"I was simply trying to place him, but he must have arrived there after I left."
Unconsciously, his gaze settled on Annie again. At that moment Travener leaned close to point to one of myriad wine glasses, confusingly arrayed before each place.
Annie's fingers touched the glass her partner has indicated. She turned towards Travener, raising her brows, obviously questioning the correctness of her choice. With his nod of agreement, she lifted the wine and brought it to her lips.
There was a surge of anxiety in Ian's chest. This wasn't something they had discussed. Annie was not a child and no longer a schoolgirl, of course, but he doubted she had had much experience with spirits. Not at Fenton School.
Annie's eyes met her partner's over the top of the goblet as her lips closed around it's rim. Knowing her as he did, Ian believed the look to be perfectly innocent. Seeing her gaze into Travener's eyes with such a practiced gesture of flirtation, however, caused a flood of heat to scald it's way through his body.
Jealousy, he recognized with a sense of shock. And as he continued to watch them, he examined that emotion with the same intellectual detachment he had brought to bear on all the others he had experienced since his return to Iberia.
What he had felt was not protectiveness, not as his concern about the wine had been. Nor was it fear that Annie might be flirting with the wrong man, one of the scoundrels from whom it would be his duty to guard her. What he had experienced as he watched Annie's eyes make contact with Travener's had been pure raw envy that he himself was not the recipient of that look.
His gaze fell, and he pretended to consider his fingers wrapped around the stem of his own wine glass. Jealousy. And that was almost as troubling as the wave of sexual desire which had roared through his body the night that Annie, kneeling in the snow beside him, had innocently pressed her body against his.
He could not afford either of those emotions. He could never allow himself to consider Annie in that light. And, despite what he had told his sister-in-law, the reason had less to do with the fact that she was his ward and far more to do with the threat inherent in the souvenir of a Peninsula battle he carried within his chest.
A threat he would not be living with now if it had not been for the actions of Annie's father.
'My heart is not a stake in this game', he had said to Elizabeth. And it could never be, in spite of what he had felt watching Annie interact with a handsome and eligible bachelor. Something he would have to do for the next several months, Ian realized bitterly. At least until the day he stood beside her at the altar and gave her forever into the keeping of another man.
"But you didn't know Mr. Sinclair," Annie clarified, "I was in Portugal only a short time before my father died. I was forced to sell out and return to England."
"I'm very sorry to hear of your father's death. It must have been terrible to have received that news when you were so far from home," Annie said.
She tried to imagine what Doyle Travener might have felt. Her feelings about her own father's death were not a reliable guide, since they had never been close.
"I confess it was... unexpected. He had appeared to be in the best of health when i embarked."
Travener's voice caught on the last word, and his eyes fell to the handle of the knife his long, dark fingers were toying with. Her heart touched by his obvious grief, Annie unthinkingly laid her fingers over his, squeezing them slightly.
His eyes came up very quickly to meet hers. It was only then that she realized what she had just done might be misinterpreted, if not by Mr Travener, then by others who witnessed her gesture.
She removed her hand, fighting the very natural urge to look around to see if anyone had noticed. Her small faux pas was not really important, she told herself. Not in light of Mr Travener's loss. She smiled into those beautiful blue eyes and was relieved when his quick smile answered hers.
"You are very kind, Miss Darlington," he said.
"It's obvious you were close to your father," she said.
He, at least, understood what had prompted her unthinking gesture.
"Indeed we were. And I had missed him very much while I was away. That is my one regret, that I was from him during his last months. Of course, with your father away in service, you must understand those feelings without being reminded of them. Do you miss your father a great deal?"
"My father is also dead, Mr Travener. He died more than five months ago."
"Forgive me, Miss Darlington. When you asked about him before..."
"You thought he was still in Portugal."
"Forgive me," he said again, his eyes darkened with remorse. "I would never wish to cause you pain."
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