of his hands reached into her bodice, she didn’t refuse. And when his palm gently grazed her nipple, all she did was moan.

This would have to stop. But not just yet.

“I dreamed about you last night,” he whispered against her skin. “Do you want to know what it was?” She shook her head, even though she did, desperately. But she knew her limits. She could go down this road only so far. If she heard his dreams, heard the words from his lips as they rained down softly against her, she would want it, everything he said.

And it hurt too much to want something she could never have.

“What did you dream about?” he asked.

“I don’t dream,” she replied.

He went still, then drew back so that he could look at her. His eyes—that amazingly bright light blue—were filed with curiosity. And maybe a touch of sadness.

“I don’t dream,” she said again. “I haven’t for years.” She said it with a shrug. It was such a normal thing for her now; it hadn’t occurred to her until that moment how strange it might seem to others.

“But you did as a child?” he asked.

She nodded. She hadn’t realy thought about it before, or maybe she just hadn’t wanted to think about it. But if she had dreamed since she left Northumberland eight years earlier, she had not remembered. Every morning before she opened her eyes, there was nothing but the black of the night. A perfectly empty space, filed with absolute emptiness. No hopes. No dreams.

But also no nightmares.

It seemed a small price to pay. She wasted enough of her waking hours worrying about George Chervil and his mad quest for revenge.

“You don’t find that strange?” he asked.

“That I don’t dream?” She knew what he’d meant, but for some reason she’d needed to state it out loud.

He nodded.

“No.” Her voice came out flat. But certain. Maybe it was strange, but it was also safe.

He didn’t say anything, but his eyes searched hers with penetrating intensity until she had to look away. He was seeing far too much of her. In less than a week this man had uncovered more of her than she’d revealed to anyone in the past eight years. It was unsettling.

It was dangerous.

Reluctantly she puled herself from his embrace, stepping just far enough away so that he could not reach out for her. She bent to retrieve her pelisse from where it lay on the grass, and without speaking she refastened it around her shoulders. “The girls will be back soon,” she said, even though she knew that they wouldn’t. It would be at least another quarter of an hour before they returned, probably more.

“Let’s take a stroll, then,” he suggested, offering her his arm.

She eyed him suspiciously.

“Not everything I do is with lascivious intent,” he said with a laugh. “I thought I might show you one of my favorite places here at Whipple Hil.” As she placed her hand on his arm he added, “We’re only a quarter mile or so from the lake.”

“Is it stocked?” she asked. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d gone fishing, but oh, how she had enjoyed it as a child. She and Charlotte had been the bane of their mother, who had wanted them to pursue more feminine activities. Which they had, eventualy. But even after Anne had become obsessed with frocks and gowns and keeping taly of every single time an eligible gentleman glanced at an eligible young lady . . .

She’d still loved to go fishing. She’d even been happy to do the gutting and cleaning. And of course the eating. One could not understate the satisfaction to be found in catching one’s own food.

“It should be stocked,” Lord Winstead said. “It always was before I left, and I would not think that my steward would have had cause to change the directive.” Her eyes must have been shining with delight, for he smiled indulgently and asked, “Do you like to fish, then?”

“Oh, very much so,” she said with a wistful sigh. “When I was a child . . .” But she did not finish her sentence. She’d forgotten that she did not speak of her childhood.

But if he was curious—and she was quite certain he must be—he did not show it. As they walked down the gentle slope toward a leafy stand of trees, he said only, “I loved to fish as a child, too. I came all the time with Marcus—Lord Chatteris,” he added, since of course she was not on a first-name basis with the earl.

Anne took in the landscape around her. It was a glorious spring day, and there seemed a hundred different shades of green rippling along the leaves and grass. The world felt terribly new, and deceptively hopeful. “Did Lord Chatteris visit often as a child?” she asked, eager to keep the conversation on benign matters.

“Constantly,” Lord Winstead replied. “Or at least every school holiday. By the time we were thirteen I don’t know that I ever came home without him.” They walked a bit more, then he reached out to pluck a low-hanging leaf. He looked at it, frowned, then finaly set it aloft with a little flick of his fingers. It went spiraling through the air, and something about the fluttery motion must have been mesmerizing, because they both stopped walking to watch it make its way back down to the grass.

And then, as if the moment had never happened, Lord Winstead quietly picked up the conversation where it had been left off. “Marcus has no family to speak of.

No siblings, and his mother died when he was quite young.”

“What about his father?”

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