Tender Rebel Page 12

Frances sighed and gave a little apologetic smile. "You're right, I was forgetting that. But you will be careful, Ros? A man like Malory, with his experience, could have you seduced before you even know it.

I suppose we can just be grateful that that brother of his, just as unprincipled, hasn't set his eye on you too."

Roslynn was to remember those words later, but when they returned downstairs and Justin Warton was quick to invite them to share the buffet with him, she was still simmering over her own naivete with Anthony Malory to give his brother a single thought. And then Justin took her mind off her near catastrophe and she enjoyed herself for a while. He was so charming, his lovely indigo eyes so admiring,

that she seriously found herself considering him as a likely candidate to add to her list, despite his young age. At least he was older than she, and he certainly made no attempt to conceal his interest in her, which was gratifying, especially aftershehad had to be so bold as to seek out her other candidates. And still had to, it seemed, since Sir Artemus had yet to approach her tonight, even though she knew he had seen her.

Unfortunately, Lady Warton broke up their threesome soon after they had eaten, complaining of a headache, and Justin was forced to see her home, though he extracted a promise from Roslynn that she would ride with him in the hunt planned for the next morning.

"Well, that was an easy conquest," Frances remarked after Justin had left with his mother.

"Do you think so?" Roslynn grinned. "He is rather nice, isn't he?"

"And so very upstanding. I've heard nothing but good things—"

"Frances, you needn't laud his sterling qualities. If you've noticed, Sir Anthony appears to have left. You can stop worrying."

Frances squeezed her hand. "Very well. I know you've got the sense to distinguish the good from the bad. And as long as Lord Warton has quit for the evening, shouldn't you be furthering your acquaintance with Sir Artemus while you have the opportunity?"

"Indeed." Roslynn sighed. "And I also need to find Lady Eden for the information she promised me. The sooner my list is narrowed down, the better."

But Regina Eden was having a lively conversation with several of her neighbors that Roslynn was loath to interrupt, and she found Sir Artemus embroiled in a game of whist, several such games having started up after dinner.

Roslynn moved near one of the open French doors to wait until she could catch Regina's attention, taking advantage of what little breeze wafted in off the vast parkiand. As uncomfortably warm as the drawing room had become, she would have loved to step outside but didn't dare, not after the last time she had thought to escape to a garden had precipitated her first meeting with Sir Anthony. And just because she hadn't seen him since she left him in the conservatory didn't mean he wasn't still on the premises somewhere.

She almost thought to go and drag Frances outside with her just so she could cool off a bit when she was startled by a movement behind her.

"Enjoying yourself, Lady Roslynn?"

She turned around warily, recognizing James Malory's voice and afraid that Anthony would be with him, as before. She relaxed, however, to see he was alone, his golden hair slightly ruffled, obviously having just come in from outside. But her respite lasted only a few seconds, for the way he was pointedly staring at her, waiting for her answer, reminded her that this was the brother she had decided could be dangerous in his dealings, and nothing about him tonight changed that opinion, though she was now inclined to feel that Anthony was the more dangerous, at least to her.

She nodded slightly. "Yes, your niece has made me feel right at home, though I must say I was surprised to learn that she was your niece. She would be the daughter of one of your older brothers, I suppose?"

"Our only sister, Melissa," he corrected. "But she died when Regan was just a baby still, so my brothers and I had the pleasure of raising her."

Roslynn had the distinct impression that four young men reallyhadfound it a pleasure to raise their only sister's child, which made this particular Malory seem less threatening in her mind until he suggested,

"Care for a stroll down to the lake?"

It was unexpected and instantly put her on guard. "No, thank you."

"Then just outside? You look like you could use a breath of fresh air."

"Actually, I'm rather chilled and was just thinking of fetching a shawl."

James chuckled at such a lame excuse. "My dear girl, that fine film of moisture on your brow says otherwise. Come along. You needn't be afraid of me, you know. I'm quite harmless in all respects."

When his hand gripped her elbow to escort her outside, Roslynn felt strangely as if this had happened before, earlier, that she was being rushed along the exact same course, leading to disaster. Only she had no chance to drag James to a halt as she had done with Anthony when he tried to escort her from the room. Just two steps and they were outside, and it was accomplished before she could even think to yank away, nor did he give her a chance to. Instead of walking on, he pulled her to the side of the door and pressed her back against the wall, and his mouth smothered her small cry of alarm.

It was done so swiftly, so cleverly, that Roslynn had had no opportunity to anticipate the trap or get out of it. Nor did she dare make any loud protests now, or she would draw the attention of the occupants inside, only several feet away on the other side of the wall, and she couldn't afford the gossip that that would entail. The most she could do was try to push him away from her, but it was as if she were squeezed in between two walls, his big, solid chest was so unmov-able. And then she no longer tried.

She could feel the blood pounding in her ears, because of the danger of discovery, she told herself, but actually, she found James Malory's kiss so reminiscent of his brother's that it could have been Anthony kissing her instead. Only it wasn't, and she held onto that thought for dear life.

"You and your brother must take lessons from each other," she hissed the moment he lifted his head.

James laughed despite his disappointment. "Do you think so, little Scot? Now why would you say that?"

She blushed furiously to have as much as admitted that Anthony had also kissed her. Defensively, she snapped, "Was that your idea of being harmless?"

"I lied," he said with a blatant lack of contrition.

"Indeed! Now let me pass, Lord Malory."

He moved back only enough to separate their bodies, not enough to allow her to slip by him. "Don't be angry, sweet. You can't blame a man for trying, though I now concede that Tony has bested me this time.

It's devilish unfair that you happened to meet him first."

"What the devil are you blathering about?" But she gasped, afraid she knew. "If you two have placed wagers on me—"

"Never think so, dear girl. It's no more than sibling rivalry, and the simple fact that we share the same

tastes, he and I." A finger came up to brush back the damp curls at her temple, and for a moment, Roslynn was mesmerized by intense green eyes. "You are incredibly lovely, you know… incredibly.

Which makes it bloody difficult to accept defeat." His voice lowered to a husky pitch suddenly. "I could have made your blood sing, sweet lass. Are you quite certain you prefer Tony?''

Roslynn shook herself mentally, fighting off the potent spell he was weaving with little effort, yet with such ruthless success. Good God, these Malorys were devastating at their craft of seduction.

Stiffly, praying he would take her words to heart, she insisted, "I never said I preferred your brother, but that doesn't mean I prefer you to him either. The fact is, Lord Malory, I don't want either of you. Now will you let me pass, or must I throw caution to the winds and call for help?"

He stepped back, bowing slightly, a thoroughly maddening grin turning up his sensual lips. "I can't let you do that, dear lady. Being found out here alone with me would quite ruin you."

"Which you should have consideredbeforeyou dragged me out here!" she retorted and promptly deserted him with all speed.

And as Anthony had done earlier, James watched her flounce away, only he didn't have Anthony's sense of eventual success to buoy his spirits. Quite the contrary. As much as he would have liked to win this particular lady, and no doubt could if he really set his mind to it, her reaction to his kiss was only a muted echo of her reaction to Anthony's. He hadn't left her in a state of bemusement, as his brother so obviously had. Her choice was clear, even if she was not yet aware she had made it. But if it were anyone else but Tony…

Damn, but she was a fine piece. His sense of humor returned, laced with irony. She had managed to stir him, and now he was sorely in need of a wench, which meant he would have to take himself off to the nearest village or else annoy Regan by seducing one of her neighbors. So there was nothing for it but to take himself off when he would rather not. Hell and fire, and a bloody pox on love at first sight!

Chapter Twelve

Roslynn rolled over, rubbed the sleep from her eyes, and squinted at the clock on the mantel. Damn.

She had really meant to join the hunt this morning. She had even promised Justin she would ride with him and had been looking forward to showing off a bit to impress him with her equestrian talents. But the hunting party would probably be returning soon, if it hadn't already. There had been mention of a picnic planned for midday down by the lake, and it was nearly noon. Double damn.

She sat up, but not before she scowled down at the bed that had offered her no peace last night. Nettie had tried to wake her. She remembered that. But she doubted anything short of fire could have prodded her out of bed early this morning, because it had been dawn before she finally succumbed to sleep. Just one more thing she could lay at Anthony Malory's feet, drat the wretched man.

And there was no excuse for it. She had retired not long after midnight. Having arisen well before dawn yesterday to make the trip to Silverley, and not having napped in the afternoon as Frances had, she had

really been exhausted last night. And she had had several hours to get over her chagrin at Anthony's brother for his outlandish conclusions concerning her preferences in men. She had even had her talk with Regina and now knew a good deal more about her "possibles" than she had before, though unfortunately, nothing had been revealed that would really assist her in whittling down her list as she had hoped.

Sir Artemus Shadwell was an avid gambler, but Roslynn had already concluded that observation for herself, and he was rich enough to afford this pastime. Lord Grahame, the distinguished Earl of Dunstanton, was a three-time widower. At least the poor fellow kept trying. Lord David Fleming, the viscount who was also heir to a dukedom, was a confirmed bachelor, his affairs so discreet his name had never been linked with any woman. Commendable. But the Honorable Christopher Savage was still an enigma to her. The Montieths simply weren't acquainted with the fellow.

But her gentlemen, much as they should have, hadn't occupied her thoughts last night as she lay tossing about in her bed. James Malory's effrontery had also been forgotten. It was that black-haired scoundrel with the smoldering blue eyes who had caused her hour after hour of insomnia in reliving those fateful minutes spent with him in the conservatory.

Well, there would be no more ofthat, by God, no more wasted thoughts on blackhearted rascals, and no more procrastinating. Shewouldget down to business, and hoped, no, prayed, that the rest of her respected and highly suitable gentlemen would show up today.

Impatient now to quit the room, she rang for Nettie but didn't wait to start her toilette, and was dressed in a lovely peach percale day dress with short, puffed sleeves and heavily flounced at the hem before Nettie even arrived. Rushing Nettie with her coiffure earned her a snort and a brief lecture on the missed opportunities of slugabeds, but even so, the tightly woven chignon and numerous short ringlets that framed her face turned out most becomingly.

But Roslynn spared not a moment to admire the finished package. Snatching up a white satin bonnet adorned with ostrich feathers that matched her shoes, and a lacy parasol, she sped from the room, leaving Nettie to clean up the mess she had made of her wardrobe before Nettie's tardy arrival. And then she was brought up short, for standing at the end of the narrow corridor that led to the guest rooms, leaning casually against the railing that overlooked the central hall, was Anthony Malory.

It was not to be borne, it really wasn't, for he was obviously waiting for her. Hips against the rail, arms crossed over his chest, ankles crossed as well, he had an unimpeded view of her bedroom door, and since he was waiting where he was, there was no way she could have avoided him.

He was casually dressed, almost too casually, minus a cravat and with several buttons open on his embroidered cambric shirt, revealing a darkly tanned V of chest, a few hairs hinting at a thicker patch just below. His coat was dark navy, the shoulders and upper arms filled out tightly. Long, muscular legs were sheathed in soft buckskin, with shiny Hessians molded to his calves. Everything about him proclaimed him an avid outdoorsman, athletic, a bloody Corinthian, which was so contrary to the reputation that would have him a debauched creature of the night, devoted to sensual pleasures and late hours of dissipation.

Well, whatever he was, he was dangerously appealing to her senses.

When it appeared that the lady wasn't going to budge another step that would bring her nearer to him, Anthony said, "It's as well you came out now, sweet-heart. I was just beginning to fantasize about slipping into your room and finding you still abed—"

"Sir Anthony!"

"Was the door unlocked?" he teased, but at her fulsome glare, finally chuckled. "You needn't bludgeon me with those pretty eyes, my dear. I don't mean a word of it. In fact, you can come ahead without the slightest qualm. Today I fully intend to offer my best behavior, to observe every propriety, and to bury all those wicked instincts that might cause you alarm."

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