She closed her eyes, and Daniel could practicaly see the memory washing over her face. “It was such a lovely night,” she whispered. “Midsummer, and so very clear. You could have counted the stars forever.”

“What happened?” he quietly asked.

She blinked, almost as if waking from a dream, and when she spoke, it was with an offhandedness that was almost disconcerting. “I found out he had proposed marriage to someone else. The day after I gave myself to him, as a matter of fact.”

The fury that had been building within began to crackle. He had never, not once in his life, felt such anger on behalf of another person. Was this what love meant?

That another person’s pain cut more deeply than one’s own?

“He tried to have his way with me, anyway,” she continued. “He told me I was . . . I can’t even remember the exact words, but he made me feel like a whore.

And maybe that’s what I was, but—”

“No,” Daniel said forcefuly. He could accept that she should have known better, that she could have been more sensible. But he would never alow her to think such a thing of herself. He strode across the room, and his hands came down on her shoulders. She tilted her face toward his, her eyes . . . those bottomless, deep blue eyes . . . He wanted to lose himself. Forever.

“He took advantage of you,” he said with quiet intensity. “He should have been drawn and quartered for—” A horrified bubble of laughter burst from her mouth. “Oh, dear,” she said, “just wait until you hear the rest of the story.” His brows rose.

“I cut him,” she said, and it took him a moment to understand what she meant. “He came at me, and I was trying to get away, and I suppose I grabbed the first thing my hand touched. It was a letter opener.”

Oh, dear God.

“I was trying to defend myself, and I only meant to wave the thing at him, but he lunged at me, and then—” She shuddered, and the blood drained from her face.

“From here to here,” she whispered, her finger sliding from her temple to her chin. “It was awful. And of course there was no hiding it. I was ruined,” she said with a little shrug. “I was sent away, told to change my name, and sever all ties with my family.”

“Your parents alowed this?” Daniel asked in disbelief.

“It was the only way to protect my sisters. No one would have married them if it got out that I had slept with George Chervil. Can you imagine? Slept with him and then stabbed him?”

“What I cannot imagine,” he bit off, “is a family who would turn you out.”

“It’s all right,” she said, even though they both knew it wasn’t. “My sister and I have corresponded clandestinely all this time, so I wasn’t completely alone.”

“The receiving houses,” he murmured.

She smiled faintly. “I always made sure I knew where they were,” she said. “It seemed safer to send and receive my mail from a more anonymous location.”

“What happened tonight?” he asked. “Why did you leave last week?”

“When I left . . .” She swalowed convulsively, turning her head away from his, her eyes finding some unknown spot on the floor. “He was enraged. He wanted to take me before the magistrate and have me hanged or transported or something, but his father was quite stern. If George made a spectacle of me, he’d lose his engagement with Miss Beckwith. And she was the daughter of a viscount.” She looked up with a wry expression. “It was quite the coup.”

“Did the marriage go forward?”

Anne nodded. “But he has never let go of his vow for revenge. The scar healed better than I might have expected, but he is still marked most visibly. And he was so very handsome before. I used to think he wanted to kill me, but now . . .”

“What?” Daniel demanded when she did not finish the sentence.

“He wants to cut me,” she said, very quietly.

Daniel let out a vicious curse. It did not matter that he was in the presence of a lady. There was no way he could stop the foul language that spat from his mouth.

“I’m going to kill him,” he said.

“No,” Anne said, “you’re not. After what happened with Hugh Prentice—”

“No one would mind if I removed Chervil from the face of this earth,” he cut in. “I have no worries on that score.”

“You will not kill him,” Anne said sternly. “I have already injured him grievously—”

“Surely you do not make excuses for him?”

“No,” she replied, with enough alacrity to set his mind at ease. “But I do think he has paid for what he did to me that night. He will never escape what I did to him.”

“As well he shouldn’t,” Daniel bit off.

“I want this to stop, ” she said firmly. “I want to live my life without looking over my shoulder. But I don’t want revenge. I don’t need it.” Daniel rather thought he might need it, but he knew it was her decision to make. It took him a moment to stuff down his anger, but he managed it, and finaly he asked, “How did he explain the injury?”

Anne looked relieved that he had changed the subject. “A riding accident. Charlotte told me no one believed it, but they said that he’d been thrown by his horse and his face had been cut open by the branch of a tree. I don’t think anyone suspected the truth—I’m sure people thought the worst of me when I disappeared so suddenly, but I can’t imagine anyone thought I would stab him in the face.” Copyright 2016 - 2024