Gentle Rogue Page 25

She wasn't sure yet how she felt about the consequence of her brief fall from grace. Scared, certainly. A little bewildered, a little—glad. She couldn't deny it. It was going to cause all kinds of difficulty, not to mention scandal, but nevertheless, her feelings could be summed up in two words. James's baby. What else could matter next to that? It was crazy. She should be devastated to think of bearing a child and raising it without a husband, but she wasn't. She couldn't have James, and no other man would do after him, but she could have his child, and keep it, and that was exactly what she would do. She loved James too much not to.

The baby, and Georgina's certainty that it was real and not just a possibility, accounted for her improved mood by the time the Triton sailed into Long Island Sound on the last leg of their journey home, three weeks after leaving Jamaica. And by the time Bridgeport was sighted and they'd turned into the Pequonnock River, which helped form a deep harbor for oceangoing vessels, she was excited to be home, especially at this time of year, her favorite, when the weather wasn't too cold yet, and the sunset colors of autumn still lingered everywhere. At least she was excited until she saw just how many Skylark ships were in port, three in particular that she wished were anywhere else but here.

The ride to the red brick mansion that she called home on the outskirts of town was a quiet one. Drew sat next to her in the carriage, holding her hand, squeezing it occasionally for encouragement. He was firmly on her side now, but a lot of good that would do her when she faced the older brothers. Drew had never been able to hold his own against them anymore than she could, especially when they were united.

Her cabin boy's clothes were gone. That outfit had been partly to blame for Drew's towering anger, so at least that was one thing less the others could complain about. She'd scrounged clothes from Drew's crew for the voyage, but right now she was wearing the lovely gown Drew had been bringing home to his Bridgeport sweetheart as a present. Likely he'd buy another here to take to his sweetheart in the next port.

"Smile, Georgie girl. It's not the end of the world, you know."

She glanced sideways at Drew. He was beginning to see some humor in her situation, which she didn't appreciate the least bit. But a comment like that was so typical of him. He was so different from her other brothers. He was the only one in the family with eyes so dark they couldn't be called anything but black.

He was also the only one who could be knocked down and come up laughing, which had happened numerous times when he'd rubbed Warren or Boyd the wrong way. And yet he looked so much like Warren it was uncanny.

They both had the same golden-brown hair, which was more often than not a mop of unruly curls. They both had the same towering height, the same features that were entirely too handsome. But where Drew's eyes were black as pitch, Warren's were a light lime-green like Thomas's. And where the ladies adored Drew for his winsome charm and boyish manner, they were wary of Warren with his brooding cynicism and explosive temper—but not wary enough, obviously.

Warren was, without a doubt, a cad where women were concerned. Georgina pitied any woman who succumbed to his cold seduction. Yet so many did. There was just something about him that they found irresistible. She couldn't see it herself. His temper, on the other hand, she saw all the time, since that was something he'd always possessed, and had nothing to do with women.

Reminded of Warren's temper, she replied to Drew's remark with, "That's easy for you to say. D'you think they will listen to an explanation before they kill me? I rather doubt it."

"Well, Clinton won't listen for very long if he detects that ghastly English accent you've picked up.

Maybe you ought to let me do the talking."

"That's sweet of you, Drew, but if Warren is around—"

"I know what you mean." He grinned boyishly, remembering the last time Warren had chewed off a piece of his hide. "So let's hope he's spent the night at Duck's Inn and won't get his two cents in until after Clinton's laid down his verdict. It's lucky for you Clinton's home."

"Lucky? Lucky!"

"Shh!" he hissed. "We've arrived. No need to give them warning."

"Someone will have told them by now that the Triton has docked."

"Aye, but not that you were on her. The element of surprise, Georgie, just might let you have your say."

It might have, too, if Boyd weren't in the study with both Clinton and Warren when Georgina entered, with Drew right behind her. Her youngest brother saw her first and bounded out of his chair. By the time he got through hugging, shaking, and throwing questions at her so fast she had no chance to answer any of them, the two older men had recovered from any surprise she might have given them and were approaching her with looks that said the shaking had only just begun. They also looked as if they just might come to blows to see who could get his hands on her first.

What little confidence Georgina had that her brothers wouldn't really hurt her, not seriously anyway, departed upon seeing them bearing down on her. She swiftly extricated herself from Boyd's hold, dragged him back with her so he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Drew, and wisely placed herself behind them.

Peeking over Boyd's shoulder, no easy matter since Boyd, like Thomas, stood nearly six feet tall—but was still half a head shorter than Drew—Georgina shouted at Clinton first, "I can explain!" then to Warren she added, "I really can!"

And when they didn't stop, but came one around each side of her barricade, she squeezed between Boyd and Drew to run straight for Clinton's desk and around it, though she remembered belatedly how a desk hadn't stopped someone else from getting at her. And it appeared that she'd only made Clinton and Warren angrier by running from them. But her own temper was sparked when she saw Drew grab Warren's shoulder to keep him from following her, and just barely manage to duck a blow for his effort.

"Blast you both, you're being unfair—"

"Shut up, Georgie!" Warren growled.

"I won't. I'm not answerable to you, Warren Anderson, not as long as Clinton is here. So you can just stop right there or I'll—" She picked up the nearest thing within reach on the desk. "I'll clobber you."

He did stop, but whether in surprise that she was standing up to him when she never had before, or because he thought she was serious about braining him, she didn't know. But Clinton stopped, too. In fact, they both looked kind of alarmed.

"Put the vase down, Georgie," Clinton said very softly. "It's too valuable to waste on Warren's head."

" He wouldn't think so," she replied in disgust.

"Actually," Warren choked out just as softly, "I would."

"Jesus, Georgie," Boyd was heard from next. "You don't know what you've got there. Listen to Clinton, will you?"

Drew glanced at his younger brother's blanched expression, then the two stiff backs in front of him, then his little sister beyond them, still holding up the vase under discussion as if it were a club. He suddenly burst out laughing.

"You've done it, Georgie girl, damned if you haven't," he crowed in delight.

She just barely spared him a glance. "I'm in no mood for your humor just now, Drew," but then, "What have I done?"

"Got them over a barrel, that's what. They'll listen to you now, see if they don't."

Her eyes moved curiously back to her oldest brother. "Is that true, Clinton?"

He'd been debating what approach to take with her, stern insistence or gentle coaxing, but Drew's unwelcome interference settled it. "I'm willing to listen, yes, if you'll—"

"No ifs," she cut in. "Yes or—"

"Blast it, Georgina!" Warren finally exploded. "Give me that—"

"Shut up, Warren," Clinton hissed, "before you frighten her into dropping it." And then to his sister,

"Now, look, Georgie, you don't understand what you've got there."

She was looking, but at the vase she still held aloft. It elicited a small gasp from her, because she'd never seen anything quite so lovely. So thin it was actually translucent, and painted in pure gold on white with an Oriental scene in exquisite detail. She understood now, perfectly, and her first instinct was to put the beautiful piece of ancient porcelain down before she accidentally dropped it.

She almost did just that, put it down very carefully, afraid a mere breath could shatter something this delicate. But the collective sighs she heard made her change her mind at the last moment.

With a raised brow that was a perfect imitation of what she had once found so irritating in a certain English captain, she inquired of Clinton, "Valuable, did you say?"

Boyd groaned. Warren turned about so she wouldn't hear him swearing, which she could hear perfectly fine since he was shouting every word. Drew just chuckled, while Clinton looked extremely angry again.

"That's blackmail, Georgina," Clinton muttered between clinched teeth.

"Not at all. Self-preservation is more like it. Besides, I haven't finished admiring this—"

"You've made your point, girl. Perhaps we should all sit down, so you can rest the vase in your lap."

"I'm all for that."

When he made the suggestion, Clinton hadn't expected her to take his seat behind the desk. He flushed a bit when she did just that, his angry look getting worse. Georgina knew she was pushing her luck, but it was a heady feeling to have her brothers in such a unique position. Of course, she just might have to keep the vase they were all so worried about with her indefinitely now.

"Would you mind telling me why you're all so angry with me? All I did was go to—"

"England!" Boyd exclaimed. "Of all places, Georgie! That's the devil's birthing ground and you know it."

"It wasn't that bad —"

"And alone!" Clinton pointed out. "You went alone, for God's sake! Where was your sense?"

"Mac was with me."

"He's not your brother."

"Oh, come now, Clinton, you know he's like a father to us all."

"But he's too soft where you're concerned. He lets you walk all over him."

She couldn't very well deny it, and they all knew it, which was why her cheeks bloomed with color, especially when she realized she'd never have lost her innocence, or her heart, to an English rogue likeJames Malory if one of her brothers had been with her instead of Mac. She'd never even have met James, or discovered such bliss. Or such hell. And there wouldn't be a babe resting under her heart that

was going to cause a scandal the likes of which Bridgeport had never seen before. But it was so pointless to bring up should-have-dones. And she couldn't honestly say that she wished she'd done anything different.

"Maybe I was a bit impulsive—"

"A bit!" Warren again, and not even a little calmed down yet.

"All right, so maybe a lot. But doesn't it matter w/ry I felt I had to go?"

"Absolutely not!"

And Clinton added to that with, "There's no explanation that can make up for the worry you put us through. That was inexcusable, selfish—"

"But you weren't supposed to worry!" she cried defensively. "You weren't supposed to even know about my going until after I got back. I should have been home before any of you, and what are you doing home, anyway?"

"That's a long story, wrapped up in that vase you're holding, but don't change the subject, girl. You know you had no business going off to England, but you did it anyway. You knew we would object, knew exactly what our sentiments are toward that particular country, and still you went there."

Drew had heard enough. Seeing Georgina's shoulders drop under that load of guilt, his protective instincts came to the fore, making him snap, "You've made your point, Clinton, but Georgie's sufferedenough. She doesn't need all this added grief from you three."

"What she needs is a good spanking!" Warren insisted. "And if Clinton doesn't get around to it, you can damned well believe I will!"

"She's a bit old for that, don't you think?" Drew demanded, overlooking the fact that he'd been of the

same opinion when he'd found her in Jamaica.

"Women are never too old to be spanked."

The imaginings that disgruntled reply engendered had Drew grinning, Boyd chuckling, and Clinton rolling his eyes. They'd all, for the moment, forgotten that Georgina was even in the room. But sitting there listening to this outlandishness, she was no longer cowed, was instead bristling, and was quite ready to throw the precious vase at Warren's head.

And Drew didn't exactly redeem himself when he said, "Women in general, aye, but sisters fall into a different category. And what's got you so hot under the collar, anyway?"

When Warren refused to answer, Boyd did. "He only docked yesterday, but as soon as we told him what she'd done, he had his ship refitted, and was in fact leaving this afternoon—for England."

Georgina started, thoroughly bemused. "Were you actually coming after me, Warren?"

The small scar on his left cheek ticked. Obviously, he didn't like it known that he'd worried about her as much as, if not more than, the rest of them. And he wasn't going to answer her anymore than he had Drew.

But she didn't need an answer. "Why, Warren Anderson, that has to be the nicest thing you've ever considered doing for me."

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