Tender Rebel Page 38

"I did. I won't do it twice."

James sighed at such stubbornness, never mind that his own was just as irksome to friend and foe.

"Pride is the advent of fools, dear boy. You've been married nearly a month. If I had known what a bloody mess you were going to make of it, I would have pursued the lady in earnest."

"Over my dead body," Anthony snarled.

"Touchy, aren't we?" James grinned. "But it doesn't matter. You won her. What you've done with the prize, however, is deplorable. A little romancing wouldn't be amiss. She did melt for you in the moonlight, didn't she?"

Anthony just managed to keep his seat when the urge to clobber his brother was overwhelming. "The last thing I need from you is advice, James. I have my own strategy where my wife is concerned, and although it may not appear to be working, it is."

"Strangest bit of strategy I've ever witnessed, enemies by day, lovers by moonlight. I wouldn't have the patience myself. If they don't succumb by the first effort—"

"They're not worth it?"

"Some are. But there are just too many other sweet consolations to be bothered."

"But I've got Roslynn."

James laughed. "Point taken, I suppose.Isshe worth it?"

Anthony's answer was a slow smile, his first, and James sobered. Yes, he supposed the little Scot was worth a bit a patience. But as for Anthony's strategy, it was obvious to James he was only digging his hole even deeper. James wouldn't be at all surprised if, when he returned to England, Anthony's wife had much in common with Jason's, who used any excuse available to avoid her husband.

Nettie appeared in the doorway. "Excuse me, Sir Anthony, but Lady Roslynn would be liking a word wi'

ye."

"Where is she?"

"In her room, my lord. She's no' feeling up tae snuff.''

Anthony waved the woman away before growling, "Bloody hell!"

James shook his head in disgust. "There, you see? You hear your wife's ill, and instead of being concerned—"

"Confound you, James, you don't know what the bloody hell's going on, so stay out of it! If she's ill, it's what she's been praying for. I noticed it the other morning when—" Anthony stopped at James' quirked brow. "Damnation. She's going to tell me I'm going to be a father."'

"A—but that's splendid!" James said in delight, only to notice Anthony's scowl grow even blacker and add hesitantly, "Isn't it?"

"No, it bloody well isn't!"

"For God's sake, Tony, children usually do follow marriage—"

"I know that, you dolt! I want the child. I just don't want the conditions that come with it."

James started to laugh, misunderstanding. "The price of fatherhood, don't you know. Good God, it's only a few months you'll have to stay out of the lady's bed. You can always find relief elsewhere."

Anthony stood up, his voice calm, but cold enough to freeze. "If' Iwanted relief elsewhere, andif itwere only for a few months, you might be right, brother. But my celibacy begins the moment my dear wife announces her condition to me."

James was surprised enough to reply, "Whose ridiculous idea wasthat?"

"It bloody well wasn't mine."

"You mean the only reason she came to you was to get a child?"

"None other."

James snorted. "I hate to say it, dear boy, but it sounds like your wife needs her backside treated to a good thrashing."

"No, what she needs is to admit she's wrong, and she will. How soon is the question that's going to drive me crazy."

Chapter Forty-one

Weaktea and dry toast, at Nettie's insistence. Not a very appetizing breakfast, but better than the hot chocolate and pastries that had sent Roslynn flying toward the chamber pot earlier. She had suspected her condition for the past week, after her monthly time was late. She had been sure three days ago, when the most ghastly queasiness had started in the morning, only to vanish come noon. And each day it had gotten a little worse. This morning she had had to stay near the chamber pot for nearly an hour, had heaved her stomach dry. She dreaded what tomorrow would bring, and tomorrow morning was Frances'

wedding. She wasn't at all sure she would be able to make it, which was just one more thing to depress her at the moment, when she should have been nothing but overjoyed by her condition.

Her stomach still wasn't settled completely, even with the bland toast she had nibbled on. It was hard for her to remember, considering how she was feeling, that a baby was what she wanted more than anything.

Why couldn't she be one of those lucky women who suffered not a day of morning sickness? And to have started so soon! Why, she had made her infamous bargain with Anthony just two weeks ago. And she had suspected she was pregnant one week later, which told her plainly she hadn't needed to make that bargain at all, that she had in all likelihood conceived the very first time they made love.

Rosiynn very gently set the teacup back on the table beside the chaise lounge on which she was reclining. Undue movement, as she had discovered to her horror the other morning when Anthony made love to her, started her stomach rolling. Extreme concentration had enabled her not to embarrass herself and have to make her confession right then. And she had selfishly gone to him for two more nights without telling him the truth. But she couldn't put it off any longer. This morning she had just barely made it out of his room before he woke up and called her back to bed. And with the nausea getting worse, there was no way she could enjoy morning lovemaking anymore. She had to tell him before he found out for himself and knew she was ignoring their bargain.

Hell's teeth, how she hated that bloody bargain. Anthony had been so wonderfully amorous these past two weeks, at least in his bedroom. He made love to her so often she knew very well he had nothing left to give another woman, that she'd had him all to herself. It was as if each night were her wedding night, with all the passion and tenderness he was capable of, hers for the taking.

But outside his bedroom he was another man entirely, either indifferent or cold and sardonic, but never pleasant. And Roslynn knew this could be blamed on the bargain, his way of letting her know his distaste for her conditions hadn't lessened.

And now it was over. But she didn't want it to be over. Hell's teeth, she had become addicted to Anthony, but by her own idiotic decision, she was going to lose him. Temporary, she had said. Two short weeks was certainly that.

"You wanted to see me?"

He hadn't knocked, but had come right in. He hadn't been in this room since the night she had pretended to be indisposed. There was no pretense now.

Anthony gave the new furnishings a cursory glance before his cobalt eyes settled on her. Roslynn could feel her stomach rioting from her nervousness.

"I'm going to have a baby," she blurted out.

He stood before her, his hands in his pockets. His expression didn't change. That was the worst. He could at least have shown some small pleasure about the child. If not that, then displeasure. She would have welcomed displeasure at the moment. She would have welcomed the fury he had shown the night she had given him her terms.

"How delightful for you," he said in the blandest tone. "So your sojourns to my room are at an end."

"Yes. Unless—"

"Unless?" he cut in deliberately. "Far be it from me to break your rules, sweetheart."

She bit her lip to keep from damning those rules in his presence. She didn't know what she had started to say anyway, before he interrupted. But he obviously hadn't wanted to hear it. And she had been hoping, praying, thathewould insist she forget their bargain, that he would demand she move back to his room permanently. He wasn't going to. Didn't he care anymore?

She looked away toward the window, her voice toneless when it should have been filled with excitement, considering the subject. "I will need a room for the nursery.''

"James is leaving in a few days. You can make over his room."

She had given him the opening. He could have suggestedthisroom. It was certainly more convenient, directly across from his.

She continued to stare out the window. "This is your child too, Anthony. Have you any preferences for color—or anything?''

"Whatever pleases you, my dear. By the by, I won't be home for dinner tonight. We're celebrating old George's last night of sanity at the club."

His abrupt change of subject hurt. He obviously had no interest in the baby, nor in her, since he had turned to leave without another word.

Outside the room, Anthony's fist slammed into the wall. Inside, tears were streaming down Roslynn's cheeks. She started from the noise but didn't give it a thought.

She had never felt so miserable in her life, and it was all her own fault. She couldn't even remember the reason for the stupid bargain. Oh, yes. She had been afraid she'd fall in love with Anthony with constant intimacy. Well, it was too bloody late for that, wasn't it? Nettie had been right.

"Was it the news you were expecting?"

Anthony turned to find James standing outside his room. "It was."

"Strategy's not working, then, I take it?"

"Blister it, James. Two days from now isn't soon enough!"

Chapter Forty-two

"Whydon't you just tell him, Ros?"

"I can't," Roslynn replied, taking a sip of her second glass of champagne.

They stood away from the others at the party, which was just a small gathering of Frances' friends at her mother's house. The gentlemen weren't the only ones who could celebrate the night before the wedding.

But Roslynn didn't feel like celebrating, though she had come to accept that Frances was ecstatic about this marriage, and she was happy for her friend. She just couldn't seem to show it.

Unfortunately, Frances had picked up on her depression and had taken her aside, afraid that Roslynn was still against the marriage. The only way she could convince her friend that she wasn't was to tell her the truth.

"If it were that simple—" Roslynn began, only to have Frances cut in.

"But it is that simple. All you do is say, I love you. Three little words, m'dear, and your problems will be over.''

Roslynn shook her head. "The difference, Fran, is that those words are easy for you because you know George returns your love. But Anthony doesn't love me."

"Have you given him anythingtolove?"

Roslynn grimaced. "No. You might say I've been a royal bitch ever since we married."

"Well, you did have your reasons, didn't you? It was really too bad of Sir Anthony, but you did say you're reasonably certain he strayed only that one time. It's up to you, m'dear. You can let him know you've forgiven him his one indiscretion and you want to start over, or you can go on as you are."

Some choice, Roslynn thought, resentment still simmering just below the surface. Why did she have to make all the concessions? Anthony hadn't even apologized, and he wasn't likely to.

"A man like Sir Anthony won't wait forever, you know," Frances continued. "You're going to send him right into the arms of another woman."

"He doesn't need any sending for that," Roslynn replied bitterly.

But Frances had a point. Ifshewasn't sharing Anthony's bed, someone else would eventually. But then she had known that when she made her bargain. She just hadn't wanted to admit at that time that it would matter to her. But it did matter, terribly, because she loved him.

Returning home at eleven, Roslynn had only just removed her evening cloak and gloves when the door opened again and Anthony and George stumbled over the threshold. Dobson took one look at them and sighed. Roslynn felt she had played this scene before, and it had been no more amusing the last time, though this time it appeared Anthony was doing the supporting. George looked half asleep.

"You're home early," Roslynn remarked, keeping her tone neutral.

"The old boy got royally foxed and passed out. Thought I'd better get him to bed."

"So you brought him here instead of taking him home?''

Anthony shrugged. "Habit, my dear. When we used to make a night of it, more times than not old George would end up here. Has his own room, don't you know. Though, actually, come to think of it, you have it now.''

They stared at each other a long moment before George broke the contact. "What's that? Who has my room?''

"Don't worry about it, old man. My wife has a few of her things in it that she'll be happy to move for tonight. Won't you, my dear?"

Roslynn's heart turned over. Had he brought George home just so shewouldhave to move? And the only place she could move to was his room.

"Don't go to any trouble on my account, Lady Malory.''

She understood him perfectly, though his words were terribly slurred and he couldn't seem to locate her, his eyes settling on Dobson instead. "It's no trouble, George," Roslynn assured him. "If you'll just give me a moment—"

"Don't have a moment," Anthony interjected. "He's bloody well heavy, you know. And if I put him down, he'll never get back up. Just proceed us, my dear, and get what you need."

She did, quickly, rushing through the room to gather her things while Anthony dumped George on the bed. George's room? So those were George's sonnets she had found in here. She never would have thought it of such a rakehell, but then you never knew. Frances was luckier than she realized.

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