Annalise lay in wait for the sun rays to come forth. Her dark blonde hair was pinned perfectly and her boots ready at the base of her bed. The grand country home awoke much earlier then it's slothful inhabitants and the girl knew it would soon be an acceptable hour to be out and about.
Annalise fidgeted silently until the bronze clock on the mantle struck twelve. She determined the servants would be up by now and rose from her resting place. She could hear hunting dogs from a distance and ascertained that perhaps a hunting party of determined men was already seeking their bounty.
Annalise's maid had not been informed about her mistresses change of schedule and would take at least three more hours to knock at her door, leaving her enough time to sneak out of the room undetected.
The girl marched out of her room still pinning her green feathered morning hat to her hair. She pulled the other pin out of her mouth and quickly pinched it in her dreadful hairstyle. Her curls ran down her back instead of her face and one look at the dowd in the reflection made Annalise's ego shudder.
Annalise ducked through the corridors in hopes of not encountering anyone. She took care not to linger and just breezily smiled through any greetings. Even Mr. Merkle's charming smile could not delay her steps. She waved at him before skipping out of the moat's drawbridge.
Her eyes unconsciously darted towards the empty bench outside the red stone building. Thr last night's infuriating drunk was thankfully missing from the bench. Annalise gave up all pretence of composure as she noticed her satchel from a distance, hanging where she had left.
The girl quickly raced forward, not caring her dress was being splattered with dew and muck. She tugged her satchel towards her and found the contents remained undisturbed. Feeling relieved the blonde bent over with her hands on her stomach trying to regain her breath. She was certain her face was ruddy and splotchy and it would take time to regain any semblance of beauty.
Annalise was trying to decide whether she needed to settle down on the bench or depart for her rooms when she saw another determined girl march into the thick of the woods.
"Oh, Rose. What foolishness runs through your veins," Anna murmured with an uneasy expression. The hostess neither had an attendant nor her maid trailing behind which was far from her norm. The disturbing contents of Rose's letters were still haunting Annalise and she decided to follow the girl.
The blonde began another tiresome slog through the wooded area to find the heiress. She seemed to be heading towards the lake that purportedly sat beyond the trees. Montgomery had turned up drenched from the same direction so he must have been bathing in it before their encounter.
Anna's efforts were rewarded when a vast, green coloured lake entered her view. The girl pivoted on the ground in search of Rose but the other girl seemed to have disappeared.
"Odd," Annalise thought.
The girl was determined to depart but the sight before her paused her steps. The sun peeked out from over the green leaves of the woods. The light bathed the glistening, nature carved lake golden and the air lost its frigidity. The calmness was broken by the bird song which reached a crescendo as Annalise watched the sun rise into the clouds. The girl yearned for her canvas. The sights of the new morning were oozing with inspiration for a new painting.
The blonde assumed Rose had returned back to her rooms and pulled out her miniature boat. The unsightly thing gave her no inspiration unlike the lake.
"What does one do with a silly boat?" Annalise mused out aloud and then smiled at the simplicity of her answer, "Why let it float, of course."
The girl decided if she was already there she might as well use the time wisely. The blonde placed the boat gently on the serene lake surface.
The boat swam a little while, buoyed by the displacement of the water and then promptly, drowned.
"What? Preposterous? Boats don't sink!" Annalise screeched. So infuriated she was she unthinkingly stepped into the lake. She swiftly waded into the deep water which reached her waist just three steps in.
Annalise held her breath and pinched her nose as she took a dive into the muddy water. There were grasses all around her but she was determined to find her belonging. Her free hand stumbled around until it found a piece of sail.
Just as her hand grasped the small mast a foreign hand was suddenly bound around her waist and wrenched her from the water. The girl broke the surface with a startled gasp and struggled against the assailant.
"Let me go, ratbag!" Annalise roared, absolutely in no mood to be captured without a fight.
"Steady there, my sweet Anna. I'm afraid Montgomery will lose an arm if you continue thus," Anna froze at Rupert's voice coming from the banks of the lake. Anna wiped the water from her face and found Montgomery's eyes crinkled with amusement. He stood only inches away in an unwanted attempt to save her.
"What did you call me yesterday, wet as a rat? Well, well, well how the tables have turned?" The man sneered as if discounting his own disarrayed countenance.
Annalise was so furious she had nothing to say. She wanted to smash her boat on his overly straight nose. Instead of resorting to petty violence she gave him an unpleasant smile and said, "I can swim, you dunderhead."
"I shall lead you out of the water. It is not safe for you to be here out alone," Montgomery ignored her protests and with hands on both shoulders lead her out of water. Adam graciously allowed her to ruin his outfit as he helped her out of water.
"She wasn't alone," A voice called out from behind the men. Their attention was captured by Rose who stood with hands on her waist.
"Caught this one, wandering around the edge of the lake," Baron Luthworth's deep voice admitted his presence making Annalise's humiliation complete. Adam, Rupert and Montgomery were not silly about proprietary but the Baron was older and a stranger.
"Have my coat. You'll catch a chill." Rupert didn't ask before draping his shooting jacket atop the girl's wet shoulder.
"I rather do mind the insinuation that I was sneaking around my own estate. I really don't need anyone's permission to handle my affairs," Rose thrust her chin in the air. She imperiously matched forward to hold Anna's hand.
"At this time of morning?" The Baron tutted.
"Not really your business, Baron," Rose remarked.
"We were hunting. With your father's permission, of course," Adam explained with a bashful smile. He seemed smitten by the beauties present.
"I must lead poor Annalise back. Her outfit is drenched beyond repair," Rose said.
"Not for the first time," Montgomery snorted. His eyes stared at the tatters of fabric hanging at Annalise's feet.
"You've solved it," Rupert rasped. The sandy haired boy stared at the boat in the blonde's grip. Annalise's hand dug into the wood as her secret was revealed.
"Of course, she has. Our Annalise is uncommonly smart," Adam grinned, "She'll destroy all of Montgomery's smarts. Poor boy."
"You're nearly there, Annalise," Montgomery uttered, softly, "Do you need a hint?"
Annalise's eyes grew sharp and flinty, not relenting in the slightest at the lack of enmity in her former friend's eyes.
"Never. I'll get through it myself," The girl bit out as the other two boys oohed and aahed at their confrontation, "Does our previous bet stand?"
"Of course. I do not break promises. My vows are ironclad," The viscount gave a languid smirk as if she was already a loser and he feared nothing.
"Really? I remember a promise you broke once upon a time but a little boy's folly can be forgiven," Annalise's bitterness was palpable.
"When? When did-" Montgomery frowned as his memory failed him.
"Must we have this squabble right this very moment. It is far too early and rather unseemly," The Baron interrupted the argument, looking incredibly disappointed by the both of them. Annalise felt herself shrink at the disapproving stare.
Rose gave their farewells on their behalf and gingerly helped Annalise through the woods. They walked in silence until the blonde could not contain her words.
"I was following you," The blonde told Rose abruptly and the heiress stiffened at the comment, "I did not think you were so foolish as to wander off alone."
"I needed to. The letter writer beckoned for my presence," Rose admitted. Her blue eyes were emotionless.
"No! This is even worse," Annalise gasped.
"I am a woman of my word. He insisted we must meet alone and I agreed. I did not wish to scare him off. This situation needs a resolution," Rose sighed as if the pressure was getting to her.
"Rose, you are a sensible girl. I did not expect you to throw yourself In danger. He is not an honourable man. He cannot be," Annalise gave her judgment firmly.
"And yet here I am not flinging myself in the lake. My decision-making ability is not in question here," The heiress giggled into a gloved hand, "I suppose being recused by the viscount was a reward enough."
"Reward?" Anna shrieked, "A punishment, a dire punishment. I shall never forgive myself for always somehow ending drenched in front of him."
"So, this has happened before," Rose's grin was resplendent at the images conjured in her brain.
"Nevermind us. I'll just end up drowning in that moat of yours with the way my life is going."
"Your secret is safe with me if you keep mine safe too," Rose's smile did not decrease at all despite the morbid declarations.
"What secret? I'm sure the entire world shall know of my mishap by lunch," Annalise groused.
"You still love him," Rose said, plainly.
Annalise stilled and stared back the dark haired girl. Her gaze lowered in shame. There was nothing good about being besotted by her tormentor.
"Tell everyone, no one will believe you much less him," Anna muttered, bitterly, "But please stay safe. Someone must know of your letters."
"My father will be informed. Do not worry," Rose informed, kindly, "And I shall never reveal this secret of yours. It's yours to keep and announce."
"Announce? I'd rather cut off my fingers and never hold another charcoal stick in my life," Annalise's dirty blonde hair shook limply.
"Take care of yourself," Rose patted her shoulder and beckoned her guest for her to follow through the kitchen doors, "Love is not meant to hurt. Leave it if it hurts you."
"I wish it was as easy," Annalise whispered. She did not even notice when her rooms arrived so lost she was in her thoughts. After ridding herself of the masculine coat into Rose's capable arms Anna began undressing.
"That odious man. I wish I could throttle him," Montgomery hollered. He kicked the broken fence which rattled with his actions.
"Your grandfather isn't that nasty," Little Annalise jumped out of the young oak tree.
"Why are you here? Can't I have a moment of peace," Montgomery cried in frustration. He had servants following his every move, worried he would run away as soon as their backs turned.
"You're the one intruding. I'm on my property," Annalise's messy curls were covered with straw and leaves. She leaned against the fence already used to the heir's mercurial temperament.
"I'm sorry Anna, I was being beastly," Montgomery signed. He wiped away the tears that were meant to be kept hidden from the world, "I'll never scream at you. I shall never be angry at you ever again. I promise."
"Good, I would never have you as my friend if you did. Everyone screams at me all the time. I wouldn't be friends with you if you screamed at me too," Anna leaned on the creaky fence that divided their estates.
"You could do what you're told and your teachers wouldn't hate you. What class are you missing out on?" Montgomery asked as he pulled at his cravat and threw it on the grass.
"Dance. I hate my dancing master," Annalise sighed, "And take your advice and use it for yourself. Your grandfather wouldn't be such a burden if you did what you were told."
Montgomery lay down on the grass with his arm on his face, "I wish we were back in London and my father wasn't dead. He was meant to be the viscount, not me. Not yet anyway."
Anna watched the solemn boy finding no words that could sooth his tortured soul. She bit her lip wracking her head for something of substance.
"My cousin's lost both her parents. She's coming to live with us," Annalise finally said.
"If she's anything like you..." Montgomery chuckled already forgetting his promise to be nice.
"She's far better then the likes of you. I'll warn her about how mean you are and she won't play with you," Annalise threatened and flounced away.