A Night Like This

Page 71

“Of course not,” he replied, motioning to nothing in particular. “You may use anything you wish.” She nodded, and even from ten feet away, he saw her swalow nervously. “It occurred to me,” she said, her voice catching as she spoke, “that you probably already knew my name.”

He looked at her.

“From Granby,” she clarified.

“Yes,” he said. “He told me about the man who was looking for you. It was all I had to go on when I was searching for you.”

“I imagine it wasn’t much help.”

“No.” His lips twisted into a wry smile. “I did find Mary Philpott, though.”

Her lips parted with momentary surprise. “It was the name I used to write to my sister Charlotte so that my parents would not realize she was corresponding with me. It was through her letters that I knew that George was still—” She cut herself off. “I’m getting ahead of myself.” Daniel’s hands clenched at the sound of another man’s name. Whoever this George was, he had tried to hurt her. To kill her. And the urge to swing out his arms and punch something was overwhelming. He wanted to find this man, to hurt him, to make him understand that if anything—anything—happened to Anne again, Daniel would tear him apart with his bare hands.

And he had never considered himself to be a violent man.

He looked up at Anne. She was still standing in the center of the room, her arms hugging her body. “My name is— My name was Annelise Shawcross,” she said.

“I made a terrible mistake when I was sixteen, and I’ve been paying for it ever since.”

“Whatever you did—” he began, but she held up her hand.

“I’m not a virgin,” she said to him, the words blunt in the air.

“I don’t care,” he said, and he realized he didn’t.

“You should.”

“But I don’t.”

She smiled at him—forlornly, as if she was preparing to forgive him for changing his mind. “His name was George Chervil,” she said. “Sir George Chervil now that his father has died. I grew up in Northumberland, in a medium-sized vilage in the western part of the county. My father is a country gentleman. We were always comfortable, but not particularly wealthy. still, we were respected. We were invited everywhere, and it was expected that my sisters and I would make good matches.”

He nodded. It was an easy picture to paint in his mind.

“The Chervils were very rich, or at least they were in comparison to everyone else. When I look at this . . .” She glanced around his elegant bedchamber, at all the luxuries he used to take for granted. He’d not had so many material comforts while in Europe; he would not fail to appreciate such things again.

“They were not of this status,” she continued, “but to us—to everyone in the district—they were unquestionably the most important family we knew. And George was their only child. He was very handsome, and he said lovely things, and I thought I loved him.” She shrugged helplessly and glanced up at the ceiling, almost as if begging forgiveness for her younger self.

“He said he loved me,” she whispered.

Daniel swalowed, and he had the strangest sensation, almost a premonition of what it must like to be a parent. Someday, God wiling, he’d have a daughter, and that daughter would look like the woman standing in front of him, and if ever she looked at him with that bewildered expression, whispering, “He said he loved me

. . .”

Nothing short of murder would be an acceptable response.

“I thought he was going to marry me,” Anne said, bringing his thoughts back to the here and now. She seemed to have regained some of her composure, and her voice was brisk, almost businesslike. “But the thing is, he never said he would. He never even mentioned it. So I suppose, in a way, I bear some of the blame myself


“No,” Daniel said fiercely, because whatever happened, he knew it could not be her fault. It was all too easy to guess what would happen next. The rich, handsome man, the impressionable young girll. . . It was a terrible tableau, and terribly common.

She gave him a grateful smile. “I don’t mean to say I blame myself, because I don’t. Not any longer. But I should have known better.”

“Anne . . .”

“No,” she said, stopping his protest. “I should have known better. He did not mention marriage. Not once. I assumed he would ask. Because . . . I don’t know. I just did. I came from a good family. It never occurred to me that he wouldn’t want to marry me. And . . . Oh, it sounds horrible now, but the truth was, I was young and I was pretty and I knew it. My God, it sounds so sily now.”

“No, it doesn’t,” Daniel said quietly. “We have all been young.”

“I let him kiss me,” she said, then quietly added, “and then I let him do a great deal more.” Daniel held himself very still, waiting for the wave of jealousy that never came. He was furious with the man who’d taken advantage of her innocence, but he did Daniel held himself very still, waiting for the wave of jealousy that never came. He was furious with the man who’d taken advantage of her innocence, but he did not feel jealous. He did not need to be her first, he realized. He simply needed to be her last.

Her only.

“You don’t have to say anything about it,” he told her.

She sighed. “No, I do. Not because of that. Because of what happened next.” She walked across the room in a burst of nervous energy and grasped the back of a chair. Her fingers bit into the upholstery, and it gave her something to look at when she said, “I must be honest, I did like what he did up to a point, and after that, wel, it wasn’t dreadful. It just seemed rather awkward, realy, and a bit uncomfortable.” She looked back up at him, her eyes meeting his with stunning honesty. “But I did like the way it seemed to make him feel. And that made me feel powerful, and the next time I saw him, I was fuly prepared to let him do it all again.”

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