The Magic of You Page 10

It was a large house, much nicer than Warren could have hoped to find, though he supposed it had been unrealistic to think his sister might have been living in squalor--which would have been a splendid excuse to take her home--not when she was married to an English lord of the realm. Just because he had found her last time living as a guest in her brother-in-law's house didn't mean her husband couldn't provide well enough for her. James Malory was obviously going to have no difficulty in doing that.

Aware now of what he was doing, letting a chit of a girl determine his actions, he still didn't move from the top of the stairs. Did she know he was there? No; she appeared too calm, too serene, which was unusual in itself. Young people her age tended to be so full of boundless energy, they were rarely still.

They didn't project serenity, which actually had a soothing effect on the observer--at least it did on Warren. To his amazement, he found that it was a pleasure simply to watch her, which was probably why he was still there instead of going about his business.

He still couldn't credit what had passed between him and Amy Malory. He had thought her a complete innocent, and young innocents like her didn't appeal to him in the least. So how could those three little words she'd uttered get to him as they had, making him ignore who she was, making him ache to taste her, and grab any excuse to do so. Excuse? She had deserved the lesson he'd tried to impart; it just hadn't worked out as he'd intended. He'd learned something instead, that she wasn't the

innocent he'd assumed her to be--and that 117 he damn well liked the feel and taste of her.

Recalling those stimulating moments, he felt his blood quickening again, and it infuriated him that Amy Malory was having this kind of effect on him. She was young, sweet, the kind of girl you married, whereas the women who attracted him were mature, worldly, the kind who understood that his interest wasn't the least bit honorable and never would be. Once he left them, he forgot them, and never bothered to wonder if he was leaving crushed expectations behind. Out of sight, out of mind, was never more aptly put. So for this girl to linger so strongly in his mind ...

She stood back finally to give her handiwork a critical once-over, adjusted one more flower, then turned to leave. Warren could have moved back then, but perversely changed his mind about avoiding her. And her eyes came right to him, her step halted. She didn't smile or seem startled, but color came slowly to her cheeks.

Good. A little regret for her impetuosity was definitely in order. If she was in the habit of accosting men as she had him, it was no wonder she was no longer the innocent. Not for a moment did he think that he was the only one she'd ever uttered those infamous words to. But realizing that did nothing to abate his returning irritation with the girl.

Warren came down the stairs without haste, his eyes never leaving Amy's. She didn't drop her gaze, though her cheeks did get brighter.

He was annoyed enough to make note of it when he reached the foyer and stood next to her. "Do I detect embarrassment? You ought to be."

She seemed surprised by his observation, but only momentarily, for one of her mischievous grins appeared quickly as she answered him. "I'm not embarrassed. If I'm suddenly rosy-cheeked, it's because I was remembering how much I liked kissing you. Let me know when you'd like to give it another try."

The audacity of the girl, the utter brazenness-- he hadn't anticipated being the recipient of it again, and so could only think to say, "Didn't I give you a warning?"

"What happens if I don't heed it?"

The girl wasn't normal. A frown like the one he was giving her should have sent her running for cover, yet she challenged him instead, not the least bit cowed. Warren wasn't used to this. Women were usually wary of him, at least careful 119 to avoid provoking his temper, and he preferred it that way.

It kept unnecessary chatter to a minimum. But this little minx, with her mixture of brazen seduction and impish mischievousness, he didn't know how to deal with. She wasn't his to discipline or lecture, though he had a strong wish at the moment that it were otherwise--at least temporarily.

"I suppose I'll have to have words with your father," he replied in answer to her challenge.

It was said to frighten her. It didn't. "He'll have to know eventually that I want you, so you might ask for my hand while you're at it--just to speed things along."

She was incorrigible, obviously. Warren felt like shaking her for it--no, that wasn't what he really felt like doing to her, but he wasn't going to give in to his baser instincts again. He did need to make himself clear, however.

"I don't want your hand. I won't be asking for it or for anything else you have to offer, little girl."

Her back straightened. Her eyes narrowed. And she had the impudence to poke a finger dead center on his chest as she informed him, "Just because

you're so god-awful tall doesn't make me little. If you haven't noticed, I'm taller than your sister, but I don't hear you calling her little."

He was taken aback by her attack, but quickly rallied. "I wasn't referring to your height, little girl."

At that the starch went out of her with a sigh and a shrug. "I know. I was giving you an out, because to harp on our age difference is ridiculous. You know perfectly well that men much older than you marry girls my age all the time. You are not too old for me, Warren Anderson. And besides, ever since I clapped eyes on you, men closer to my age seem silly and immature to me. There are a few exceptions, but I'm related to them, so they don't count."

Twice now she'd managed to sidestep the point he'd tried to stress. He got back to it directly.

"I'm not the least bit interested in your preferences," he told her.

Undaunted, she predicted, "You will be. I just thought I'd explain now, to save you getting jealous later."

Warren was amazed he hadn't already 121 lost his patience. "That you won't have to worry about.

Now I must insist you end this flirtation. I'm not amused by it. I am, in fact, becoming quite annoyed."

She merely arched a brow at him. "You're not one to stand on manners, Warren. If I'm annoying you so much, why haven't you left?"

He was damned if he knew. But before he could say that or anything else, she took a step closer to him, too close for his senses not to react.

"You'd like to kiss me again," she guessed quite accurately, "but I can see you won't. Would it help if I took the initiative?"

Warren sucked in his breath. She was doing it to him again, seducing him with her words and the take-me look in her eyes. He wanted her, Jesus, he wanted her. He'd never felt anything quite so strong.

Not even ... The mere thought of Marianne was like a dousing in ice.

"Stop it!" he hissed as Amy reached for him.

He caught her wrists as he said it, and held on a bit harder than necessary. He saw her wince but ignoredit. She'd courted his passion and now

she had it, but it wasn't the kind she'd hoped for.

"What's it going to take to get through to you, girl?" he demanded harshly. "I'm not interested!"

"Rubbish," she dared to throw back at him. "Get mad all you like, but at least be truthful. It's marriage you're not interested in, but I already knew that and we'll get around it--somehow. But don't try and tell me I haven't caught your fancy, not after the way you kissed me."

"I was making a point," he gritted out.

She merely grinned. "Oh, you did, most definitely, and I enjoyed every moment of it. You did, too, if you'll be truthful about it."

He didn't deny it, but exasperation made him demand, "Why are you doing this?"

"Doing what?"

"Don't play dense now," he snapped. "You're doing your damnedest to seduce me."

She gave him a dazzling smile filled with delight. "Is it working?"

As if she didn't know--or maybe she didn't know. Well, if she didn't, he certainly wasn't going to encourage her with a confirmation.

"Answer me, dammit," he 123 growled. "Why do you persist when I've asked you to--demanded that you--back off?"

She still wasn't cowed. All she did was sigh before telling him, "It's my impatience. I really hate waiting for things that are inevitable, and you and I--was

"Are not inevitable!"

"But we are," she insisted. "And so I don't see why we need to drag this out. You are going to fall in love with me. We're going to get married. We're going to be incredibly happy together. Let it happen, Warren. Give me a chance to bring laughter back into your life."

What shocked him was that she seemed so earnest-- and her confidence was appalling. She was good, he had to give her that, good enough to make him wonder how many other men she'd played this particular game with. Did she lead them right to the altar before she admitted she was testing her wiles--or just to her bed? But it did finally occur to him that he was encouraging her merely by arguing with her.

He let go of her wrists, tossed them down actually, to say stiffly, and he hoped for the last time, "Give it up. You're reaching for something that

isn't there. There is only one thing I want from women these days, and it doesn't take very long to get it and be done with it."

"You don't have to be crude," she said in a hurt little voice.

"Apparently I do. Keep your distance, Amy Malory. Don't make me warn you again."

Chapter 12

Amy's optimism dropped considerably after Warren's departure. And to think she'd believed she'd made some progress. She'd seen it, felt it, that she was getting to him. But all she'd done was make a fool of herself.

She shouldn't have rushed it. She could see that now. She should have been more subtle, merely pricked his interest rather than give him a broadside of honesty. But there was the damn time element involved.

One of the brothers, Boyd, she thought, had mentioned that they were going to be in London only for a week, two at the most. Drat it, how was she supposed to accomplish the impossible in so little time without directness? But she'd have to come up with another way, because directness only managed to infuriate Warren, and she'd never get 125 anywhere with him if she couldn't get past his anger.

It was the mention of marriage that got his defenses up and kept them up. That had been a really stupid thing to do when she knew how thoroughly committed to bachelorhood he was--and why. Damn that American woman who had played him so false and was going to make Amy's goal so hard to reach. But that was water under the bridge; in fact, if that woman hadn't played him false, he'd be married to her now, and Amy wouldn't be having this problem. Still, it was the mention of marriage that had ruined things today, possibly irreparably. And the damage was done. He knew what she was ultimately after. All she could do now was not mention it again, and hope he'd think she'd changed her mind. He might relax then and nature could take its natural course--if she had six months to work on it instead of a mere two weeks.

Her optimism was definitely suffering. Nor did it pick up any when Warren returned early that evening with his brothers. Drew flirted with her a bit, but Drew probably flirted with every woman he met.

Warren, on the other hand, made

a point of ignoring her, didn't greet her, didn't so much as say two words to her.

Jeremy was on hand this time to lend his father support against the "enemy," but it wasn't necessary. The Anderson brothers didn't stay long enough to provoke any tempers.

Amy could guess why they were eager to be off, though she wished she were a little more ignorant in this case. But with married sisters, a married cousin, and young married aunts, all of whom discussed men quite candidly, their own and those in general, she knew more about them than she ought to at her age. In the Andersons' case, it was their second evening in London after a long sea voyage. They had visited their sister. They had attended to business. They were none of them married. Virile men that they were, of course they'd go looking for some female company now.

That sure knowledge was devastating--and infuriating. Amy already thought of Warren as hers, even if it wasn't exactly true yet. So she didn't think she could bear it, knowing that he was sleeping in some other woman's arms at night while she was courting him by day.

She'd told him it was inevitable that they'd end

up together, but she wasn't that positive 127 about it, not after today. She was going to have to do something, something drastic, perhaps, that would send him to bed alone tonight and thinking only of her.

But what? And how, when she had no idea where he'd gone off to?

The means to find out the answer to his whereabouts came to her as she caught sight of Jeremy about to leave for the evening. She rushed out to the foyer to stop him.

"Have you got a moment, Jeremy?"

"For you, m'dear, always, though tonight, only a moment."

"You're not late for something, are you?"

"No, just eager." He grinned. "Always eager."

She smiled back at him. He really was following in his father's footsteps, though she couldn't imagine that Uncle James had ever been as charming and carefree as his rapscallion son was. James would have been much more serious in his seductions, whereas Jeremy was rarely serious about anything.

"I won't keep you," she promised. "But could you delay, just a bit, arriving at your intended destination?"

His well-turned-out form said he'd be

stopping in at one or more of the ton parties, probably one that she'd been invited to herself, but hadn't wanted to attend. "Just long enough to find out where Warren has gone off to for the evening?"

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