Gentle Rogue Page 2

James finally got around to closing his mouth, then opened it again to drain the glass of brandy he was still holding. Astonishing! Anthony leg-shackled! London's most notorious rake—well, most notorious only because James had relinquished that distinction himself when he'd left England ten years ago. But Anthony? Whyever would he do such a ghastly thing?

Of course, the lady was too beautiful for words, but it wasn't as if Anthony couldn't have her any other way. James happened to know that Anthony had already seduced her, in fact, just last night. So what possible reason could he have to marry the girl? She had no family, no one to insist he do so; not that anyone could tell him what to do—with the possible exception of their oldest brother, Jason, marquis of Haverston and head of the family. But not even Jason could have insisted Anthony marry. Hadn't Jason been at him to do so for many years with no success?

So no one had held a pistol to Anthony's head, or coerced him in any way to do such a preposterous thing. Besides, Anthony wasn't like Nicholas Eden, the viscount of Montieth, to succumb to pressure from the elders. Nicholas Eden had been forced to marry their niece, Regan, or Reggie, as the rest of the family called her. Anthony had actually pressured Nicholas, with a little help from their brother Edward and Nicholas's own family. By God, James still wished he could have been there to add a few threats of his own, but at the time the family hadn't known he was back inEngland, and he'd been trying to waylay the same viscount for a sound thrashing he felt he deserved for an entirely different reason. And he'd done just that, almost making the young scamp miss his wedding to Regan, James's favorite niece.

Shaking his head, James returned to the parlor and the decanter of brandy, deciding a few more drinks might bring the answer to him. Love he discounted. If Anthony hadn't succumbed to that emotion in the seventeen years he'd been seducing the fairer sex, then he was as immune to it as James was. And he could also discount the need for an heir, since the number of titles in the family were already secured.

Jason, their eldest brother, had his only son Derek, fully grown now and already taking after his younger uncles. Edward, the second oldest Malory, had five children himself, all of marriageable ages except the youngest, Amy. Even James had a son, Jeremy, albeit an illegitimate one whom he'd discovered only six years ago. He hadn't even known about the lad who'd been raised in a tavern by his mother, and had continued working there after she died. But Jeremy was seventeen now and doing his damnedest to take after his father in his rakehell ways—and succeeding admirably. So Anthony, as the fourth son, certainly didn't need to worry about perpetuating the line. The three oldest Malorys had taken care of it.

James stretched out on a couch with the decanter of brandy. Just shy of six feet, his large frame barely fit. He thought about the newlyweds upstairs and what they were doing right about now. Well-shaped, sensual lips curled in a grin. The answer simply wasn't going to come to him about why Anthony had done such a ghastly thing as marry—something James would never make the mistake of doing. But he had to allow that if Anthony were going to take the plunge, it might as well be to a prime article like Roslynn Chadwick—no, she was a Malory now—but still a prime piece.

James had thought of pursuing her himself, despite the fact that Anthony had already staked his claim.

But then, when they had both been young rakes about town all those years ago, they had often pursued the same woman for the sport of it, the winner generally tending to be whichever of them the lady happened to clap eyes on first, since Anthony was a handsome devil females found it almost impossible to resist, and James had been called the same himself.

And yet, two brothers couldn't be more dissimilar in looks. Anthony was taller and slimmer, and had the dark looks inherited from their grandmother, with black hair and eyes of cobalt-blue, the same coloring possessed by Regan, Amy, and, annoyingly, James's own son, Jeremy, who, even more annoyingly, looked more like Anthony than like James. James, however, bore the more common Malory looks, blond hair, eyes a medium shade of green, a large-framed body. Big, blond, and handsome, as Regan liked to put it.

James chuckled, thinking of the dear girl. His only sister, Melissa, had died when her daughter was only two, so he and his brothers had raised Regan, equally. She was like a daughter to them all. But she was married to that bounder Eden now, and by choice, so what could James do but tolerate the fellow? But then, Nicholas Eden was proving to be an exemplary husband.

Husband again. Anthony had cracked a screw, obviously. At leastEdenhad an excuse. He

adoredRegan. But Anthony adored all women. In that, he and James were alike. And James might have just turned thirty-six, but there wasn't a woman alive who could entice him into the matrimonial state.

Love them and leave them was the only way to get along with them, a creed that had done well for him all these years, and one he would continue to live by in the years to come.

Chapter Three

Ian MacDonell was a second-generation American, but his Scottish ancestry was proclaimed loudly in his carrot-red hair and the soft burr in his speech. What he didn't have was a typical Scottish temper. His could be considered quite mild, and had been for all of his forty-seven years. And yet what temper he did possess had been tested to the limit last night and half of today by the youngestAndersonsibling.

Being neighbor to theAndersons, Mac had known the family all his life. He'd sailed on their ships for thirty-five years, beginning as old manAnderson's cabin boy when he was only seven, and lastly as first mate on Clinton Anderson'sNeptune. He'd declined his own captaincy nearly a dozen times. Like Georgina's youngest brother Boyd, he did not want such complete authority to be his—though young Boyd was sure to accept it eventually. But even after Mac had quit the sea five years ago, he hadn't been able to stay away from the ships; it now was his job to see to the fitness of each Skylark vessel when it returned to port.

When the old man had died fifteen years ago, and his wife a few years after, Mac had sort of adopted the surviving children, even though he was only seven yearsClinton's senior. But then he'd always been close to the family. He had watched the children grow, had been there to give them advice when the old man wasn't, and had taught the boys—and, the truth be known, Georgina, too—most of what they knew of ships. Unlike their father, who had only stayed at home a month or two between voyages, Mac could let six months to a year go by before the sea called to him again.

As was usually the case when a man was devoted more to the sea than to his family, theAnderson children's births could be marked by their father's voyages.Clintonwas the firstborn and forty now, but a

four-year absence in theFar Eastseparated his birth from Warren's, who was five years younger. Thomas wasn't born for another four years, and Drew four after that. And Drew's was the only birth the old man had been there to see, since a storm and severe damage to his ship had turned the old man back to port that year, and then one mishap after another had kept him home for nearly a year, long enough to witness Drew's birth and get started on Boyd's, who was born eleven months later.

And then there was the youngest and only girl in the family, with another four-year difference in age between her and Boyd. Unlike the boys, who took to sea as soon as they were old enough,Georginawas always at home to greet each ship when it returned. So it wasn't surprising that Mac was so fond of the lass, having spent more time with her in her growing years than with any one of her brothers. He knew her well, knew all her tricks for getting her way, so it stood to reason that he ought to have been able to stand firm against her latest outlandishness. And yet here she stood next to him at the bar of one of the roughest taverns on the waterfront. It was enough to make a man return to the sea.

If Mac could be grateful for anything, it was that the lass had realized right off that she'd gone a wee bit too far this time with her crazy notions. She was as nervous as a spaniel pup, despite the dirk she had hidden up her sleeve, with a mate tucked in her boot. And yet her confounded stubbornness wouldn't let her leave until Mr. Willcocks put in an appearance. At least they'd managed to conceal her femininity fairly well.

Mac had thought that would be the stumbling block that would keep her from coming with him tonight, but unbeknownst to him, the lass had done some clothesline raiding in the wee hours of the night to be able to show him her disguise this morning when he got around to mentioning that she'd need one, but that they didn't have the money to spare for it.

Her delicate hands were hidden under the grubbiest pair of gloves Mac had ever seen, so big she could barely manage to lift the mug of ale he'd ordered for her, whereas the patched breeches could have used a lot more room in the seat, but at least the sweater covered the tightness in that area—as long as the lass didn't raise her arms, which hiked the sweater up. On her feet were a pair of her own boots mutilated beyond repair, enough to pass for a man's pair that should have been thrown away years ago. Her sable-brown curls were tucked under a woolen cap, pulled down so low it covered her neck, ears, and her dark brown eyes, too, as long as she managed to keep her head lowered, which she did.

She was a sorry-looking thing, to be sure, but in feet, she blended in better with this bunch of wharf rats than Mac did in his own clothes, which weren't fency, but were certainly of a better quality than anything these rough looking sailors were sporting—at least until the two upper-class gents came through the door.

Amazing how quickly the out-of-place could quiet a noisy room. In this case, only some heavy breathing

could be heard and—perhaps by a few—Georgina's whisper.

"What is it?"

Mac didn't answer, nudging her to be silent, at least until the tense seconds passed while everyone took the newcomers' mettle and decided they'd best be ignored. Then the room's noise gradually rose again, and Mac glanced at his companion to see that she was still working on being unobtrusive by doing nothing more than staring down at her mug of ale.

"It isna our mon, but a couple of lairds, by the bonny look of them. An unusual occurrence, I'm thinking, fer such as them tae be coming here."

Mac heard what sounded like a snort before the quiet whisper, "Haven't I always said they have more arrogance than they know what to do with?"

"Always?" Mac grinned. "Seems tae me ye only started saying such six years back."

"Only because I wasn't aware of it before then,"Georginahuifed.

Mac almost burst into laughter at her tone, not to mention such a blatant falsehood. The grudge she bore the English for stealing her Malcolm had not lessened any with the end of the war, and wasn't likely to until she had the lad back. But she bore her aversion so genteelly, or so he'd always thought. Her brothers had been known to rant and rave with some very colorful invectives about the injustices inflicted on Americans by the British, perpetrated by the governing nobility, and this long before the war, when their trade was first affected byBritain's blockade of European ports. If anyone still bore ill will toward the English, theAndersonbrothers did.

So for more than ten years, the lass had heard the English referred to as "those arrogant bastards," but she hadn't cared so much then, would just sit back and quietly nod agreement, sympathizing with her brothers' plight but not really relating to it. But onceBritain's highhandedness touched her personally with the impressment of her fiance, it was a different story. Only she still wasn't hot-tempered about it as her brothers could be. Yet no one could doubt her contempt, her total antipathy for all things English. She just expressed it so politely.

Georginasensed Mac's amusement without seeing his grinning face. She felt like kicking him in the shin.

Here she was shaking in her boots, afraid even to lift her head in this crowded hellhole, bemoaning her own stubbornness for bringing her here, and he found something to be amused about? She was almost tempted to have a look at those dandy lords, who no doubt must be dressed to the gills in colorful foppery, as their ilk tended to do. She didn't for a moment think that Mac might be amused by what she'd said.

"Willcocks, Mac? Remember him? The reason we're here. If it wouldn't be too much trouble—"

"Now, dinna be getting snippy," he gently chided.

She sighed. "I'm sorry. I just wish the fellow would hurry up and make an appearance if he's going to.

Are you positive he isn't already here?"

"There're a few warts on cheeks and noses, as I can see, but none a quarter inch long on the lower lip of a short, pudgy, yellow-haired lad of twenty-five or thereabouts. Wi' such a discription tae go by, it isna likely we'll be missing the mon."

'Tfthat description is accurate,"Georginathought she'd better point out.

Mac shrugged. "It's all we got, and better than nothing, I'm thinking. I wouldna like tae be going 'round tae each table here and asking . . . Laird, help us, yer curls are slipping, la—!"

"Shh!"Georginahissed before he could get that damning "lass" out, but her arm went up immediately to tuck in the falling locks.

Unfortunately, her sweater hiked up in the process, revealing the tightly encased derriere that didn't by a long shot pass for boy's or man's. Just as quickly it was covered again when she put her arms back on the bar, but not before it was noticed by one of the two well-dressed gents who had previously caused such speculation when they'd arrived, and now sat at a table only six feet away.

James Malory was intrigued, though you wouldn't know it to look at him. This was the ninth tavern he

and Anthony had visited today, searching for Geordie Cameron, Roslynn's Scottish cousin. He'd just heard the story this morning of how Cameron had been trying to force Roslynn to marry him, had even kidnapped her, though she had managed to escape. This was the reason Anthony had married the girl, to protect her from this scurrilous cousin, or so Anthony claimed. And yet Anthony was determined to find the chap, to impress him with a sound thrashing, enlighten him with the news of Roslynn's marriage, and send him back toScotlandwith the warning not to trouble her again. All just to protect the new bride, or was his brother just a little more personally involved than that?

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