Tender Rebel Page 29

To Roslynn, George nodded. "Another time, Lady Malory, hopefully under better circumstances." And he departed angrily, not even bothering to close the door.

Anthony stared after him, bemused and unsuccessfully trying to keep his balance in the middle of the hall.

"Was it something I said, George?"

James laughed so hard at that, he and Dobson fell back two steps on the stairs. "You're amazing, Tony.

Either you don't remember at all, or you remember more than you should."

Anthony rounded about to stare at James, halfway up the stairs now. His "What the deuce does that mean?" got only another laugh.

When it looked as if Anthony was going to fall flat on his face, Roslynn rushed forward, dragging his arm about her neck, and putting her own around his waist. "I canna believe you've done this, mon," she gritted out, maneuvering him carefully across the hall. "Do you ken what time of day it is, to be coming home like this?"

"Certainly," he replied indignantly. "It's—it's… well, whatever time it is, where else would I come home to, except to my own home?"

He tripped on the bottom step, pulling Roslynn down with him to sprawl at the foot of the stairs. "Hell's teeth! I ought to leave you here!"

Anthony misunderstood in his befuddled state. His arm whipped around her, holding her so tight against his chest she couldn't breathe. "You're not leaving me, Roslynn. I won't allow it."

She stared at him incredulously. "You… oh, God, save me from drunks and imbeciles," she said in exasperation, pushing away from him. "Come on, you foolish man. Get up."

Somehow, she got him upstairs and into his bedroom. When Dobson appeared at the door a moment later, she waved him away, why, she wasn't sure. She could have used his assistance. But it was a unique situation, having Anthony helpless and unable to do for himself. She was rather enjoying it, now that the first irritation had passed. That she was likely the cause of his condition was satisfying too. Or was she?

"Do you mind telling me why you've come home drunk in the middle of the day?" she asked as she straddled his leg to remove the first boot.

"Drunk? Good God, woman, that's a disgusting word. Gentlemen do not get drunk."

"Oh? Then what do they get?"

He shoved against her backside with his other foot until the boot popped off. "The word is… it's… what the deuce is it?"

"Drunk," she repeated smugly.

He grunted, and when she came for the second boot, his shove was a bit harder, sending her nearly toppling when the boot came off in her hands. She swung around, eyes narrowed, only to find him grinning innocently at her.

She threw the boot down, coming back to the bed to tackle his coat. "You didn't answer my question, Anthony."

"What question was that?"

"Why are you in this disgusting condition?"

He didn't take offense this time. "Come now, my dear. Why else would a man tip one too many? Either he's lost his wealth, a relative's died, or his bed's empty.''

It was her turn to look deliberately innocent. "Did someone die?"

He placed his hands on her hips, pulling her a touch closer between his legs. He was smiling, but there was nothing humorous about it. "Play with fire, sweetheart, and you'll get burned," he warned thickly.

Roslynn yanked hard on his cravat before she pushed him back on the bed. "Sleep it off,sweetheart. "

And she turned on her heel.

"You're a cruel woman, Roslynn Malory," he called after her.

She closed the door with a decisive bang.

Chapter Thirty-one

Anthony woke with a splitting head and a curse on his lips. He sat up to light the lamp by his bed, cursing again. The clock on the mantel said a few minutes after two. It was dark outside his window, so that told him which two o'clock it was. He cursed again, realizing he was wide awake now in the middle of the night, with his head coming off and too damn many hours till dawn.

What the hell had possessed him? Ah, well, he knew what possessed him, but he shouldn't have let it.

He vaguely remembered old George bringing them home and something about his having belted Billings—bloody hell. Wished he hadn't done that. Billings was a good sort. He'd have to apologize, probably more than once. Hadn't George left angry? Anthony couldn't quite remember.

Uncomfortable, he glanced down at himself and grimaced. Mean-tempered wife. She could at least have undressed him and tucked him in proper, since it was her fault he'd got foxed to begin with. And hadn't she got snippy there, rubbing it in? He couldn't remember that clearly either.

Anthony leaned forward, gently massaging his temples. Well, he had his options, even at this hour. He could try to get back to sleep, which was doubtful. He'd slept more than his customary hours already. He

could change and go back to White's for some whist—that is, if he hadn't behaved too abominably earlier and they'd let him in. Or he could be as mean-tempered as his wife and wake her up to see what might come of it. No, he felt too bloody rotten to want to do anything about it if she did prove amenable suddenly.

He laughed, which made him grimace. Best to just work on getting rid of this hangover before morning.

A bath would be nice, but he'd have to wait for a decent hour to rouse the servants. Some food, then.

Slowly, because each step reverberated through his head, Anthony left his room. He stopped just down the hall, seeing the light under his brother's door. He knocked once but entered without waiting for permission, to find James sitting na**d on the edge of his bed, holding his head in his hands. Anthony almost laughed but caught himself in time. It hurt too much to indulge.

James didn't glance up to see who had intruded. Softly, ominously, he grated out, "Not above a whisper if you value your life."

"Got a little man hammering in your head too, old man?"

James raised his head slowly. His scowl was murderous. "A dozen at least, and I owe every bloody one to you, you miserable—"

"The devil you do. You're the one who offered to buy me a drink, so if anyone has a right to complain-"

"One drink, not several bottles, you ass!"

They both winced at the raised tone. "Well, I suppose you have me there."

"Good of you to admit it," James snorted as he massaged his temples again.

Anthony's lips began to twitch. It was ludicrous, the punishment they put their bodies through, though James' body didn't look any the worse for wear. Anthony had been surprised for a moment on first entering, not having seen his brother na**d since the time he had burst into that countess' bedroom, he couldn't even remember her name now, to warn James that her husband was on his way upstairs. James had changed since that night more than ten years ago. He was broader, more solid. In fact, he fairly bulged with thick muscles running across his chest and arms, down his legs. Must be from climbing all that rigging in ten years of pirating.

"You know, James, you're an incredible brute specimen."

James shook his head at that sudden remark, looking down at himself, then back at Anthony. He finally grinned at his brother's surprise. "The ladies don't seem to mind."

"No, I don't imagine they do." Anthony chuckled. "Care for a few hands at cards? I can't get back to sleep to save my soul."

"As long as you don't break out the brandy."

"God, no! I had coffee in mind, and I seem to recall we missed our dinner."

"Give me a few minutes and I'll meet you in the kitchen."

When Roslynn sat down to breakfast, she was still bleary-eyed, having spent another restless, sleepless night. This time it was her own fault. She felt rather guilty about her treatment of Anthony yesterday afternoon. She could have at least undressed him and made him more comfortable instead of leaving him as she had, not even bothering to see he got under the covers. After all, he was her husband. She was familiar with his body. Nothing to be embarrassed about.

Half a dozen times she had nearly gone up to rectify the matter but changed her mind, afraid he might wake and misconstrue her concern. And after she had gone to bed, well, she wasn't about to enter his bedroom in her nightclothes.Thatwould certainly be misconstrued.

It bothered her that she felt guilty at all. She wasn't sympathetic to his plight. If he wanted to get drunk and blame it on her, well, that was his problem. And if he suffered for it this morning with a gruesome hangover, that was also too bad. One had to pay for excesses, didn't one? So why had she lost half a night's sleep thinking about him sprawled helpless on his bed?

"If the food's so bad that you must scowl at it, perhaps I'll eat at my club this morning."

Roslynn glanced up, Anthony's sudden appearance surprising her enough that she replied simply,

"There's nothing wrong with the food."

"Splendid!" he said cheerfully. "Then you won't mind if I join you?"

He didn't wait for her to answer, but moved to the sideboard and began piling a mountain of food on his plate. Roslynn stared at his tall frame, immaculately encased in a coat of dark brown superfine, buckskin breeches, and gleaming Hessians. He had no right to look so magnificent, to be so chipper this morning.

He should be moaning and groaning and damning his folly.

"You slept late," Roslynn said tersely, stabbing a plump sausage on her plate.

"I've just come back from my morning ride, actually." He took the seat opposite her, his brows raised slightly in inquiry. "Did you only just rise yourself, my dear?"

It was a good thing the sausage hadn't entered her mouth yet, or she would have choked on that seemingly innocent question. How dared he deny her the satisfaction of taking him to task for yesterday's disgraceful behavior? And that was exactly what he was doing, sitting there looking as if he had just had the most wonderful night's sleep of his life.

Anthony didn't expect an answer to his last question, nor did he get one. With an amused glimmer in his cobalt eyes, he watched Roslynn attack her food, determined to ignore him. Perversely, he wouldn't let her.

"I noticed a new rug in the hall."

She didn't spare him a glance, even though it was an insult to call the expensive piece woven to resemble the figured Aubusson tapestry a rug. "Strange you didn't notice it yesterday."

Bravo, sweetheart. He smiled to himself. She was going to get her licks in one way or another.

"And a new Gainsborough too," he went on conversationally, his eyes briefly touching the magnificent

painting that now dominated the wall to his left.

"The new rosewood china cabinet and dining table should arrive today."

She still had her eyes fastened on her plate, but Anthony didn't miss the sudden change in her. No longer was she sitting there seething with suppressed anger. Her smug satisfaction was palpable.

Anthony nearly laughed aloud. She was so transparent, his sweet wife. Considering her present antipathy toward him and the subject they were discussing, it wasn't hard to figure out what she was up to. It was an old trick, a wife making her husband pay for her displeasure through his pocketbook. And from various remarks Roslynn had made in the past, he knew she didn't think his pocketbook could bear too much displeasure.

"So you're doing a little redecorating, are you?"

A barely perceptible shrug, but a too-sweet tone. "I knew you wouldn't mind."

"Not at all, my dear. I meant to suggest it myself."

Her head snapped up at those words, but she was quick to reply. "Good, because I've only just begun.

And you will be glad to know it isn't going to cost as much as I thought when I first toured the house.

Why, I've spent only four thousand pounds so far."

"That's nice."

Roslynn gaped at him, disbelieving her ears. His blatantly bored response was the last thing she had expected. Was it possible he thought she was spending her own money? Well, the wretch would find out differently when the bills started coming in.

She stood up, throwing her napkin down on the table, too chagrined with his reaction, or lack of it, to remain in his company. But she couldn't make the dramatic exit she would have liked. After yesterday, it was imperative that she insist there not be a repeat performance today when she was expecting company.

"Frances is coming for dinner this evening. If you should happen to change your habit of returning late and show up to join us, kindly do so soberly."

It was all Anthony could do to keep his lips from twitching. "Bringing in reinforcements again, my dear?"

"I resent that," she said with icy hauteur before she stalked away, only to whip around at the door, glowering at him. "And for your information, my lord, I don't distrust all men, as you so boorishly pointed out yesterday while introducing me to your friend—only rakes and bounders!"

Chapter Thirty-two

"Thatbe him, m'lord."

Geordie Cameron turned to the short, bewhiskered man next to him and could have crowned him.

"Which one, ye idiot? There are two of them!"

Wilbert Stow didn't blink an eye at the Scot's abrasive tone. He was used to it by now, used to his impatience, his short temper, his arrogance. If Cameron didn't pay so well, he'd tell him where he could stuff this job. Probably slice his gullet too, just for good measure. But he was paying well, thirty English pounds, a fortune to Wilbert Stow. So he held his tongue as always, letting the insults pass over him.

"The dark one," Wilbert clarified, keeping his tone servile. " 'E's the one what owns the 'ouse. Sir Anthony Malory be 'is name."

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