such a provincial as she knew to be the height of fashion, from his gleaming tasselled Hessians to the broad shoulders of an expertly cut coat of navy superfine.Considering the weather, there would be no doubt be a multi-caped greatcoat and a tall beaver has residing safely in Mrs. Kemp's office.
"Oh, dear," she said. "I hope I didn't hurt you."
He certainly appeared sturdy enough that she couldn't possibly have done him damage, but that gasp had sounded pained. And there was something in the tightness of the lines around that beautifully shaped mouth that also spoke of discomfort.
It was not until the mouth tilted, destroying that ridiculous notion, that Annie looked up and found his eyes.
They were hazel, and they were smiling as openly as were his lips.
Smiling eyes. She had read the phrase once in a novel, that strictly forbidden pastime carefully conceded from Mrs. Kemp, of course. She had never quite known what it meant until today. Until now. And her heart began to beat a little irregularly.
"I believe I have managed to survive your charge," he said. "It is customary to look in the direction you're treading, however. Just to prevent bowling over the unsuspecting."
Annie laughed. "Only think how boring it should be to always look where one is going. I confess that I much prefer to back my way through life." She longed to add, 'One meets such interesting people that way,' but she couldn't decide if that would sound sophisticated or simply fast.
And while she was trying to resolve that dilemma, the hazel eyes left her face and settled, still smiling, on Margaret's. Annie swallowed her disappointment and turned to look at her younger friend as well. Margaret's brown eyes still stretched. Indeed, they had widened enough to be outright rude as she stared, open-mouthed, at the visitor.
"Hello," he said.
"Lo," Margaret mumbled.
The self-important air of confidence with which she had delivered her message had disappeared. Of course, Annie could hardly blame her for that. They were neither very often exposed to someone who was so obviously Top of the Trees.
"I'm not quite sure how this should be done," the elegant gentleman was saying, "But I have satisfied Mrs. Kemp as to my identity and legal position as your guardian. She has agreed that we may leave as soon as you are ready. Since I gave you no warning, I should imagine it will take you some time to pack. i hope you will make as quick a work of that as you can, however, because of the weather is worsening by the moment."
Margaret said nothing, her eyes and mouth continuing to gape unbecomingly as he talked. When he had finished, and the silence yawned empty for a few seconds, she reluctantly pulled her gaze away from his face to look at Annie.
"It's not me you want," she said, pointing a trembling finger. "It's her. That's Annie Darlington."
The hazel eyes followed the gesture, and as Annie's met them, she realized they were no longer smiling. They had widened as much as Margaret's and even that was attractive, she decided.
"You're Annie Darlington?" he asked, his shock evident.
No mistake about the name, then, Annie thought, trying to make sense of this.
"I am," she said, inclining her head in agreement, hoping to add a touch of dignity to the confession.
"Colonel George Darlington's daughter?"
"Did you know my father, Sir?" she asked.
Again there was a small silence.
"I served with your father in Iberia, ma'am. May i offer my condolences on your recent loss."
Annie had never in her life been called ma'am. It was rather shocking, but despite that, finally she was beginning to have a glimmer of understanding. perhaps this man was indeed her guardian. Perhaps, when she was much younger, her father had named a military friend to look after her if anything happened to him. And now that it had...
"Thank you," she said softly.
She supposed she had grieved in the abstract for her father, but since she had not seen him over seven years, and not very often before that, she had quickly recovered from the news of his death, about which she had been informed only two months ago.
"My name is Ian Sinclair, and your father's will asked me to serve as your guardian."
How strange, Annie thought. Not 'your father asked me,' Which was what she would have expected, but 'your father's will.'
"And you agreed?"
"Colonel Darlington was a...comrade in arms."
Annie wondered about the brief hesitation, but then she knew less than nothing about military matters. Apparently her father had chosen from among his acquaintances a man he felt would be trustworthy to look after her.
She wondered how many years ago that decision had been made. And, considering Mr. Sinclair's confusion in thinking Margaret was his ward,
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