Tender Rebel Page 7

Yes, he was tall. She hadn't noticed it in the garden. And he fairly reeked of sensuality. Shehadnoticed that before.

The cut of his evening clothes was impeccable, though he looked almost sinister in black. But black complemented him. She couldn't imagine him wearing the bright colors of a dandy. That would draw even more attention to him, yet he commanded everyone's attention anyway, just by appearing.

"Heisdevilish handsome, isn't he?"

Roslynn started, realizing she had been caught staring at him. But then it would be unusual if she weren't, foreveryonewas staring at him.

She glanced at Lady Eden and gave a careless shrug. "Do you think so?"

"Oh, most definitely. His brothers are terribly good-looking too, but I've always thought Tony was the handsomest of the lot."

Roslynn wasn't sure if she liked that "Tony" from this beautiful young woman with the midnight hair and vivid blue eyes that glittered with humor. What had he said? "Tony to my intimates."

"I take it you know him well?"

Regina grinned engagingly. "I know the whole family very well."

Roslynn found herself blushing, which was something she so rarely did. She was relieved with that answer but annoyed with herself for how sharp her question had sounded. If the viscountess was well acquainted with the Malorys, then she was the last person Roslynn wanted to be aware of her interest in Sir Anthony. She ought not to be interested at all. She ought to introduce a new topic. She couldn't.

"He's awfully old, isn't he?"

"Well, if you think thirty-five is old—"

"Only thirty-five?"

Regina had to suppress her urge to laugh. The woman was determined to find something wrong with Tony, but heaven knew what that could be. It was obvious he had made another conquest without even trying. Or was he trying? It was really too bad of him to stare like that. If she weren't standing here with Lady Roslynn, the poor woman would be quite undone by what the gossips would make of his interest in her.

Yes, it really was too bad of him, because nothing would come of it. Nothing ever did. And she rather liked Lady Roslynn. She wouldn't like to see her get hurt.

"He's a confirmed bachelor," Regina felt compelled to warn her. "With three older brothers, there's never been any reason for him to marry, you see."

"You don't have to wrap it up prettily. I know he's a rake."

"He prefers 'connoisseur of women.' "

"Then he likes to wrap it up prettily too."

Regina laughed. Oh, she did like this woman. Roslynn might be feigning an indifference toward Tony, but she was refreshingly straightforward otherwise.

Roslynn stole another glance at Sir Anthony. She felt silly for having called him Mr. Malory, but how was she to have known then that he was a member of the peerage? The eldest brother the Marquis of Haverston, the second an earl, the third the black sheep of the family, and Anthony a close second. Oh, she had heard much about him tonight. Why couldn't she learn as much about her potential "possibles"?

"He doesn't dance?" Roslynn heard herself asking and wondered why she couldn't leave it alone.

"Oh, he does, beautifully, but he doesn't dare ask anyone here. If he did, he'd have to dance with a few dozen other women too, just to throw the vultures off the scent. But Tony wouldn't go through so much bother just to dance with the lady of his choice. That's why he can't tolerate these affairs. They force him to discretion when the word isn't even in his vocabulary. ''

"Is he really so notorious that just to be seen dancing with him would fairly ruin a girl?"

"I have seen it happen, and it's a shame really, because he's notthatmuch of a womanizer. Not that he ever lacks for female companionship. But he's not out to seduce the whole of London either.''

"Just his fair share?"

Regina noted the grin and realized Roslynn was amused by Anthony's reputation rather than scandalized.

Perhaps she wasn't interested after all. Or perhaps she wisely sensed that it was hopeless.

"Gossips can be cruel, m'dear." Regina leaned closer to whisper. "In fact, I don't dare leave your side.

Heismisbehaving, staring at you like that."

Roslynn avoided the other woman's eyes. "He could be looking at you."

"Of course he isn't. But as long as no one here is quite sure which of us he's ogling, you're safe."

"Ah, there you are, Ros." Frances joined them. "Lord Grahame was just asking for you. He claims you promised him a waltz."

"So I did." Roslynn sighed. It was time to forget Anthony Malory and get back to work. "I just hope the fellow can loosen up and be a little more revealing this time."

Too late, she realized how that must have sounded to Lady Eden, but Regina simply smiled. "It's all right, m'dear. Frances has told me something of your situation. You might be amused to know I had the exact same problem when I was looking for a husband. But unlike yours, my choice had to be approved by my family, which only made it exceedingly difficult because, to them, no one was good enough for me. Thank God my Nicholas compromised me, or I still might be looking for a husband."

It was Frances who appeared shocked. "But I thought you had been promised to him!"

"That was the general assumption after the announcement was made, but the fact was, he had abducted me, thinking I was his current mistress, and that little mistake got out. Oh, he brought me home immediately upon realizing his mistake, but the damage was done. And he came kicking and protesting to the altar, confirmed bachelor that he was. Yet he has settled nicely into marriage. It just goes to show that if someone seems unsuitable in all respects, they might turn out to be the best choice after all. You just never know."

The last was said for Roslynn's benefit, but she forced herself to disregard it. Her chore was hard enough without adding to it the unsuitables. She wasn't going to end up with a bad penny on the off chance that he could be reformed. A gambler she was not.

With that resolve firmly set in her mind, she went off in search of Lord Grahame.

Chapter Eight

Ifan order had been placed, the weather that morning couldn't have been more perfect. It nearly tripled the amount of riders who were generally found in Hyde Park at such an early hour. Afternoons were the time for promenading, when every conceivable type of carriage could be seen making slow progress along the countrylike lanes. Mornings were reserved for the exercising of stock and body, when one didn't usually encounter one's acquaintances and so was not forced to stop repeatedly for conversation, as would happen in the afternoon.

Anthony Malory was resigned to giving up his customary hard gallop through the park that morning in favor of a brisk trot. Not that Reggie wasn't game, but he doubted her frisky mare could keep up with his powerful stallion, and since she insisted on joining him, he was forced to keep to her pace.

After last night, he had his suspicions as to why she had invited herself along, and he wasn't sure he wanted to discuss the lady. But when Reggie slowed and reigned in, waving James and Jeremy on, he knew there would be no help for it. The little darling could be uncomfortably persevering at times.

"When I asked to ride with you this morning, I rather thought we would be alone," Regina began with

just the faintest degree of annoyance in her tone. "Jeremy I could understand wanting to come along with us, but Uncle James? He rarely rises before noon."

Actually, Anthony had pulled brother and nephew out of bed, browbeating and cajoling them into joining him. That ploy hadn't worked, however, to keep Reggie from her purpose. And blast James. He knew very well the only reason he was along was to keep the conversation impersonal, but there he trotted off, flashing Anthony an amused grin.

Anthony shrugged innocently. "What can I say? James has changed his habits considerably since he became a father. Hasn't that scoundrel you married done the same?"

"Famous! Why is it you always attack Nicholas when your own behavior has been less than exemplary?"

And she jumped right into it. "She's half Scot, you know."

He didn't bother to ask who, but said indifferently, "Is she?"

"They're known for terrible tempers."

"All right, puss." He sighed. "What's on your mind that you feel obliged to warn me?"

Her brow wrinkled, blue eyes probing blue eyes of a like shade. "Are you interested in her, Tony?"

"Have I died and don't know it?"

She laughed, unable to help it. "Yes, I suppose that was a silly question. Of course you're interested—you and a few dozen others. I guess my next question should be, are you going to do anything about it?"

"That, my girl, is none of your business."

His tone was gentle but firm, and Regina's frown was back. "I know. But I thought you should learn a little something about her before you make up your mind to pursue her."

"Is this to be a full history?" he asked dryly.

"Don't be difficult, Tony. She's come to London to get married."

"I've already been told that appalling news by the lady herself."

"You mean you've talked to her? When?"

"If you must know, last night in the garden."

She gasped. "You didn't—"

"I didn't."

Regina let out a sigh, but it was only temporary relief. If knowing Lady Roslynn was actively seeking marriage didn't put him off, the poor woman was doomed.

"Perhaps you don't realize how serious she is, Tony. She means to be married by the end of the month.

No, you needn't raise your brows. It's not that. In fact, she might as well be sixteen for all the experience she has had of men."

"NowthatI won't believe."

"There, you see? You don't know anything about her, and yet you're contemplating disrupting her life.

The truth is, that life has been extremely sheltered until now. She's been tucked away with her grandfather in the Highlands ever since her parents died, and apparently these past years have been spent nursing him, which is why she hasn't considered marriage until now. Were you aware of that?''

"Our talk was brief, Reggie."

She noted his irritation but pressed on. "Her father was an earl of some consequence. You know Uncle Jason won't like it—"

Anthony interrupted this warning. "Much as I hate to be on big brother's blacklist, I'm not answerable to him, puss."

"There's still more to it, Tony. She's an heiress. Her grandfather was ridiculously wealthy, and he's left it all to Lady Roslynn. That little piece of news isn't common knowledge yet, but you can imagine what will happen if she isn't married before that happens."

"Every scoundrel in London will crawl out from under his rock to pursue her," Anthony answered tightly.

"Exactly. But fortunately, she already has several gentlemen picked out for consideration. As I understand it, it's just a matter now of learning what she can about them before she chooses one. In fact, I'm to ask Nicholas what he knows about them."

"Since you know so much, miss, tell me what the bloody rush is."

Oh, he was definitely interested, enough not to care that his irritation was now plainly showing. It gave Regina pause simply because it was so unique. Never had she seen him stirred up over a woman before.

There were just too many for him to choose from for one in particular to mean overmuch to him. She might have to rearrange her own thinking on the matter.

Hesitantly, she offered, "It has something to do with a deathbed promise Lady Roslynn made to her grandfather, the rush, and the reason she's actively looking for a husband. According to her friend Frances Grenfell, she probably wouldn't marry at all if not for that promise. I mean, you don't see a situation like hers very often, a woman so beautiful, so rich, and answerable to no one but herself."

It was indeed a unique situation, but Anthony didn't consider it at the moment, the Grenfell name causing unease. "How close a friend is she to Frances Grenfell?"

He threw Regina off the track with that question. "Why?"

"Lady Frances was one of George's youthful mistakes, though that's not to be repeated, puss."

"No, of course not," she said in one breath, and then in the next, "You mean good old George, your best friend, the one who always teased me so outrageously?ThatGeorge?"

He grinned at her surprise. "One and the same, and you haven't answered my question."

"Well, I don't see that it matters, but they're as close as two friends could be. They met in school and never lost touch with each other.''

"Which means bloody confidences and all that," he fairly growled.

Damnation! Anthony could still hear her husky voice confessing, "I've been warned about men like you."

He had thought she was teasing, but now he knew where the warnings must have come from and how damning they probably were. She hadn't been teasing at all. She would be on her guard against him no matter what, always remembering what had happened to her friend. He was suddenly of a mind to soundly thrash George Amherst for his youthful indiscretion. Bloody rotten hell!

Seeing his black scowl, Regina was reluctant to say what she knew needed saying, but no one else would dare be so bold with him, so she had to. "You know, Tony, unless you're willing to take the big step yourself, which would shock the whole of London but absolutely delight the family, you really ought to leave the lady alone."

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