That Perfect Someone Page 6

“Why can"t you—?” Gabrielle had begun, but then she"d actually digested what he"d said and abruptly amended, “One last time? And you"ll put her from your mind after that?” He didn"t want to lie to her, but he could relieve her worry without doing that. “She"s a lost cause for me. D"you really think I don"t know that?”

He"d thought she was coming around to his side when she said with a worried frown, “This is just asking for trouble, Richard.” But then her little chin got that mulish angle and she"d added, “In fact, no. I"m sorry, but you"re my dearest friend and I"m not going to help you down this path to destruction you seem intent on. Forget about her! ” Stymied and utterly frustrated because of it, he"d thrown up his hands. “Fine! You win! I"ll just drown my sorrows for the duration. I"m sure Ohr, who agrees with you, will assist me with that at least,” he"d said, and marched back to the coach.

He"d decided not to argue with her anymore. He"d just have to find his own way to see Georgina again. And he"d got lucky in that endeavor.

“And how did you get evening clothes this quickly?” Gabrielle was demanding now with an angry once-over at his black formal wear. “We only got here two days ago. I thought your old clothes didn"t fit you anymore.”

“They don"t. But I have a good tailor in St. Kitts I"ve been using for several years, and I came prepared for anything on this trip.”

“You came prepared to die! My God, I can"t believe you"re in the same room with him!”

“You have blown this so far out of proportion, Gabby. He"s not going to kill me for just looking at her.”

“His dire warning was that you couldn"t get anywhere near her, and while you might easily ignore a promise like that from any other man, you can"t from him. And how did you even find out about this ball?”

“You should have told me about it.”

Her scowl darkened over that accusation. “No, I shouldn"t have, which is why I didn"t.

 How? ”

He sighed over her obstinacy. “That hotel you dropped us off at—by the by, thank you for that, it"s one of the best in town—keeps several coaches on hand for guests. I made use of one yesterday, even gave the driver the day off after he parked the vehicle across from Georgina"s residence. I sat there merely hoping for the briefest glimpse of her if she happened to leave the house, but she never did.”

“She has guests, so of course she wouldn"t leave, but that still doesn"t explain how you found out about this ball and where it was being held.”

“I"d been hiding there most of the day when two ladies from the area strolled past me, and I suppose because the Malory house was right there across the street, the subject of this ball came up. I nearly fell out of the coach trying to catch the end of what they were saying.” Gabrielle sighed now. “You usually have perfectly good sense—until it comes to her, then you don"t have any at all. And how did you get in here without an invitation?” He grinned suddenly. That had actually brought back memories of the hellion he"d been when he"d been trying anything and everything to get his father to disown him, none of which had worked.

He told Gabrielle, “The same way the two young lords I found out front discussing access did. I followed them around to the back of the house and watched them climb over the garden wall. Deuced small garden compared to Malory"s, and crowded, too, but mostly with others who"d got in the same way. Those who noticed our irregular entrance merely laughed.” She tsked. “Ohr agreed to this madness? He was supposed to keep an eye on you. Aren"t you sharing a room with him so he can do that?”

“We were, but I made him angry enough to find somewhere else to cool off before we came to blows.”

“You didn"t!” she gasped.

“It wasn"t easy. You know how imperturbable he is.”

“You deliberately riled him up?” His guilty wince had her scold, “You owe him an apology.”

“I know.”

“Now would be a good time to apologize. Get out of here, Richard, while you still can.” He weighed his options and decided that arguing with her any further would get him nowhere, so he nodded at Gabrielle and headed to the garden. At least he"d seen Georgina.

Gad, she was as beautiful as he remembered, and he still wanted her so much! Time wasn"t making that go away. He hoped Gabrielle would believe he"d got what he"d come for and trust that he was leaving. But it wasn"t enough, this one sight of his love, not as long as he was in England and so close to her.

Apparently, Gabby didn"t trust him completely when she considered so much was at stake.

She actually followed him to the terrace doors that opened to the garden, which forced him to leap over the wall and out of her sight. He went no farther, but he did wait at least ten minutes before he peered over the wall to make sure she"d gone back to join Drew in the main room.

It was a simple matter to make sure she didn"t discover him again. A wonderful thing, full face masks—at least tonight they were. They covered the entire face, except for the eyes, which of course was why they weren"t comfortable to wear. He"d already noticed another fellow in a full mask quite different from his standing alone below the terrace in the garden.

Richard vaulted back over the wall and quickly approached the man. He kept one eye on the terrace to make sure Gabby didn"t reappear. It took him a moment to realize the chap in the full mask was also eyeing the terrace.

“Care to swap masks, old chap?” Richard asked.

“No.”

The man didn"t even look at him! His glance went from both exits to the terrace, then to the pocket watch he held in his hand. He was obviously waiting impatiently for someone to join him. But it was like fate that this man"s mask was different from Richard"s, since a few he"d seen inside had been identical to his, so he tried again.

“Ten pounds?”

The fellow glanced at him now, even laughed. “Aren"t you the desperate one. I"d actually take you up on that if my mistress didn"t buy this mask for me specifically so she"d have an easy time finding me in the crowd. But I left word for her to meet me in the garden instead.

Had a feeling this place would be a bloody crush.”

“Then there should be no problem. You"ll recognize her, won"t you?”

“Can"t say for sure, and I"m not about to miss her tonight for any reason.” Since the man"s mistress was already late and would probably arrive at any moment, Richard suggested, “After she shows up?”

The fellow still shook his head. “Can"t do it. She bought it. You do realize what happens if you give away something your ladylove buys you?”

With no one else outside the ballroom wearing such a perfect disguise, Richard"s sigh was poignant. He should just leave. This was probably fate prompting him.

But the young lord must have heard his sigh. “You can"t have mine, but I came with a friend. Perhaps he"ll accommodate you.”

Being a good sport after all, the young lord even went to fetch his friend and the swap was soon made. Unfortunately, the new mask wasn"t at all to Richard"s taste; a devil"s face replete with ceramic horns, it was not even a full mask. The half mask left his mouth exposed, but what the hell, mouths weren"t all that distinctive. And he had no other options. At least Gabrielle wouldn"t recognize him so easily, though she might accost the fellow wearing his old clown mask. But she"d just end up a little embarrassed and give up looking for him, assured that he"d left.

Armored once more to his satisfaction—he even stuffed his long hair beneath his coat this time—Richard was prepared to risk all again for a few more hours of just gazing at Georgina from afar. In the back of his mind was the distinct worry that he might be tempted to do more than that, but he ignored it. He had to ignore it. He didn"t really want to die for love of another"s man wife.

Chapter Seven

THE BALEFUL EXPRESSION IN James Malory"s eyes wasn"t fleeting. It persisted, and because it did, Julia"s curiosity got the better of her. But she couldn"t see who or what had drawn his furious attention. Whoever it was, was on the same side of the room as she, but dozens of people in the way blocked her view. So when Carol tried to steer her back to her husband, Harry, to introduce her to the friend Harry was conversing with, Julia excused herself for a few minutes and wove her way quickly through the crowd. She had to peek over people"s shoulders and rise up on her toes every now and then to catch glimpses of James to see if she was lining up with his sight.

After a few minutes she got a clear view of him, but she was quite disappointed to find that she was too late. James had turned his attention back to his wife as he leaned down to tell her something. He even kissed her cheek, which caused an immediate oh-ah-isn"t-that-sweet collective sigh in the room, then quite a few embarrassed chuckles over it.

Georgina laughed, hearing the crowd"s reaction. James looked up at the ceiling in exasperation, no doubt, because he couldn"t help but hear that sigh, too. But then Georgina was distracted by one of her many relatives who had come up to talk to her, and James"s gaze went right back to where it had been before.

Like Carol, Julia couldn"t help the shudder that passed over her when he seemed to pin that feral gaze right on her! She realized that he must be staring at one of the four people who were standing in front of her on the edge of the crowd facing the dance floor. The music stopped briefly, so the few couples who had been dancing left the floor, which gave her a clearer view of James. While his stone-faced expression still gave away nothing, his green eyes had turned lethal. Amazing how he could have murder on his mind and you simply wouldn"t know it unless you caught that gaze.

Then it occurred to her that the man really did usually keep his feelings to himself, so he must be exhibiting them deliberately now. Was he sending someone a message? She tried to figure out who had James"s undivided attention.

Of the four people standing with their backs to her, a woman and three men, the woman and one of the men were obviously together. The second man was a short, stocky fellow easy to see over. The third man was tall enough to easily stand out in the crowd.

The couple were so engrossed in conversation that they hadn"t noticed anything amiss, and as soon as the music started again, they moved onto the dance floor. James"s gaze didn"t follow them, which left the two men. The short one suddenly turned and hurried off behind Julia, and she couldn"t mistake his shudder as he passed her. He disappeared beyond the open doors to the terrace, and James"s gaze didn"t follow his departure, either. That pretty much left the tall fellow.

She didn"t know many men outside of Malory"s family who were this tall, and James wasn"t likely to be this furious with a relative—actually, that had to be it! Georgina"s brothers, of course! How could she have forgotten James made no bones about his animosity toward them?

He could barely tolerate them.

This tall, broad-shouldered man could be any one of Georgina"s five brothers. Julia hadn"t met all of them, though those she knew didn"t have black hair like this man. And come to think of it, James might not like the Anderson brothers, but he wouldn"t give any of them killing looks either.

She began to realize how silly her quest was. Unless she recognized this man, which was doubtful with everyone wearing masks tonight, what did she think she would discover? She couldn"t point out to him that he was about to die and ask him why. No, she wasn"t going to find out a single thing.

As she turned around to look for Carol, a rather loud sigh stopped her and made her glance at that wide, masculine back again. Had the man finally noticed James"s dire attention? If so, she expected to see the man run past her and out of the room, but he didn"t. Actually, that sigh had sounded rather pitiful—almost heartbreaking. That certainly wouldn"t have anything to do with James Malory, so this fellow probably still didn"t know he was in danger.

Should she warn him? While the titled ladies present might be constrained by the rule of not speaking to a man they hadn"t been introduced to, that rule didn"t apply to her. In the world of business, she had to speak to strangers all the time. But this really wasn"t any of her concern, and besides, her curiosity was prompting her to make assumptions that might not be accurate.

She turned to leave again, but then, appalled, found herself tapping the man"s shoulder instead. It was that pathetic sigh! How could she ignore something that forlorn?

“Are you all right?” Julia asked.

He swung around, and she was startled for a moment by the devil"s mask he was wearing. It was only a half mask though, with beneath it the shadow of a mustache, a pair of sensual lips, and a firm chin. But he barely spared her a glance before looking back over his shoulder where he"d been gazing.

With another sigh he said, “Look at her, she"s magnificent, isn"t she?” He had a slight accent, though Julia couldn"t quite place it, but she wondered if he"d even heard her question. “You sound smitten,” she said, noting the obvious.

“More than smitten. I"ve been in love with her since I first clapped eyes on her last year.”

“Who?”

“Lady Malory.”

Julia managed to choke back a laugh because that had to be the last thing she"d expected to hear. But that certainly explained James"s animosity. Her curiosity had been satisfied after all.

The Malorys were extremely family-oriented. No matter which of their women this man was talking about, those present tonight were all married, so James would take exception.

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