About the book
Two seemingly completely different men...a lady caught in the middle...
Lady Gwendolyn Buchannan is in a bit of a pickle. Lost and alone in a disreputable part of London, she is completely defenseless when a pair of ruffians accost her in an alley. That is until a stranger in a peculiar mask steps in to rescue her, before disappearing without a trace. Unable to forget him, she is determined to discover his name. She only gets a cryptic alias: Dainsleif.
Duncan Egerton, Barod of Allwick, never knew that caring for his younger sister would prove such a daunting task. Well respected by his peers, his disinterest in settling down has left many a lady completely heartbroken. It all changes, however, when he meets Lady Gwendolyn during a visit on his sister's behalf.
Torn between her feelings for the mysterious stranger and Duncan, Gwendolyn seems to have reached an insurmountable dilemma. A dilemma that costs her greatly: what's left behind is a breadcrumb trail of old grudges, a name hidden in an old myth, and a pair of leather gloves.
“Miss! Here! Miss!”
Lady Gwendolyn Buchannan clutched her cloak more tightly around her shoulders and hurried past the men who were calling out to her from the open door of the pub. She could tell by the way they addressed her that they didn’t realize she was the daughter of the Earl of Dorwarden. Not that she felt her father’s title should merit her special treatment, but she was sure they would be more reluctant to lay a hand on her if they knew what resources her father had at his disposal.
As it was, they seemed to think she was only a commoner.
“Miss! Don’t run away, now. Come in and join us for a while. It’s such a cold night. We’re good company, I promise!”
There was no chance those men would be good company. Much more likely, they would be very dangerous company.
Oh, how did I even find my way to this part of the City? I shouldn’t be here!
Where had Aunt Annabeth gone?
To think that she had insisted, this morning, when she had suggested this journey into the City to her parents, that she didn’t need a chaperone at all. She had been so anxious for an adventure.
Well, I should have been more careful what I wished for, shouldn’t I?
If she found Aunt Annabeth again without anything going wrong, she would never again argue with her mother and father when they tried to tell her she needed a chaperone. Not under any circumstances.
She hurried down the block and around the corner.
Immediately, she could see that things had gone from bad to worse. The road she had just left had been seedy, yes, but at least it had contained businesses. The road had been full of people traveling to or from the pubs. She’d been uncomfortable, but she had also felt the relative safety of having a lot of eyes on her.
It was different here. This wasn’t a road that featured businesses. This was a road where people clearly lived. And it wasn’t a nice area of the City.
The homes were broken down, some of them looking as though they hadn’t seen repairs in Gwendolyn’s lifetime. There were no cobblestones here—the road was made of dirt. There were no lamps to light the way, and though it wasn’t yet fully dark, dusk was beginning to settle around her.
Gwendolyn shivered and began to walk more quickly.
She had to get back to the main road. She didn’t understand how this had happened. She had been following her aunt along a row of shops, and she had turned her head for only a moment, searching out a delicious scent, wondering if perhaps there was a bakery nearby—
When she had turned back, Aunt Annabeth had disappeared from view.
Gwendolyn had done her best to go after her. She had known that her aunt planned to visit a milliner’s shop, but she hadn’t known exactly where to find it. She’d hurried up the road, hoping that she would come across the place, and when she had seen nothing, she began to search up and down side roads.
And now she was here, alone in a bad part of the City with night falling all around her.
It was awful. She felt desperate and frightened, and she wanted nothing more than to find her way back to her aunt quickly. She regretted ever hoping that she would have an adventure today. She just wanted to go home.
She pushed her spectacles up on the bridge of her nose, gathered her cloak still tighter around her, and hurried onward.
A dog’s bark made her jump. She whirled around and saw the animal in the space between two buildings, looking dirty and mangy and wild. It bared its teeth at her. Flooded with alarm, she ran past, hoping that it wouldn’t give chase.
This would never have happened if I hadn’t left the main road!
She thought about turning and going back the way she had come—but would she be able to find her way back? She had taken enough turns at this point that she really wasn’t sure, and her sense of direction had never been the best in the world. Maybe she would just end up getting even more hopelessly lost. Maybe the best thing to do would be to press on and hope that she came to a more populated road at the next turning.
Then she heard a sound that made her feel as if her very blood was freezing in her veins.
It was the sound of footsteps behind her, moving just slightly out of time with her own.
Someone was following her.
You don’t know that, she told herself firmly, trying to contain her rising panic. It’s just someone walking behind you. It doesn’t mean they’re following you. It might just mean that they’re traveling in the same direction.
But what would someone be doing traveling through this part of the City? She herself was only here by accident. What reason would anyone else have to be here?
It’s probably just someone who lives here. Whoever it is, they don’t realize they’ve frightened me. If they knew, they would slow down and allow me to pull ahead.
She picked up her pace a bit, hoping that the person behind her might understand that she was afraid.
And then someone else stepped out of a side alley.
The newcomer was a tall man with a thick black beard. He wore the clothes of a commoner, and he looked as if he hadn’t washed his face in days.
“Good evening, My Lady,” he said, leering.
Gwendolyn understood two things quickly from the way he had addressed her.
The first was that he knew she was a lady. That should have made her feel safer—she had felt uncomfortable when the men back at the pub had thought she was a commoner—but for some reason, it made her skin crawl. She wanted to turn and run away, but she felt rooted to the spot.
The second thing Gwendolyn understood was that her place in Society was not at all intimidating to this man.
He wasn’t afraid of her father. He wasn’t worried about facing any repercussions for stopping her in the road today.
That idea was the most frightening thing she had encountered since becoming separated from Aunt Annabeth.
Gwendolyn turned to run, knowing that her chances of escape were not the best, that this man would likely be able to keep up with or possibly outrun her—
She collided with another man.
Where the first man had been burly and hairy, this one was small and wiry, with a pinched-looking face. He looked no less confident for it, and as she started to step back, he caught her by the wrist and held her in place.
“Let me go,” Gwendolyn said, trying to muster up courage she didn’t feel.
The wiry man looked at the muscular one. “What do you think, Robert?” he asked. “Should we let her go?”
“She’s a lady, James,” Robert said. “Look at those clothes.”
“True enough,” James agreed. “These are very fine things. Who’s your father, then, Lady?”
“The Earl of Dorwarden,” Gwendolyn said, her voice shaking. “And I can tell you now that he will be most displeased when he hears that I was troubled on my outing today.”
“You mean if he hears it,” James said.
Fear shot down her spine. Surely these men didn’t mean to kill her?
They began to laugh. Apparently, her terror was a source of some amusement. “Look at her,” Robert said. “She really believed you.”
“Is something funny?” Gwendolyn asked. Anger momentarily blotted out her fear. She knew she hadn’t a hope of running away from or fighting off these men, but that didn’t mean she had to be meek while they toyed with her. How dare they?
James raised his eyebrows. “She’s got some spirit, this one,” he said.
“Noble ladies are like that,” Robert said. “They think they have the right to speak to anyone in whatever way suits them. They forget that some of us are larger and stronger than they are, and that they would do well to show respect.”
“I haven’t forgotten anything,” Gwendolyn said quickly.
Suddenly, before she could anticipate it or dodge, James slapped her across the face.
“Speak when you’re spoken to,” he said.
She caught her breath, freezing in place, saying nothing.
James looked up at Robert. “Are we on our own here?” he asked.
Robert nodded. “No one ever comes down this way,” he said. “No one will happen across us.”
“Good,” James said. He turned back to Gwendolyn. “Turn out your pockets.”
She was still frozen. She couldn’t comprehend what he was asking. Her fear was too great.”
He raised his hand and slapped her again. “I said, Turn out your pockets.”
The slap jolted her out of her frozen state. She lowered her hands to her pockets and turned them inside out.
There was very little there. She was carrying an embroidered handkerchief of her own making and a lavender sachet.
James looked at the items as if they were personally offensive to him. “Is this all?” he demanded. “Have you no money?”
“No, I haven’t,” she said.
“I don’t believe it,” Robert said gruffly. “She’s carrying it somewhere else, that’s all. It just isn’t in her pockets. But of course she has money. She’s the daughter of the Earl of Dorwarden! He wouldn’t send his daughter into the City without money.”
James nodded. “Don’t insult us by trying to lie to us, Lady,” he said, a scowl on his face now. “You’ll make this much easier for yourself if you give us what you’ve got quickly.”
“I really don’t have anything,” Gwendolyn insisted.
“You can’t expect us to believe such an obvious lie,” James sneered. “We’re no fools, Lady. Your father is a wealthy gentleman. Of course he would give you money for your day in the City.”
“He didn’t give the money to me,” Gwendolyn said. It was the truth, so she hoped fervently that she would be believed. “He gave me money, but he put it in the keeping of my chaperone for the day.”
“Chaperone?” Robert asked. “I see no chaperone.”
“What chaperone is this?” James echoed.
Gwendolyn drew a breath and dared to tell a lie. She needed them to second guess their decision to interfere with her, and the knowledge that her aunt was with her in the City wouldn’t have that effect.
“My chaperone is my elder brother,” she said. “I was on my way to meet him after having stopped to look in a bakery window. If I don’t show myself soon, he’s bound to come looking for me. He’s going to be concerned about what’s happened to me.”
Robert’s brow furrowed, and Gwendolyn could see that he was concerned. “Do you think that’s true?” he asked James.
“No,” James scoffed.
“But if it is the truth—perhaps we shouldn’t take any chances with this one.”
Gwendolyn caught her breath. Let them believe me!
But James shook his head. “The Earl of Dorwarden has no sons,” he said. “Only daughters. I told you it would be worth your while, didn’t I, to make a study of the ton, to know things about them? If you had done that when I suggested it, you would know now that she’s lying. You’re just lucky I had the foresight to do my research.”
“You’re certain?” Robert asked. “If she is telling the truth—”
“Yes, but you’re not telling the truth, are you, Lady?” James said. “No, don’t bother answering. You had a chance to be honest with us. You had a chance to hand over the money I know you must be carrying somewhere on your person. You’ve decided not to do things the easy way. So now we’re going to search you and find what we’re looking for.”
He thrust her forward, into Robert’s arms. The larger man caught her.
“Hold her still,” James said. “Let’s see what she’s got.”
I won’t scream. I won’t give them that satisfaction.
But it was already difficult. Robert was gripping her arms so tight that she knew she would have bruises. James was looking her up and down as though she was a particularly decadent meal and he was trying to decide which part to sample first.
Then a low voice spoke. “Release her.”
James whirled around.
Gwendolyn could just barely make out the figure of a man in the shadows. She could see nothing of his face, nothing that might have helped her to identify him.
Still, she had never been more grateful for anyone’s presence in all her life.
“Who are you?” James said with a scowl. “What business is this of yours?”
“I’ll give you one more chance,” the man said. “Let her go.”
“Leave us to our affairs,” James said. “This is nothing to do with you.”
The man stepped forward, and before Gwendolyn could even process what was happening, his fist had connected with James’ face, knocking him sideways.
Gwendolyn couldn’t help it. She let out the scream she had been fighting to hold back.
“Are you going to let her go?” The man’s voice was something like a snarl.
From bad to worse! She had been frightened by Robert and James, but she was sure they had only planned to search her, and that when they found she had no money, they would let her go. But what would this man do? He was terrifying!
Robert looked at James, who was rolling around on the ground and groaning like a kicked dog.
He looked back at the stranger.
Gwendolyn looked at him too.
Now that he was out of the shadows—now that she wasn’t taken aback by his sudden burst of violence—she was taking him in for the first time.
He was dressed all in black, including a heavy black cloak that hung to his heels. The cloak was pinned in place by a large sapphire brooch that looked as though it must be expensive, making Gwendolyn wonder if perhaps he came from money.
No. What am I thinking? No gentleman would ever make his way to this part of the City. He’s obviously a thief, just like James and Robert. He stole that brooch from someone else. Of course. That’s the only answer that makes sense.
The brooch was not even the most distinctive thing about the man’s appearance. That honor went to the mask he wore, concealing the upper half of his face. It was made of a rich blue velvet—she supposed he must have stolen that too. For whatever reason, this man clearly wanted to keep his identity a secret.
“Well?” The stranger raised his eyebrows at Robert. “What’s your decision?”
Robert opened his mouth as if to say something. Then he closed it. He was clearly at a loss for what to do.
He looked at James again. Maybe he was hoping for some kind of instruction, but if he was, none came.
Then he thrust Gwendolyn away as if she was a poisonous viper. He turned and fled down the alley.
James was now struggling back to his feet. “Who are you?” he demanded, wiping a trickle of blood from his lips. “Why would you involve yourself in something that doesn’t concern you?”
“The safety of the London roads is of concern to everyone,” the man said. “And I won’t allow rampant crime to go unchecked when there is something I could do to stop it.”
“What’s your name?” James asked.
“Give me yours first,” the man retorted.
James sized him up and remained silent.
“I see,” the man said. “Very well. Then we will remain strangers to one another.”
“What do you want from me?” James demanded.
“I haven’t decided,” the man said. “I would ask you for your assurance that you’ll bother no more young ladies, of course, but how could I trust your word? You’ve already proven yourself to be a scoundrel. I should really take you to the Constable.”
“But you won’t,” James said slowly. He was realizing something, Gwendolyn thought. He was no longer as alarmed by this situation as he had been at first. He was gaining his comfort back.
And that was a frightening thought.
Gwendolyn wasn’t sure between these two men who she wanted to emerge victorious. Perhaps it was best if she just slipped away while they were occupied with their argument—
“Hold on, there.” The stranger reached out and blocked her escape with one arm. “Don’t wander off, or you’ll get lost again. You don’t want to find yourself in another predicament like this one.”
He was right…and yet, right now she felt willing to take the chance. Surely anything would be better than standing here and waiting for these two to decide what they were going to do with her.
“You’re a criminal yourself,” James said, sounding rather triumphant. “That’s why you’re trying to deal with me here, in an alley, rather than involving the Constables. You don’t want them knowing anything about you.”
“You may think whatever you’d like,” the man said. “It’s of no interest to me what you think I am.”
“And why would I take orders from someone like you?” James asked. “You have no power to compel me to do anything. I could take this lady and leave with her right now.”
“Could you?” the man asked. “If you think so, I invite you to try it.” Gwendolyn saw his fist clench again, ready to punch.
James must have seen the threatening gesture too, because he stepped backward quickly. It couldn’t have been more apparent that he knew he was in a dangerous situation.
He looked over his shoulder in the direction Robert had run, and it occurred to Gwendolyn how fortunate the stranger was that Robert had turned tail right away. If Robert and James had used their common sense, they would have stuck together and fought the stranger two against one. Their chances would have been a lot better in that scenario.
“Thinking of going after your friend?” the stranger said conversationally. “I would do it, if I were you. He’s clearly the brains of the pair of you.”
“He’s a coward,” James said.
“A coward? You think so?” The man shrugged. “It seems to me that a man who has the sense to leave when the hitting begins is a wise man. Especially when he has absolutely no chance at emerging the victor in a fight.”
“You don’t think Robert could win in a fight against you?” James sneered. “Did you see Robert?”
“I saw him,” the man said. “I’m sure he seems very large and intimidating to a man of your stature. Personally, I didn’t consider him anything to worry about. I could have taken care of him without much effort if he had decided to make me, but fortunately for him, he had the sense you don’t seem to have, and he left before it had to come to blows.”
Then he looked James up and down. “Now, you, I’m really not worried about,” he said. “You could do your worst to me, if you liked, but it would be no more substantial than a bee stinging an ox.”
Gwendolyn gasped. She couldn’t believe this man was saying such things. Didn’t he realize that he was provoking James? Didn’t he understand that he was going to force James to try to fight him, just to defend his dignity?
Was that what he wanted?
She shuddered, wishing more than anything that she had just stayed with Aunt Annabeth.
Maybe I should just try to run for it.
She was about to push past the stranger and make for the road behind him—she would scream for help, surely someone would hear her, no matter how far she had wandered from the main roads—but James acted first.
He launched himself at the other man with a roar of outrage, fists swinging.
Gwendolyn froze where she stood. She couldn’t try to get past them while they were fighting. She would get herself killed.
She backed up so that her back was pressed to the wall of the building behind her and closed her eyes, not daring to look at what was going on in front of her. She didn’t know who she wanted to win this fight, and she couldn’t bear to watch it play out.
She tried not to listen to the sickening sounds of punches landing, of a body hitting the ground, but she couldn’t ignore them. Someone was losing the fight, and losing badly. But who?
Then it was quiet, and she opened her eyes.
James lay on the ground, beaten and bloodied, groaning piteously.
The other man gazed down at him without compassion. “I did warn you,” he said. “I gave you every opportunity to avoid this outcome. You can’t claim otherwise.”
Then he turned his attention to Gwendolyn.
“I'm very sorry you had to witness that, My Lady,” he said. “You should be spared having to see such things, but unfortunately, it was unavoidable. I would have much preferred it if he had chosen to take his leave on his own. I didn’t want to resort to violence.”
“Who are you?” Gwendolyn managed, one hand clutching her chest. “What is it you want with me?”
“Nothing at all, My Lady,” he assured her. “If you’ll allow me, I’d like to assist you in returning to a place of safety. You really shouldn’t be in this part of the City. It’s often full of unsavory characters such as the ones I just drove off.”
“I’m not sure you did get rid of all the unsavory characters,” she said, stepping back from him. “What are you doing in this part of the City?”
“Going about my business,” he said. “And I’ll happily leave you to yours, My Lady. I have no wish to further disturb you. You’ve had enough trouble for one day, I’m sure.”
“I certainly have,” she said.
“Then if you’ll permit me,” he said, “I’ll escort you out of here.”
“And why would I follow you anywhere, after what I’ve just seen?” she demanded. “You seem every bit as bad as this fellow!” She gestured to James, who was still moaning on the ground. “In fact, I’d say you’re even worse! At least he never hit anybody. But you—look at what you’ve done to him.”
“Don’t tell me you’re feeling sorry for him?” The man raised his eyebrows. “He was going to hurt you. You know that. He didn’t commit any acts of violence because I intervened before he had a chance.”
Gwendolyn knew that was true. She wasn’t sure why she was resisting this—except for the fact that this man was so different and frightening to look at. Why would he wear that mask? Why wouldn’t he reveal his name? If he was really someone she could trust, why wouldn’t he act like it?
Still, she was probably better off with him than she was with James. If he had wanted to harm her, he could have just done so. There would be no need for him to stand here trying to reason with her. He had already proven that he was both willing and able to prevail in a fight—and Gwendolyn was sure he would have an even easier time against her than he had had against James.
“No,” she said. “I don’t feel sorry for him.”
“Then will you come with me?”
“And you’re taking me where, exactly?”
“Just back to the main road,” he assured her. “I can’t in good conscience leave you here on your own. Once we’ve reached a safe place, however, I’ll take my leave and trouble you no further.”
Gwendolyn still felt hesitant, but what else could she do?
“Very well,” she said. “Lead the way.”
The man walked past her, down the alley in the direction Robert had run.
“Wait a moment,” Gwendolyn protested. “This isn’t the way I came.”
“The way you came was wrong,” the man said. “That’s how you got lost in the first place.”
“But aren’t you just getting me more lost now?” she asked.
“You can trust me or not,” he said. “It’s entirely up to you. But no, I’m taking you to safety now. If I were you, I wouldn’t put up a fight about it. I would just follow, before more unsavory characters turn up.”
“You talk a lot about unsavory characters for a fellow who keeps his face covered by a mask,” Gwendolyn said. “If you were me, would you trust a man like you?”
“Yes, I would,” the man said. “I would recognize that I had just been in a very dangerous situation, if I were you. I would recognize that now I was out of that dangerous situation. And I would put my trust in the man who had helped to extricate me from my trouble. But perhaps that’s not what you want to do.”
“Won’t you at least take that mask off?” she asked. “It frightens me.”
“No,” he said.
“Because I don’t wish to.”
“It’s not normal to wear a mask around the City during the day,” she said. “Can you really blame me for feeling hesitant about you?”
“I suppose I can’t,” he said. “But if you don’t come with me now, I’m going to leave you here in this alley. I won’t force you to follow me. And I promise you, you’re much less safe here than you would be with me, even if I am wearing a mask.”
“Tell me your name, at least,” she said. “I would feel much safer if I had something to call you.”
He hesitated for a long moment. Gwendolyn thought he seemed as if he was making up his mind.
“Very well,” he said. “You may call me Dainsleif.”
“Dainsleif?” she repeated, pronouncing the unfamiliar word carefully. “Is it foreign?”
“Yes.” He offered no further information.
“It sounds Swedish,” she pressed. “Are you from Sweden?”
“My Lady, you inquired as to my name, and I indulged you,” Dainsleif said. “We don’t have time to stand here and exchange our histories.”
And he began to walk down the alley.
Sensing that she would not be permitted to argue further, Gwendolyn hurried after him and fell into step alongside him.
She was somewhat taken aback at the way he was treating her. He seemed completely unaware of the fact that she was the daughter of an Earl. He was only a commoner…and yet, he had called her My Lady several times, so he did know that she was noble. What kind of man was this, to completely ignore the customs of respect that were called for in Society?
“How did you find me?” she asked him, hoping that she would be able to get him talking again. She wanted more answers about this stranger. She wanted to understand who he was.
“I wasn’t looking for you,” he said. “I just happened upon you.”
“But then I don’t understand what you were doing in this part of the City,” she said.
“I had business here,” he said.
“None of yours.” He looked at her. “Do you always ask so many questions, My Lady?”
“When I have questions, I ask them,” she said, pushing her spectacles up on her nose again. “How else is one to get any answers?”
“It’s not very ladylike behavior,” Dainsleif said.
“What would you know of ladylike behavior?” she asked him. “You’re a commoner! And a masked commoner, at that.”
“Well, that wasn’t very courteous,” he said. “Do you always speak that way to commoners? Do you consider yourself better than those of lower birth?”
“I reserve my courtesy for those who treat me with respect,” she said. “It has nothing to do with your birth, and everything to do with the way you’ve spoken to me since I met you. You seem to regard me as a fool.”
“You’ve behaved foolishly, wandering off into a dangerous part of the City,” he said. “How should I regard you?”
“I got lost,” she said archly. “It could happen to anyone. And it’s not as if I spend tremendous amounts of time in London. There’s no reason I should be familiar with the layout of the roads.”
“Still, I saved your life,” he said. “I’m surprised that you would regard me as being disrespectful to you.”
“It’s not clear that you saved my life,” she said. “I don’t think those men were going to kill me.”
Dainsleif laughed. “You are so quarrelsome!” he said. “You would argue if I tried to say that the sky was blue!”
Gwendolyn couldn’t help it. She laughed too. “It’s really more of a cloudy gray today,” she said.
Dainsleif shook his head. “You are mad.”
But he was smiling now, and Gwendolyn’s anxiety about him began to recede. He was a strange sort of man, and she still found it bizarre that he would wear a mask during daylight hours, but it was clear that he did not intend to hurt her. If he had wanted to do that, he could have done it already.
“How much farther do we have to go?” she asked.
“Not too far,” he said. “Are you tired, My Lady?”
“I don’t often walk as far as I did today,” she said.
He nodded. “You really did wander quite far from the decent part of the City,” he said. “You were most unlucky to get as lost as you did. You must have taken several wrong turnings along the way.”
“I think so,” she agreed. “Several times, I thought that the next turn would put me back into the right part of the City, but it just never happened. I really was fortunate that you came along when you did.”
“So you’ve decided to trust me?”
“I don’t know if trust is the right word. I’ve decided you don’t mean me any harm.”
Dainsleif nodded. “That will do,” he said. He hesitated, then added, “I am sorry to have frightened you, My Lady. I know it must have been alarming to see a stranger in a mask so thoroughly beat another man. I’m sure you didn’t know what to think about me at the time.”
“I still don’t know what to think about you,” Gwendolyn said. “I still can’t imagine what would drive a man to act the way you’ve acted. The way you continue to act. But you’re not going to hurt me, so I suppose that’s good enough for now.”
“Very well,” Dainsleif said.
“I never thanked you, did I?” Gwendolyn asked.
“No,” Dainsleif said. “You never did.”
“Well…thank you,” she said.
He nodded. “I couldn’t very well leave you with them,” he said. “No decent man would have done that.”
“You risked your own life to help me,” she said.
He gave her a smirk. “I don’t think they would have killed me,” he said.
“They might have,” she said. “There can be no way of knowing what they would have done.”
“Still, I was never worried about my chances against them,” Dainsleif said. “That small fellow liked to talk, but he wasn’t a good fighter. And the bigger one—well, you saw the way he ran. He was nothing but a coward.”
“If they had tried to fight you together, they might have hurt you,” Gwendolyn said.
“Probably not,” Dainsleif said. “I noticed that you had your eyes closed during most of the action, but actually, I’m a pretty good fighter. They would have been hard pressed to get the better of me.”
“I see,” Gwendolyn said. “Where did you learn to fight like that?”
“Oh, we commoners are always brawling,” Dainsleif said. “It’s all we do.”
Gwendolyn laughed. “I know you’re teasing me,” she said.
“All right, yes, I am,” he agreed.
“But you won’t tell me where you learned how to fight?”
“It’s not a very interesting story,” he said. “And look! Here’s the main road again.”
Sure enough, the main road stretched before them. Gwendolyn could see shoppers going about their business, and gentlemen and ladies stopping to socialize with each other.
It was strange to realize that, in a few moments, she would be rejoining that throng. It was as if everything that had happened to her while she had been lost was part of someone else’s life.
“Will you accompany me to find my aunt?” she asked Dainsleif. “I’m sure she’ll want to thank you.”
That was only part of her reason for wanting him to come further, if she was honest. She would feel better about everything that had happened if Dainsleif had introduced himself to someone else. She wanted her aunt to see the man who had come to her rescue. She wanted someone else’s opinion about him.
But Dainsleif shook his head. “This is where I leave you, My Lady,” he said.
“I won’t get lost again.” She adjusted her spectacles.
“See that you don’t,” he said, his voice softer now. “I would be saddened to learn that anything had happened to you, after all the trouble I went through to keep you safe.”
“I won’t trouble you any further, then,” she said, and stepped out of the side road and onto the main one.
“My Lady?” Dainsleif called after her.
She turned and looked back at him.
His face was in shadow once again. Between the hood of his cloak and the mask he wore, he was almost indistinguishable. Still, she sought out his eyes.
“Be careful,” he said. “Take care of yourself, won’t you?”
And though she was tempted to say something smart in response, to tell him that she was perfectly capable of looking out for herself and that she didn’t need to be told to be careful, something stopped her.
“All right,” she said. “I’ll be careful, Dainsleif.”
He nodded and withdrew into the shadows.
She stared at the place where he had disappeared for several long minutes, half wondering whether she had just imagined him. What an unusual character he had been! And how convenient that he had arrived just when she had needed help most.
There were plenty of things she would have liked to know about him, plenty of questions she hadn’t been able to ask. But she supposed the opportunity was gone forever now. He had disappeared from her life, and she would likely never see him again.
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