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9.42% Annie's Perfect Husband / Chapter 13: IAN'S RECOVERY

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Chapter 13: IAN'S RECOVERY

"Amazing how quickly it can strike, even in the best of families," a deep voice ventured lazily.

Ian had opened his eyes, and became aware of his surroundings for almost the first time in six fever-ridden days. Hearing that sarcastic comment from the man sitting beside his bed, he fought the urge to shut them again and pretend delirium.

"Insanity, I mean," the Earl of Dare added, closing the leather-bound volume he had obviously been reading from, as Ian slept.

Despite the way he felt, Ian lifted his mouth into a reluctant smile, which was quickly answered by his brother's.

"How do you feel?" Dare asked.

"Foolish," Ian said, surprised to find how much effort was required to form that one word answer.

"As you bloody well should. Whatever made you think you could go tearing off across the country—?"

Ian raised his hand, its palm towards the Earl, putting an end to that pointless castigation. After a moment, he let it fall to the counterpane, but his eyes held on Dare's, which, below the outrage, were filled with concern.

"No lectures, I beg you," Ian said.

"I'm to let you kill yourself at your leisure, I suppose."

"Hardly a fitting argument coming from you."

"The risks I took were always for a good cause," Dare said. "This, however..." The Earl shook his head. his expression rich with disgust.

"I trust you will at least admit I had no reason to expect a broken axle or an attack by highwaymen," Ian said.

"It's your sanity in undertaking the journey I question. As well as your sanity in undertaking this so-called guardianship."

"I see Williams has been talking."

"Everyone from the groom up has been talking, mostly about your gallant and heroic rescue of your new ward."

The final word was full of sarcasm, and given what he had felt that night, Ian wasn't sure it was misplaced. He ignored Dare's tone, however, choosing to reply only to the rest of his brother's statement.

"I fell out of the coach on top of the bastard. Hardly a gallant rescue."

"Your admirers disagree. As I'm sure will your dear charge."

"My dear charge, as you call her, knocked her attacker out with a well-aimed blow to the head. If anyone deserves accolades for that fiasco, it is she."

"A well-aimed blow to the head? How charming," the Earl said sarcastically.

"She is charming. Have you met her?" Ian asked.

"Day fairly well spat the words. "For that coward to have foisted his daughter on you is beyond enough. He must be laughing his head off in hell. What I can't understand is why in the world you accepted the Respons."

"Those were the terms of his will. What would you have done?"

"I should have paid her fees for the next thirty years and left her in that school where Darlington had her safely hidden away."

"She's nineteen, Val. Nearly twenty. And she's been in that school almost her entire life."

"And what is that to you?"

"Nothing, I suppose," Ian said, almost too tired to deal with his brother's caustic tongue, even though he understood Dare had only his best interests at heart.

"You are too noble for your own good," the Earl said.

"Noble?" Ian repeated, surprised into laughter, which made in a prolonged fit of coughing.

After a moment, Dare got up from his chair and poured a glass of water from the pitcher oh the table beside the bed. Then he sat down on the edge of the mattress and lifted his brother's shoulders to place the rim of the tumbler lips. Ian drank the water gratefully and finally the coughing subsided, leaving only a burning ache in his chest to remind him of the danger of responding to his brother's compliments in the manner he usually employed.

"You can have refused," Dare said, lowering him to rest again against the pillows.

"I thought she was a child. I was imagining a lonely little girl, forced to spend Christmas in a deserted boarding school."

"And when you saw her?"

A more difficult question, Ian admitted. With a more complicated answer—especially after the events of that journey. He might admit the answer to his own conscience, but he would certainly not offer it for his brother's consideration.


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