A Night Like This

Page 70

Instead he alowed himself to place his arm around her shoulders and steer her toward his home. “Let’s get you inside,” he said. He was so overcome—with relief, with dread, with fury—but no matter what, he had to get her inside. She needed care. She probably needed food. And everything else could sort itself out later.

“Can we go in the back?” she said haltingly. “I’m not— I can’t—”

“You will always use the front door,” he said fiercely.

“No, it’s not that, it’s—please,” she begged. “I’m in such a state. I don’t want anyone to see me like this.” He took her hand. “I see you,” he said quietly.

Her eyes met his, and he could swear he saw some of the bleakness wash away. “I know,” she whispered.

He brought her hand to his lips. “I was terrified,” he told her, laying his soul bare. “I did not know where to find you.”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I won’t do it again.”

But there was something in her apology that unsettled him. Something too meek, too nervous.

“I have to ask you something,” she said.

“Soon,” he promised. He guided her up the steps, then held up a hand. “Wait one moment.” He peered inside the hal, ascertained that all was quiet, then motioned to her to come inside. “This way,” he whispered, and together they silently dashed up the stairs to his room.

Once he shut the door behind him, however, he found himself at a loss. He wanted to know everything—Who had done this to her? Why had she run? Who was she, realy? He wanted answers, and he wanted them now.

No one treated her this way. Not while he took breath.

But first she needed to get warm, and she needed to simply breathe, and alow herself to realize that she was safe. He had been in her place before. He knew what it was like to run.

He lit a lamp, and then another. They needed light, the both of them.

Anne stood awkwardly near the window, rubbing at her wrists, and for the first time that evening, Daniel realy looked at her. He’d known she was disheveled, but in his relief to have finaly found her he had not realized how much. Her hair was pinned up on one side but hung loose on the other, her coat was missing a button, and there was a bruise on her cheek that made his blood run cold.

“Anne,” he said, trying to find the words for the question that must be asked. “Tonight . . . Whoever this was . . . Did he . . . ?” He couldn’t get the word out. It sat at the back of his tongue, tasting like acid and rage.

“No,” she said, holding herself with quiet dignity. “He would have done, but when he found me, I was outside, and—” She looked away then, squeezing her eyes shut against the memory. “He told me that— He said he was going to—”

“You don’t have to say anything,” he said quickly. At least not now, when she was so upset.

But she shook her head, and her eyes held a determination that he could not contradict. “I want to tell you everything,” she said.

“Later,” he said gently. “After you take a bath.”

“No,” she said, her voice barely a choke. “You have to let me speak. I stood outside for hours, and I have only so much courage.”

“Anne, you don’t need courage with—”

“My name is Annelise Shawcross,” she blurted out. “And I would like to be your mistress.” And then, while he was staring at her in stunned disbelief, she added,

“If you’ll have me.”

Almost an hour later, Daniel was standing by his window, waiting for Anne to finish with her bath. She had not wanted anyone to know that she was in the house, so Almost an hour later, Daniel was standing by his window, waiting for Anne to finish with her bath. She had not wanted anyone to know that she was in the house, so he had hidden her in a wardrobe while several footmen saw to the task of filing a tub, and now she was presumably still soaking in it, waiting for the chil of fear to leave her body.

She had tried to talk to him about her proposition, insisting that it was her only option, but he had not been able to listen. For her to have offered herself up to him in such a way . . . She could only have done so if she felt herself to be completely without hope.

And that was something he could not bear to imagine.

He heard the door to his bathroom open, and when he turned he saw her, scrubbed clean and new, her wet hair combed away from her face and hanging down over her right shoulder. She’d twisted it somehow; not a braid but more of a spiral that kept the strands in one thick cord.

“Daniel?” She said his name quietly as she peered out into the room, her bare feet padding along the plush carpet. She was wearing his dressing gown, the deep midnight blue almost the same color as her eyes. It was huge on her, faling nearly to her ankles, and she had her arms wrapped around her waist just to keep it in place.

He thought she’d never looked so beautiful.

“I’m right here,” he said when he realized she didn’t see him standing by the window. He’d removed his coat while she was bathing, his neckcloth and boots, too.

His valet had been put out that he had not wished for assistance, so Daniel had set the boots outside the door, hoping he’d take that as an invitation to take them back to his quarters and polish them.

Tonight was not a night for interruptions.

“I hope you don’t mind that I took your dressing gown,” Anne said, hugging her arms more tightly to her body. “There was nothing else . . .”

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