That Perfect Someone Page 10

Actually, Gabrielle might know, might even be the friend he was here visiting. She"d called him a dear friend. She must know a lot about him.

As they entered the hotel together, Julia asked, “What kind of work does Jean Paul do?”

“He didn"t tell you?” Gabrielle replied in what seemed a careful tone.

“No, we didn"t say much about ourselves at the ball.”

“Well, it will give you something to talk about with him.”

Was Gabrielle deliberately avoiding that subject? Julia tried another, asking, “Do you know how long he is going to be in England?”

“Not long. Too long,” Gabrielle said, somewhat distracted, then with a glance at Julia, she sighed. “I"m sorry, he just causes me such worry over his infatuation with my sister-in-law.

Which is why I thought—” Gabrielle paused. She even frowned. Then she added unexpectedly, “Have you ever thought of visiting the Caribbean?” Julia chuckled at such an abrupt change of subject. “Oh, my, no. I can and do make quick jaunts to France on business, but I can"t be away from my responsibilities here for more"n a few days at a time.”

“I understand, and maybe this wasn"t such—” Gabrielle paused again. “Oh, what the heck, fate has impulsively gotten us this far. I"ll leave the note. Actually, why don"t I see if he"s available to join us for lunch here?”

Julia grinned. A much preferable arrangement that made her pursuit of him less obvious.

At the desk, though, they were informed that Jean Paul was already having lunch in the garden. The clerk called one of the hotel employees to take them to him.

The clerk explained, “You"ll need direction, since it"s still a bit of a maze out there once you get beyond the small dining area. Some of our guests prefer their privacy, so we have a few tables set up behind the hedges. The young gentleman is using one of them.” With quite a few tables set under the shade of two large oak trees in the center of the garden, Julia and Gabrielle walked past a lovely area where guests could partake of breakfast, lunch, or tea, weather permitting, to a maze of tall hedges at the back of the garden.

Julia was desperately trying for some composure so it wouldn"t be so obvious that she was giddy with excitement. She couldn"t manage it. She was going to see him! Today. Within moments.

But she got unexpected help when she was nearly run over! The employee waved an arm indicating the final hedge, and Julia no sooner stepped around it when a tall man did the same.

He was quick enough to put out his hands to keep her from colliding with him. He looked slightly oriental, due to the long black braid that hung over his shoulder. He blocked her view of the table behind him.

He looked her up and down. “Well, definitely not the lunch we ordered,” he said, sounding English, then added to the employee, “You forgot this table is already in use?”

“We were told Jean Paul—” Julia began.

“Right place,” the man cut in but then, noticing Gabrielle behind Julia, muttered, “Uh-oh.” Gabrielle was raising her brow at him over that “Uh-oh,” but all Julia heard was Jean Paul"s voice from behind the man. “My angel of mercy from the ball? What an unexpected pleasure, chérie. Do come join me. And, Ohr, be a good sport and go find out what happened to that food, eh?”

Ohr started laughing. “I would, but your „angel" isn"t alone.” Julia couldn"t help grinning over the emphasis Jean Paul had placed on the word pleasure.

But as Ohr stepped aside so she could actually see Jean Paul, her grin faded at the sight of him.

“My God, what happened to you?” Julia gasped.

“James Malory happened to me.”

“When? Surely not that night?”

“Indeed, he caught up with me as I was leaving the ball. Another few moments and I would have been gone.” Then he winced when he saw Gabrielle step next to Julia.

“My God, didn"t we give you enough warnings?” Gabrielle said in an appalled tone as she looked him over. “Maybe I should have taken a club to you myself and saved James the trouble?”

He gave his friend a half grin. “Your sympathy warms my heart, chérie.”

“Oh, shut up,” Gabrielle huffed, then stabbed a finger at Ohr. “You come with me, I want a full accounting.” To Julia she said, “I"ll be back in a moment.” Julia barely heard her. She was drawn forward almost in morbid curiosity as Jean Paul stood to pull out the chair next to him for her. He was dressed too casually for a hotel of this caliber, no jacket, no cravat or tie, and perhaps that"s why he was tucked away at this private table. Or was it because of his bandages? When he bent slightly, she saw the upper edge of the bandages that were apparently wrapped around his chest, and the bruises above them. She saw him wince, too, and how stiffly he moved as he sat again. But his poor face! Whatever damage had been done there required a thick bandage that crossed the bridge of his nose and covered a good portion of the left side of his face.

“How badly are you hurt?” she asked as she took only a few steps closer to him. She resisted the chair he"d pulled out. She shouldn"t sit next to him, at least not until his friends returned.

The right side of his mouth rose in a cheeky grin. “Truly, not as bad as it looks.”

“But your chest is wrapped, isn"t it?”

“Merely bruised. I thought it was much worse, but the doctor assured me I"d be in a lot more pain if my ribs were broken. Malory was rather accurate in not hitting me in the same place twice.”

“Bruises that require bandaging?”

“Just as a precaution. The doctor couldn"t be absolutely certain there isn"t a small fracture hidden in there. Besides, while it might not look like it, I can breathe much easier this way.” She winced. What a trouncing that must have been! But considering who had administered it, Jean Paul was lucky to have walked away from it.

“I take it your nose is broken though?” she said, staring at the bandages on his face.

“A minor nuisance,” he replied with a shrug. “Having been broken before, it breaks rather easily now. I"m usually much better at avoiding blows to my face.” He said that with a wide grin that showed off some white teeth. He certainly didn"t sound seriously injured, but it definitely sounded as if he was no stranger to fisticuffs, which made her wonder again what sort of occupation he held, or leisure pursuits he indulged in. A young rakehell who frequented too many unsavory taverns? A pugilist like the younger Malory brothers, who took their exercise in a sporting ring? She wished Gabrielle had said more about him.

“All of those bandages can"t be for your nose,” she pointed out.

“Let me guess, you"re a nurse?”

She chuckled. “No, certainly not.”

His green eyes sparkled with laughter. “Well, if you were, you"d be leery of London doctors! They have such newfangled notions. This one first wanted to wrap my face up like a mummy"s. I refused. Then he suggested fish glue to stick the bandages to my skin. No thank you!” She smiled with him over his anecdote. “But truly, chérie, the doctor was just overly concerned with scratches on my cheek, so he did more than was warranted. And my nose will mend as it did before.”

“So no scars?”

“From scratches? But your concern is warming my heart. Perhaps if you visit me each day during my recovery, I will mend perfectly. You are my angel of mercy, after all.” She blushed. She knew it wasn"t just compassion making her ask so many questions about his injuries, but her nervousness over being there. And some very real disappointment. She had assumed she would find out what Jean Paul looked like today. She"d been quite excited about that. But thanks to James Malory"s ire and an overzealous doctor, his face was just as distorted as when he"d been wearing the mask.

Despite all of the bandages, it wasn"t hard to tell that he was as young as she"d guessed him to be, somewhere in his mid-twenties. Nothing concealed his forehead today, so she could see that it was wide and smooth, with thick black eyebrows. And at least one cheek was undamaged, broad and masculine. His mouth was still just as fascinating as she"d found it that night, supple, quick to grin and quirk that thin mustache to a jaunty angle. Quite a dark tan he had, too, so he must enjoy the outdoors as she did.

“You"re not wondering how I found you when I didn"t know Gabrielle was a friend of yours?” she asked.

“I do not question gifts, chérie. Come, sit here and let me bask in your beauty.” He patted the seat next to him again. Had he moved it a little closer to him?

She knew she shouldn"t, but she found herself sitting down demurely anyway. Some unexpected heat washed over her, being this close to him. She must be blushing again.

His lack of curiosity struck her as unusual. Or perhaps hers was overabundant, since she had to know everything about every little thing—and had yet to really learn anything about him.

But she"d always been that way, in her studies, in life, while learning the intricacies of conducting business from her father.

And a good deal of that curiosity was aroused by this man. “Georgina doesn"t know you"re French.”

“No, I didn"t want her to misunderstand my intentions, so I spoke my best English with her.”

She dropped her eyes to her lap before adding, “She doesn"t even know your name.” He laughed. “I"d be devastated if I thought I"d told her and she so easily forgot, but I can"t recall mentioning it to her. My thoughts get quite scattered in her presence—as scattered as they are right now.”

Her blush got hotter, or maybe she was getting hotter. She feared she would let out a nervous giggle. She wasn"t used to this sort of excitement. It was a bit overwhelming. Her simply being there alone with him was so naughty! This must be what a lovers" tryst felt like.

She shouldn"t have taken her eyes off his face. The distortion the bandages caused was quelling her excitement and kept her mind focused on his condition, which raised her sympathy, not her attraction. So she lifted her eyes slowly, but didn"t get any farther than his shoulder. He"d turned in his chair to face her more directly, and his hair had fallen over his shoulder. It was that long!

She waved a finger toward it with a laugh. “Is that a French fashion?”

“The reason I wear my hair this way is actually a long story which I"d rather not recount.

Suffice it to say, it delights me to wear it this way.”

“It"s nearly as long as my own hair!” she exclaimed.

“Is it? Let your hair down and show me.”

Now his tone was too husky by far. She felt a fluttering in her belly and her pulse was quickening. This was getting out of hand! It occurred to her that he might be thinking she"d come here to tryst with him. Why wouldn"t he? She shouldn"t be there!

“I should leave,” she said abruptly, and started to stand.

“No, no, don"t do that! My pain went away the moment you appeared.” What a whopper, though she smiled anyway over the blandishment. Then he put his hand on her arm to stay her, and all she could think about was him touching her.

She finally got out, “Your friend Gabrielle thought you could use some cheering, but she obviously didn"t know about your injuries.”

“She worries too much about me.”

“With reason?”

He grinned. “Be my shield, chérie. She won"t yell at me while you"re here.” She chuckled. “I have a feeling she—”

She stopped with a gasp when he suddenly leaned out of his chair and nearly across hers.

But then she heard the buzzing sound of the bee close to her ear and instinctively moved away from it, which brought the side of her cheek up against his chest. He was batting at the insect to get it away from her. She heard his grunts. That was too much stretching for his bruised ribs.

But she didn"t hear the bee anymore either, he"d swatted it away. What a chivalrous thing to do, despite the discomfort it had caused him.

“Thank you.”

She leaned back at the same time he did and saw immediately that the bandage on his face had fallen to the ground during his exertions.

“It was a nuisance and due to come off this afternoon anyway,” he said, then grinned as he leaned closer so she could see for herself. “Just a few scratches, correct? I don"t look too scary, do I?”

 No, just too handsome, she thought before she met his eyes, realized she was far too close to him now—and felt his lips brush across hers. Her gasp was lost in the pressure that began immediately, her surprise so sudden, she didn"t even think to close her lips this time. His tongue slipped inside her mouth, carefully exploring, amazing her with his taste, with her instant, passionate response. He was holding her there against him with just one arm, but she wasn"t trying to get away. Oh, no. She was right where she wanted to be.

Carried away by that kiss, she put up a hand to caress him. Thoughtlessly, so thoughtlessly, her fingers got too close to his nose. She felt him wince and shoot backward as if burned.

“I"m sorry!”

He was giving her a wry grin. “Not as much as I am, chérie.” She could see his whole face now. Despite the bruising on both sides of his nose and the abrasions on his cheek, she saw just how handsome he was, even more than she"d imagined that night at the ball. But his features seemed familiar to her. Had she met him before?

Maybe he"d ridden in Hyde Park—no, she would have noticed someone this handsome on her riding grounds, wouldn"t she? But she must have met him somewhere for him to look so familiar. She just couldn"t pinpoint where.

Prev Next