Gentle Rogue Page 36

"And they believed that danker?"

"The headmaster didn't." Jeremy grinned roguishly. "But Uncle Tony did."

James laughed here. "Tony doesn't know you well enough yet." But he tamped down his humor when he noticed Georgina's look of disgust. "But you'll attend to your entertainments outside of the school grounds from now on, scamp, that's if they even allow you back, and you bloody well better hope they do, or I'll be kicking your arse around the block."

Jeremy's grin didn't waver the least little bit, as if he'd heard such dire warnings a hundred times before

and had never once taken them seriously. But he had followed his father's glance to Georgina, and he was now looking her over himself. Still wrapped up in James's Garrick coat, and with her hair tucked under her cap, which she'd worn to limit her embarrassment in being dressed as she was, she found it understandable that the boy showed only the mildest interest in her.

But Georgina was still simmering over her latest heated exchange with James, which was aggravated by what she'd just heard. The man was no more than amused that his son was following in his footsteps . . .

another reprehensible rake to be set loose on womankind.

That, coupled with her embarrassment over her shabby appearance, prompted her cutting remark. "He doesn't look anything like you, James. In fact, he looks more like your brother.'' She paused to raise a brow tauntingly. "Are you sure he's yours?"

"I know you feel justified, love, but don't take it out on the youngun."

He said it in a way that guaranteed she'd feel ashamed of herself for behaving pettishly, and she did, extremely so. But instead of cowing her, it only made her angrier. And James, unfortunately, didn't notice.

"Jeremy," he continued. "Meet George—"

"His wife , "she cut in scathingly, taking a good deal of satisfaction in saying it, since she was sure James wouldn't have said it. And then she added innocently, "But I forgot. I'm supposed to delete that word from my vocabulary. And that would make me—"

"George!"

She merely gave James an owl-eyed look, not at all impressed by his bellow. But Jeremy's interest was now piqued and he stepped closer to her, though it was his father he addressed his questions to.

"Wife? She's a girl, then?"

"Oh, she's female all right," James said testily.

Jeremy yanked off Georgina's cap before she could stop him. "Oh, I say," came out with a good deal of male appreciation as her long dark hair tumbled down her shoulders. "Do I get to kiss the bride?"

"Not in the way you'd like to, scamp." James was scowling now.

But all Georgina wanted to know, was, "Why isn't he surprised?"

"Because he doesn't believe a word of it," James retorted.

She'd anticipated a lot of reactions, but flat disbelief wasn't one of them. The boy thought they were ribbing him. At the moment, she wished they were.

"Well, that's just swell-dandy-fine," she said indignantly. "I'm damned if I care what your family thinks, James Malory, but you can certainly be sure that as long as they don't think I'm your wife, I'll be sleeping alone." And she turned to glare at the butler. "You may show me to a room that is far removed from his. "

"As you wish, my lady," the butler replied without the slightest crack in his bland expression.

But Georgina, in high dudgeon, explained haughtily, "I'm not your lady , my good man. I'm American."

That didn't get a reaction out of him, either, not that she was trying for one. But as she followed the man up the stairs, her exasperation did increase when she heard Jeremy's remark.

"Hell's bells, you can't mean to install your mistress here! Aunt Roslynn won't stand for it."

"Your aunt will bloody well be delighted, lad. You may depend upon it. George is a Malory, after all."

"Sure, and I'm legitimate."

Chapter Forty

"Show a leg, George. Your new in-laws will be returning home soon."

Georgina cracked an eyelid to find James sitting on the side of the bed. Doing so had made her roll toward him in her sleep, so that her h*ps were pressed up against his thigh. But that didn't alarm her nearly as much as his hand resting on her buttocks.

"How'd you get in here?" she demanded, wide awake.

"Walked in, of course. It was wise of Dobson to put you in my room."

" Your room? I told him—"

"Yes, and he took you literally. After all, he didn't hear me deny your status, and only Jeremy is doubting of it, not the whole family."

"You mean he still is? You didn't bother to try and convince him?"

"Didn't see much point in it."

Georgina sat up and turned away from him so he couldn't see how that answer affected her. So now she knew. She wasn't going to be here long enough for it to matter whether his son believed he'd married or not. James probably planned to put her on the first ship he could find sailing for America. Well and good, the sooner the better. She didn't want to live in England anyway. And she certainly didn't want to live with a man who merely shared a mutual attraction with her. That was fine for temporary, but not for permanent. For permanent she needed much, much more. And she wouldn't cry, not this time. She'd done enough crying over this man. If he didn't care, she wouldn't either, and that's all he was going to know ... if it killed her.

James had no idea what conclusion she'd drawn from his remark, but then he was overlooking the fact that Georgina didn't know his son. In his doubt, Jeremy was merely being loyal to James, since he was well aware of James's sentiments towards marriage, and also that he had sworn never to marry. And James wasn't ready to explain why he'd changed those sentiments, since that was also going to be doubted. So what was the point in letting his hardheaded son frustrate him over the matter, when time would tell?

"You're absolutely right, James," Georgina said, coming off the bed.

"I am?" His brow rose sharply. "Dare I ask what you're agreeing with me about?"

"That there's no point in convincing anyone about our . . . connection."

He frowned as he watched her cross to the chair where he'd dumped a pile of clothes for her. "I was referring only to Jeremy," he explained. "It won't be necessary to convince anyone else."

"But if it is, why bother? And I don't see much point in my meeting the rest of your family, either."

"You've let the lad give you cold feet, have you?"

"Certainly not," she retorted, turning to glare at him for drawing that conclusion.

"Then what are you worried about? Unlike your family, mine will adore you. And you'll get along famously with Roslynn. She's only a few years older than you are, I believe."

"Your sister-in-law Roslynn? The one who's going to object to my staying here? And which brother does she happen to be married to?"

"Anthony, of course. This is his house."

"You mean he's married?"

"He put the shackle on just the day before I met you, as a matter of fact, and that's about as long as his wedded bliss lasted. He was still at odds with his little Scottish bride when I left here. It'll be interesting to see how the lad's getting on with her now, though Jeremy assures me Tony's no longer in the doghouse."

"Sounds like a good place for you to be, though," she said pointedly. "You could have told me all of this before we got here, James."

He shrugged carelessly. "Didn't think you'd be interested in my family. I'm certainly not interested in yours. Now what's this?" he asked when he saw her chin go up just before she gave him her back again.

"It's no insult to you, love, that I can't tolerate those barbarians you call brothers."

"My brothers wouldn't have behaved like barbarians if you hadn't deliberately provoked them. I wonder how your family would react if I did the same thing."

"I guarantee they won't trounce you or cart you off to Tyburn Hill for hanging."

"Probably not, but they wouldn't like me. And they'd wonder if you hadn't lost your mind, bringingme here."

He chuckled as he came up behind her. "On the contrary, you darling girl. Do or say anything you like.

You'll find it won't make the least bit of difference to your welcome."

"Why?"

"Because you've become a Malory through me."

"Is that supposed to be significant?"

"I'm sure you'll hear all about it soon enough, but you won't if you don't get dressed. Shall I help you?"

She slapped away the hand that reached around for the hem of her shirt. "I think I can manage myself, thank you. Whose clothes are these, anyway? Roslynn's?"

"That would have been more convenient, but no. She's a mite bigger than you just now, or so her maid assured me. So I sent round to Regan's, who happens to be just your size."

Georgina turned in his arms and shoved him back. "Regan? Ah, yes, the one who prefers to call you a

'connoisseur of women' rather man a reprehensible rake."

"D'you never forget anything?" he said on a sigh, which she totally ignored.

"And here I thought at the time that Regan was a male friend of yours." And then she surprised him by jabbing a finger in his chest and demanding with a good deal of heat, "So who is she? A mistress you left behind? If you've borrowed clothes from a mistress for me, James Malory, so help me I'll—

His laughter cut her off. "I hate to interrupt such a splendid display of jealousy, George, but Regan's my beloved niece."

There was but a moment's blank expression before she cringed. "Your niece?"

"She'll be amused to hear you thought otherwise."

"Well, for God's sake, don't tell her!" she said, aghast. "It was a perfectly natural mistake, considering you're a confessed reprobate."

"Now I resent that, indeed I do," he replied in one of his drier tones. "There's a world of difference between a rake and a reprobate, dear girl. And your perfectly natural mistake wasn't so natural, since I haven't kept a mistress for years."

"What did you call Jeremy's lie? A danker?"

"Very amusing, George, but it happens to be true. I've always preferred variety. And mistresses can be quite tedious in their demands. I'd have made an exception for you, however."

"Should I be flattered? I'm not."

"You were my lover on the Maiden Anne. Where's the bloody difference?"

"And now I'm your wife, if you'll pardon that ghastly word. Where's the difference?"

She'd hoped to annoy him with the comparison, but instead he grinned at her. "You're getting very good at this, George."

"At what?" Suspiciously.

"Disagreeing with me. There aren't many who dare, you know."

She gave an unladylike snort. "If that's supposed to be more flattery, your score is zero."

"Well, if we're keeping score, how will this one rate? I want you."

He drew her up against him as he said it, so she could feel with her body that he wasn't speaking in ageneral sense, but about the present moment. He was aroused, and whenever James was aroused, his whole body seduced, h*ps grinding against loins, chest tantalizing ni**les to hard points, touch seeking only the sensitive, and mouth stealing any protest. What protest? Georgina was lost the moment she felt his need.

In her surrender, she could tease, albeit a bit breathlessly. "What about the in-laws I'm supposed to meet?"

"Devil them," James said, his own breathing already labored. "This is more important."

His thigh thrust between hers, and his hands clasped her buttocks to drag her up the surface of it. She moaned at the friction, her arms wrapping about his neck, her legs about his waist, her head thrown back so his mouth could sear her throat. There was no more thought for teasing or anything beyond the moment and their burgeoning passion.

And into this heated scene walked Anthony Malory. "Thought the youngun was only bamming me, but I see he wasn't."

James's head came up, and his growl was indicative of a very frustrated annoyance. "Blister it, Tony, your timing is bloody rotten!"

Georgina slid slowly back to the floor, though her footing was none too steady. It took her about that long to realize they'd been intruded upon by one of the in-laws. Fortunately, James's arms were still about her for support, but they couldn't prevent the mortified flush that was fast staining her cheeks.

She remembered Anthony from that night in the tavern when he'd mistaken Mac for someone else, remembered thinking he was the most handsome blue-eyed devil she'd ever seen—until she noticed James. But Anthony was still incredibly good-looking. And she hadn't been being only spiteful earlier

when she'd told James that his son looked more like Anthony. Jeremy was in fact a younger image of Anthony, even to the cobalt-blue eyes and coal-black hair. She had to wonder if James really was sure that Jeremy was his. And she had to wonder what Anthony must think of her in the brief glance he gave her.

Put a patch over her eye and she'd look like a pirate just now in James's flowing white shirt, which he'd managed to unlace exceedingly low, his wide belt, cut down to her size, which she was wearing over the shirt because it was so blasted big, and her own tight breeches. And she was barefooted and bare-calved. She'd done no more than take off her shoes and stockings before she'd dropped onto the bed earlier to seethe and had fallen asleep instead.

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