Gentle Rogue Page 28

"Georgie ..."

"Demonstrate your patience, brother. Why haven't you?"

"I haven't found what I'm looking for yet."

"But you are looking?"


"Clinton isn't, and look how many years it's been since his wife died. He says he just doesn't want to go through that again. Warren isn't, but of course he's still nursing his bitterness and will likely change his mind eventually, as fond as he is of children. Boyd isn't. He claims he's much too young to settle down.

Drew, now, says he's not ready to give up the fun of looking—"

"He told you that?" Thomas came very close to raising his voice.

"No." She grinned. "That was just one of the things I overheard."

He gave her a purely disgruntled look. "What's your point, Georgina? That you've decided you're not going to look anymore?"

"No, I've just met someone with still another view on marriage. And I can safely say he thinks hell would be preferable."

"My God!" Thomas gasped as all the pieces came together. "No wonder it didn't make sense. Who is he?"

"An Englishman."

She cringed, waiting for the explosion. But this was Thomas. He merely asked, "What's his name?" But Georgina had already said more than she'd intended to.

"His name doesn't matter. You won't be meeting him, and I'll never see him again."

"Did he know how you felt about him?"

"No ... maybe. Oh, I don't know."

"How did he feel about you?"

"He liked me well enough."

"But not enough to marry you?"

"I told you, Thomas, he thinks marriage is a fool's mistake. And those were his exact words, no doubt said to keep me from hoping."

"I'm sorry, sweetheart, I truly am. But you know, this is no reason to set yourself against marriage. There will be other men, maybe not here, but Clinton means to take you to New Haven with him when he visits our two nieces. And if no one appeals to you there, Warren intends to take you to New York."

She had to smile at that. Her brothers, all of them, meant well. And she'd enjoy seeing her nieces again.

She had wanted to raise them herself when Clinton's wife died, but she'd been only twelve at the time and was being raised more or less by servants herself, or whichever brother was home at the time. So it had been decided that they'd live with their grandparents in New Haven, since Clinton was so rarely home himself. Fortunately, New Haven wasn't so very far away.

But if she was going to visit anywhere, she'd have to do it soon, before she started showing and all hell broke loose. Maybe most of her brothers would be back to sea by then. She could hope.

Right now, she'd agree to anything to end this discussion, before Thomas thought to get even more personal in his questioning.

"I'll consider going, Thomas . . . if you'll do me a favor. Don't tell the others about . . . well, what I've told you. They wouldn't understand how I could fall in love with an Englishman. I don't understand it myself. You know, I really couldn't stand him at first, his arrogance, his ... Well, you know how those blasted lords can be."

"A lord, too?" He rolled his eyes. "No, I can't see any good reason to mention that to my dear brothers.

They'd likely want to start up the war again."

Chapter Thirty-one

"Blast it, Georgie! Don't you know better than to do that to a man?"

Georgina blinked at Drew's sharp tone, before his words sunk in. "Do what?" she asked innocently, already realizing by the way he was clutching the vase he was holding that he'd nearly dropped it when he'd glanced at her. Why she'd surprised him, though, she wasn't sure, since she'd spoken to him when she entered the study.

"Come into a room looking like that," he explained testily, glaring at the low cut of her evening gown.

She blinked again. "Well, for God's sake, Drew, how am I supposed to look for a party? Should I have worn one of my old work dresses? Maybe my gardening one, replete with grass stains?"

"You know what I meant." He glowered. "That one is much too—too—"

"There is nothing wrong with this gown. Mrs. Mullins, my seamstress, assured me it's in very good taste."

"Then Mrs. Mullins doesn't have any."

"Any what?"

"Good taste herself." When that brought a gasp and then a narrowing of her chocolate eyes, Drew decided he'd better back off. "Now, Georgie, it's not so much the dress, but what it doesn't cover, if you get my meaning."

"I got your meaning right off, Drew Anderson," she said indignantly. "Am I supposed to dress out of fashion just because my brother objects to the cut of my bodice? I'll wager you've never complained about this particular style on other women, have you?"

Since he hadn't, he decided it might be prudent to shut his mouth on the subject. But still— Damn, but she'd given him a turn. He'd known she'd blossomed into a little beauty, but this was broadcasting it from the mainmast.

Georgina took pity on his flushed discomfort. After all, she hadn't had occasion to dress up the last few times Drew was home, so it had been several years since he had seen her in anything other than her modest day dresses—and more recently, her boy's attire. She'd had this gown made up last Christmas for the Willards' annual ball, but a severe cold had kept her from wearing it then. But the Grecian style was still in the height of fashion, as was the thinness of the material, in this case a sheer rose batiste over white silk. And her mother's ruby necklace was the perfect touch to fill in the bare expanse below her neck, which Drew was objecting to.

But his objection really was a bit ridiculous. It wasn't as if she were in danger of exposing herself. There was a good inch and a half of ribbon-threaded material above her nipples, a considerable amount compared to some gowns she had seen on other women. So a little cleft was showing. A little cleft was supposed to show.

"It's all right, Drew." She grinned now. "I promise not to drop anything. And if I do, I'll let someone else pick it up for me."

He accepted that out gracefully. "See that you do," but couldn't resist adding, "you'll be lucky if Warren doesn't put a sack over your head."

She rolled her eyes. This was just what she needed to make the evening go smoothly, brothers all over the room glaring at any man who got near her, or surrounding her themselves so no man could get near.

"What were you doing with that?" she asked, indicating the vase to change the subject.

"Just having a closer look at what's cost us our China trade."

Georgina had heard the story the night of her homecoming. The vase wasn't just an antique, but a priceless piece of art from the Tang dynasty, some nine hundred years old, and Warren had won it in a game of chance. If that wasn't incredible enough, he'd wagered his ship against it! If she hadn't also heard that Warren was quite drunk at the time, she wouldn't have believed it, since the Nereus was the most important thing in his life.

But Clinton had confirmed it. He'd been there at the time and hadn't even tried to talk Warren out of the game, not that he could have. Apparently, he'd wanted the vase just as badly to take the risk of losing one of the Skylark ships. Of course, one ship was nothing in comparison to the value of that vase.

What neither of them had realized at the time was that the Chinese warlord who had wagered his vase against Warren's ship had no intention of honoring the bet if he lost, which he did. A group of his followers had attacked them on the way back to their ships, and if their crews hadn't come to the rescue, neither of them would have survived that night. As it was, they just barely escaped Canton without having their ships fired upon. And having to leave so suddenly was the reason they were home much sooner than expected.

As she watched Drew carefully lock the vase back in Clinton's desk, she remarked. "I'm surprised Clinton has taken it so well, that it will be a very long time before a Skylark ship dares venture into Chinese waters again."

"Oh, I don't know. As lucrative as the Canton trade was, I think he was getting tired himself of the long voyages. I know Warren was. And they did make several European stops on the way back, to establish new markets."

She hadn't heard that before. "Is England being forgiven then and considered for one of those markets?"

He looked at her and chuckled. "You must be joking. With as much money as they cost us with their arbitrary blockade before the war? Not to mention how many of their blasted warships stopped ours to impress their so-called deserters. It'll be a cold day in hell before Clinton deals with an Englishman again, even if we were desperate for their trade, which we're certainly not."

Her grimace was inward. If there had been a secret hope that she might someday return to England to see James again, she might as well bury it. If only that trip to Jamaica hadn't been his last, she could have gone back there easily enough. But he'd confessed that he had only gone there to dispose of his holdings, that he was returning to England for good.

"I didn't think so," she said now in a small voice.

"What's the frown for, Georgie? Have you forgiven England, after those bastards stole your Malcolm and caused you such grief?"

She almost laughed. England, no, but one particular Englishman she'd forgive anything, if only he . . .

what? Had loved her a little instead of just desiring her? That was asking for the moon.

But Drew was waiting for an answer, and she gave him the one he most likely expected. "Certainly not,"

she snapped, and turned to leave, only to find Warren on his way into the room. His eyes went straight to her decolletage, and his expression immediately started gathering storm clouds, and she snapped again,

"Not one word, Warren, or I'll rip it off and come down to the party na**d, see if I don't!"

"I wouldn't," Drew cautioned when Warren started to follow her out of the room.

"Did you see the bosoms on that girl?" Warren's tone was half outrage, half amazement.

"Couldn't miss 'em." Drew smiled wryly. "I mentioned it myself, and received a quelling set-down. The girl grew up, Warren, when we weren't looking."

"She'll still have to change into something more—"

"She won't, and if you try and insist, she's likely to do exactly as she said."

"Don't be an ass, Drew. She wouldn't—"

"Are you so sure?" Drew interrupted again. "Our little Georgie has changed, and I don't just mean intoa raving beauty. That was more gradual. This is so sudden, it's like she's a new woman."

"What is?"

"Her willfulness. The temper she'd been demonstrating. And don't ask me where she might have picked it up, but she's developed a droll wit that is really quite amusing at times. And snippy. Hell, it's hard to even tease her anymore, she sasses back so quickly."

"None of which has anything to do with that blasted gown she's wearing."

"Now who's being an ass?" Drew snorted, and borrowed from Georgina's own retaliation. "You wouldn't mind seeing it on any other woman, now would you? Those low-cut bits of nothing are, after all, highly fashionable," and he added with a grin, "thank God."

And that just got him a glower that Warren was still wearing when he stood in the receiving line a while later to greet their guests and intimidate any of the male gender who happened to stare at Georgina too long. No one else, of course, thought anything the least bit wrong with her lovely gown. It was, if anything, modest next to a few others worn by some of their female neighbors.

As was usually the case in a seafaring town, there were many more women present than men. But for an impromptu party, there was a fine turnout. The main gathering was in the drawing room, but with so many people showing up, and still more trickling in as the evening progressed, every room on the first floor had a small crowd of people in it.

Georgina was enjoying herself, despite the fact that Warren was never more than a few feet away. At least he'd stopped scowling. Boyd, too, after his first sight of her, was right there at her side every time a man approached her, no matter what age the man happened to be, and even if he was accompanied by a wife. Drew remained close by just to watch the other two playing big brothers, which was amusing him no end.

"Clinton informed us that you'll be sailing to New Haven soon."

"So it seems," Georgina replied to the stout lady who'd just joined her small group.

Mrs. Wiggins had married a farmer, but she came from townfolk herself and had never quite made the adjustment. She flicked open an ornate fan and began stirring the air around them. The crowded room was getting a bit warm.

"But you've just returned from England," the older lady pointed out, as if Georgina could forget. "By the way, dear, how did you find it?"

"Dreadful," she said in all sincerity. "Crowded. Rife with thieves and beggars." She didn't bother to mention the beautiful countryside, or the quaint villages that had, oddly enough, reminded her of Bridgeport.

"You see, Amos?" Mrs. Wiggins told her husband. "It's just as we imagined. A den of iniquity."

Georgina wouldn't have gone that far in her description. There were, after all, two sides to London—the poor and the rich—maybe she would go that far. The rich might not be thieves, but she'd met one of their lords and he was as wicked as they come.

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