No Choice But Seduction Page 17

The torrential rain had delayed her visit to the Millards. Instead she spent an enjoyable afternoon with the Malorys, who managed to relax her tense, nervous stomach with their amusing wit and easy banter. A fresh start in the morning would be better, and she hoped to sleep off the sense of dread that had revisited her. She was just so afraid that if the meeting with her mother’s family went badly, all her hopes would die right there, and she had such big hopes again that these people could fill in the gaping hole her mother’s death had left in her heart. If the meeting went well, on the other hand, she would be so pleased she might even delay her departure for France. But she had no idea how that meeting would go until it happened.

She certainly hadn’t planned on this private meeting with Boyd, not after she had more or less decided to let him wallow in the guilt of never getting to apologize to her. But there were two sides to that coin. Ignoring his apology would work just as well, she supposed. She wasn’t going to let the man off the hook. If he thought she would ever forgive him for what he’d done, he was wrong.

Now, in response to his question about whether he’d been transparent, she said, “Yes, you were—well, no actually. My maid brought to my attention that you were more interested in me than you should be. ‘Having carnal thoughts’ was how she put it. I might never have figured out for myself what all those intense looks were about, if—”

“You made your point.” His groan sounded nearly agonized.

The groan made Katey remember those days aboard his ship and how exciting it had been, knowing that he wanted her. He’d given her one of her fondest memories, her first experience of being desired by an exceptionally handsome man. And then he’d ruined it. He was now part of one of her worst memories instead. And that was worth crying over.

“Why don’t you just shoot me and get it over with?” he continued.

“I prefer hanging.”

She hadn’t meant to say that, it just slipped out. If she’d said it to Grace, she might have laughed, since it was now somewhat of a joke between them. But there was nothing amusing about it this time.

“Of course,” he agreed. “Not as messy. A woman would—”

“Do not make light of this!” She stood up as she said it, her expression as angry as she sounded. “I don’t even know why I’m talking to you. You behaved like a fool. I wasn’t articulate enough to sway you to reason. Nothing else needs to be said about it.”

“That doesn’t even scratch the surface!” he protested. “Please sit down.”

“I think not. If it hasn’t occurred to you yet, nothing you can say will make a difference. So why don’t you save us both this embarrassment?”

“The explanation I have isn’t appropriate for innocent ears.”

He tossed that out there like a broadside, and that’s how it was felt. He was going to talk about his desire again? Perhaps she ought to sit down after all. Her wobbly knees were insisting on it!

“I thought you would understand,” he went on. “But you’ve blown me out of the water with your confession that you aren’t married. Not that that doesn’t delight me more than you can imagine, but I was sure a married woman would understand what it’s like to want someone so much it clouds your mind and negates good judgment.”

“That’s your excuse, what you told me that day? That you couldn’t think straight with me near? ‘Within touching distance,’ wasn’t that how you put it? That you didn’t dare to take me at my word because of it? But wait, this gets better. Because you couldn’t control your carnal thoughts, it was preferable, in your mind, to drag me all the way to London and throw me to the wolves there, which is what you thought was going to happen. I lost my driver because of you. My maid is still upset. And to top it all—”

He cut in with a wince, “If it’s any consolation, as soon as I left you in that room, putting some distance between us that day, my gut instinct kicked in. I couldn’t believe that you would hurt a child.”

“Maybe because I wouldn’t! But, no, that doesn’t help one little bit, Boyd Anderson. What good are instincts if you ignore them?”

“Then you tell me, how could I trust my instincts at that point, when my very first instinct at finding you there, and thinking you were guilty, was to run off with you? I told you that. Did you think I was joking? My first thought was to save you from being arrested, to sneak you out of the country if need be.”

That might have been preferable, all things considered, but she didn’t say that aloud and asked instead, “Then why didn’t you?”

He ran a frustrated hand through his damp hair before he said, “Because I’m an honest man and the crime appalled me. I saw firsthand what Judith’s parents were going through, and you can’t put people through that kind of emotional hell and not pay an equal price for it. And I was afraid that whisking you away would solve nothing, that you’d just do the same thing again in some other country. But for it to have even occurred to me, to help you escape—I knew I wasn’t thinking rationally.”

She stiffened. “So we’ve come full circle to that? Your excuse that you can’t think clearly when you’re around me? You, sir, simply don’t think!”

“Damnit, Katey, you have no idea what it’s like to want someone as much as I want you!”

She drew in her breath sharply. “Nor do I want to know, thank you.”

She couldn’t believe she managed to say that, when it was taking every ounce of will she had to ignore what those words did to her. He still wanted her! Even her anger didn’t put him off.

“Well, you’re going to hear this,” he continued with a stubborn look. “You have been on my mind since the moment I met you. Even after our voyage together ended, I still couldn’t get you out of my thoughts. I should have, but I couldn’t. You were even in my dreams. I didn’t expect to ever see you again. And then there you were in the flesh, and all I could think about was kissing you, putting my hands on—”

“Stop it!” Her cheeks bloomed with color as a wave of heat rushed over her. But she was staring at his mouth. He’d said he’d wanted to kiss her. She couldn’t seem to tear her eyes away. What the devil was happening to her?

“I’m sorry,” he continued. “I was really hoping you might understand at least a little, but I realize you can’t, since you’ve never experienced anything even remotely similar, have you?”

“You don’t really expect me to answer that, do you?” she replied indignantly.

He was beginning to look dejected. She looked away from him. She was appalled that inklings of remorse were sneaking up on her. Just because he looked miserable? He was supposed to look miserable!

“At the risk of making you blush again, I have to say one last—”

She jumped to her feet and quickly interrupted him, “If you mention wanting me again, I promise you, this conversation will end right now.”

He sighed. “I was merely going to say that because of my—well, what I was feeling, I was afraid I would have believed anything you said, true or false, because I wanted you to be innocent. And I was furious because I was sure you weren’t. So I knew damn well there was no way I could trust my own judgment. I had to let someone else sort it out.”

She recalled that he did suggest excuses she could use that day that would allow him to let her go, but they’d all been based on the premise that she was guilty and just provided some acceptable reason for her involvement in Judith’s abduction. That did support his assertion that he had really thought she was guilty while he was with her that day. Apparently, he didn’t start to have any doubts until he’d walked away from her.

Katey halted those thoughts abruptly. Was she now looking for an excuse to forgive him?

She moved around the table, but when he stood up, she turned around so she could back out the dining room door, afraid he was going to try to stop her. She even held up a hand to put him off, not that it would have done any good if he was intent on keeping her there. She might be tall, but Boyd Anderson was lean, hard brawn. There was no question who would win that little battle.

“I’ve listened to you,” she said, stopping in the doorway. “Now give me the same courtesy. You have in so many words blamed ‘feelings’ for your despicable treatment of me. I find that reason unacceptable. I understand you’re sorry—well, you haven’t actually said so, but—”

“Of course I am!”

“So am I,” she continued, giving him only a minor frown for interrupting. “However, being sorry after the fact is rarely helpful. This is one of those times. You had other options. But you chose the easiest path.”

“What other options?” His tone was sounding frustrated again.

“You could have sent someone after Jeremy. You could have kept me at the inn, in that comfortable room until they returned with the truth, instead of taking me out in a storm!”

“When I was this close to bedding you?”

There was no space at all between the thumb and finger he held up to her, causing heat to rush up her cheeks again. “You could have at least waited until my maid returned. She would have confirmed everything—”

“That’s just it, Katey. I couldn’t wait another moment. But I did let you go. That should count for something.”

She gasped. “The devil you did, I escaped from you! And I could have broken my neck doing so, you know. Climbing out of windows, scampering across rain-slick roofs—do I look like a child who would delight in such things?”

“I wasn’t gone that long, Katey. I could have caught up with you easily, but I decided not to.” He sounded rather proud of himself. “Judy was safe, so—I let you go.”

“Oh, I see. So instead of dragging me the rest of the way to London where you thought I’d be tossed in jail, you allowed me to escape so that I could run into Maisie Cameron and end up in jail anyway, after she raved like a lunatic and—”

“You better be lying,” he cut in.

“You’d like to think so, wouldn’t you?”

“Katey,” he said warningly.

She snorted at him. “You’re no longer in any position to threaten me, and you better keep that in mind. You’ll be getting no information out of me that I’m not willing to volunteer. But I wasn’t keeping it a secret. If you hadn’t dragged me out of Northampton, I would have been comfortably ensconced in my coach on my way to London, right behind Judith, and I never would have run into Maisie Cameron again. The authorities would have caught up to her soon enough, since she was more afraid of her husband at that point than she was of jail. I didn’t need to be the one to take her to the constable.”

“Then why did you?”

“Because there she was in front of me when I got back to Northampton, and because it was the right thing to do. But Maisie knew I’d thwarted her plans, and while she was happy to get behind bars to escape her husband’s wrath, she was also delighted to get even with me by accusing me of the whole plot—just as you did!”

“Good God,” Boyd said, looking quite sick to his stomach. “I had no idea, Katey.”

She scowled at him. “Isn’t this where you should be gloating? That is what you had planned for me, after all, right? To end up in jail. Well, I did end up there, and my maid, too, and even my driver, which, by the way, is why he quit on me.”

“The constable didn’t believe you either?”

“Oh, he did. But he wasn’t about to let me go without getting clearance from the Malorys first. Their name is well known even up north. It wasn’t until nearly noon the next day, when his man got back from London with the information he obtained from Judith, that we were finally released.”

“You can’t imagine how sorry I am, Katey.”

He said that with great feeling. She didn’t doubt he meant it. But it was still too late for apologies.

“No, I can’t,” she said. “Nor do I care to try. Do you really think a few words, no matter how sincere, are going to make me forget the anger and humiliation I felt at being branded a common criminal, all because I tried to help a little girl in need?”

“For God’s sake, you have to let me make this up to you somehow.” His expression brightened as an idea occurred to him. “You said you lost your driver? I’ll drive you anywhere you want to go for as long as you like!”

She rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. “I’ve already replaced the driver. You call that making amends, giving me something I already have?”

“Katey, give me a bone here!” he said in exasperation. “There must be something you want or need that I can help you with.”

“There’s only one thing you have that—”

She stopped abruptly. Bringing up his ship, which had popped into her mind at his mention of transportation, was out of the question. He might be contrite, but not enough to give up his ship, even if she offered to pay for it. Besides, the inconvenience of planning her tour according to shipping schedules was a mere annoyance. She didn’t really want her own ship.

But he was suddenly looking much too sensual. The intense heat in his eyes nearly paralyzed her. What the devil had she said?

She drew in her breath sharply. “Oh, good grief, you are so off the mark it boggles the mind. There was nothing—inappropriate—in what I was about to say. It was certainly not what you are thinking.”

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