must let yourself be guided by Mr Sinclair, who has, I assure you, only your best interests at heart."

"But, Mrs. Kemp, you know I am very happy here. Of course i shall be delighted to visit Mr. Sinclair's home for Christmas. That seems to be what he wishes me to do. But to believe that I shall become a permanent resident there, or dependent on his Charity, is, I should think, something neither of us would wish for. Whatever life you and he believe I am somehow entitled to, I assure you this is the life I truly desire."

"You can't evaluate what you've never known. And you are about to enter a world about which you know nothing. It may seem very frightening to you at first, but..." The words faltered, and Mrs. Kemp's eyes seemed troubled. She put her hand on Annie's cheek, cupping it as if she were one of the younger girls in need of comfort. "Oh, my dear," she said, her voice passionate, "this is such an opportunity. I am simply urging you to make the best of it, whatever happens."

Which didn't sound comforting at all, Annie thought. She caught Mrs. Kemp's hand and folded the fingers down to the palm

She laid her cheek against the back of it a moment before she brought it to her mouth and pressed her lips against the raised blue veins that were visible under the thin skin.

"I shall," she said, smiling at the old woman. "I promise you I shall, Mrs. Kemp. Headstrong or not, I shall endeavour to do whatever Mr Sinclair thinks is best. i promise you."


It was not until she was actually in the coach, her portmanteau secured on the top and her feet and legs covered by a thick fur rug, that Annie realized what had happened. Mewed up in an institution run by rules and discipline, she had fantasized about adventure often enough, especially during her adolescence. Nothing about her previous existence had prepared her, however, to under take one.

Yet here she was, riding inside a carriage with a man she had only just met, heading to a destination about which she knew nothing at all. Mrs. Kemp's assurance that she had seen the solicitor's papers and her obvious excitement over the prospects offered by Mr Sinclair's interest had been reassuring enough while Annie had been in the safe and familiar confines of the school.

Now that she was truly alone with her 'guardian', however, the Gothic tales of abduction she had read with such shivering delight seemed all too real. And not a little frightening.

"Comfortable?" Mr Sinclair asked prosaically, smiling at her from the opposite seat. The question certainly dampened that particular flight of fantasy.

"Of course," she said truthfully.

The coachman was not only elegantly appointed, but very well-sprung. And, despite the cold outside, the interior was every bit cosy as her room on the third floor of Fenton School. perhaps even more or so. However, that was a room which she missed more and more with each mile they traversed.

"Good," he said.

He removed his hat and set it on the table seat beside him

After they had travelled a short distance in silence, he leaned head head back against the seat and closed his eyes, tacitly giving Anne permission to study his features again in the less flattering light of the day.

It was obvious she had been corrected in her earlier surmise. Ian Sinclair had undoubtedly been invalided out of service and was not yet fully recovered. She had not been able to help but notice his limp as they had walked to the coach.

Dark smudges lay like old bruises under the long lashes. His face was too thin, and beneath the natural darkness of his skin was a tinge of grey. His mouth was tight, as if set against a pain she could almost feel.

And yet, given all those, it was a face that was undeniably appealing. The nose was as finely shaped as his mouth, the brow high and noble, and the jaw strong.

Whatever his age, and Annie was no nearer guessing that than she had been from the first, Ian Sinclair was a very handsome man. 'And he was her guardian'.

She wondered if, at nineteen, such a guardianship were even legal. She had little knowledge of the law, of course, so she must trust that her father's solicitor and Mrs Kemp were more knowledgeable about such matters than she. Neither seemed to have expressed any reservations about the arrangement.

She turned her head, looking out at the passing landscape. The snow that had been threatening for days had finally begun to fall in earnest, and she wondered again that Mr Sinclair had made this journey, given the uncertain state of his health.

She could not imagine what had prompted him to embark on this foolhardy venture for the sake of a girl he had never met. Duty, she supposed. And a sense of obligation to her father, who had been his friend.

He said they had been comrades in arms. She would have to ask him about her father's service. Perhaps Mr Sinclair could help her to finally understand the man who had fathered and abandoned her. At the very least, he would be able to tell her more about her father than she knew now. She could not even remember what he looked like.

She knew she took after her mother. She couldn't remember who had first told her that, but she had known it all her life. As she had grown into adulthood, the face in her mirror did indeed grow to match the one in the golden locket she still wore around her neck. It was the only thing she had of her mother's.

She touched it now, wrapping gloved fingers around it's small, familiar shape. At least 'something' would be familiar when they reached their destination, she thought, her eyes deliberately focused on the landscape they crossed rather than on the handsome, pain-etched face of Ian Sinclair.

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