Tender Rebel Page 18

If nothing else, he succeeded in sparking her anger again with that observation. "I'd no' take a mon who'd be loath to touch me. If I have to marry, I'm wanting children out of it."

"That can be arranged, my dear, most willingly on my part," he replied softly.

But she was no longer listening to him. "I suppose I could return home and marry a crofter. What difference who I marry now? The thing is to get it done."

He saw his every effort tumbling down the wayside. "Bloody hell! You can't—"

She was still lost in the world of her few remaining options. "It's what I should've done from the start. At least I'll know what I'm getting."

He caught her shoulders, forcing her to hear him. "Confound you, woman, I'm not about to let you throw yourself away on some dirt farmer!" And before Anthony even realized what he was going to say, the words tumbled out. "You'll marry me!"

Chapter Eighteen

WhenRoslynn's laugher died down to a trickle of chuckles, she realized belatedly that her amusement could be nothing short of a gross insult to Anthony. While she had been blinded by tears of humor, he had moved away from her. She located him now, sitting on the bed, casually leaning back on one elbow.

He didn'tlookinsulted. He looked rather bemused, actually. Well, at least her faux pas hadn't aroused his anger, which she wouldn't have blamed him for in the least. But it was so ridiculous. Marry him, indeed.

London's most notorious rake? He couldn't possibly have meant it anyway.

But she felt better for having had a good laugh, considering what she was yet facing. With a lingering smile, she took a few steps closer to him, bending her head at an angle to try to gain his attention.

"That's a rare talent you have, Anthony, for lifting the spirits, but then no one could ever accuse you of lacking charm. But it's plain to see you're out of your element when it comes to proposing marriage. I believe the words should come in the form of a request, not a demand. You really must remember that the next time your sense of humor leans toward the absurd."

He said nothing at first, but his eyes rose to meet hers. She grew suddenly uncomfortable under his level stare.

"Quite right, my dear. I'm afraid I lost my head.But then I rarely do things in a conventional manner."

"Well…" She drew her ermine-trimmed pelisse closer together. It was a nervous gesture on her part.

"I've taken up enough of your time."

He sat up straight, hands pressed to knees. "You're not leaving yet, not without giving me your answer."

"Answer to what?"

"Will you marry me?"

Put to her conventionally, the question sounded no less absurd. "But you were joking!" she said incredulously.

"Afraid not, sweetheart. Though it's as much a surprise to me as it is to you, I'm quite serious."

Roslynn's lips compressed tightly.Thiswas not funny at all. "It's out of the question. I wouldn't marry you any more than I would Geordie."

Her previous laughter was understandable. And her reaction to his demand that she marry him was mild compared with his own surprise. But although the words had come of their own volition, once said, Anthony realized the idea of marriage, always so appalling before, suddenly had merit.

Not that he couldn't be talked out of it if she weren't standing there looking so fetching. He had gone thirty-five years without needing a wife and he certainly didn't need one now. So what the bloody hell was he doing insisting he was serious when she had given him an out by doubting him?

The trouble was, he didn't like being backed into a corner, and her threat to marry merely anybody did just that. And he liked even less the idea of her walking out of his life, which she was also threatening to do. For that matter, her leaving this room was the last thing he wanted. She was here. He was bloody well going to take advantage of it.

Her flat refusal to accept him, however, was the seed that tipped the scale. Shewouldhave him, by God, if he had to compromise her to get her agreement.

"Correct me if I'm wrong, my dear, but you haven't another offer forthcoming, have you? And I recall your saying that it made no difference who you marry as long as you get it done."

She frowned at him. "That's true, but you happen to be the one exception."

"Why?"

"Let's just say you'd make a terrible husband."

"I always thought so," he surprised her by agreeing. "Why else would I have avoided matrimony so long?"

"Well, then, you've mademypoint, haven't you?"

He grinned now. "Just conceding the possibility, sweetheart. But let's also look at the other side of the coin. I could as likely take to marriage right handily. Montieth did, and I'd have been the first to say he was doomed to failure."

"Hehappens to love his wife," she pointed out with annoying emphasis.

"Good God, you're not waiting to hear me say I love you, are you? It's rather soon—"

"Certainly not!" Roslynn cut in stiffly, cheeks flaming.

"But we both know I want you, don't we? And we both know you—"

"Sir Anthony, please!" If it was possible for her face to get any hotter, it did. "There's nothing you could say to me to make me change my mind. You just willna do for me. I swore I'd never marry myself a rake, and you've admitted to me that's what you are. And you canna change what you are, mon."

"I suppose I have Lady Grenfell to thank for your inflexibility?"

Taken aback, she didn't even wonder how he came to that conclusion. "Aye, Frances knows firsthand what happens when you lose your heart to a rake. Hers took to his heels when she needed marrying, forcing her to take what she could, which was an old man she loathed."

The exotic slant to his eyes was much more prominent when he scowled. "I think it's time you heard the full story, Roslynn. Old George simply panicked when faced so unexpectedly with fatherhood. He went off on a two-week spree to resign himself to the loss of his bachelorhood, and by the time he came to his senses, Frances was already married to Grenfell. She never once allowed him to see his son. She refused to see him when Grenfell died. If your friend has been miserable over the whole affair, so has mine been.

The truth of the matter is, George would marry her now if she'd have him."

Roslynn moved over to the lounge chair and sat down, dazedly staring at the cold hearth. Why did he have to know George Amherst? Why had he told her that? Frances would probably marry Amherst in a minute if she could bring herself to forgive him for what had doubtless been a most natural reaction on his part, considering what a rakehell he had been at the time. And what about Roslynn herself?

Hell's teeth, there would be nothing she would like better than to marry Anthony Malory…if heloved her,if hewould be faithful,if shecould trust him. None of that was true, however. Nicholas Eden might love Regina, her grandfather might have loved her grandmother, George Amherst possibly had loved Frances and still did, but Anthony had admitted he didn't love her. And unfortunately, it would be too easy for her to love him. If that weren't the case, she would accept his offer. But she wasn't fool enough to leave herself open to the kind of hurt Anthony could and would bring her.

She glanced around to face him, only to see the bed empty now. Startled, she felt her bonnet being tugged on and shot forward to the edge of the chair. She turned to find Anthony casually leaning against the chair, his arms braced on the back.

It took a second for Roslynn to adjust to his nearness and, clearing her throat, she managed to get out,

"I'm sorry, but what you've said about Frances and George doesn't change my mind about you."

"Somehow I didn't think it would," he said, shaking his head, and the slow smile'appearing added to Roslynn's unease. "You're a stubborn Scot, Lady Chadwick, but that's one of the things I find endearing about you. I give you what you desperately need, and you spite yourself by refusing, and for some ridiculous reason that is pure supposition. I could turn out to be the most exemplary of husbands, you know, but you won't give me the chance to find out one way or the other.''

"I told you, I'm not a gambler, Anthony. I'd rather not risk the rest of my life on a 'maybe' when the odds are so stacked against it."

He bent forward to rest his chin on his crossed arms. "You do realize that if I keep you here overnight, you will be quite compromised. I wouldn't even have to touch you, my dear. Circumstances speak for themselves. It's what got Reggie married, when her first meeting with Montieth had been quite innocent."

"You wouldn't!"

"I believe I would."

Roslynn shot to her feet, glaring at him with the chair safely between them. "That's—that's… it'd no'

work anyway! I'm going home to Scotland. What do I care if my reputation's ruined here? I'd still have my—" She couldn't get the intimate word out, so skirted the thought. "My husband would know the difference, and that's all I care about."

"Is it?" he asked, a devilish gleam appearing in his cobalt eyes. "Then you don't leave me much choice, sweetheart, if I'm to help you despite yourself. So it's to be compromised in truth rather than by pretense?"

"Anthony!"

Her wail brought a grin to his lips. "I rather doubt I could have settled for the pretense anyway. It was good of me to consider it, but I'm too much the rake, as you keep pointing out, not to take advantage of your presence in my bedroom."

She began backing toward the door, more quickly when he came around the chair to follow her. "I'll—

I'll settle for the pretense."

He shook his head at her. "My dear girl, if everyone is going to assume you've shared my bed, why deny yourself the pleasure?''

Roslynn had to fight down the thrill of anticipation those words gave her, even though she was sure he was just toying with her. And his teasing manner kept her from being truly alarmed, yet the closer he got, the more she became alarmed in another way.

She knew what could happen if he kissed her. It had happened before. Whether he was serious or not about this supposed seduction, if he touched her it was likely to happen, regardless, and with very little effort on his part.

"I don't want—"

"I know," he said softly as he caught her shoulders and pulled her up against his chest. "But you will, sweetheart. I can promise you that."

He was right, of course. He knew what she wanted, deep down, what she couldn't admit to him or herself. She could fight against it till the sun ceased to shine, but it wouldn't go away. He was the most exciting, compelling man she had ever known, and she had wanted him from the moment she met him.

Such intensity of feelings had nothing to do with logic and reasoning. It was the yearning of heart and body, common sense be damned.

Roslynn let go, giving herself up to the senses as he gently enclosed her in his embrace. It felt like coming home, so often had she imagined being held by him again. The warmth of his body, the strength of his arms, the headiness of his passion, she remembered, yet it was all new again, wonderful, and so very welcome.

But his kiss, when it came, was actually so hesitant she barely felt it. And she realized he was giving her this last chance to stop him before he took complete control. He knew very well that he was experienced enough, skillful enough, to overcome any reluctance she might still harbor. He had done it before. That he was holding back warmed her heart more than anything, making her want him even more.

Roslynn said yes simply by slipping her arms around his neck. She was crushed then by the might of his relief, until he recalled himself. But she didn't mind. Breathing was incidental in light of the magic Anthony was now wielding with his mouth. His lips were warm, dry, moving carefully across her own, slowly fanning the heat between them.

He held her like that for a long while, kissing her, letting her feast on the delicious sensations he was evoking. When he leaned back, it was to begin working the buttons on her dress. Her bonnet and cloak had already been discarded without her even realizing he had removed them. Now she watched him begin to slowly undress her, and she couldn't move, didn't want to anyway. His eyes were mesmerizing her, grown dark and heavy-lidded, seeing into her soul. She couldn't look away, even when she felt her dress slithering over her h*ps to puddle at her feet, or her undergarments following the same path.

He didn't touch her then, except with his eyes as they took a slow journey down her length and back up again. On his lips appeared that sensual smile that had the power to liquefy her limbs, dangerous when her senses were already melted. She swayed, and his hands came out to steady her, grasping her hips, but they didn't stay there. With exquisite slowness, he savored the feel of her bare skin, around her hips, over her narrow waist, stopping finally at her breasts, his thumbs hooked beneath. He didn't touch her in any other way, yet her ni**les tightened, her heartbeat accelerated, and a new warmth uncoiled inside her.

And his smile widened. It was positively triumphant, as if he could see inside her and knew exactly what she was feeling. He was a man victorious, rejoicing. And she didn't care. She was smiling herself, but inwardly, because if he had won, so had she, defeating her own common sense to have what she had wanted all along, to make love with this man, to have him initiate her and be her first lover, because with him she knew it would be beautiful.

But as long as she was going to give in to her desires, she wanted to take an active part. She had thought before of undressing him, wondering what he would look like. Her imagination had produced an Adonis.

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