The Magic of You Page 15

"No."

"This is not the time to prove how stubborn you can be," she said in exasperation. "Won't you at least consider the consequences--those besides getting rid of me? For one, Uncle James isn't going to hold you blameless. I'll assure him that you are, but with the way he feels about you, he won't believe it. And you don't really want

to stir things up again with him, do you? He's 179 so utterly unpredictable, you know. He could call you out, or just knock you out, or even kick you out, refusing to let you see George or Jack again."

"I'll take my chances."

He said that so indifferently, it was all she could do to hold her temper in check. "You don't think those are possibilities? Well, maybe they aren't. Maybe the only thing that will happen is that I get shipped off to the country and you get to go on about your business without my charming interference. 'Course, you'll be bored to pieces in a day or so without our stimulating conversations to look forward to. And your brothers, who will be bound to hear about this, will think you couldn't handle onèlittle girl,` but I'm sure you can withstand their ribbing."

"That's enough, Amy."

"You've changed your mind?"

"No."

She threw up her hands. "Fine! Go right ahead and confess all. But there's one other possibility you haven't considered. That I might be able to talk my family into seeing things my way. Then all you will have accomplished is to have my

uncles breathing down your neck and watching every move you make." And she was angry enough now to add, "And one other thing. This oh-so-clever idea of yours may sound like salvation to you right now, but it would be the coward's way out. If you're going to withstand me, Warren Anderson, do it on your own."

She turned about in a huff, giving him her back while she tried to find the inside pocket of her cape where she'd stuck her house key. The cape was a bit askew, so the pocket wasn't where it should have been. She could only hope the key was still there after all the falls she'd had this evening. On second thought, her problem would be solved, temporarily at least, if the key was missing. It wasn't, though, and she'd already determined she wasn't going to lie to Warren, not even any more half-truths, if she could help it.

In those few moments he said not a word to her, but just as she inserted the key in the lock, his hands came to her shoulders. "You think I can't?" he asked.

"Can't what?"

"Resist you."

She was having trouble herself, resisting the urge to lean against him, so she stopped trying. And he didn't push her away. 181

"I think you'll give it your best effort," she said in a soft whisper.

"And succeed."

"Care to bet on it?"

She held her breath, awaiting his answer. It was fanciful, she knew, but she was sure he'd be sealing his fate if he took that bet, since she never lost a wager. But he disappointed her.

"No, to bet on it would be to give it importance. This brazenness on your part has startled me, is all. But now that I know what to expect, I can ignore you."

She turned around before he could step back to avoid the press of her br**sts against his chest. "Can you?" she asked seductively.

He walked away. All right, so maybe he could--for a little while more.

Chapter 17

Amy shut the door and locked it, then leaned against it. She was smiling to herself, now that the danger was past. She'd managed to get inside the house without Warren at her heels, a small miracle that, as stubborn as he was. And she wasn't sure which of her remarks had swayed him, though all that mattered was that Uncle James wasn't going to be dragged from his bed tonight to listen to an accounting

of all her sins. Another time, perhaps, but not tonight ...

"Is there a good reason why you're coming through that door at this time of night?"

Amy nearly dropped through the floor, she was so startled. And then the question registered and she blurted out, "Yes--no--can I think about it and tell you in the morning?"

"Amy--was

"I'm joking, for heaven's sake," she told Jeremy as she pushed herself away from the door, thankful it was he who had heard her come in, and not his father. "And what are you doing home so early?"

He wasn't lured by her attempt to change the subject. "Never mind that. Let's have an answer from you, Cousin, and let's have it now."

She made an impatient sound with her tongue as she brushed past him to enter the parlor. "If you must know, I had a secret rendezvous with a man I'm quite interested in."

"Already?"

She turned to face him. "What do you 183 mean, already?"

He made himself comfortable leaning against the doorway, arms crossed, ankles crossed, a deceivingly casual stance their uncle Tony was quite fond of, and which Jeremy, who looked so much like him, was learning to perfect. "I mean, you just had your come-out last week. I suppose I didn't think you'd follow in your sister Diana's footsteps and choose quite so quickly."

She cocked a brow at him. "You thought I'd be like Clare, who took two years to make up her mind?"

"Not that long, but a few months at least."

"I only said I was interested, Jeremy."

"Glad to hear it. So why the secrecy?"

"Because I rather doubt the family will approve of him," she admitted.

Jeremy was about the only one she could say that to and not worry that he'd have a fit. And he grinned, likely in anticipation of the fits the rest of the family would have.

"So who is he?"

"None of your business," she retorted.

"Then I know him?"

"I didn't say that."

"Do I?"

"Quite likely."

"He's not a complete bounder, is he? Afraid I'd have to object to that."

"He's not a bounder at all. His morals are of the highest caliber."

Jeremy frowned. "Then what's wrong with him?"

Well, she'd tried to stick to the truth, or near it, but he just wasn't going to let her. "He's penniless," was all she could think of at the moment to put her cousin off the track.

"You're right. That won't do a'tall. Can't have you running 'round in rags."

"Nor will I. He has prospects."

"Then what's the problem?"

"He's not comfortable with the idea of calling on me until his circumstances improve."

Jeremy nodded thoughtfully. "And you've been trying to convince him that don't matter?"

"Exactly."

"Did you have to wallow around in the dirt to get your point across?"

Amy blushed furiously at the sensual images that question brought to mind. "About all we did was walk around and talk. I'm afraid185 I tripped, more than once, in my inattention."

"He must be quite a clod not to have caught you--or did he trip, too?"

Her blush got worse at his knowing look, and she snapped, "I'm still a blasted virgin, if that's what you're angling to hear."

He grinned unrepentantly. "Didn't doubt it, dear girl. And he'd have to be a bloody ass if he didn't try to kiss you, so you can stop all that blushing. I'm a firm believer in kissing, don't you know."

She laughed. It was sometimes hard for her to remember, looking at him, that he was her age and would understand perfectly the unrestrained passions of youth. And since the subject had come up, now would be the perfect time to take advantage of his expertise to aid her own situation.

"Now that you mention it," she began casually as she removed her cloak and curled up on a corner of the sofa, "there's a question I've been meaning to put to you, so come sit down and give me the benefit of your vast experience."

"Is this going to be painful?" he replied as he came over to join her.

"Not a'tall, since it's merely a question of the philosophical sort. Anyone else I might ask would probably be too embarrassed to answer, but certainly not you."

"I'm bloody well not going to tell you how to make love," he warned indignantly.

Amy chuckled. "Now that would hardly be philosophical, but quite pertinent to my future, wouldn't it?

No, all I'd like to know is what a woman would have to do, Jeremy, to make you want her, when you have it set firmly in your mind that you can't have her."

"She's not comely, then?"

"Let's assume she's quite comely."

"Then there's no problem."

"Yes, there is. You've decided, for some absurd reason that only a man could come up with, that you can't touch her."

"What kind of reason?"

"How should I know? Perhaps it's a matter of honor, or say she's your best friend's sister, or something like that."

"Well, hell's bells, I don't think that would stop me."

"Jeremy," she said in exasperation, "this is just a suppose. Whatever the reason, you 187 refuse to have anything to do with her. So what would she have to do to get you to change your mind?"

"It wouldn't take much, Amy, to get me to change my mind."

She had to laugh at his expression. "No, I don't suppose it would. But let's suspend for a moment the fact that you're available to one and all of the female population. This is the only situation that is an exception to your normal mode of doing things. You are not going to touch this lady. You absolutely refuse to make love to her, even though, deep down, you'd like nothing better."

"Well, I should hope so."

"So what can she do to make you forget about your scruples?"

"Drop her clothes."

"I beg your pardon?"

"She can strip down in front of me. I really don't think I could resist that, if she's as comely as you say."

Amy was surprised. "That's all it would take?"

"Absolutely."

She sighed. She was afraid she'd asked the

wrong person. Jeremy, young as he was, just didn't have the kind of resolve and willpower that Warren did.

"Now tell me why you wanted to know."

Amy sighed again, dramatically. "Why else? That fellow I'm interested in absolutely refuses to make love to me without benefit of marriage."

"What?"

She patted his arm as she said reassuringly, "That was a joke, Jeremy."

"In poor taste," he grouched.

She grinned. "You wouldn't say so if you could have seen your expression."

He still wasn't mollified. "So what's the correct answer?"

She was hoping he would have forgotten the question, but since he hadn't, she brazened it out. "Now who's joking? Or are you going to tell me you don't remember how curious you were about these things before you had all the answers?"

Since he couldn't recall such a time, having been brought up in a tavern, he chose not to answer. "So you were merely curious?"

"Avidly," she said, and gave him a wicked

grin. "And while we're at it, care 189 to reconsider and discuss lovemaking in detail?"

"Not bloody likely. So he's holding out, is he?"

"Who?"

"Your gentleman."

"I didn't say it was him."

"You didn't have to. Smart man, to be so prudent."

"I hope that doesn't mean what I think it means."

"Now don't eat me," he said of her glowering expression. "What do I care if you want to have the babe before the vows? It's not me who'll be calling the chap out for it."

"My father wouldn't--was

"'Course he wouldn't. He's got two younger brothers who just love to see to that sort of thing. You'll be lucky if there's anything left of the chap to wed."

Amy closed her eyes with a groan. It was just like Jeremy to get his point across like that. But he didn't know the real situation, nor was she going to tell him, since he'd have a lot more to say if he knew that her gentleman was a man his father

positively detested and the family barely tolerated.

He had a good point, yes, and one she hadn't had time to consider, her decision having been made so abruptly. But a possible pregnancy wasn't going to change her mind about making love with Warren, at least not until she could think of some other way to hurry things along. The risk, however, did require better odds in her favor, and she knew just how to get them.

"Care to make a wager, Jeremy?"

His look turned instantly suspicious. "What kind of wager?"

"If I decide I want him, I can get him without his being forced to marry me."

"I thought you were only interested."

"I did say if I decide he's the one."

"All right, you're on, but I have to make it worth your while to stay out of his bed. If you lose, you can't marry him."

Her eyes flared. If she lost, she'd be pregnant, and she couldn't marry him?

"That's--that's--was

"Take it or leave it," he said smugly.

"Very well," she said just as smugly. 191 "And if I win, you won't touch a woman for--was He sat bolt upright, his expression appalled. "Be nice and remember I'm your favorite cousin."

"One month."

"One whole month?"

"I was going to say six--was

"One it is." He sighed, but it was only a moment before he was grinning quite devilishly. "Well, I've done my good deed for the day."

Prev Next