Gentle Rogue Page 34

She'd unfortunately reached him by that point and was summarily silenced by a wide hand clamping over her mouth. That it was James's hand gave her pause for a moment, but he was nothing if not swift, and before she even thought to struggle, his hand was replaced by his cravat, which turned out to be quite an effective gag after it was wrapped around her head several times.

Connie, watching the whole process, said not a word, particularly when he noted that Georgina just stood perfectly still the whole while. And Jame's behavior was even more interesting. He could have asked for assistance, but didn't. But neither would he let go of the hold he had about the girl's waist even long enough to tie the gag off, which made it necessary for him to use his teeth to pull one side of it tight,

and that had to have hurt, as cut and swollen as James's mouth was. Finished, he tucked the girl firmly under his arm, and only then did he notice Connie watching him.

"Well, it's plain to see she can't be left behind," James said irritably.

" 'Course she can't." Connie nodded.

"She'd clearly give the alarm."

" 'Course she would."

"You don't have to agree with me, you know."

" 'Course I do. My teeth, don't you know. I'm rather fond of them.''

Chapter Thirty-eight

Georgina sat slumped in the chair she'd pulled up in front of the wall of windows, pensively watching the choppy surface of the cold Atlantic surrounding the Maiden Anne. She heard the door open behind her, then footsteps crossing the room, but she wasn't interested in who had disturbed her solitude. Not that she didn't know. James was the only one who entered the cabin without knocking.

But she wasn't speaking to James Malory, and hadn't said more than two words to him since that night a week ago when he had carted her aboard his ship in the exact same manner he had once carted her out of an English tavern. And this undignified treatment wasn't even the worst of it that night. No, the very

moment he saw her brothers on the deck of his ship, he ordered them tossed over the side. Andthe man had had the unmitigated gall to tell them, just before they went over, that she had decided to sail with them, as if they couldn't see the gag about her mouth, or the way he was holding her like a blasted piece of baggage.

Of course, no one had bothered to tell him what Drew and Boyd were doing on his ship in the first place. Any one of his men could have volunteered the information that if it weren't for her brothers, they'd still be in the hold and the Nereus's men would still be walking the decks, rather than trussed up and deposited on the shore. But apparently they didn't have the nerve to interrupt their crazy captain to enlighten him to that fact. Connie in particular should have said something, but one glance at him showed he was being much too entertained by the whole affair to see it ended by anything so mundane as an explanation.

It was possible that James knew by now that he'd behaved like an ungrateful wretch that night. But if he didn't, he wasn't going to hear it from her, since she was never talking to him again. And the blasted man didn't even care. "Sulking, are we?" he'd remarked when he noticed. "Splendid! If a man must be burdened with a wife, thank God for small favors."

That had really hurt, especially since she didn't doubt for a moment that he sincerely meant it. And he must have meant it, since he hadn't once tried to coax her into talking to him, railing at him, or anything else.

They shared the same cabin, she in her hammock, he in his great bed, and did everything possible to ignore each other. He succeeded admirably, but she had found, much to her chagrin, that when he was there, he was there. At least her senses knew it, going a little crazy every time he was near; sight, smell, hearing all attuned, heightened by remembered touch, remembered taste.

Even now, despite the desire not to, Georgina found herself watching James from the corner of her eyes as he sat down behind his desk. He appeared as relaxed as if he were alone, while she was now stiff with her awareness of him. He didn't glance her way any more than she would turn her head to face him. She might as well not be there. In fact, she couldn't for the life of her figure out why she was there, when it would have been much more in line with his behavior that night, if James had dumped her into the bay with her brothers.

She hadn't asked why she was sailing with him. She'd have to talk to him to ask, and she'd cut her tongue out before she would give up her silent sulk, as he termed it. And if she was appearing childish with the attitude she'd adopted, well, so what? Was that any worse than his being a boorish madman with piratical tendencies toward kidnapping and plank walking or pushing, as the case were?

"Do you mind, George? That constant staring is getting on my bloody nerves."

Georgina's eyes snapped back to the boring view outside the window. Double-damn him, how did he know she'd been covertly watching him?

"It's becoming quite tedious, you know," he went on to remark.

She said nothing.

"Your sulking."

She said nothing.

" 'Course, what can one expect of a wench raised among barbarians."

Thatdid it. "If you mean my brothers—"

"I mean your whole bloody country."

"Well you're a fine one to talk, coming from a country of snobs."

"Better snobs than ill-mannered hotheads."

"Ill-mannered?!" she shrieked, coming out of her chair in a burst of long-suppressed fury that took her across the room, right up to the side of his desk. "When you couldn't even say thank-you for getting your life saved?''

He'd stood up before she got there, but it was not intimidation that had her backing up as he approached, merely an unconscious desire not to get walked over. "And just who was I to thank? Those benighted Philistines you call kin? The very ones who dumped me in a cellar to await transport to a hanging?"

"A circumstance you courted with every word out of your mouth!" she shouted up at him. "But despite what you deserved or didn't, that was Warren's doing. Not Boyd's and Drew's. They went against their own brother to help you, knowing full well that he'd beat the daylights out of them if he found out."

"I'm not lacking in intelligence, brat. No one needed to tell me what they'd done. Why do you think I refrained from breaking their bloody necks?"

"Oh, that's nice. And to think I wondered what I was doing here. I should have realized it was no more than another blow against my brothers, since you couldn't stay in the area to do any worse damage.

That's it, isn't it? Taking me along was your idea of the perfect revenge, because you knew it would drive my brothers crazy with worry."

"Absolutely!"

She didn't notice the color that had flooded his neck and face, proof positive that her deduction had more than doubled his anger and was responsible for his answer. All she heard was the answer, a death knell to her last hope, which she'd never have admitted clinging to.

So it was pain that made her lash out with retaliating scorn, "No more than I could expect of an English lord , a Caribbean pirate !''

"I hate to point this out, you little witch, but those aren't epithets."

"They are as far as I'm concerned! My God, and to think I'm going to have your baby."

"The devil you are! I'm not touching you again!"

She was stomping away from him when he heard, "You won't have to, you stupid man!" and James felt as if he'd been poleaxed, or kicked in the arse by a berserk mule, which was no more than he figured he deserved at that moment.

But Georgina wasn't the least bit interested in his reaction. High dudgeon carried her out the door, slammed it for her, and kept her from hearing what began as chuckles, but soon turned into delighted laughter.

He found her a half hour later in the galley, taking her wrath out on Shawn O'Shawn and his helpers in a tirade against men in general, and James Malory in particular. And considering that the word had gone out that their Georgie, back in breeches again, though borrowed this time, was now the captain's wife, they weren't inclined to disagree with anything she had to say.

James listened to her for a moment before he interrupted, hearing himself likened to a member of the mule family, a brainless ox, and a brick wall, all in the same breath. Brick wall? Well, there was no accounting for American similes, he supposed.

"I'd like a word with you, George, if you don't mind."

"I do mind."

She didn't glance at him to say it. In fact, all he'd noted was a slight stiffening of her back when he'd spoken. Politeness was obviously the wrong tack to take.

Georgina would have called James's smile devilish had she seen it, but as she wasn't facing him, only the others in the room noted it as he came up behind her and lifted her off the barrel she'd been perched on.

"If you'll excuse us, gentlemen, George has been neglecting her duties of late," James said as he turned and carried her from the room in a position she was quite familiar with.

"You ought to curb these barbaric tendencies, Captain," she said in a furious undertone, knowing from experience that there was nothing she could do to get him to put her down until he was ready to do so.

"But then breeding speaks for itself, doesn't it?"

"We'll get there quicker if you'll shut up, George."

She was stunned almost speechless by the humor she detected in his tone. What, for God's sake, did he find amusing in their present situation, where they both now despised each other? And less than an hour ago he'd been a fire-breathing dragon. But he was an Englishman, so what other explanation was needed?

"Get where quicker?" she demanded. "And what duties have I neglected? Need I remind you that I'm no longer your cabin boy?"

"I'm well aware of what you are now, dear girl. And although I've nothing good to say about marriage, it does have one small benefit that even I can't complain about."

It took her about five seconds to mull that over before the fireworks went off. "Are you crazy or just senile? I heard you plain and clear when you told me and the whole ship that you weren't touching me again! I've surely got witnesses!"

"The whole ship?"

"You said it loud enough."

"So I lied."

"Just like that? You lied? Well, I've got news for you-"

"How you do go on, George. This propensity you have for airing our dirty laundry—"

"I'll do more than mat, you addled ox!" But she was finally aware of the snickers and chuckles following

in their wake, and her voice dropped to a whispered hiss, "You just try and . . . Well, you just try it and see what happens."

"Good of you to make it more interesting, sweet, but totally unnecessary, I assure you."

She didn't mistake his meaning. It suffused her with heat in all the wrong places, wrong just now, since she wanted nothing to do with him. Why was he doing this? They'd been at sea a whole week and all she'd gotten was dark, brooding looks from him, if he bothered to look her way at all. But he'd started that fight in the cabin, provoked her into giving up her sulk, and now this. If he was trying to drive her crazy with confusion, he was well on the road to success.

He shifted her before he started down the stairs to his cabin, swinging her legs around and up so she ended up cradled in his arms, a position no easier to get out of than the other. She was really starting to resent his strength, and his ability to put his anger aside, while hers just seemed to increase.

"Why, James?" she asked in a tight, resentful little voice. "Just tell me that, if you dare."

She could look at him now in her new position, and was, but when he briefly glanced down at her, she saw it all in those green eyes. She didn't have to hear it. He told her anyway.

"Don't look for hidden meanings, love. My motives are simple and basic. All that passionate anger we were spewing at each other got me a bit . . . nauseous."

"Good," she bit out, closing her eyes in pure self-defense against that potent look of his. "I hope you puke."

His laughter shook her. "You know that's not what I meant. And I'll wager all that heated passion worked on you as well."

It had, but he'd never know it. Yet he was determined to know it.

His voice turned seductively husky, "Are you feeling nauseous?"

"Not the least little—"

"You do know how to reduce self-confidence to a low ebb, dearest girl."

She slid down the front of him when her legs were released, but her feet never quite touched the floor with his one arm still about her back. She hadn't noticed entering the cabin they shared, but she heard the door close with a resounding click. Her heartbeat sounded louder.

"And I'll be the first to admit that I seem to have totally lost my finesse when it comes to dealing withyou," he continued as his other arm came around her, both shifting now, one moving lower until his hand cupped her buttocks, pressing her into his hips, while the other moved up, the fingers gliding under her hair, along her scalp, until her head was firmly in his grip. She saw his sensual smile, the heat in his eyes, felt his breath on her lips when he added, "Allow me to see if I can find it again."

"James, no ..."

But his mouth was already slanting across hers, and he'd already ensured there'd be no escape from it.

Leisurely, with infinite care, he bestowed on her the finesse of a lifetime, kisses meant to entice, to mesmerize, to tap every sensual impulse she possessed. Her arms were already encircling his neck when his tongue seduced her lips to part, entered, and took her swiftly to that realm of not-caring-what-he-did.

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