Captive of My Desires Page 14

She was also able to begin her campaign to end the animosity between her and Drew. Not a single sour look crossed her countenance, and she managed to control her sensitivity to Drew’s teasing. Even when he told his brother earlier in her hearing, “Stop apologizing for every ‘blast and damn’ out of your mouth.

Pirates win hands down when it comes to vulgarity,” Gabrielle had managed not to pay him back in kind, though she had to grit her teeth to keep her mouth shut.

The rest of the play was just as amusing as the first two acts. It was a story about an English family trying to marry off their daughter. She didn’t relate it to her own situation at all and wouldn’t have if Drew didn’t lean close during the last act to whisper, “Who do you think the heroine is going to choose? The safe, proper young lord, though damn, he’s clumsy, isn’t he? Or the blackguard she keeps swooning over?”

She shouldn’t have answered him. Really, it wasn’t a serious question. He was merely rubbing it in, her own situation, sincehe obviously related it to the comedy they were watching.

Without really thinking, she said, “The suave blackguard will win hands down.” She heard his softly indrawn breath before he asked, “Why?”

“For the obvious reason. She loves him.” And then she grinned. “Care to bet?” He sounded annoyed now when he answered, “No, you’re probably right. It’s a comedy, after all. The silly chit is being portrayed as not having any sense, and certainly not enough to realize she’d never be happy with a rogue.”

“Nonsense,” she disagreed. “She could go through the rest of her life without realizing what a blackguard he is, or she could find out and not care. Happiness is a matter of the heart, after all.”

“Is it? You think you’ll be happy when you fall in love?” There was no longer any pretense that they weren’t discussing her. And while they’d been whispering, and leaning a little closer to each other to do so, she hadn’t looked at him once, had kept her eyes on the stage. But she turned to look at him now and gasped when she saw he was closer than she’d thought.

Their lips nearly touched and his gaze was so intense, it nearly mesmerized her.

But she answered him, rather breathlessly now, and just as softly, “I know I will be.”

“How do you know, Gabby?”

“Because if the man I love loves me in return, then nothing will stand in the way of our happiness. It’s inevitable. And besides, I can always make him walk my father’s plank if he doesn’t make me happy.” Drew burst out laughing. Fortunately, so did the audience just then, so no one knew his humor had nothing to do with the play.

Later that night, while Margery helped her prepare for bed, Gabrielle evaluated her own performance that evening. That’s what it had been. She’d had to resist countless urges to upbraid Drew severely for his careless remarks, teasing or not. But she’d persevered and merely smiled at him. Shewas going to change his opinion of her—if she didn’t clobber him first.

Chapter 16

GABRIELLE WENT TO BED THAT NIGHTwith a smile on her lips, quite a change from the night before. She felt the evening at the theater had gone splendidly, all in all. There’d been a few rough moments, at least where her patience was concerned, but in the end, she’d accomplished what she’d set out to do, which was let Drew know that their little war was over as far as she was concerned. Now, if he’d just draw in his own cannons…

Gabrielle and Margery went downstairs at midmorning the next day to meet Georgina, who was going to accompany them to the solicitor’s office. She wasn’t looking forward to the meeting with William Bates, or explaining to the disagreeable fellow why she had disappeared three years ago when he had wanted to shackle her with that reprobate guardian. She wanted Georgina there with her in case he got nasty about it, or tried to deny her her inheritance because she had flown the coop, as it were.

But Drew was waiting for them in the front hall, and when she raised a brow at him, he explained, “One of the twins is sick. A nasty cold apparently, but you know how mothers are. Georgie won’t leave his side, so she asked me to fill in as your escort today. She didn’t think you’d mind. She said something about me being a much better intimidator than she is, if the lawyer gives you any trouble.”

“She told you what the problem might be?”

“That you didn’t follow the fellow’s advice?”

“It wasn’t advice. He was actually going to hand me over to a known reprobate who was supposedly going to act as my guardian, when Itold him my father was alive and that I didn’t require a guardian. The man wouldn’t listen to reason, though.”

“So you simply left England?”

“Well, what would you have done under the same circumstances?” she countered.

He actually smiled. “Probably the same thing. Shall we go?” It wouldn’t have taken long to reach William Bates’s office if Margery hadn’t spotted one of her old friends on the street and asked to be let out of the coach for a few minutes. They waited for her, but it didn’t look as if Margery wanted to end her reunion quickly.

“Are you always this impatient when you visit solicitors?” Drew asked her. He’d noticed her tapping her foot.

“I’ve only ever visited one, this one, and—” She paused to sigh. “Bates was my mother’s solicitor. As a child, I recall him always being quite rude when my mother would go to see him and take me with her.

He was so condescending, it was like he was treating her like a child.”

“My oldest brother, Clinton, who handles most of the business of my family’s shipping line, has told me about arrogant, rude lawyers, but also that they’re not all like that. Why didn’t she hire a different lawyer?”

Gabrielle smiled. “That’s a good question. Probably because she never even thought to. He was her father’s man, too. Loyalty, I suppose, was why she tolerated him, and because she didn’t have to deal with him often. But I’m just guessing. She never seemed to mind him, or even notice how rude he was. I did, though, and I never liked him, ever, which is possibly why I’m nervous.”

“Then let’s get it over with. You don’t need your servant for this. As the brother of your sponsor, I am an acceptable chaperone for you, you know. Let her enjoy some time with her friend.” Gabrielle didn’t even have to think twice about it. Having Drew alone to herself, even if she did have some business to take care of first, was an unexpected boon. It would be a nice chance to get to know him a little better. And he was being amiable for a change. Not one insult or questionable tease—so far.

Had last night made a difference to him, too? Was he finally ready to call a truce?

She called out to Margery that she could take her time and enjoy a nice visit with her friend, that she’d meet her at home later. She then told the driver to continue on.

They turned a corner and the morning sun entered the coach and caught the tips of Drew’s hair. Such lovely hair he had, and just now, it seemed sprinkled with golden dewdrops…God, he was so handsome, and she suddenly had an overwhelming urge to touch him. He wasn’t even looking at her, was glancing out the window. Would he feel it if she leaned forward and touched him? Of course he would, and how could she explain that? She couldn’t. She’d be caught red-handed and embarrassed. Or he’d sweep her into his arms and kiss her…

“We’re here,” he said.

“Where?” she said.

He gave her a knowing look and one of his sensual smiles. Oh, good grief, he couldn’tknow that she’d been thinking about touching him, could he?

He helped her down from the coach, taking her hand in his, putting his other hand to her waist to make sure she didn’t fall. Such an ordinary thing for him to do, and yet she felt his hands on her so keenly. She didn’t want to move on, didn’t want to lose that touch. They were standing so close. She wondered if he realized that she wanted him to kiss her. Such yearning she felt, it must have been reflected in her expression. But having arrived at their destination, Drew was all business now and simply ushered her straight into the building and upstairs to Bates’s office.

She was disappointed, especially after Drew had given her that knowing look and smile. Then to so dismiss her from his mind that he wouldn’t even glance at her. That was why she was a bit sharp when she gave Bates’s clerk her name. And she probably would have been quite sharp with Bates as well if she’d been shown right in to him. But she was asked to wait, to take a seat, that he would see her shortly.

She didn’t sit down. She paced. Drew, watching her for a moment, started pacing with her. When she realized what he was doing, she stopped and chuckled. The tension left her. She even sat in one of the chairs lining the wall.

She wasn’t kept waiting long, but the clerk said, “Your companion, unless he is a relative, will have to wait out here.”

Drew simply ignored the fellow and led her into the office. William Bates was sitting behind his desk. He didn’t rise at her entrance. A big man who overindulged in food, nearly bald and with florid cheeks, he hadn’t changed at all. He was even wearing the same scowl he’d worn at their last meeting.

“Do you realize I could have had you declared dead, Miss Brooks?” She stared at him in amazement, not because he was trying to intimidate her again, but because he didn’t intimidate her at all now. Good grief, she couldn’t believe how formidable he’d seemed when she was younger. It was a wonder she’d had the nerve to defy him and leave the country like she did. But he was just a large man who liked to pretend he was more important than he was.

“Nonsense,” Gabrielle replied. “I sent you a letter, informing you that I was leaving England to live with my father.”

“And merely assumed that I received it?”

“Whether you did or not is irrelevant. I left because you tried to deliver me into the hands of a man who was unfit to be anyone’s guardian.”

“You were underage!”

“I was not without a living relative!”

“A relative who did not live in England!”

She leaned forward, her hands placed on his desk, and gave him a tight little smile. “There is no need for us to argue, Mr. Bates. I’ve returned to England, which is all that matters. And I’m old enough to receive my inheritance, so if you have documents for me to sign, produce them now. Otherwise, begin immediately the transfer of my mother’s estate to me.” Gabrielle took a card out of her reticule and laid it on the solicitor’s desk, “This is the name of the bank to which you can transfer my funds.”

“Now see here—”

“Just do as the lady says and transfer her funds,” Drew said.

“Who are you, sir?” Bates demanded.

“Drew Anderson, a relative of the Malorys,” Drew replied. “Do I need to mention titles?” William cleared his throat. “No. No, indeed. That family is well known in this town. This matter will be expedited with all due haste. Good day, Miss Brooks.” He nodded, and then stood respectfully as she rose and left the office with Drew close behind her.

Outside, as Drew helped her back into the coach, she thanked him for his assistance. He chuckled at her.

“You’re joking, right?” he said. “The way Georgie made it sound, I thought I was going to have to slam a few heads together today. But you didn’t need any help in there. You handled the situation as if you deal with lawyers every day.”

She blushed at the compliment. “He just wasn’t as frightening as I remembered him being.”

“Nonsense. He still tried to cow you, but you didn’t let him. I wouldn’t have said anything, but I just love throwing around that word ‘titles.’ It gets no reaction back home, but here it can produce some really amusing results. Now how about a ride down the Mall in Hyde Park before we return home, since we finished here early? Or maybe even a boat ride? What’s the name of that lake one of your kings created in the park?”

“It was Queen Caroline, wife to George II in the last century, who had the Serpentine created. And that’s a rather nice idea, actually, though it looks like it will be raining soon. Are you sure?”

“As long as it doesn’t downpour, we won’t melt.”

That giddiness was returning. What an unexpected delight. She’d come downstairs this morning dreading the confrontation with William Bates, and not only did that go surprisingly well, but she was getting to spend the day with Drew as well.

They rode to the lake in Hyde Park. There were no boats available to rent when they got there, so they walked along the shore instead.

“I take it you’re rich now?” Drew asked when they stopped to feed some ducks.

“Not at all,” she replied, watching the way his jacket stretched taut as he bent over toward the ducks.

“My mother’s inheritance leaves me quite comfortable, though, and there’s the cottage that’s mine now.”

“Cottage?” He seemed surprised as he glanced back at her. “Why did I picture you growing up in a mansion?”

She laughed. “Perhaps because I did. A cottage here doesn’t necessarily denote size. My mother’s house was quite large with extensive grounds.”

“You liked living here?” he asked. “Or did you prefer the Caribbean?”

“I much prefer the warmer climate in the islands.”

He hooked her arm through his to continue the walk, very proper, and yet that was the only warmth she was thinking of. It was very hard to concentrate on conversing with him when their shoulders brushed together and she could feel the heat of his body so close to hers.

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