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Romance for Arminel

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Humphrey Anthony got into his little runabout and started the engine, hoping he was not making an idiot of himself. He drove from Fardingales, where he lived and worked as his uncle's land agent, to another big house, this one situated on a cliff overlooking the sea. As he negotiated the narrow country lanes, he thought of his friend Hawk Chudleigh, wondering if he would be home, and trying to think of a good reason to be dropping in for an unexpected visit. Turning up unannounced was something Humphrey seldom did. He was a quiet, serious young man, who usually saw his friends by arrangement and tended to meet them away from their family homes. Humphrey had visited Chudleigh Hold before, just three weeks previously, and that visit was the reason for his return.

He remembered so clearly arriving at Chudleigh Hold that day with Sir Godfrey Chudleigh, Hawk, Tom Vinton, and Gonzalo Ortuz. Hawk had called upon Humphrey and Tom to help with the rescue of Sir Godfrey, who had been kidnapped and held to ransom for a priceless opal necklace owned by the Chudleigh family. When the intrepid rescuers returned to England, Godfrey had insisted that they lunch with his family before heading to their homes in Applesendie. Humphrey and Tom had agreed, and they had been warmly welcomed by the Chudleighs.

It was as they discussed all that had happened in South America that Humphrey noticed Hawk's youngest sister, Arminel. She barely took her eyes off of Hawk, and it was clear that she had been anxious about him and was relieved to have him back safely. She had greeted Humphrey and Tom pleasantly, but her attention had been focused on her brother.

By the time that he had sat beside her at lunch and watched her while they enjoyed a cup of tea afterwards, Humphrey had decided that Arminel was quite the prettiest girl he had ever seen. Although she had the clear-cut Chudleigh features, her colouring was quite different from the rest of her family. Her siblings were dark-haired and dark eyed, but Arminel had magnificent bronze hair and grey eyes, and her skin was delicately pale. She was daintily built, and when he stood next to her, Humphrey felt very large and ungainly.

Once he had got home, Humphrey found that Arminel Chudleigh's face had constantly invaded his thoughts. He could not stop thinking about the way her lips curved into a smile, and the sound of her well modulated voice seemed to echo in his head. He had even found himself daydreaming about her, about taking her out to dinner and kissing her on the doorstep when he brought her home. Having never thought about any woman like that before, Humphrey was disconcerted by this desire to see Arminel again. After thinking up increasingly bizarre schemes whereby he encountered Arminel and she fell happily into his arms, Humphrey decided that he would need to meet her in a very ordinary way and actually ask her to have dinner with him.

Humphrey parked the car beside the steps that swept up to the heavy front door. He jogged up the steps and rang the bell, running a hand over his dark hair and straightening his tie as he waited for someone to answer. As he contemplated ringing again, the door was opened by a slight, bronze-haired girl. For a moment, she looked quizzically at the guest, and then she realised who he was.

"Hello, Mr Anthony," she said, opening the door wider and standing to one side. "Won't you come in?"

"Good afternoon, Miss Chudleigh," he said, and he stepped over the threshold.

"Hawk's not here at the moment," Miss Chudleigh told him. "He and Charles have gone to town. They'll be back in about an hour," she added after a quick look at her watch. "Would you like to wait for him?"

Humphrey almost said that it was unimportant and that he would come again another day, but even as he had the thought, he realised that he definitely would be making an idiot of himself if he left; after all, it was in the hope of seeing Miss Chudleigh that he had descended upon Hawk's home. If he waited, she would sit with him and he would be able to talk to her without interruption. "Thank you," he said. "I'd like that - as long as it doesn't inconvenience you."

"It won't," she assured him. "Everyone else is out, so I was sitting on the terrace, enjoying the lovely weather." She led him across the entrance hall and through the drawing room, where French windows were flung wide, giving access to the terrace that ran the length of the house. "Go and sit down," she suggested, "and I'll ask for tea."

Humphrey strolled across to a small iron table that held a book and some embroidery, and sat down on a cushioned seat. The view from the terrace was just the sort of scenery to appeal to Humphrey - miles of rolling hills, small copses, and hedges full of wildflowers, with the distant sound of the sea as an accompaniment. He sat back with a contented sigh, enjoying the warm sunshine and the almost endless blue sky.

A few moments later, Arminel Chudleigh appeared through the French windows, a tray in her hands. At once, Humphrey rose and took the tray from her, holding it as Arminel hastily moved her things from the table.

"Thank you," she said when he had put down the tray. "I decided that lemonade is more appropriate for this weather," she went on, picking up the jug and pouring him a glassful.

"Yes, it's lovely and warm, isn't it?" Humphrey agreed, taking the glass from her. "Thank you." He sipped his drink and put the glass on the table. "Do you mind if I take off my jacket?" he asked.

"Of course not," Arminel assured him. Once he had removed it and hung it over the back of his chair, she offered him the plate of biscuits.

"Thank you," Humphrey said again. He looked across at Arminel, who was nibbling on one of the delicious homemade biscuits. He thought again how pretty she was, with her bronze hair shining in the sunlight and her flawless pale skin. As he admired the picture she presented, she raised grey eyes to his face, and he hoped he didn't blush as she realised that he had been staring at her. "Did you make the biscuits, Miss Chudleigh?" he asked, saying the first thing that came into his head.

"No," she told him with a giggle. "I'm a terrible cook. And please call me Arminel, Mr Anthony. I don't feel nearly old enough to be called Miss Chudleigh."

Humphrey chuckled. "Then you must call me Humphrey," he pointed out. "It's only fair."

Arminel nodded, but she said nothing.

"What do you do, Arminel?" Humphrey asked after a moment's silence.

"I'm at secretarial college," Arminel replied. "I go four days a week. It's in Exeter, so I drive myself there."

"That makes you sound very grown up," said Humphrey, but then he wondered if he should have made such an observation.

Arminel laughed. "It feels just like being at school," she confessed.

Humphrey laughed as well, recalling his days at Bristol University. "Yes, I can believe that," he assured her. "In fact, I felt pretty much the same when I did my university course. I think it was the endless classes, essays, and exams that did it."

Arminel rolled her eyes. "The exams!" she said in a doom-filled voice. "They're the worst. They make me feel so nervous."

"Yes, it can be rather nerve-wracking," he agreed. "I used to prefer sitting exams in the morning so that I didn't have to wait around and worry about them."

"I can't sleep the night before an exam," Arminel admitted. "Let's not think about them or I shall begin to worry about my next one!"

"I'm sure you don't need to," said Humphrey, giving her a reassuring smile. "What are you sewing?" he asked, to change the subject.

"Embroidering," she corrected him severely.

"I'm very sorry," he grinned. "My sister Jill does embroidery, but she doesn't discuss it with me, while my cousin Anstace doesn't know one end of a needle from the other. This means my knowledge of such matters is sketchy to say the least."

As she giggled at his explanation, Arminel suddenly realised how much she was enjoying Humphrey's company. She had liked him the first time she met him, when he had arrived at Chudleigh Hold on his return from South America, but she had not imagined meeting him again. Indeed, it had taken her a moment to recognise him when she answered the door to him that afternoon. "It's a tray cloth," she explained, spreading out the material so that Humphrey could see the delicate pink flowers in three of the corners. "It's for my sister's Christmas present."

"You're very well organised," said Humphrey, sounding impressed. "It's only July!"

"She lives in Australia," Arminel told him. "We have to send everything off very early if we want it to reach her by Christmas. When it comes to Merle or Hawk, I'm usually knitting their gifts on Christmas Eve!"

Humphrey laughed at that, reflecting as he did so that he seldom laughed as much in a week as he had done that afternoon with Arminel. She was an amusing companion as well as being very easy on the eyes, and Humphrey began to wonder when he would be able to see her again. Hawk would return home shortly, so Arminel would leave them to talk in peace, and he would very much miss her company. Before Humphrey could respond to Arminel’s explanation, a servant appeared on the terrace.

"Excuse me, Miss Arminel," she said, "but there's a telephone call for you."

"Thank you, Alice." Arminel stood up, saying, "Please excuse me for a moment, Humphrey. Have another biscuit while you wait."

Taking a biscuit from the plate, Humphrey watched Arminel walk quickly back indoors. Dressed in a simple frock the colour of café au lait, with neat brown sandals on her slim feet, Arminel was very attractive, he decided. He had found her charming when he last saw her, and since then he had thought about her all the time. Being naturally reticent, he had said nothing to anyone, especially not to Hawk, so he knew very little about her. He was not even sure how old she was, although as she had her hair up and she was taking a college course, he guessed that she was eighteen or nineteen. He himself was the same age as Hawk - almost twenty-two - so hopefully her family would think him a suitable escort for Arminel should he be able to get together the courage to ask her to go out with him.

As Humphrey pondered another meeting with Arminel, Miss Chudleigh returned from the telephone. "That was Hawk," she told her guest. "They've had a breakdown, so they must wait for the car to be fixed. The mechanic says he can do it tonight, but it'll take a couple of hours. I told Hawk that you were here," she went on, "and he said you could meet him at the Chevalier Inn. That's where they're waiting."

Realising that he had no reason to stay at Chudleigh Hold any longer, Humphrey stood up and pulled on his jacket. "Thank you for a delightful afternoon," he said as she walked across the terrace beside him.

"It's my pleasure," she responded, and when she smiled, Humphrey knew that he was lost. Arminel led him through to the great hall of Chudleigh Hold and opened the huge door.

"See you again," he said, turning towards her and holding out his hand.

Arminel laid her cool hand in his. "Goodbye, Humphrey," she said.

Humphrey shook her hand and reluctantly released it. "Goodbye, Arminel," he answered, and then he walked down the steps to his car. As he drove off, he saw her still standing in the doorway, so he waved to her, and then he was rounding the curve in the driveway and she was lost to sight.

Humphrey decided against meeting Hawk in Exeter and instead returned to Fardingales. He was very thoughtful all the way home, and by the time he was strolling into supper to meet up with the rest of his family, he had decided what to do.

*******

On Tuesday evening, Humphrey closed himself into the estate office at Fardingales. He opened his diary and flipped through it to the page where he had scrawled in Hawk's telephone number at Chudleigh Hold. Lifting the receiver, he dialed the number and listened to the call go through. Very soon the telephone bell was pealing and then a man's voice came down the line.

"Good evening," Humphrey replied, relieved that it was not Hawk who had answered his call. "May I speak to Arminel, please?"

"Yes, I'll just get her," Humphrey was told. "Who shall I say is calling?"

"It's Humphrey Anthony," said Humphrey.

"Oh, hello Anthony. This is Charles Chudleigh. How are you?"

"I'm very well, thank you," said Humphrey. "How is Sir Godfrey? Has he recovered from his adventure now?"

"Yes, he's right as rain," said Charles. "In fact, he's planning his next trip even as we speak."

"After the eruption, he ought to be safe enough," said Humphrey thoughtfully.

"Let's hope so. You want Arminel? I'll just fetch her. Hold on, please."

Humphrey took a deep breath and waited, knowing that it could take a few moments to find someone in a house the size of Chudleigh Hold. Then, suddenly, Arminel's voice was coming clearly down the line to him.

"Hello?" she said, sounding uncertain.

"Hello, Arminel," he said, surprised by how happy the sound of her voice made him feel. "This is Humphrey Anthony. I hope I'm not disturbing you."

"Humphrey?" Clearly Arminel had not expected him to phone her. "Hawk's here this evening," she told him. "Did you want to speak to him?"

"No," said Humphrey. "It was you I wanted to talk to."

"Oh?" Arminel was astonished to hear that.

"How are you?" he asked somewhat belatedly.

"I'm fine, thank you," she replied, still sounding confused. "How are you?"

"I'm very well. I've finished work for the day, so I can relax now. I'm thinking of having a nice long walk."

"I'm still working on the tray cloth," Arminel told him with a smile in her voice.

"You're very diligent," he said, grinning. "Arminel, I wondered if you'd be able to have a break from the embroidery tomorrow evening. I'd like to take you out to dinner. What do you say?"

For a moment, Arminel said nothing, but the colour swept across her pale cheeks. She could not believe that Humphrey was asking her to meet him for dinner. She had enjoyed their conversation on the terrace, but she had never imagined that she would see Humphrey again. He had been friends with Hawk for four years, and although she had seen him once or twice, she had not actually spoken to him until he came to Chudleigh Hold with Godfrey. For him to call her out of the blue and invite her to dinner with him was entirely unexpected.

"Arminel?" asked Humphrey when she made no reply.

"Yes," she responded, "I'm here." Taking a deep breath, she went on, "That would be lovely, thank you, Humphrey."

"Excellent," he said, overjoyed by her reply. "Thank you, Arminel. I'm really looking forward to it. May I collect you at six o'clock? I know a quaint old inn on the edge of Dartmoor which I think you'd like. I'll make a reservation for half past seven."

"That sounds nice," she agreed. "Thank you."

"Then I'll leave you to your sewing," said Humphrey. "See you tomorrow."

"Goodbye," answered Arminel.

"Goodbye."

Arminel heard Humphrey replace the receiver, so she did likewise. Thoughtfully, she stood up and walked slowly back to the drawing room where she had been sitting when Charles called her to the telephone. She took up her embroidery again, but all she could think about was Humphrey. He wanted to have dinner with her, and she had accepted his invitation. They would be going on a date together. At least, she presumed it was a date because he had not mentioned that anyone else would be with them, nor had he given a practical reason for their dinner together. Arminel decided that she would not mention the word date until she had had dinner with Humphrey; surely by the time he brought her home, she would know whether or not it was a date, and until then she would imagine that it was a meeting for some more sensible and mundane reason. Glad to have settled that in her mind, Arminel looked critically at the final flower she had stitched and decided that it just about passed muster.

"What did Humphrey want?" Charles came into the drawing room, a quizzical look on his face.

Her cheeks scarlet, Arminel replied, "We're having dinner tomorrow."

"Oh," said Charles, but the look he gave her spoke volumes.

Arminel bent her head over her embroidery. As she stitched, Hawk sauntered into the drawing room and threw himself down into a comfortable armchair. "Chess, Chas?" he demanded.

"Okay," agreed Charles, sitting on the other side of the small table that held the chessboard. "It's my turn to be white."

"Hm," agreed Hawk, watching as Charles made the first move.

"Arminel is going on a date," observed Charles as he sat back and waited for Hawk to move.

Hawk's hand hovered above a pawn. "Really?" he demanded. "Do we know the chap? He'd better be decent."

Oblivious to the glare that Arminel was giving him, Charles said, "We do know him, so you can decide if he's decent enough. It's Humphrey Anthony."

"Old Humph wants to take Arminel out?" Hawk sounded astonished.

Arminel stood up with dignity and gathered up her embroidery. "I'm going to bed," she told them, annoyed that her voice sounded unsteady.

Hawk leapt to his feet and made a desperate attempt to save the situation. "I'm surprised that Humph is interested in dating," he explained, "not that he's interested in dating you. I didn't realise he had such good taste."

Although she tried to scowl at Hawk, Arminel couldn't stop her lips from curving into a smile. "I hope that's what you meant," she told him severely.

"It was." Hawk seemed sincere. "So stop being a little ass and sit down again. It's too early to go to bed. Besides, I'm sure Chas has some good advice for you about dating."

"Me?" exclaimed Charles. "What do I know about dating? Should we get Merle over tomorrow? She'll probably have plenty of advice."

"I don't need advice," Arminel said firmly. "Don't you dare call Merle. Change the subject, Charles."

"You don't need to be embarrassed," Charles persisted. "There's nothing wrong with getting to know a decent chap like Humphrey."

Feeling thoroughly embarrassed, Arminel stalked out. She ignored Charles' suggestion that she sit down again and went upstairs to her room. Sitting in the comfortable wicker chair by her window, Arminel decided it was very strange that Humphrey would want to take her out to dinner. It was true that they had chatted easily on Saturday afternoon and that Humphrey had seemed to enjoy sitting in the sun, talking to Arminel. But Humphrey was handsome and confident and intelligent, so would he really want to spend a couple of hours looking across a dinner table at Arminel and talking to someone so dull and uninteresting? In Arminel’s opinion, it seemed very unlikely.

Arminel spent the whole of the next day waiting for the telephone to ring. She had convinced herself that Humphrey would have changed his mind, so he would call her to cancel their dinner plans. By six o'clock, however, she had heard nothing from him, so she traipsed up to her bedroom and dressed. As she finally managed to get her hair into a chignon instead of her usual coronal of plaits, she heard Hawk calling her. Opening the door, she found her favourite brother coming along the passage towards her.

"Humphrey is here," Hawk told her. "Are you ready?"

Arminel picked up her handbag, took a final look in the mirror, and said, "Yes."

"Have a nice evening," said Hawk, giving her a brotherly pat on the back.

Arminel went nervously downstairs and found Humphrey waiting in the hall. He was wearing a suit and tie, and a pair of extremely shiny shoes. As he saw Arminel coming down the stairs, he smiled and walked over to greet her. "Hello," he said, his voice warm. Then, taking in the pale blue dress she wore under her navy jacket, he said, "You look lovely, Arminel. I'm glad I chose a blue tie."

"Hello, Humphrey," Arminel answered, hoping that he had not noticed the colour that spread across her pale cheeks. She saw that Humphrey's tie was an almost perfect match for her dress, and she smiled. Then she saw Hawk coming downstairs, a smirk on his face. She gave him a fierce glare, which made Hawk's grin wider, but he made no comment.

"Shall we go?" asked Humphrey.

"Enjoy yourselves," said Hawk as he reached the bottom of the stairs.

Humphrey held open the front door and Arminel walked out towards his car. He caught her up and quickly opened the car door for her. She smiled nervously up at him, and he grinned back. "I'm so pleased that you're coming with me tonight," he said sincerely.

"Me too," Arminel agreed ungrammatically.

Humphrey closed the door for her, and soon they were driving away from Chudleigh Hold, heading towards Dartmoor. As he was busy finding the right road, Humphrey was silent, and Arminel also said nothing. She was wondering if Humphrey thought her frightfully dull because she did not initiate a conversation, but her mind had gone completely blank. She could not think of anything to say, so she sat silently beside him, hoping that he did not mind.

Finally, Humphrey heaved a sigh of relief. "Okay," he said, "I've found the right road. I'm sorry I ignored you for so long, but I didn't want to lose us."

"That's okay," she responded, clearing her throat because her voice sounded so quiet.

Humphrey turned briefly and grinned at her. "I think getting lost on Dartmoor would be a pretty bad first date," he pointed out.

Amazed that Humphrey did consider them to be on a date, Arminel looked across at him. His eyes were fixed on the road ahead, but he had a smile on his lips. "I suppose it could be worse," she said, her voice soft, "although I'm not sure how." As Humphrey chuckled at that, Arminel admired his good looks. He was handsome, with his well-cut features and dark eyes, and his firm chin gave a hint of his character. This was a man who was confident and determined, but Arminel thought he could also be gentle and considerate. "Where are we going?" she asked, pleased to hear that her voice was steadier.

"The Union Inn - do you know it?"

"No, I don't," she told him. "We don't visit that sort of place very often."

Guessing that the Chudleighs were not well-off despite their imposing home, Humphrey nodded. "We don't either," he said. "My uncle went there a couple of weeks ago and said it was a very quaint place. He was more impressed by the food than the ambience, I believe."

Arminel laughed at that. "Isn't that what men are like?" she said, glancing at Humphrey.

"Some of us," he replied with dignity, and then he laughed, too. "But this evening I'll do my best to see past the menu."

Very soon they were pulling into the car park of a white painted building that had flourishing window boxes at all of its diamond-paned windows. It was a very pretty-looking place, and Humphrey was delighted by the look of appreciation on Arminel's face. When he had locked the car, he held Arminel’s elbow and took her across the door to the Inn, which he opened for her.

As they had arrived early, Humphrey guided Arminel into the bar to a table next to the window and pulled out a chair for her. "Let me get you a drink," he said, looking down at her. "What would you like?"

Arminel was not used to drinking, and she was not sure what would be appropriate. "Well…" she said hesitantly.

Humphrey seemed to understand, for he said, "How about a glass of wine?"

"Thank you," she said, relaxing almost perceptibly.

As he crossed to the bar, Humphrey wondered how to put Arminel at her ease. Seeing her again had made him acknowledge that he had fallen for her completely and utterly, and he was very eager to make a good impression on her. She was clearly unused to being courted, though, so he must be very considerate and thoughtful and take things slowly.

A glass of wine in each hand, Humphrey returned to their table and sat down opposite Arminel. He set her glass in front of her and then raised his own towards her. "To a lovely evening," he said.

Arminel tapped her glass against his and echoed his words before having a sip of her drink. It was deliciously cool and slightly sweet, and Arminel thought she had never before tasted anything so delectable. "This is so nice," she told Humphrey, and he grinned at her surprise.

"I'm glad you like it," he said. "My cousin Anstace likes this sort of thing, so I thought you might, too."

"You seem close to you cousin," Arminel remarked.

"Yes, she's a good chap," Humphrey said. "She's still in Rio with her husband - he's a naval man. Their son lives at Fardingales with my aunt. Timothy is his mother over again - he's the image of her, and he's as mischievous, too."

"Says the doting uncle," said Arminel with a smile. "How is your young brother?"

"He's still in Switzerland with my mother," Humphrey told her. "The operation was successful, but he'll probably need another one. He's so much better, though, which is a huge relief. My mother seems rejuvenated because of it."

"I'm pleased to hear it," Arminel responded, and Humphrey heard the sincerity in her voice. "I know the worries we've had about Charles - not that my mother was around to be anxious about him."

Humphrey saw the look of regret on Arminel's face, so he reached out and put his hand over hers. "I'm sorry to hear that," he said, his eyes looking steadily into hers.

"It is difficult sometimes," she told him, and she decided that she liked the feel of his large, strong hand over hers. She had another mouthful of her wine to steady herself, and then she said, "You mentioned your sister Jill. Do you have any other siblings?"

"No, there's just Rodney, Jill and me. We live with our cousins, though - Anstace's sister and brothers. Life at Fardingales is always busy."

"Do you work?"

"Yes, I'm the land agent for Fardingales. I work for my uncle." Humphrey's hand still covered Arminel's and as she seemed not to mind, he kept it there. "I studied agriculture at university so that I could help Uncle Tim. The estate's too much work for one, and Quentin and Thorold - my cousins - are too young for the job. Besides, I don't think they're actually interested in running Fardingales." Before Arminel could say anything, Humphrey glanced at his watch. "Shall we go through to the restaurant?" he asked. "I probably shouldn't say this, but I'm hungry."

Arminel giggled. "Hawk's always hungry," she told him.

"I know." Humphrey grinned as he put a hand to the small of Arminel’s back and guided her out of the bar. "Men are like that."

They went into the restaurant and were shown to a table by the window. Outside, they could see the rolling hills of Dartmoor looking beautifully verdant in the light of the slowly sinking sun. A young waitress brought them menus and when they had ordered their food and seen their wine glasses refilled, Humphrey sat back in his seat and surveyed his pretty companion.

"I'm so pleased that you agreed to meet me this evening," he said. "I don't think I've laughed as much in the last month as I have in a couple of hours with you."

Arminel was surprised to hear that. "Really?" she asked.

"Really. I hadn't realised how somber I have become."

"That's not good," said Arminel, trying to look serious but unable to stop the corners of her mouth from curling upwards.

Humphrey smiled at her. "You have a beautiful smile," he said softly. "When you smile it makes me want to smile."

Arminel blushed, but her eyes held his and her lips kept their upward curve. Humphrey unsuccessfully fought the urge to put his hand over hers again, even as he wondered where those words had come from. He could not remember even thinking such a thing about a girl before, let alone putting such thoughts into words. Yet he found himself wanting to say more, to tell Arminel that she was beautiful and that in her company he felt happier than he had ever been before.

They held each other's gaze for a long moment, until the waitress came over and put their food before them, effectively breaking the spell. Humphrey released Arminel's hand and looked at their laden plates. "I think this accounts for my uncle's opinion of this place," he remarked, sounding very matter-of-fact now. "He approves of hearty appetites."

Glad that she had skipped tea, Arminel surveyed the generous helping of cottage pie on her plate. "It looks good," she said, pleased to have a chance to regain her composure.

They ate in silence for a while, and then Humphrey got the conversation going again. He managed to avoid paying Arminel any extravagant compliments despite them being on the tip of his tongue, and they chatted lightly about all sorts of things of interest. Humphrey discovered that Arminel was a woman of definite opinion, but she admitted that as one of the youngest of her family, her elders tended not to take much notice of what she thought.

They finished their meal, and Humphrey suggested dessert, but Arminel declined, declaring that she couldn't eat another mouthful. Instead, they drank coffee, and then it was time to leave. All too soon, they had reached Chudleigh Hold, and Humphrey was pulling up at the foot of the steps. He got out of the car and walked Arminel to the big front door, where he stopped and looked down at her.

"I've had a really lovely evening," he said sincerely.

"So have I, thank you," she answered, her face pale in the moonlight.

"Would you go out with me again?" he wondered, managing to sound confident despite his worry that she would turn him down.

"Yes," she said softly. "I'd like that very much."

Humphrey grinned. "Then I'll arrange something and call you," he said, and Arminel heard the happiness in his tone. "Friday night? Or would you prefer Saturday?"

Still hardly able to believe that Humphrey wanted to see her again, Arminel said, "Either is fine." She smiled up at him, adding, "Thank you, Humphrey."

"The pleasure is all mine," he responded, wondering if he could kiss her. She was much more relaxed in his company than when he had collected her, but Humphrey felt instinctively that she was not yet ready to be kissed. "I'll call you," he promised. "Goodnight, Arminel."

"Goodnight," she replied. Humphrey turned and went down the steps to his car, leaving Arminel to open the front door and go inside. To her surprise, both Charles and Hawk were sitting in the hall, and they got up as she closed the door behind her.

"How did you get on?" asked Charles.

"Did you have a good time?" demanded Hawk at the same moment.

Arminel rolled her eyes. "Goodnight," she said firmly.

"Are you going to see him again?" Charles inquired.

"Did he kiss you?" queried Hawk.

Arminel blushed furiously and almost ran across the hall to the stairs. She ignored the grin her brothers shared and hastened to her room. Once inside, she got ready for bed and then sat in the chair by her window. Gazing out across the darkened garden, she drew a deep breath and let her mind wander back to the time she had spent with Humphrey. She smiled as she remembered the feel of his hand on hers and the way his dark eyes had lingered on her face. It was strange, she reflected, to feel this interest in a man, to want to spend time with him and to have him touch her. It was delightful to sit opposite him and look at him, to listen to what he had to say, and to feel that he actually wanted to hear about her thoughts.

Arminel sighed happily and went to bed.