A Loving Scoundrel Page 10

She laughed. “It doesn’t look anything like mine and you know it. Where are the satin sheets, the fluffy pillows, the things that make you want tostay in bed? That’s a bachelor bed if I’ve ever seen one.”

“But you won’t know how nice it is until you get in it, will you? I promise you, you’ll find no complaints with my bed.”

It was said so huskily, Mary couldn’t resist clasping his head to draw it to her bosom. And that’s when the pounding started on the door and someone shouted, “Get decent, mate, I’m coming in.”

Danny bristled on the other side of the door. She’d given Malory his ten minutes, more like twenty, though she didn’t have a watch to confirm it. She was afraid he was one of those “lover” types that Lucy praised, that he’d be taking all day with the wench he had in there with him, and she wasn’t about to wait that long. So she’d finally marched upstairs and put her ear to each door she passed until she heard voices behind one.

It didn’t take long, though, for the door to get yanked open after she’d pounded on it. Malory was standing there, impatience turning immediately to surprise when he recognized her.

“You?”

“Ye got that right,” she snapped, her street slang coming back in her anger.

Her tone brought back his frown. “What the deuce areyou doing here?”

“Get rid o’ the wench, then we’ll talk.”

It looked as if he’d momentarily forgotten about the lady behind him, and she’d taken offense at the wordwench, was stiffly adjusting her skirts as she looked about for her reticule. Finding it, she snatched it up and marched to the door.

Jeremy quickly told her, “You don’t have to leave, Mary. This will only take a moment.”

“That’s quite all right, darling,” she stopped long enough to say, and patted his cheek to assure him she wasn’t that upset to have their tryst end so abruptly. “Come and visit me later today, where wewon’t be interrupted.”

With one last glare in Danny’s direction, the lady left. The nabob ran a hand through his black hair in frustration and turned back into the room, heading toward the mantel over the fireplace, and a bottle of brandy and two glasses kept there. Danny followed him in, then stopped cold when she saw the bed. Where was her sense? She should never have barged into his bedroom of all places.

“I’ll wait for ye downstairs,” she said uneasily, and turned back for the door.

“The devil you will.” When that didn’t stop her, he added,

“Don’t make me tackle you. I might like it.”

That definitely stopped her. She could have been made of stone for all the movement she was capable of at that moment. Could she outrun him again?

As if he could read her thoughts, he added the warning, “I’d have you in my grasp before you could reach the hall. You may depend upon it. So you might as well close the door and tell me what you’re doing here.”

She wasn’t about to close the door, but she did turn around to face him again. It was galling, though, to find him not even close to her; in fact, he was leaning against the wall next to the mantel, arms crossed, ankles crossed, in that damned relaxed posture he’d used at the inn. Deceptive. He’d been no more relaxed that night than he was now.

He lifted a black brow at her. “Well? I doubt you’ve come to rob me. You wouldn’t have knocked. Or would you? D’you think you’re that good?”

She felt a blush coming, but with it, some of her anger returned, too, which bolstered her enough to say, “I’ve retired from robbing. Got kicked out, thanks to ye and yer bleedin’ high-handedness.”

“Did you? Well, now, that’s too bad. Indeed it is.”

Not a speck of sympathy was showing in his expression to support his remark. He even smiled! And that smile hit her in the gut, started her pulse leaping, had her eyes so mesmerized her thoughts scattered. How was she going to blister him with a piece of her mind if her mind wouldn’t function in his presence?

“Should have let me escort you home to do the explaining,” he added in a slightly scolding tone.

“Wouldn’t ’ave ’elped,” she grumbled. “’Is mind was made up to get rid o’ me long ago. Ye just gave ’im the excuse ’e needed.”

“He? Your boss?”

“Something like that.”

“So you were expecting this ousting?”

“Not this soon, and not without a job lined up nor a penny in me pocket,” she snarled.

“What happened to the money you earned that night?” he asked with only mild curiosity.

Another blush. “I turned it over, ’oping it would change ’is mind. It didn’t.”

“So you’re looking for a new band of thieves to join up with? Good God, you didn’t think you’d find one here, did you?”

Her eyes snapped up to find his expression as appalled as his tone had been. She should say yes and give him several reasons why he fit the role of thief, at least in her opinion. After all, it hadn’t beenher idea to rob Lord Heddings. But she’d rather just get to the point.

“I told ye I’ve retired from thieving. Never liked it and ’ope to never ’ave to do it again. It’s a real job I’m looking for.”

There was avid curiosity in his expression now. “What sort of job?”

“I’m not particular,” she replied with a shrug. “Anything decent that will let me afford a roof over me ’ead and food on the table. I’ve been sleeping under the stars since I got kicked out. And being that’s yer bleedin’ fault, I figure ye owe me some.”

“I find it rather admirable that you’d prefer to sleep in some alley than do what you do so well.”

A third blush, but this one had her snarling, “Don’t. Ye were the preferred option, since yedo owe me, and I would’ve been ’ere sooner to collect if it didn’t take me so bleedin’ long to find ye.”

He chuckled. “Since you are determined to blame me for your dire straits, I’m not going to send you off with your pockets full and never find out if that exonerates me in your mind. And, no, before you think to mention it, I wouldn’t trust you to come visiting from time to time to let me know how you’re getting on.”

Her back stiffened. “I were going to ask for money, but the wench downstairs says yer short o’ staff here. I’ve decided I’ll be taking a job from ye instead.”

“You’vedecided?” He burst out laughing. “What would you prefer, footman or maid?”

She glared at him. He wasn’t taking her seriously. That was easy to tell. And then it dawned on her what he’d just said, bowled her over actually. He knew! He wouldn’t have mentioned the maid’s job otherwise.

There was no point in denying it. She asked baldly, “When did ye guess?”

He left his position, strolled casually toward her—more like a wolf stalking his prey, she thought nervously. He stopped in front of her, raised a hand, was going to touch her cheek. She leaned back, even though he stopped just short of touching her.

He was smiling as he said, “There was no guessing, m’dear. I’ve an eye for beautiful women, no matter what they’re wearing. Though truth to tell, I do prefer them na**d.”

Nervously she took a step back from him. “Ye won’t be seeing me na**d.”

His brow rose. “No? Well, that’s a shame and leaves us nothing further to discuss, does it?”

“The devil it don’t. We’re discussing the job yer going to be giving me.”

He sighed. “We just did, and you turned it down without giving it the least bit of thought.”

“Getting na**d?” She gasped indignantly. “Ye call that a job?”

He laughed. “More or less. I’m willing to take you on as my mistress. I find you quite amusing. Don’t mind admitting it. So I’m sure we’d both enjoy it for a while.”

Danny’s cheeks bloomed red, not with embarrassment this time, but with anger. “Forget it, mate. It’s a decent job I’m wanting, and yewill give me one, or I’ll be paying a visit to Lord ’Eddings. I’m sure ’e’d give me a job in exchange for the information I can supply ’im with, o’ where ’is jewels ran off to.”

The nabob was flushing with some angry color himself now. “This is preposterous. You don’t know the first thing about propriety or how a household like this is run. And you talk like a guttersnipe,” he said contemptuously.

“I can speak properly,” Danny replied slowly.

Shedid have to think it out though, since she wasn’t quite familiar with it yet. And it wasn’t going to be easy, especially when she was angry or even nervous, which seemed to be the perpetual case around Malory. After fifteen years, she was much more used to the slang.

She’d managed to surprise him, but only for a moment. “So you can mimic your betters? But you don’t know how to behave like them, do you? How d’you expect to get on here without embarrassing yourself as well as this entire household?”

“By learning. Yes, you heard me right. I will learn the job as well as how to conduct myself.”

“Why?” he demanded in exasperation. “Why go to all that trouble when you’re much more suited to—”

She took a swing at him. He ducked, but he probably got the point, that she was sick and tired of being insulted today. Just to make sure, she snarled, “Because I’m getting m’self a respectable husband and then lots of children. Those are me goals, mate. A good job, a husband, then to get started on a big family, inthat order. And ye’ll be ’elping me with the first goal or there will be ’ell to pay.”

“Bloody hell,” he snarled back, then sneered. “What’s it to be then? Footman I suppose?”

The nabob was trying to insult her again and doing a good job of it. Or was he just stressing how difficult the task that she’d set for herself was going to be? Could she really fit into this handsome aristocrat’s world, even if only as his maid?

Chapter 13

JEREMY WAS SO FURIOUShe was having a hard time containing it. It was so unusual for him to be angry at a woman, but blackmail! Bloody hell, that would get a saint furious.

It boggled his mind that she had resorted to that, but he should have expected it. She was smart, after all. He wouldn’t have expected that either from someone who came from the slums, but she’d proved it the night of the robbery, when she’d extricated them from a sticky, even somewhat dangerous, situation.

Remembering that he did owe her for that took a small chunk out of his anger, though only a small chunk.

This was absurd. He knew how to handle women. Where was his bloody finesse with this one? He ought to be looking on the bright side. Now that she was going to be living under his roof, he didn’t doubt he’d get her into his bed eventually.

He was nothing if not confident where women were concerned. And this one was rather unique, adorable in her manly togs, amazing in her height, incredibly lovely with those big violet eyes, and not the least bit susceptible to his charms—yet.

She was attracted to him, though. He bloody well knew when a woman was attracted to him. But she gave every indication that it didn’t matter. “Don’t touch me, don’t even get near me” was the subtle message she exuded. Was that partly responsible for his anger? Another first for him. No, he simply didn’t like being blackmailed, and by a wench he’d prefer to be making love to. Bloody hell.

He sighed. The sound brought her out of her pensive state and had her informing him, “I’ll take the maid’s job.”

“Too bad. It would have been amusing watching you bungle your way through as a footman.”

She glared at him. He raised a brow. “You don’t think so? And by the by, you don’t scowl at your employer. You ‘Yes, sir,’ ‘No, sir,’ ‘Very good, sir,’ and with a smile or no expression a’tall. When you’re my mistress, you can scowl at me all you like.”

She started to snap something at him but turned her back on him instead. A stiff posture, full of indignation and ire.

“Counting to ten, are we?” Jeremy said dryly.

She turned back around, gave him a tight little smile, and gritted out, “Yes, sir.”

He burst out laughing. He simply couldn’t help it. And it removed the rest of his anger for the moment. It was going to prove amusing, after all, her attempt to “better” herself. He supposed he could tolerate being blackmailed as long as the blackmailer was going to end up as his mistress.

Still grinning, he said, “Let’s get you settled then. Shall we start with your name?”

She unbent enough to answer, “It’s Danny.”

“No, I meant yourreal name. If you were sincere about turning over a new leaf, as it were, then you’ll want to start with a clean slate.”

“Thatis my real name,” she replied with a stony stare.

“Truly? It’s not short for Danielle or—?”

“It’s the only name I ’ave any memory of. If I were given another at birth, it ain’t one I’ll ever be knowing.”

Jeremy found himself slightly embarrassed. Of course an orphan might not know her real name, and this one apparently didn’t even have a surname. Deuced odd, to go through life without a last name.

He asked hesitantly, “Would you mind if I called you Danielle?”

“I would mind. I ain’t no Danielle. My friends call me Danny. Since you ain’t one o’ them,you can call me Dan.”

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