Tender Rebel Page 17

The trouble was, her eyes lit next on a bed, and it struck her with the force of a blow where he had received her. Hisbedroom. Hell's teeth!

"Did you know it was me—no, you couldna," she answered herself, her eyes flying back to his. "Do you receive all your callers up here?"

Anthony chuckled at this. "Only when I'm in a hurry, my dear."

She frowned, not at all amused, but made a concerted effort to pull herself together. To do that, she had to look away from him again.

"I won't keep you long, Sir Anthony. I haven't the time to waste myself. Something happened—well, that needn't concern you. Suffice it to say, I've run out of time. I need a name from you, and I need it now."

His humor fled. He was afraid he knew exactly what she was talking about, and that certainty produced a tightening in his belly that was most uncomfortable. His being her confidant had been no more than an excuse to get close to her. Not bloody likely would he defeat his own purpose by helping to get her married. He had meant to delay that eventuality indefinitely and seduce her before it ever became a fact.

Now here she was demanding a name from him, which he should have if he had actually done what he had told her he would do, which he hadn't. Obviously, her need for a confidant was at an end. If he didn't give her a name, she would make her own choice, good or bad. He had no doubt a-tall.

"What the bloody hell happened?"

She blinked at his harsh tone, coming so unexpectedly. "I told you, that doesn't concern you."

"Then humor me, and while you're at it, you can tell me why you're going about this marriage business in an either-or fashion, and why the rush."

"It's none of your business," she insisted.

"If you want a name, my dear, you'd best make it my business."

"That's—that's— "

"Not very sporting of me, I know."

"Beast!"

His humor returned in the face of her rage. God, she was beautiful when her eyes flashed like that. The golden flecks seemed to blaze, to match the fire of her hair. It dawned on him suddenly that she was really in his house, in his bedroom, where he had imagined her countless times but had been unable to figure a way to get her there himself.

The grin that curled his lips infuriated her even more.You've come to my lair, sweetheart, he couldn't help thinking. I have you now.

To her, he suggested, "A drink?"

"You'd drive a saint to it," she retorted, but nodded just the same and took a hefty swallow of the brandy he handed her a moment later.

"Well?" he prompted when she did no more than continue to glower resentfully at him.

"It has to do with my grandfather, and his making me promise I'd marry as soon as he passed away."

"I know that," Anthony said calmly. "Now tell me why he wanted such a promise."

"Very well!" she snapped. "I have a distant cousin who means to marry me at any cost."

"So?"

"I didn't say he wants to, but means to, whether want to or not. Do you ken now? If Geordie Cameron gets his hands on me, he'll force me to it."

"I take it you'd rather not have him?"

"Dinna be daft, mon," she said impatiently, beginning to pace a circle around him. "Would I be willing to wed a near stranger for any other reason?"

"No, I don't suppose so."

Roslynn gasped, catching his smile. "You think it's amusing?"

"What I think, sweetheart, is that you've made too much of it. All you need is to have someone persuade this cousin of yours that he'd be healthier if he looked somewhere else for a wife."

"You?"

He shrugged. "Why not? I wouldn't mind doing you such a service."

She nearly hit him. She finished off her brandy instead, grateful for its calming effect.

"Let me tell you something, Anthony Malory. This is my life you're suggesting you gamble with, not yours. You don't know Geordie. You don't know how obsessed he is with getting his hands on my grandfather's fortune through me. He'll do anything to get it, and once he does, what's to stop him from arranging a convenient accident for me, or locking me up somewhere and claiming I've gone daft or something? A little warning from you wouldn't scare him off, even if you could manage to find him to do so. Nothing will. The only way I can protect myself is to marry someone else."

Anthony had taken her glass, refilled it, and handed it back while she laid into him with these facts. She didn't even seem to notice.

"Very well, now I know why you think you must marry quickly. So tell me, what's made it immediate?

What brought you to risk your reputation by coming here tonight?"

She flinched at the unnecessary reminder ofthatdanger, which had seemed the lesser evil at the time.

"Geordie's found me. Last night he managed to have me drugged and taken right out of Frances' house."

"The hell you say!"

She went on as if she hadn't heard his outburst. "I woke up today locked in a strange room down by the waterfront, just waiting for the deceitful parson Geordie had found to arrive. If I hadn't jumped out the window—"

"Good God, woman, you can't be serious!"

She stopped her pacing for a moment to fix him with a look that was frankly contemptuous. "I've no doubt still got some straw in my hair from the hay wagon I landed in. It took me so long to find my way home that there was no time to brush it all out. I would show you, but Nettie's not here to redo my hair if I take it down, and I doubt your Dobson could manage it. And I willnotleave your house looking as

if—as if—"

Anthony threw back his head in laughter when she failed to complete the provocative thought. Roslynn gave him her back and headed straight for the door. He got there at the same moment, his hand sliding past her shoulder to press firmly against the only exit.

"Was it something I said?" he asked in all innocence next to her ear.

Roslynn didn't hesitate to give him the full impact of her elbow, which landed unerringly at such close range. Satisfied with his grunt of discomfort, she slipped around him, putting a more breathable distance between them.

"I believe you've had enough amusement at my expense, Sir Anthony. I only intended to be here a few minutes, and I've wasted all this time on unnecessary explanations. I have a driver waiting and a long trip ahead of me. You said you were in a hurry as well. The name, if you please."

He leaned back against the door, that "long trip" sending off tremors of panic through his body. "You're not leaving London?"

"Of course I am. You don't think I can stay here now that Geordie's found me, do you?"

"Then how do you intend to entice one of your admirers into a marriage proposal if you're not here to help the courtship along?"

"Hell's teeth! As if I have time for a courtship now," she said, exasperated by his never-ending questions.

"I'll be doing my own proposing, if you'll—just—give—me—a—name!''

Her furious emphasis on each word warned him to change tactics, and yet he was at a momentary loss.

He wouldn't give her a name even if he had one to recommend, but if he told her that, she'd be out of the room in a flash and gone who-knew-where. He wondered if he dared ask her destination. No, she was fed up with his deliberate evasions.

He walked toward her, indicating the thick lounge chair in front of the fireplace. "Sit down, Roslynn."

"Anthony…" she began warningly.

"It's not that simple."

Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. "You've had ample time to sift fact from rumor, as you promised to do."

"I asked for a week, if you'll recall."

Her eyes flared in alarm. "Then you haven't—"

"On the contrary," he cut in quickly. "But you're not going to like what I've found out."

She groaned, ignoring the offered chair, and began pacing again. "Tell me."

Anthony's mind raced ahead, scavenging frantically for possible dirt he could pile on her contenders. He began with the only piece that was actually true, hoping inspiration would follow for the rest.

"That duel I told you David Fleming refused to participate in. It not only branded the poor fellow a coward but also—well, actually—"

"Out with it! I suppose it involved some woman? That's hardly surprising."

"The argument wasn't over a woman, my dear, but another man, only it was still a lover's quarrel." He took advantage of her moment of shock to refill her brandy glass once more.

"You mean—"

"I'm afraid so."

"But he seemed so—so, och, never mind.Hecertainly won't do."

"You'll have to scratch Dunstanton too," Anthony said. Since she was leaving London, she couldn't confirm his next words: "He's just announced his betrothal."

"I don't believe it!" she gasped. "Why, just last weekend he asked me to the theater. Of course, he canceled but…oh, very well. I wanted the list narrowed down, and so it is. What about Savage?"

Anthony was inspired by the name. "He won't do at all, my dear. Somewhere along his misspent youth he must have taken his name to heart. The man's a sadist."

"Oh, come now—"

"It's true. He enjoys hurting anything weaker than he is—animals, women. His servants are terrified…"

"All right! You needn't go into detail. That still leaves Lord Warton, whom even your niece recommended to me, and Sir Artemus."

It was Anthony's turn to pace, for he drew a blank where Warton was concerned. Shadwell's love of gambling could be played up, but there was absolutely nothing to discredit Warton with. In fact, the chap would no doubt make an ideal husband for Roslynn. Fortunately for Anthony, that knowledge so annoyed him, he managed to dredge up the perfect muck to swill on the fellow.

He turned toward Roslynn, imitating a suitably reluctant look. "You might as well forget Warton too. His interest in you was only to throw his mother off the scent."

"What the devil does that mean?"

"He's in love with his sister."

"What?"

"Oh, it's a well-enough-kept secret," Anthony assured her. "Reggie certainly doesn't know, for it's not something Montieth would want to disillusion her with. After all, she's quite friendly with all three Wartons. And he wouldn't have told me if I hadn't mentioned to him your sudden interest in the fellow.

But he came upon them in the woods once, quite an embarrassing moment, I would imagine—"

"Enough!" Roslynn finished off her third brandy and handed him the glass. "You've done exactly as I

asked, and I thank you. Sir Artemus was the first to appear on my list, so it seems fitting that he should end up being my choice."

"He's destitute, my dear."

"No problem." She smiled. "I have enough money to plump up his purse again."

"I don't think you understand, Roslynn. In the last few years his gambling has become a disease. He's gone from being one of the most wealthy men in England to having nothing. He's had to sell off every estate he owned except the one in Kent, and that's heavily mortgaged."

"How can you know that?"

"My brother Edward has handled the sales."

She was frowning, but insisted stubbornly, "It doesn't matter. In fact, it assures me that he can't possibly refuse the proposal I'll put to him."

"Oh, he'd jump on it, all right. And within a year you'd be just as destitute as he is."

"You're forgetting I will have control of my fortune, Anthony."

"True, but you're overlooking the simple fact that a man can and does gamble on credit, which is utterly impossible to monitor. And his creditors won't hesitate to come to you as his legal wife for payment, nor even to take you to court. And the courts, my dear, will hardly favor your contract when it can be proved you married Shadwell with full knowledge of his penchant for excessive gambling. You would be forced to honor his debts whether you want to or not."

Roslynn paled, eyes wide and incredulous. With so little knowledge of the law herself, she had no reason to doubt Anthony's predictions. She was forced to believe him. And to think she had once assumed a down-and-out gambler would be a perfect choice for her, never dreaming he could actually be the one man to lead her into penury. She might as well give her inheritance to Geordie as settle for a gambler.

"They were all so suitable," she said absently, miserably, before she turned large hazel eyes on Anthony.

"Do you ken you've left me no one?"

Her woebegone expression struck right to his heart. He was responsible, with his half-truths and fabrications. He had interfered with her life with the most selfish of motives. Yet he couldn't bring himself to push her toward another man. He just couldn't do that. And it wasn't only that he wanted her himself.

The thought of another man touching her had the strangest, gut-wrenching effect on him.

No, he couldn't regret that he had left her with no one, for his relief was too great on that score. But he couldn't bear her misery either.

In an effort to cheer her, he offered lightly, "Fleming would have you, you know, if only for appearance'

sake." If he thoughtshewould havehim, however, he'd simply have to kill the fellow. "For your purposes, he'd be ideal, and then I could be assured of having you all to myself.''

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