Tender Rebel Page 20

"My clothes, Anthony?"

"Dobson is bringing them. And the portmanteau you left in your carriage is in my dressing room, if you need anything from it."

Roslynn's brows shot up. "You retrieved it? Thank heavens!"

"Good Lord, don't tell me you were careless enough to leave something of value in a hired hack?"

She resented his censure. "I was upset when I came here," she said tartly in her defense. "And more upset after I got here, if you'll recall."

"Quite so," he conceded. "But you had better check to see that nothing is missing."

"It was only the marriage contract I was worried about. It would take too long to have another drawn up."

"Ah." Anthony smiled, humor dancing in his cobalt eyes. "The infamous contract. You may as well leave it with me so I can get the reading of it out of the way."

"And have you conveniently lose it? Not likely."

"My dear girl, you really must try trusting me just a little. It really would make for a more agreeable relationship, don't you think?" When she stubbornly refused to answer, he sighed. "Very well, have it your way." But to give her a taste of her own distrust, he added, "Youwillbe at Silverley when I show up, won't you?"

Roslynn had the grace to blush. "Yes. You were kind enough to make the offer. I owe you an answer.

But I'll have no arguing over it. You must accept my decision, whatever it is."

With a grin that lacked concurrence, Anthony left the room. The fact was, he trusted her at this point no more than she did him. He would have to have someone follow her to make sure she didn't take off straight for Scotland. He needed someone to keep Warton away from Silverley while she was there too.

Couldn't have them meeting again after he had blackened the fellow with such a walloping lie.

As for her coming up with the right answer, that didn't worry him. Her cousin wasn't the only one who could see them married one way or another.

Chapter Twenty

"I don't believe it! Tony asked you to marry him?Myuncle Tony?"

"I know what you mean," Roslynn said, considering Regina's wide-eyed wonder rather amusing. "I find it difficult to believe myself."

"But it's so sudden… well, of course he knows your circumstances. It would have to be sudden, wouldn't it, if he was going to get you? Oh, this is famous! Uncle Jason is going to just die! The whole family is. We never thought he'd do it, you know. Oh, it's just wonderful!''

Whether it was wonderful or not was debatable, but Roslynn smiled, not wanting to put a damper on Regina's obvious delight. She had made her decision on the long ride to Silverley, which was fortunate, because she hadn't had a moment's respite since she arrived. First Nettie had laid into her, deservedly, blistering her ears with a thorough scolding for her thoughtlessness. Then Regina had had to hear all about the abduction and the harrowing escape from Geordie firsthand, which Nettie had mentioned as their reason for the unexpected visit.

Now Roslynn had had to admit that Anthony would be here soon for her answer. That Regina hadn't thought to ask what that answer would be was telling. Of course she would be prejudiced. She wouldn't be able to understand how a woman might have doubts about marrying someone of Anthony's good looks and wicked charm, even if he did have a rakehell past.

"Everyone will have to be notified," Regina continued enthusiastically. "I'll do that, if you like. And I'm sure you'll want the wedding just as soon as the banns—"

"No banns, puss." Anthony sauntered into the drawing room without warning. "You can let the family know that congratulations are in order, but I've already sent for the parson, inviting him to dinner, and afterward we'll have a little ceremony. Is that quick enough to suit you, Roslynn?"

Forcing her to reveal her decision in this casual way, the moment he walked in, was not how Roslynn had imagined it. But he was looking directly at her, waiting for her confirmation or denial, and if she didn't know better, she would have sworn he seemed different. Nervous, perhaps? Could her answer really be that important to him?

"Yes, those arrangements will do… but we have some things to discuss first."

Anthony let out his breath slowly, a wide grin curling his lips. "By all means. Will you excuse us, puss?"

Regina jumped up and threw her arms around his neck. "Excuse you? I could clobber you! You never even let on."

"And spoil the surprise?"

"Oh, itiswonderful, Tony," she agreed happily. "And I can't wait to tell Nicholas, so I'll just run along."

She laughed here. "Before you throw me out."

Anthony smiled fondly after her, delaying the moment he must face the music. He supposed he shouldn't have put Roslynn on the spot like that. And her "things to discuss" had sounded too serious by far.

"I hope you're not always going to be so highhanded?"

Roslynn's voice could have cut through lead. Anthony spun about, offering a crooked grin.

"Never think so. I can be putty in the hands of the right woman."

She wasn't amused. If anything, her expression turned more frigid. "Sit down, Anthony. There are some things you'll have to agree to before I'll marry you."

"Is this going to hurt?" When her eyes began to narrow, he sighed. "Very well, give me the worst of it."

"I want a child."

"Only one?"

Hell's teeth, she wanted to throw something at him! Could he ever treat anything seriously?

"Actually, I would like at least three, but one will do for now," she bit out.

"Well, this is cause for sitting down, isn't it?" he said and joined her on the sofa. "Have you a preference for gender too? I mean, if it's girls you want but we only have boys, I'm willing to keep on trying if you are."

His tone might be jesting, but she had the feeling he actually meant it. "You don't mind having children?"

"My dear girl, whatever made you think I would mind? After all, the mode of getting them has always been a favorite practice of mine."

The blush spread clear to her roots. She glanced down at her hands, held tightly in her lap. She could feel his eyes smiling at her, amused by her embarrassment. Well, he hadn't heard all of it yet.

Still avoiding his eyes, she said, "I'm glad you're being so reasonable about it, but I have another condition you must agree to that is rather unorthodox, though related in a way. Your mistress, or mistresses, as the case may be—"

His hand on her chin stopped her, turning her face to his. "This isn't necessary, you know," he said gently. "A gentleman always gives up his mistresses when he marries."

"Not always."

"Be that as it may, in my case—"

"You should have let me finish, Anthony." Her voice was sharp again, her little chin at a stubborn tilt. "I'm not asking you to give up anything. On the contrary. I insist you keep your mistresses."

He sat back, snaking his head. "I've heard of accommodating wives, but don't you think you're overdoing it a touch?''

"I'm serious."

"The devil you are.'' He scowled, infuriated not only that she really seemed to be serious, but also with the suggestion itself. "If you think for one bloody minute I'll agree to a marriage in name only—"

"No, no, you misunderstand." She was frankly surprised at this show of anger on his part. She had thought he would be delighted with this arrangement. "How can I get a child if our marriage is in name only?"

"How indeed!" he snapped.

"Anthony." She sighed, realizing he must be exhibiting wounded pride. He obviously expected a jealous wife, and that he wasn't getting one was deflating. "I intend to be a wife to you in every way. It's the least I can do, after you've come to my rescue, so to speak. If you'll just listen to me for a moment."

"My breath is bated."

She sighed again. Why was he fighting her on this of all things? It had seemed the ideal solution. In fact, she couldn't marry him otherwise.

She tried again. "I don't see what you're so up in the air about. You don't love me. You said as much.

And my feelings aren't involved yet either. But I do like you, and we are—at least I am attracted to you."

"You know bloody well the attraction is mutual!"

She ignored his snarled interruption. "That was one of my prerequisites, that the husband I finally choose at least be pleasing in appearance so that I wouldn't mind too much—"

She broke off at his snort, knowing full well he was thinking of last night and how well she had enjoyed it. No, it wasn't necessary to mention that with him she would find certain marital duties quite pleasurable.

"You are personable," she continued. "And charming. There's no denying that. And I'm sure we can deal well with each other. But because there's no love involved, you're not committed. Neither am I, for that matter, though I 'm the one in desperate need of a husband. In your case, however, it would be unrealistic of me to expect you to be completely faithful to your vows, don't you see? And so I'm not asking you to be. What we will have is a business arrangement, a marriage of convenience, if you like.

Trust isn't required."

He was staring at her as if she had lost her mind. She supposed thatwasdoing it up a bit much, but how else could she put a nice dressing on the simple fact that she didn't trust him and probably never would?

Hell's teeth, he was the first to admit he was a rake. And a rake doesn't reform unless his heart is caught—her grandfather's own words, and words she could well believe because they made sense.

Anthony had no business getting annoyed with her.Sheshould be angry that it was necessary to even

make this stipulation.

"Perhaps we should just forget it," she said stiffly.

"A splendid notion finally," he drawled.

Her lips thinned out at his quick agreement tothat. "I didn't want to marry you to begin with. I told you so."

"What?" He sat bolt upright. "Now wait a minute, Roslynn. I didn't mean not getting married was a splendid notion. I thought you meant—"

"Well, I didna!" she snapped, quite losing her temper at last. "And if you willna agree to keep your mistresses, then we've nothing further to discuss, have we? It isna as if I'm no' asking for an equal share of your body. But I ken what you are, mon, and that your eyes will be wandering again once the novelty wears thin. You canna help it. It's your nature."

"Bloody hell."

She went on as if she hadn't heard his curse. "But I was willing to have you anyway, fool that I am. You would have given me bonny bairns. You would have saved me from Geordie. That was enough. I wasna asking for more."

"Perhaps I am willing to give you more. Or hadn't that thought crossed your mind when you came up with this magnanimous gesture?"

Roslynn stiffened under his derision, but she was in control again. "It comes down to one simple thing, Anthony. I could never trust you where other women are concerned. If I should… should come to care for you eventually, a betrayal would be too painful. I would rather know from the start that you won't be faithful to me; then our relationship will progress no further than it is now. We would be friends as well as—"

"Lovers?"

"Yes, well, there you have it. But since you won't agree, that's an end to it, then, isn't it?"

"Did I say I wouldn't agree?" His voice was calm again, but it was a forced calm. His set expression, his rigid posture, said he was still simmering. "Let me see if I have this right, my dear. You want to get a child by me, but at the same time you don't want my full devotion. You will act the wife in every way, but I'm to go on as I have been, seeing as many women as I like."

"Discreetly, Anthony."

"Ah, yes, discreetly. I can see where you might not want it bandied about, especially since you're pushing me out the door before I've even gotten inside it. So if I don't come home two or three nights a week, you'll be happy, I take it?"

She wouldn't deign to answer that. "You agree?"

"Of course." His smile was brittle, lacking warmth, but Roslynn didn't notice. "What man could resist having his piece of cake so thickly frosted?"

Roslynn didn't know if she liked that analogy. She didn't know if she liked his surrender either, now that she had it. He certainly hadn't argued very long. A token resistance, then grudging acceptance. Hah!

Wretched man. He was undoubtedly delighted with her terms, and now she had to live with them.

Chapter Twenty-one

The Eden coach was well sprung, comfortable, with conveniences in the way of pillows and blankets, glasses and champagne. Roslynn had no need of the former, her husband's shoulder doing quite nicely in that capacity. She declined the champagne as well, having tipped enough glasses in toasts after the ceremony.

They had really done it, gotten married. Made love one night, married the next. It was so incredible that Roslynn had to wonder if unconsciously she hadn't wanted this to happen all along, if this wasn't why she had gone to Anthony's last night instead of going straight to Silverley as she had intended. But no, it wasn't going to be an ideal marriage. She had seen to that with her own perversity and mustn't forget it.

And yet she still had him, didn't she? He was her husband, part-time or not.

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