Tender Rebel Page 5

But she needn't write Sir Artemus off her list yet. After all, he wasn't aware that he was one of her

"possibles," so he couldn't have considered her question about children serious. And a man's mind could be changed. If she knew anything about men, it was that.

After their dance he took her back to Frances, who was standing by the refreshment table with a young woman Roslynn hadn't met yet. But a waltz began immediately, and Roslynn noticed the persistent Lord Bradley making a beeline toward her. She groaned audibly. It was too much. She wasnotgoing to get her feet mashed up again by that clumsy fellow.

"What's wrong now, Roslynn?" Frances inquired, hearing her.

"Nothing—och, everything," she answered, exasperated and then quite determined, without the least thought for the stranger who hadn't yet been introduced to her. "I'm not going to dance with that looby Bradley again, Frances. I swear I'm not. I'll faint first, which will embarrass you, so you must excuse me while I go hide this one out."

And with a pleased chuckle for the one decision she had been able to make with ease, she gave both ladies a conspiratorial grin and disappeared into the crowd, leaving them to explain to the persistent Bradley how his quarry could simply vanish.

Quickly making her way to one of several open French doors that led out onto a terrace, Roslynn

ducked outside but went no further. Pressed up against the wall beside the door, she spared a quick glance to make sure she wouldn't be observed by anyone taking advantage of the lovely moonlit garden that spread out over a large lawn beyond the flat stone terrace, but thankfully she saw no one. She then twisted and bent over at the waist to peek around the door to make sure her escape was successful. And it was. She was just in time to see Lord Bradley leaving Frances, quite obviously disappointed.

It was shameful, but she couldn't dredge up even the slightest pang of remorse. In fact, she continued to watch Lord Bradley just to make certain he wouldn't think to look outside for her when he couldn't find her on the dance floor. She would have to rush to another hiding place then, and she could see herself crouching ridiculously behind flower beds in the garden, but looking no more ridiculous than she did at the moment, she realized belatedly and spared another nervous glance behind her to make sure the garden was still deserted. It was, as far as she could see. After spying on Lord Bradley for a few moments longer, she finally saw him ask someone else to dance.

Roslynn straightened then with a sigh, silently congratulating herself on saving her feet for the time being.

She should have escaped to the garden sooner. The fresh air was welcome, a balm to her muddied thoughts so filled with the complexity her lite had become. She could use a few minutes alone, to simply think of nothing, to let it all drain away on the gentle strains of the waltz coming through the open doorways.

Soft gold light spread across the stone terrace in rectangular patches from each doorway and window facing the lawn. A few chairs and tables were scattered about but were too noticeable from inside, so Roslynn wisely avoided them.

She spotted a bench tucked under a tree just on the edge of the terrace where it blended into the lawn, or at least the legs of what looked like a bench. The light reached only that far, what with one low-hanging branch bending toward the house, almost like a shielding curtain. The rest of the area was darkly shadowed because of the thick tree limbs, the moonlight unable to penetrate either. How perfect.

She could tuck her feet up on the seat and be almost invisible if someone should come outside. Invisible would be nice for a change.

It was only a few dozen feet away, but still Roslynn ran toward this unexpected haven, hoping in those few seconds she wouldn't be spotted through one of the windows. She actually had a moment's anxiety that she wouldn't reach the safe shadows in time. Their importance was absurd. She was desirous of only a few minutes' respite. She wouldn't crumble if her wish weren't granted. She couldn't stay away long anyway, or Frances would worry.

But none of that seemed to matter next to her anxiety. The silly bench had become essential for a purely emotional need. And then abruptly everything she was feeling froze. She had reached no haven at all. The bench,herbench, was already occupied.

She stood there in a pool of light, staring blankly at what had seemed no more than a dark shadow from a dozen feet away but was revealed now to be a man's black-clad leg, just one leg, bent over the backrest of the bench at the corner of it, his foot planted firmly on the seat thatshehad intended to become invisible on. Her eyes traveled upward, discovering the bent knee, seeing finally that he was bracing one hip on the edge of the backrest, half sitting, half standing, no doubt comfortably. She looked higher and saw the forearms casually resting on the bent knee, the hands lax, palms down, fingers long and graceful, details clear only because they were lighter in color next to the black of his trousers. Higher still were wide shoulders relaxed, bent forward, and the contrasting, lighter shade at his neck of a white cravat, loosely tied. She finally looked at his face but could see nothing of his features even at this close distance, just a gray blur defined by dark hair.

He was totally in shadow, where she had meant to be. He was nothing but shades of black and gray to her, but he was there, real, silent. Her feelings melted with a vengeance. She felt violated, angry beyond reason. She knew he could see her clearly in the light from the house, and where that light didn't reach, there was the silvery moonlight. He had probably been able to see her looking utterly ridiculous peeking around the door into the ballroom, like a little child in a game of hide-and-seek. And he said nothing. He hadn't moved. He simply looked at her.

Her skin burned with the shame of it. Her anger soared that he was playing mute, as if he were still invisible to her. He could have put her at ease. A gentleman would have said something to make her believe she had been noticed only now, at this moment, even if it weren't true.

The continued silence tugged on her instinct to flee, but it was too much, not knowing who he was, while he could easily recognize her. To meet new men at some later date, and she surely would, and have to constantly wonder if one of them was this man, the one who would be silently laughing at her. One more worry to add to her others. It just wouldn't do.

She steeled herself to demand who he was, prepared to insist, even prepared to forcefully drag him out into the light if she had to—she was that angry. The words weren't necessary, were actually forgotten. A light appeared in an upstairs room, near enough to the window to cast down a beam of gold that filtered through the upper tree limbs at an angie. It was selective, that beam of light. Where it broke through the leaves above, it touched only certain parts of the man's upper body, his hands, a shoulder clad in black velvet—his face.

Roslynn was simply not prepared. The breath sucked right out of her. For several long moments her mind became such a blank, she couldn't have remembered her own name if asked.

There was a wide mouth gently turned at the corners, a strong, arrogant line of jaw. The nose was chiseled sharply, aquiline, proud. The skin was darkly tanned, swarthy, yet still a sharp contrast to the ebony hair that crowned his head in thick waves. The eyes-God protect the innocent from such eyes—were purest blue, heavy-lidded, with the barest suggestion of a slant. They were exotic, hypnotic, framed by black lashes and slashing brows. They were assessing, probing, boldly sensual—warm, too warm.

It was her weakness from lack of air that jolted Roslynn back to her senses. She breathed in deeply, slowly, and exhaled on a sigh. It simply wasn't fair. Gramp had warned her. She didn't have to be told.

She knew. He was one of them, one of the "not to be considered." He was too ruthlessly handsome not to be.

Her earlier annoyance was forgotten. A new irritation took hold. She had the strangest urge to hit him for being what he was. Why him? Why did the one man who took her breath away have to be the only type of man unacceptable to her?

"You are staring, sir." Where had that come from, when the rest of her thoughts were so chaotic?

"I know," he said simply, his smile deepening.

He refrained from pointing out that she was staring too. He was enjoying himself too much just watching her. Words were unnecessary, an intrusion, even though her husky voice rubbed over his skin like a caress.

Anthony Malory was purely fascinated. He had seen her before she came outside. He had been keeping his eye on Reggie through the nearest window, and then she came into his line of vision. He hadn't seen her face then, just her slim back sheathed in teal satin—and her hair. The glorious red-gold color caught his interest immediately. When she moved out of sight before he had gotten a better look at her, he actually stood up, prepared to brave the masses just this once, the urge to see the face that went with that hair overpowering.

But she came outside. He relaxed back against the bench, patient now. With the light behind her, he still couldn't make out her features clearly, but he would. She wasn't going anywhere until he did.

And then he simply watched her antics in hiding beside the door, and bending over to peek back inside.

The shapely derriere she presented to him brought a grin to his lips.Oh, sweetheart, you can't know the invitation you're offering.

He almost chuckled aloud, but it was as if she had read his thoughts. She straightened, glancing across the terrace. When she stared in his direction, he thought he was discovered. And then she managed to shock him, coming toward him,runningtoward him, flashing into a patch of bright light, making him doubt his sight with the breathtaking loveliness of her face finally revealed to him, disappearing into the shadows briefly before she reached the patch of light directly in front of the bench. She stopped there, looking now as shocked as he was, only his surprise waned quickly when he realized she hadn't been running to him, hadn't known he was even there. But she did now.

It was amusing, the emotions that flitted over her flawless features. Shock, curiosity, then pink-tinged embarrassment, but no fear. With intense, gold-flecked eyes, she started on his leg and worked her way up. He wondered how much of him she could actually see. Not much probably, standing in the light as she was, but he had no inclination to reveal himself just yet.

On one level he was amazed that she hadn't run off immediately, or fainted, or done some other silly thing that a previously sheltered young debutante was likely to do when presented with a strange man lurking in the shadows. Unconsciously, he sought a reason that she should react differently from all the other innocents he staunchly avoided. When it came to him, it was another shock. She wasn't that young, not too young for him anyway. She wasn't off limits, then.

That knowledge worked on Anthony's system immediately. Where before he had simply appreciated her beauty like a connoisseur, now he registered that he needn't be damned to only look, he could also touch. And then the light came on upstairs, and she was staring at him with a new look, obvious fascination, and he was never so glad in his life that women found him appealing to the senses.

It was suddenly imperative for him to ask, "Who guards you?''

Roslynn was startled to hear his voice again after the long silence; she knew very well she should have walked away after their first brief words had brought no more. Only she had stood fast, unable to take her eyes off him, not caring that she was staring, that he was too.

"Guards me?"

"Yes. Who do you belong to?"

"Oh. No one."

Anthony smiled, amused. "Perhaps I should rephrase my question?"

"No, I understood. So did you. My grandfather recently died, you see. I lived with him. Now I have no one."

"Then have me."

The soft words tripped her heart. Oh, what she wouldn't do to have him. But she was almost certain he didn't mean what she wanted him to mean, but what she should be embarrassed over hearing instead. But she wasn't embarrassed. It was something she would expect a man like him to say. They were never sincere, Frances had told her. And they loved to say shocking things to enhance their image of being dissipated and unprincipled.

Still, she had to ask. She couldn't help herself. "Would you marry me, then?"

"Marry?"

She had managed to discompose him. She almost laughed at his look of horror.

"I don't mince words, sir, though I'm not usuallythatforward. But considering what you said to me, my question was perfectly in order. So I may assume you are not husband material?"

"Good God, no!"

"You needn't bethatemphatic," she said, disappointment just barely discernible in her tone. "I didn't think you were."

He wasn't so pleased himself now, drawing his own conclusions. "You're not going to dash my hopes this soon, are you, sweetheart? Tell me you're not seeking matrimony along with the masses."

"Oh, but I am, most definitely. It's why I've come to London."

"Don't they all."

"I beg your pardon."

He smiled at her again, and it had the strangest effect on her, sort of like melting into honey. "You're not married yet, are you." He wasn't asking, but clarifying it in her mind as well as his. He leaned forward and caught at her hand, gently tugging her closer. "What name goes with such loveliness?"

What name? What name? Her mind was filled with gloveless fingers lightly gripping her own. Warm, strong. Gooseflesh rushed up her bare arm. Her shins bumped the edge of the bench next to his foot, but she didn't feel it. He had brought her into the shadows.

"You do have one, don't you?" he persisted.

A clean, masculine scent assailed Roslynn's nostrils. "What?"

He chuckled, delighted with her confusion. "My dear girl, a name. We all of us must bear one, good or bad. Mine is Anthony Malory, Tony to my intimates. Now do confess yours."

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