Tender Rebel Page 33

"Didn't you?" he cut in dryly. "Well, don't let it concern you, sweetheart. I did."

"You mean you married me knowing you were putting your life in danger?"

"Some things are worth putting one's life in jeopardy for—at least I used to think so."

The dig stung, so much so that she couldn't bear to face him another moment and ran from the study, up to her room, where she felt safe to burst into tears. Oh, God, she had thought it would be over once she married. She never dreamed Geordie would try to kill her husband. And her husband was Anthony. She couldn't bear it if anything happened to him because of her.

She had to do something. She had to find Geordie and talk to him herself, give him her fortune, anything.

Nothing must happen to Anthony.

Having made up her mind, Roslynn dried her eyes and went back downstairs to tell Anthony what she had decided to do. They would buy Geordie off. All he wanted was the money anyway. But Anthony was gone.

Chapter Thirty-five

Anthony saw now why neither he nor his agents had had any luck in locating Cameron. The Scot had moved away from the docks, letting a flat in a better part of town, which was amazing when such accommodations were at a high premium during the season. The landlord, a congenial chap, admitted that Cameron had been there only a few days, and yes, he was in at present. Whether he was alone, the landlord couldn't say. It made no difference to Anthony.

Campbell was the name Cameron was assuming, and Anthony had little doubt it was assumed. He had found his man. He felt it. His blood pumped with that certainty, the adrenaline flowing through his veins.

And once he had settled with Cameron, he would settle with Roslynn. Letting her dictate the rules had gone on long enough.

The room was on the second floor, third door on the left. Anthony knocked softly and had only a few seconds to wait before the door swung open, giving him his first look at Geordie Cameron. The eyes were the giveaway, sky-blue, and bright with recognition.

It took the Scot several moments before his wits returned and panic took over, enough for him to try

slamming the door in Anthony's face. A single hand was all it took to prevent the door from closing. A forceful shove and Geordie lost his hold on the handle, cringing as the door slammed into the wall.

Fury and anxiety mixed sickeningly in Geordie's gut. The Englishman hadn't looked this strong from a distance. He hadn't looked this dangerous either. And he was supposed to be dead, or at least seriously wounded, at the very least intimidated by knowing he had a deadly enemy in Geordie Cameron. Roslynn was supposed to have panicked and left the protection of the house on Piccadilly, and Wilbert and Thomas Stow would be there to grab her. The Englishman wasnotsupposed to show up at his door, looking disgustingly healthy, lips turned up in an ominous smile that did more to shake Geordie than anything else.

"I'm glad we don't have to waste time introducing ourselves, Cameron," Anthony said as he stepped into the room, forcing Geordie to back up. "I would have been disappointed to have to explain why I'm here.

And I'll give you a sporting chance, which is more than you gave me this morning. Are you gentleman enough to accept my challenge?"

The quiet, nonchalant tone gave Geordie back some of his belligerence. "Hah! I'm no' a bloody fool, mon."

"That's debatable, but I didn't think we'd do this in the usual way. So be it, then."

Geordie didn't see the punch coming. It caught him square on the chin and sent him careening into his small dining table, breaking the spindly legs, and knocking over both straight-backed chairs as the table collapsed, Geordie on top of it. He leaped to his feet instantly, to see the Englishman calmly removing his coat, in no hurry. Geordie wiggled his jaw, found it still intact, and eyed his own coat on the foot of his bed across the room. He wondered how much chance he had of reaching the pistol in its pocket.

None at all, he discovered as he turned toward the bed, only to be spun back around. A fist slammed into his midsection; another connected with his cheek.

He was on the floor again, not so quick to rise this time. He couldn't breathe either. The bloody bastard had rocks for fists.

Anthony came to stand at his feet. "That was for this morning. Now we'll get down to the real issue."

"I'm no' going tae fight ye, mon," Geordie spat out, tasting blood where his teeth had cut into his cheek.

"But of course you are, dear boy," Anthony replied in the lightest tone. "It's the only choice you have, you see. Whether you defend yourself or not, I'm going to wipe the floor with your blood."

"Ye're crazy!"

"No." Anthony's tone changed, all humor gone. "I'm deadly serious."

He bent over to lift Geordie to his feet. Geordie kicked out to keep him away, but Anthony blocked with his knee, yanking him up anyway. And then he felt those rocks slammed against his jaw again. He only staggered back this time, and had time to raise his own fists before Anthony reached him. Geordie threw a right and struck nothing. He doubled over as two successive punches sank into his stomach.

Before he regained his breath this time, his lips were smashed against his teeth.

"En-ough," he tried to get out.

"Not even close, Cameron," Anthony replied, not at all winded from his exertions.

Geordie groaned, and groaned again with the next two punches. He went a little crazy then from the numbing pain. He'd never experienced a beating before in his life. He didn't have the character to take it like a man. He started screaming, throwing wild punches. He laughed when one finally struck, only to find, when he squinted his eyes open, he had hit the wall, breaking three of his own knuckles. Anthony spun him around, and this punch cracked his head back into the wall. His nose was also broken, he realized as he slowly slid to the floor.

He thought that would be the end of it. He was beaten. He knew it. He hurt all over. He was bleeding profusely. It wasn't the end. Anthony pulled him up by his shirtfront, stood him against the wall, and simply pounded away at him. And no matter how Geordie tried warding off the punches, they kept coming, kept landing unerringly.

Finally he didn't feel them anymore. Finally they had stopped. He was slumped on the floor again, sitting up only because the wall was supporting his back. Blood was splattered all around him from his mouth, nose, and several cuts on his face. Two ribs were broken. The little finger on his left hand was broken too, from one of his attempted blocks. He could see out of only one eye, and what he saw was Anthony staring down at him in disgust.

"Bloody hell. You give a man no satisfaction at all, Cameron."

That was funny. Geordie tried to smile, but he had no feeling in his lips, couldn't tell if he had managed it or not. But he did manage a single word.

"Bastard."

Anthony grunted and hunkered down in front of him. "You want some more?"

Geordie moaned. "No—no more."

"Then pay attention, Scotsman. Your life may very well depend upon it, because if I have to come looking for you again, I won't use my fists next time. She's mine now, and so's her inheritance. I married her a week ago."

That penetrated Geordie's fuzziness. "Ye're lying!She'd no' have wed ye unless ye signed that stupid contract of hers, and nae mon in his right mind would've done that."

"There you're wrong, dear boy. I did sign it, and in front of witnesses, then promptly burned it after the ceremony."

"Ye couldna. No' wi' witnesses."

"Did I neglect to say the witnesses were related to me?" Anthony taunted.

Geordie tried to sit up farther, but couldn't. "Sae what? She'll still be having it all back when I make her a widow."

"You just don't learn, do you?" Anthony said, grabbing hold of Geordie's shirtfront again.

Geordie quickly grasped his wrists. "I didna mean that, mon, I didna, I swear!"

Anthony let him go this time, deciding to further the lie instead of using more force. "It won't matter to you, Scotsman, whether I die or not. According to my new will, everything I possess, including my wife's inheritance, goes to my family. They'll of course see that my widow doesn't want for anything, but other than that, she gets nothing. She lost it all the day she married me—and so did you."

Geordie's one good eye narrowed furiously. "She mun hate ye fer tricking her!"

"That's my problem, isn't it?" Anthony remarked as he stood up. "Your problem is getting out of London today in your present condition. If you're still here tomorrow, Scotsman, I'll have you arrested for that little stunt you pulled in the park this morning."

"Ye've nae proof, mon."

"No?" Anthony grinned at last. "The Earl of Sherfield witnessed the whole thing and followed you here.

How else do you think I finally found you? If my testimony won't put you in prison, his will."

Anthony left him mumbling about how Anthony expected him to leave London when he couldn't even get up off the floor.

Chapter Thirty-six

Fortunately, Roslynn didn't see Anthony when he returned home, and by the time he had bathed and changed, there was no evidence left of the fight. His knuckles might be tender, but thanks to the gloves he had worn, there were no cuts or abrasions from Cameron's teeth. Still, he was disgusted with the whole affair. The man had offered him no challenge at all. It put him in a foul mood, one that wasn't conducive to tackling his next challenge—Roslynn.

He didn't even care to see her at the moment, but, as his luck would have it, she came out of the parlor as he was on his way out again.

"Anthony?"

He frowned at her hesitant tone, so unlike her. "What is it?"

"Did you—challenge Geordie?"

He grunted. "He wouldn't accept."

"Then you saw him?"

"I saw him. And you can relax your guard, my dear. He won't be bothering you again."

"Did you—"

"I did no more than persuade him to leave London. He might have to be carried out, but he'll go. And don't wait dinner on me. I'm going to my club."

Roslynn stared at the closed door after he left, wondering why his terseness upset her so. She should be feeling relief, delight over Geordie's thrashing, for she was sure that was the persuasion Anthony had used; but instead she felt deflated, depressed. It was Anthony's curtness, his cold indifference. He had been in many different moods this past week, but this was a new one she didn't like at all.

She had procrastinated too long, she realized. It was time she reached a decision about her relationship with Anthony, before the decision was no longer hers to make. And it must be done now, today, before he returned.

"Well, Nettie?"

Nettie paused in pulling the brush through Ros-lynn's fiery hair to stare at her in the mirror. "Is that what ye really mean tae do, lass?"

Roslynn nodded. She had finally told Nettie everything, about Anthony's seduction of her in this very house, about the conditions she had placed on their marrying, even about his lies that he would be faithful, only to have the truth come out the very next day. Nettie had been both furious with and aghast at the two of them. But Roslynn had left nothing out, and had ended by telling Nettie what she had decided to do. She wanted her abigail's opinion, her support.

"I think ye're making a big mistake, lass."

She didn't wantthatopinion. "Why?"

"Ye'll be using him. Ye mark me, he'll no' be liking that one bit."

"I'll be sharing his bed," Roslynn pointed out. "How is that using him?"

"Ye'll be sharing his bed only fer a time."

"He agreed to give me a child!"

"Sae he did. But he didna agree tae leave ye alone once that child is conceived, did he now."

Roslynn's eyes narrowed in a frown. "I'm only protecting myself, Nettie. Constant intimacy with him… I don't want to love him."

"Ye already do."

"I dinna!" Roslynn gasped, swinging around to glare at the older woman. "And I willna. I refuse! And I'll be letting him decide. I dinna ken why I told you anyway."

Nettie snorted, not at all perturbed by this outburst. "Then go and put it tae him. I saw him enter his room afore I came in here."

Roslynn looked away, a cold knot of nervousness tightening in her belly. "Maybe I should wait until tomorrow. He wasn't exactly pleasant when he left today."

"The mon's no' been pleasant since ye moved oout of his room," Nettie reminded her. "But perhaps ye're seeing how silly is yer notion—"

"No," Roslynn replied, determination back in her voice. "And it's not silly. It's self-preservation."

"If ye say sae, hinny." Nettie sighed. "But remember I did warn ye—"

"Goodnight, Nettie."

Roslynn sat there at her new vanity another ten minutes after Nettie left, staring at her reflection in the mirror. She had made the right decision. She wasn't forgiving Anthony. Not in the least. But she had come to the conclusion that she was only thwarting herself with the stand she had taken. Either she could go on hugging her anger to her breast and keeping Anthony at arm's length, or she could get a child. She wanted the child. It was that simple.

But it meant swallowing her pride and going to Anthony. After his coldness today, she had little doubt that she would have to make the first move. But it was only temporary, she reminded herself. He would have to agree to that. She still couldn't convince herself to accept him the way he was, even if she had agreed to when they married. The truth was, she didn't want him as he was anymore. She found she was exceedingly selfish in wanting him all to herself. But since that wasn't to be, she had to remain detached, to keep in mind that she would never be the only woman in his life.

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