Captive of My Desires Page 11

“Good point,” Drew agreed. “Considering we’re in shipping of the legitimate sort, I’d say Clinton might object if you try to bring a pirate into the family. No reason to get permanently on his bad side, after all.”

“Oh, so now you’re making it a dare?” Boyd said in a belligerent tone.

Drew rolled his eyes. “Go on to bed. If you’re looking for a fight to round off your overindulgences, at least wait until you’re sober.”

“Bad idea,” Boyd grumbled. “Then I’ll feel it too much. Maybe Malory will oblige me instead.”

“Oh, well, why didn’t you say you just want to die,” Drew replied dryly.

Chapter 13

GABRIELLE LOOKED AROUND THE GLITTERING BALLROOM.A soiree one night, a grand ball the next. When Georgina had told her that they probably wouldn’t spend a single evening at home for the rest of the Season, she hadn’t been joking. Which was fine with Gabrielle. She wanted many choices for the matrimonial list she was going to create, and the more events they attended, the more bachelors she would have a chance to meet.

She’d already met two new gentlemen this evening, and three more had signed her card. She would be able to talk to them later when they danced. But just now she was staring at the man across the ballroom whom she couldn’t get out of her thoughts.

For an American sea captain, Drew Anderson certainly made a dashing figure in his black evening clothes. She was surprised at how well he fit in, as if he were a member of the ton. It was actually impossible to tell he was American until you heard his accent. Not that it mattered to the women present.

The man was far too handsome. He had women, young and old, trying to catch his eye.

Right now he was talking to a lovely lady he’d just finished dancing with. He hadn’t askedher to dance.

He’d barely said two words to her, actually, since they’d arrived at this ball.

Of course, her dance card had filled up immediately, but he could have asked her to save him a dance before they arrived. They’d ridden there in the same coach with Georgina, after all. He’d had plenty of opportunity. And it was the polite thing to do, even if he didn’t really want to dance with her. But all he’d done was give her a nasty look when she’d come downstairs earlier, and she knew she looked exceptionally pretty in the new ball gown that had arrived just in time this evening.

Icy-blue satin in color with embroidered roses in a glittering pink thread that trailed along the seams, the gown had arrived with matching slippers and matching ribbons for her hair. She’d already heard several people say that she was definitelythe sensation of the evening. But did Drew Anderson think so?

Evidently not, she’d say, after the nasty look he’d given her, and after what she’d overheard today.

She’d heard too much. And to think, she wouldn’t have heard any of that conversation between the two

brothers if she’d just slept a little longer, as Margery had suggested. But no, she’d woken up hungry after only picking at the plate of food Drew had brought her at Regina’s soiree last night. Not that she hadn’t been hungry then, too, but he’d somehow managed to fill her plate with every food she didn’t like.

She’d come downstairs this morning in time to hear Boyd Anderson tell his brother, “You’re much better than I am at being bored.” Drew didn’t look bored now; he looked quite interested in the lady he was still talking to, but the remark had been in relation to her and his having to escort her. “Considering we’re in shipping of the legitimate sort, I’d say Clinton might object if you try to bring a pirate into the family.”

They both found her contemptible, obviously. That didn’t hurt her—not too much, anyway. But it did infuriate her. They didn’t know her, they didn’t know her father. How dare they judge either of them out of hand like that!

“A sweetheart in every port.” “Never getting hitched.” She understood perfectly now. Drew Anderson was a cad. And he foundher contemptible?

“You’re scaring all the eligible men away with a scowl like that,” she heard Drew say. “A penny for your thoughts.”

She looked up and saw him standing beside her. She’d stopped staring at him for only a moment. How had he managed to cross the room so fast? If she’d seen him coming, she would have moved off in another direction. She didn’treally want to talk to him.

“My thoughts would cost you more’n that,” she said in a dismissive tone, and glanced away.

“How much more?” he persisted.

“More than you can possibly afford.”

“A pity. I was hoping for some sort of amusement to break the tedium.” She drew in her breath sharply and glanced back at him. “So you think my thoughts would amuse you?

You think they’re filled with silly—”

“I never said that,” he cut in.

“You didn’t have to. It was implied in your tone,” she said, then added under her breath, “No more than one can expect from a brute.”

Apparently he heard her, because he actually sighed. “Is every man a brute to you?”

“No, but you’re the one who manhandled me so roughly you bruised my arm.” His eyes narrowed at that accusation and he demanded, “Show me your bruises.” She hadn’t bothered to look at her arm to see if she had any, and was about to say so when he grabbed her arm and turned it. His expression changed immediately. She glanced down to see the bruise as well.

It was just a tiny one. Good grief, she’d never in her life been happy to see a blasted bruise, but she certainly was now.

“I told you,” she said with the utmost pleasure.

“Yes, you did,” he replied quietly, and he actually looked contrite, no,actually, he looked stricken. “I apologize, Gabby. It certainly wasn’t my intention to bruise you, merely to help you that day. I’m sorry you bruise so easily.”

The last remark gave her pause. She didn’t bruise easily, and in fact, his grip that day hadn’t beenthat strong and shouldn’t have left a mark…

She drew in her breath, recalling that she’d been jostled sharply in the carriage on the way to the Malory townhouse when the vehicle rolled over a rather large pothole, enough that she’d cried out and Ohr had remarked on it. There was no doubt in her mind now that that’s how she’d gotten the bruise.

She wasn’t going to tell him. She rather liked his current conciliatory expression…Oh, bother!

“I was mistaken,” she said sharply. “So you can retract your apology.”

“Excuse me?”

The blush came despite her irritation with herself. “I’ve just remembered that I got that bruise in a carriage the day after I saw you on the docks. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t a brute,” she added firmly.

He burst out laughing. It drew too many eyes. A big man like him, his laugh was deep, robust, and damned if it wasn’t distinctly sensual, too. She was barely able to ignore the shiver it sent down her back.

“I see I managed to break your tedium after all,” she grumbled.

“Yes, but I was only hoping for some witty remark that I’m sure you’re capable of. I certainly wasn’t expecting a feast of…silliness.”

His engaging grin said clearly that he was teasing her now. It flustered her, but what surprised her even more was that she wanted to grin back at him.

The man’s moods shifted quickly, and she found this winsome one more disconcerting than his earlier antagonism. It reminded her of that very real smile he’d given her on the docks, which had caused her stomach to flutter strangely.

She needed to get away from him. Her stomach was starting to flutter again. She looked for her current dance partner, who had gone off to procure some refreshment for her. Peter Wills—Willis, or something like that. But he was nowhere in sight. She wasn’t surprised. She’d wanted a break from the dancing before her feet got sore in her new slippers, and had noticed how long the line was for refills of champagne before she sent him off for some.

“Why are you standing here alone?” Drew asked. “I was only joking about that scowl, you know. It certainly wouldn’t have kept me from approaching you—if I were interested in making your acquaintance. So why aren’t you dancing?”

“I was parched. I sent—”

“Excellent,” he cut in, and twirled her onto the dance floor before she could object. “I was wondering

how I could manage a dance with you. And the music will be over before your partner returns. A shame to waste it.”

He was touching her. Her hand was grasped warmly in his, while his other hand rested firmly on her waist. She felt his touch so keenly that for a moment she could think of nothing else and barely heard what he was saying.

His eyes—they really were black. The light in the ballroom was fairly bright from an excessive number of chandeliers, and standing this close to him, she could detect no other color in them. Quite disturbing, those eyes. They started that fluttering again in her belly—no, it was probably just him. The attraction she felt was more powerful than anything she’d ever experienced before.

His shoulders—good grief, they were so wide. He was such a tall, strapping man, and far too pleasing on the eyes. That fluttering inside her wouldn’t stop. She really should get away from him, but it would be too rude of her to end their dance abruptly, and oh, God, she didn’treally want to.

He smelled so good, like exotic spice. They were dancing too closely. And yet she lacked the will to break the contact with him or mention that it was highly improper. Why, their chests were so close they were nearly touching; in fact, her br**sts did graze against him at one point and instantly tingled in response.

“You never did answer my question,” he said softly near her ear. “Did you really come back to England just to get a husband?”

Her salvation! Such a perfect subject to get her mind off of what he was making her feel. “Yes, but don’t worry, I won’t be setting my sights on you. I’m aware that you’re just a Lothario.”

“Am I? And where did you hear that?”

She wasn’t about to admit that she’d eavesdropped on him and his brother this morning and had hurried away before they’d noticed. “Your sister must have mentioned it.”

“No, she wouldn’t have. She could be furious with me but would never use a word like that to describe me.”

“A sweetheart in every port?”

He chuckled. “I concede. That’s indeed something Georgie might have said.” But then he gave her a knowing look and guessed, “Ah, I understand.You related that to being a Lothario.” She shrugged and managed to sound nonchalant. “If it’s merely the word you object to, ‘philanderer’

works just as well, don’t you think?”

He winced. She was immediately contrite. Did she really need to ruin these few minutes with him? The dance was almost over. She’d go back to getting her feet trampled by the long list of partners on her dance card. He’d go back to arranging an assignation with another woman for later in the evening. She didn’t doubt that’s what he’d been doing earlier with that lady she’d seen him talking to.

She debated confessing the truth to him, that it hadn’t been her idea to come back to England, and certainly wasn’t her idea to appeal to his family for help. But that really wasn’t something he needed to know and it wouldn’t make the least difference in what relationship they were allowed—which was none

at all. Because shedid want to get married, preferably to a man she could persuade to live part of each year in St. Kitts so she could still see her father regularly, butDrew didn’t want to marry ever.

“I see another Malory has shown up,” Drew remarked just as the dance ended.

“How many are there?”

“Too many,” he replied with a chuckle. “But this one, like James, doesn’t care to be dragged to affairs like this, so I wonder what he’s doing here, unless…Did you meet them when they picked up Judith today?”

“Her parents? No, I was getting last-minute fittings for this gown.”

“They may just be here to meet you, then. And that’s a very pretty gown, by the way.” His dark eyes ran up and down the length of her, pausing at her bosom.

She wished he hadn’t said that. She wished he hadn’t looked at her like that. It accounted for the blush she was wearing when he deposited her in front of the Malorys he’d just mentioned. Georgina had already found her relations by marriage and made the introductions.

Anthony Malory was incredibly handsome, but oddly, he looked nothing like his brother James. Taller, and certainly darker, he sported the same black hair and blue eyes that his niece Regina had. His wife, Rosalyn, was simply breathtaking, with red-gold hair, lovely hazel-green eyes, and a trim though voluptuous figure. It was obvious now where Judith got her coloring from.

“You must be the pirate,” Anthony said baldly.

His wife gasped. “Anthony!”

And Georgina scolded, “Not so loud, Tony. And don’t say thatword in public when referring to Gabby.

We don’t want to ruin her chances of making a good match.” But Gabrielle saw that no one other than the Malorys was nearby to have overheard him, and the poor man was beginning to look contrite, even though she was sure he had just been teasing. So she grinned and said, “Yes, bloodthirsty and all that. It’s a shame there are no planks around here so I can prove it.” He chuckled. “Well said, m’dear.”

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