Gentle Rogue Page 42

It was too much, and just enough for Georgina's oft-denied temper to explode for real. "Tell this wretched child of yours to let go of me, James Malory, or I'm going to kick him where it will really hurt!"

"Oh, I say, does she mean what I think she means?"

"Shut up, Percy," someone said, Derek probably.

Georgina barely heard. She marched over to James, dragging Jeremy with her, because the scamp still hadn't let go, and glared up at her husband, totally ignoring Anthony, Connie, and George Amherst, who crowded around him.

"I don't give a fig what you say about it, so there!" she told him.

"Dare I ask, about what?"

"About where I went. If you hadn't been an unnatural husband—"

"Unnatural?"

"Yes, unnatural! Denying me my own family. What is that if not unnatural?"

"Prudence."

"Oh! Very well, maintain your ridiculous stand. But if you hadn't been prudent , then I wouldn't have resorted to desperate measures, so before you get all hot under the collar, consider who's actually at fault here."

All James did was turn to Jeremy and ask, "Where did you find her?"

Georgina could have screamed at that point. She'd been trying to shake off Jeremy's hand while she'd

had her say but still couldn't, and heaping guilt on James's shoulders didn't appear to have worked, either.

And now the scamp would have his say, and she wouldn't be surprised if James throttled her right there in front of brother, nephew, son, and assorted friends, all of whom were on his side and not likely to lift a finger to her aid.

But then she gasped, finding herself jerked behind Jeremy's broad back and hearing him say to his father, "It's not as bad as you might be thinking. She was on the waterfront, aye, but she was well protected. She'd hired her own carriage and had these two huge, monstrously huge, drivers who weren't letting anyone get near—"

"What a danker," Percy interrupted, chuckling to himself. "How'd she run smack into Derek's arms, then, to almost get herself kissed?"

Derek, flushing from hot pink to hot red, reached over and grabbed Percy's cravat, twisting it around his hand until the poor man was almost choking. ''Are you calling my cousin a liar?" he snarled, his eyes a true green now, foretelling just how upset he was.

"Gad, no! Wouldn't dream of it," Percy quickly assured him, yet his confusion was evident, and he was heard to protest, "But I was there Derek. Ought to know what I seen." The cravat twisted tighter. "Then again, what do I know?"

"Gentlemen, if you please," Anthony's dry tones entered the dispute. "My wife deplores bloodshed in her hall."

Georgina, well shielded by Jeremy's tall form, was sorry for all the bad thoughts she'd had of the lad.

She'd already realized he'd kept hold of her to protect her from his father's wrath, rather than to assure that she couldn't escape it as she'd thought. He'd even lied for her, which had just endeared him to her for all time, but thanks to that double-damned Percy, it was all for naught.

She was afraid now to peek around his shoulder to see how James was taking all of this. He'd frowned when he first saw her, but other than that, he'd displayed his usual imperturbability, had just stood there and listened to her tell him what was what without showing the least bit of emotion.

From where she stood, or cowered, as the case were, she could see Anthony to one side of James, Connie on the other. Connie was grinning at her, plainly enjoying the situation. Anthony appeared to be

bored with it all, a reaction that was usually James's, but she didn't think James would be showing the same just now. And when she felt Jeremy tense in front of her, she guessed she was right. And when Jeremy turned around and whispered to her, "I think you better run now," she knew it for certain.

James didn't move as he watched her race up the stairs, merely noting that she'd hiked her skirt up to accomplish her flight, leaving not only her ankles but her calves on display for everyone to see, and a glance about the hall told him everyone was indeed seeing, and admiring, which brought more fire to his eyes than had already been there. Not until the door slammed upstairs did his eyes return to Jeremy, the only one who hadn't watched Georgina's exit, who'd been warily watching his father instead.

"Switched loyalties, have you, lad?" James said very quietly.

It was the softness of his tone that had Jeremy squirming and blurting out, "Well, I didn't want to see you going through what Uncle Tony did, just because you might get a little angry with the wench, and she might get a lot angry back at you. She's got a bloody temper if you ain't noticed."

"You thought I'd have to find a new bed, is that it?"

"Something like that."

Hearing his past difficulties aired so nonchalantly, Anthony let his assumed boredom drop clean away with a choking sound and then a growl, "If your father don't blister your hide, youngun, I'm bloody well thinking of doing it!"

But Jeremy wasn't concerned with his uncle's chagrin just now, real or not. "What are you going to do?"

he asked his father.

As if it were a foregone conclusion, James replied, "I'm going to go up and beat my wife, of course."

No matter how mildly he'd said it, six voices rose in immediate protest. James almost laughed, it was so absurd. They knew him better than that, or ought to, yet even Anthony was suggesting he think about it first. He hadn't said another word, or made a move to do as he'd said, but they were still arguing their points when Dobson opened the front door again and Warren Anderson pushed past him.

Anthony was the first to see this mountain of male fury heading straight for his brother and, with a nudge to James's ribs, asked, "Friend of yours?"

James followed his gaze and swore, "Bloody hell, enemy is more like it."

"One of your brothers-in-law by any chance?" Anthony guessed as he wisely got out of the way.

James was given no opportunity to answer since Warren had reached him by that time and immediately took a swing at him. James blocked the first punch easily, but Warren ducked his return swing and came up with a solid blow to James's middle.

With the breath momentarily knocked out of him, he heard Warren sneer, "I learn from my mistakes, Malory."

One swift jab to daze him, and one hard right landed Warren on the floor at James's feet for James to reply, "Not well enough, apparently."

As Warren was shaking his head to clear it, Anthony asked James, "Is this the one that wanted to hang you?"

"One and the same."

Anthony offered Warren a hand up, but held on when Warren was standing and tried to get his hand back. And there was pure menace in his voice as he asked Warren, "How does it feel, having the tables turned, Yank?"

Warren merely glared at Anthony. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Look around you. It's not your family that surrounds you this time, but his. I'd bloody well keep my fists in my pockets were I you."

"Go to hell," Warren said as he snatched his hand back.

Anthony could well have taken exception to that, but instead he laughed and cast James a look that said clearly, Well, I tried. It's your turn again. But James didn't want another turn. He just wanted Warren Anderson out of there, out of England, out of his life. If the man weren't so belligerent, obnoxious, and plainly hostile, he might try explaining things rationally to him. But Warren Anderson was not a rational man. Besides, James simply didn't like the fellow, understandable since this was the chap who'd wanted to see his neck stretched by a rope.

Coldly, ominously, James warned him, "We can do this the hard way and I can beat you to a bloody pulp—and don't doubt it, dear boy, I won't need any help to do so—or you can just leave."

"I'm not leaving without my sister," Warren maintained staunchly.

"Now there you're wrong, Yank. You gave her to me, and I'm keeping her, and I'm especially keeping her away from you and your bloody propensity toward violence."

"You didn't want her!"

"Like hell I didn't!" James growled. "I wanted her enough to let you nearly hang me!"

"You don't make sense, man," Warren said, frowning now.

" 'Course he does," Anthony interjected at this point, laughing. "Perfect sense."

James ignored his brother to assure his brother-in-law, "Even if I didn't want her, Anderson, you still wouldn't get her back now.''

"Why the hell not?"

"Because she's having my baby, and I haven't forgotten that you're the man who thinks beating her will solve everything."

"But didn't Malory say he was going to—"

"Shut up , Percy!" came from three different directions.

Warren was too shaken up now to notice. ''My God, Malory, I wouldn't hurt her even if she weren't . . .

Hell, she's my sister!"

"She's my wife, which gives me all rights in the matter, one of which is my right to deny you access to her. You want to see her, you'll have to make your peace with me first."

Warren's response to that wasn't surprising, considering James looked anything but peaceable at the moment. "Like hell I will, and your rights be damned. If you think we'll leave her in the hands of a pirate, think again!"

They were impotent last words, but Warren knew he'd have no luck getting Georgina out of that house right then, since he had come alone, while Malory was surrounded by family and friends. It enraged him beyond measure that he'd have to leave without her, but for the moment he had no choice. He left furious, and the only reason the door didn't slam behind him as he stormed out was that Dobson had snatched it open before he reached it.

Anthony rocked back on his heels and gave a hoot of laughter. "Don't know whether to congratulate you about the baby, old man, or because you got rid of its uncle."

"I need a bloody drink," was James's only response, and he headed back into the parlor to find one.

Much as he would have liked it otherwise, the whole lot of them followed. By the time the rest of the congratulations had died down, James was on his way to being quite foxed.

"Little George wasn't too far off the mark when she described her brothers, was she?" Anthony remarked, still quite amused over the whole affair. "Are they all as big as that one?"

"Just about," James mumbled.

"He'll be back, you know," Anthony speculated. "And likely with reinforcements."

James disagreed. "The others happen to be a bit more levelheaded. Not by much, mind you, but a bit.

They'll go home now. What can they do, after all? She's my wife. They saw to it."

Anthony chuckled, not believing a word of it. "That ghastly word's coming easier to you, is it?"

"What word?"

"Wife."

"Go to the devil."

Chapter Forty-six

Georgina couldn't believe it. He'd locked her in. And no matter how much she'd pounded on the door all through the night, finally giving up in exhaustion, no one had come to let her out. And they were still ignoring her this morning. How could Warren do this to her? And after she'd defied her husband's dictates just to relieve his mind about her welfare.

She wished now that she'd never heard his voice last night, raised so loud as he shouted at her husband in the hall below. But she did, and of course it had drawn her out of her room with every intention of rushing right down to him.

But before she'd reached the stairs, she'd heard James refuse to let Warren see her, and she knew she'd only get him angrier at her than he already was if she just went down to join them. So she thought she'd been real clever in deciding to sneak out the back way once again so she could come around to wait for Warren to leave. And she didn't doubt that he'd be leaving. James's refusal had been more than adamant.

So she'd waited out front and surprised Warren when he stormed out of the house. She'd wanted to assure him she was all right. She'd wanted to tell him not to worry about her anymore. She hadn't expected him to thrust her into his carriage and drive off with her. Devil take it, why couldn't James have thought to lock her in instead, then she wouldn't be here, on Warren's ship, panicking because he had every intention of taking her home, not to James, but to Connecticut. And he wouldn't listen to the fact that she didn't want to go. He hadn't listened to anything she'd had to say. She was afraid, too, that he wasn't even going to tell the rest of her brothers that he had her!

In that she was wrong, as she found when the door opened and Thomas stepped into the cabin. "Thank God" were her first words, because it was her one brother who didn't let temper affect his judgments.

"My sentiments exactly, sweetheart," he said as he held out his arms to her and she quickly entered them. "We'd about given up hope of finding you."

"No, I didn't mean ..." She leaned back to demand, "Did you know Warren had locked me in?"

"He did mention it last night when he returned to the hotel and told us what had happened."

She pushed away from him. "You mean you left me here all night!"

"Calm down, sweetheart. There was no point in letting you out sooner, when you aren't going anywhere."

"The devil I'm not!" she said furiously on her way to the door. "I'm going home!"

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