The Trouble With Dukes(123)

By: Grace Burrowes

Anwen remained by the open window, making a wistful picture as the spring sunshine caught highlights in her red hair.

“I wish we could take the boys to the park. They get out so seldom, and they’re boys.”

Long ago, Colin had been a boy, though not a very happy one. “Instead of punishing the miscreants with beatings, you should reward the good fellows with an outing to the park. For the space of a day at least, you’d see sainthood where deviltry reigned before.”

“Do you think so?”

“I know so. Will you drive out with me?”

“Yes, I shall. If I go back to Moreland House in my present mood, one of my sisters will ask if I’m well, and another will suggest I need a posset, and dear Aunt Esther will insist that I have a lie down, and then—I’m whining. My apologies.”

Miss Anwen was very pretty when she whined. “So you will join me, because you need time to maneuver your deceptions into place?”

She marched off toward the end of the corridor. “Lord Colin, you do not inspire a lady to spend time in your company by insulting her. I am not deceptive.”

Colin caught up with her easily and bowed her through the door. “I beg your pardon for my blunt word choice—I’m new to this business of being a lord. Perhaps you maneuver your polite fictions into place.”

“I do not indulge in polite fictions.”

She indulged in outright histrionics, which held his interest at least as well as a plate of biscuits served with good brandy would.

“Anwen, when I see you among your family, you are the most quiet, demure, retiring, unassuming facsimile of a spinster I’ve ever met. When I chance upon you without their company, you are a far livelier creature. You steal birch rods, for example.”

“Now you accuse me of theft, Lord Colin.”

“I’ve wanted to filch the occasional birch rod, but I lacked the daring. I’m offering you a compliment.”

If he complimented her gorgeous red hair—far more fiery than Colin’s own auburn locks—or her lovely complexion, or her luminous blue eyes, she’d deliver a scathing set down.

Once upon a time, before Colin’s family had acquired a ducal title, Colin had collected both set downs and kisses like some men collected cravat pins.

“You admire my thievery?” Miss Anwen asked, pausing at the top of the front stairs.

“The boys here will thank you for it as well, provided the blame for the missing birch rod doesn’t land on them.”

“Oh, dear.”

She honestly cared about these scapegrace children. The realization intrigued Colin as outlandish wagers, buxom tavern maids, and stolen kisses could not.

“We’ll have the birch rod returned to wherever you found it before we leave,” Colin said. “Hitchings merely overlooked it when he left the schoolroom.”

“Marvelous! You have a capacity for deception too, Lord Colin. Perhaps I’ve underestimated you.”

“Many do,” Colin said, escorting her down the steps.

He suspected many underestimated Miss Anwen too, and for the first time in days, Lord Colin MacHugh looked forward to the balance of his afternoon.