Gentle Rogue Page 44

"The whole blasted harbor heard it," he grouched. "But it doesn't make the least bit of difference."

Her eyes rounded in disbelief. "You must be joking! It makes all the difference in the world, because I love him, too."

"You wanted Cameron, too. You don't know what you want."

"I'm not her , Warren." He looked away at the mention of the woman who had played him so false, the one who was responsible for the cold way he treated women now, but Georgina caught his face between her hands, forcing him to look into her eyes.

"I love you. I know you're trying to do right by me, but you have to trust me on this, Warren. Malcolm was a child's fancy. James is my life. He's all that I want, all that I'll ever want. Don't try and keep me from him any longer, please."

"Are we supposed to just stand back and let him keep you from us? That's what he means to do, you know. We'll never see you again if he has his way!"

She smiled now, knowing she'd swayed him, that he was merely objecting now to what she knew they all feared. "Warren, he loves me. You heard him. I'll see it set right, but let me do it. You only manage to bring out the worst in him."

With total ill grace: "Oh, for God's sake, go on then!"

She gave a glad cry and hugged him, but wasted not another second in swinging round . . . and slamming right into a brick wall.

"So you love me, do you?"

She didn't wonder how he'd gotten up there. A few loud groans from the lower deck told that story. She didn't care, either, that he'd obviously heard what she'd told her brother. She just took advantage of the fact that she was already pressed tightly to him, and slipped her arms around him to keep it that way.

"You're not going to yell at me in front of my brothers, are you?"

"I wouldn't dream of it, brat."

But he wasn't smiling, and he wasn't staying there. She gasped as he swung her up into his arms and turned to leave.

"It would go over much better if it didn't look like you were taking me away," she told him.

"I am taking you away, dear girl."

Well, all right. She hadn't really thought the rest was going to be easy.

"At least invite them to dinner."

"Like hell I will."

"James!"

There was a low growl deep in his chest, but he stopped and turned back. Only it was Drew he looked at, not Warren. "You're bloody well invited to dinner!"

"For God's sake," she said as he continued on his way. "That was the most graceless, ill—"

"Shut up, George. You haven't seen it set right yet."

She winced, wishing he hadn't heard that bit of confidence on her part. Yet she was confident. He'd already made the first concession, with ill grace, true, but it was a definite start.

"James?"

"Umm?"

"You're going to enjoy my efforts to make you give in."

One golden brow crooked as he glanced down at her. "I am, am I?"

She ran a finger slowly over his lower lip. "You are."

He stopped right there on the dock, a long way yet from his carriage, and started kissing her. Georgina wasn't sure how they got home.

Chapter Forty-eight

"James, shouldn't we go down? The carriages have been arriving for the last hour."

"That's my family showing up for this momentous occasion. With luck, yours won't find the house."

She twisted a lock of his golden hair about her finger and gently tugged. "You aren't still going to be difficult, are you?"

"I'm never difficult, love. You just haven't convinced me yet to forgive your brothers."

Her eyes flared, then flared some more when he rolled over on the bed, putting her beneath him again.

Her temper wanted to flare, too, but when James rested between her thighs, anger was the farthest thing from her mind.

Still, she reminded him, "You invited them here."

"I invited them, but it's Tony's house. He can bloody well kick them out."

"James!"

"So convince me."

The horrid man was grinning at her, and she couldn't help grinning back. "You're impossible. I never should have said that you'd enjoy this."

"But you did ... and I am."

She giggled as his lips trailed along her neck, then down to capture the peak of one already pebbled nipple. But then she gasped as her desire ignited fully, pulled from her with the suction of his mouth. Her hands moved down over his back, loving the feel of him, all of him, everywhere.

"James . . . James, tell me again."

"I love you, my darling girl."

"When?"

"When what?"

"When did you know?"

His mouth came back to hers for a long, deeply stirring kiss before he replied, "I've always known m'dear. Why do you think I married you?"

Carefully, hating to mention it at a moment like this, she reminded him, "You were forced to marry me."

One kiss, one grin, and he said, "I forced your family to force me, George. There is a difference."

"You did what? "

"Now, love—"

"James Malory—"

"Well, what the bloody hell else could I do?" he asked indignantly. ''I 'd sworn I'd never get leg-shackled. The whole bloody world knew it. So I couldn't forswear myself and actually ask you, now could I? But I remembered how that bounder my darling niece calls husband got himself wed, and I figured what's good enough for him would do me as well."

"I don't believe I'm hearing this. All deliberate? They beat you senseless! Had you counted on that?"

"The price one pays to get what he wants."

Hearing that, the heat went right out of her, the angry heat, that is. The other kind was coming back.

But she shook her head at him. "You amaze me. I always suspected you were a madman."

"Just a determined man, love. But I was bloody well amazed myself. I don't know how you did it, but you crawled into my heart and wouldn't get out. I'm learning to accept your presence there, however."

"Oh, you are, are you? It's not too crowded?"

"There's room for a few offspring to join you there." He grinned at her.

And that got him a kiss, until she recalled, "So why did you have to confess to being the Hawke? They were already determined that you would marry me."

"Are you forgetting they'd recognized me?"

"I could have convinced them they were mistaken if you'd kept your mouth shut," she huffed.

He shrugged. "It seemed only reasonable to get it out of the way, George, rather than let it cause unpleasantness later, after we'd settled into married bliss."

"Is that what you call this," she asked softly. "Married bliss?"

"Well, I'm bloody well feeling blissful at the moment." She gasped when he suddenly entered her. There was a deep chuckle before he added, "What about you?"

"You may . . . depend upon it."

* * *

When they entered the parlor a while later, it was to find Malorys squared off against Andersons, each on opposite sides of the room, and her poor brothers were most definitely outnumbered, for the entire Malory clan had shown up this time. And it wasn't hard to guess that James's family was united in their loyalty to him. There wouldn't be any overtures made until he let them know the feud was ended, and all he'd told Anthony earlier, when he'd carried her up to their room was to expect unpleasant company for dinner, which of course that rogue understood perfectly to mean her brothers were coming.

But her husband's frowning countenance as he stared at the five Anderson men didn't bode well for

getting this group together. Georgina was having none of that.

She used the same trick that had worked on Warren that morning to get him to listen to her and jabbed her elbow into her husband's ribs. "Love me, love my family," she warned him, sweetly, of course.

He smiled down at her as he tucked her arm more firmly under his so she couldn't do any more jabbing.

"Beg to differ, George. Love you, tolerate your family." But then he sighed. "Oh, bloody hell," and began making introductions.

"They're all eligible, you say?" Regina asked her shortly thereafter. "We'll have to do something about that."

Georgina grinned, deciding she wouldn't warn her brothers that there was a matchmaker in the room, but she did point out, "They're not going to be here that long, Regan."

"Bloody hell, would you listen to that?" Anthony remarked in passing to Jason. "She's picked up his bad habits."

"What bad habits?" Georgina demanded of James's brothers, ready to defend her husband.

But they hadn't stopped, and Regina, with a giggle, told her. "My name. They'll never agree on what to call me. But it's not nearly so bad anymore. They used to almost come to blows over it."

Georgina rolled her eyes and caught James's long-suffering expression across the room where Thomas and Boyd were speaking to him. She smiled. Not one derogatory word had he said to four of her brothers. Warren, however, he wasn't getting anywhere near.

Nor was Warren being very sociable with anyone. The others had surprised her though, particularly Clinton, by how well they were getting along with the hated English. And Mac would be stopping by later, she'd been told. She'd have to remember to introduce him to Nettie MacDonald. Regina wasn't the only one who could play matchmaker.

Still later, Anthony and James stood alone, each watching their respective wives as they spoke. "Shall we betroth them?"

James choked on the sip of brandy he'd just taken, since the subject they'd been discussing was their upcoming fatherhood. "They're not even born yet, you ass."

"So?"

"So they could end up the same gender."

A degree of visible disappointment accompanied a sigh from Anthony. "I suppose."

"Besides, they'd be first cousins."

"So?" again.

"That's not at all the thing these days."

"Well, how the bloody hell should I know?"

"I agree," Nicholas said, coming up behind them. "You don't know much." And to James, "Nice family you've acquired there."

"You would think so."

Nicholas smiled. "That chap Warren don't like you very much. He's been looking daggers at you all evening."

James said to Anthony, "Would you like the honors, or do I get the pleasure?"

Nicholas sobered, understanding perfectly that they were talking about trouncing him. "You wouldn't dare. You'd have both your brothers on your heads, not to mention my wife."

"I do believe, dear boy, it would be worth it," James told him, then smiled as Nicholas wisely took himself off again.

Anthony was chuckling. "The lad does like to press his luck, don't he?"

"I'm learning to tolerate him," James conceded, then, "Bloody hell, I'm learning to tolerate a lot."

Anthony laughed at that, following James's glance to Warren Anderson. "Old Nick was right. That chap really don't like you a'tall."

"The feeling is entirely mutual, I do assure you."

"Think you'll have trouble with him?"

"Not at all. We'll have a whole bloody ocean between us very shortly, thank God."

"The fellow was just protecting his sister, old boy," Anthony pointed out. "Same as you or I would have done for Melissa."

"Are you trying to deny me the pleasure of hating him, when he's so very hatable?"

"Wouldn't dream of it," Anthony said, then waited until James took another sip of his drink before adding, "By the by, James, did I ever tell you I love you?"

Brandy spewed across the carpet. "God, a few drinks and you get maudlin!"

"Well, did I?"

"Don't believe so."

"Then consider it said."

After a long pause, he grumbled, "Then consider it returned."

Anthony grinned. "Love the elders, too, but I don't dare tell 'em ... the shock, you know."

James quirked a brow. "But it's all right for me to keel over?"

" 'Course it is, old man."

"What is?" Georgina asked, joining them.

"Nothing, love. My dear brother is just being a pain in the arse ... as usual."

"No more than mine is, I imagine."

James stiffened upon hearing that. "Has he said anything to you?"

"Of course not," she assured him. "It's that he's not saying anything to anyone . " And then she sighed. "It might help, James, if you made the first—"

"Bite your tongue, George," he said in mock horror, which wasn't all that feigned. "I'm in the same room with him. That's more than enough."

"James—" she started cajolingly.

"George," he said warningly.

"Please."

Anthony started laughing. He knew a doomed man when he saw one. His amusement earned him one of James's darker looks, even as James was allowing his wife to drag him across the room to her most obnoxious brother.

It still took another jab in the ribs to get him to open his mouth, and then it was only a curt "Anderson."

"Malory" came back at him just as curtly.

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