The Magic of You Page 17

"Can't you guess?"

"The sex of my daughter?"

"Her name, old man." Anthony laughed. "I do know you so well."

James smiled fondly after his brother before he returned his attention to Warren. "You ought to take him up on his offer. He's the only man I know who has a chance of beating me, though it's a slim chance. And despite what you're thinking, he'll teach you proper just to see me knocked down. He's like that, you know."

Warren had witnessed these two brothers interact enough to realize that James was likely right. He wished he and his own brothers could manage that kind of ribbing without coming to blows.

"I'll consider it," he replied curtly.

"Excellent. Now, I'd offer the benefit of my own expertise, to keep things sporting, mind, but your sister would probably accuse me of seeking revenge or some such silly thing, since I wouldn't be nearly as gentle with you as Tony will.

By the by, that's a splendid cracked 205 lip you've got there. Anyone I know?"

"So you can congratulate him?" Warren said testily. James just smiled, so he added, "Sorry to disappoint you, Malory, but it was no more than Drew and I having trouble sharing the same bed."

"A pity." James sighed. "The thought of you making new enemies while you're in town would do wonders for my disposition, it truly would."

"Then I'll be sure not to inform you if I make any," Warren said.

That infernal blond brow cocked. "If? Oh, you will, Yank. You bloody well can't help it, you're such a powder keg. You really ought to toughen up that American hide of yours. It pricks much too easily."

The fact that Warren hadn't exploded yet-- though he was damn close to it--led him to remark with a degree of smugness, "Notice I'm improving."

"So you are," James had to agree. "Commendable, truly--but then, I'm in a splendid mood, having hired a nurse for Jack this morning."

In other words, James wasn't even trying to be provoking, but Warren didn't see it that way, and he gritted his teeth over that name. "That reminds me. Georgie suggested I ask you why you named your daughter Jack."

"Because I knew how much it would irritate you, dear boy. Why else?"

Warren managed to hold onto his temper-- barely--to point out in a reasonable tone, "That kind of perverseness isn't normal, you know."

James laughed at that. "You expect me to be normal? God forbid."

"All right, this isn't the first time you've gone out of your way to be irritating, Malory. Care to tell me why you do it?"

James shrugged. "It's a longtime habit I can't seem to break."

"Have you tried?"

James grinned now. "No."

"Habits have their beginnings," Warren said. "What started yours?"

"A good question, so put yourself in my place. What would you do if not a bloody thing in life held interest for you, if there was no challenge left in chasing a pretty skirt, and if even the prospect of a bloodletting duel had 207 become positively boring?"

"So you insult people just to see if they'll erupt into violence?"

"No, to see what bloody asses they can make of themselves. You do very well, by the way."

Warren gave up. Talking to James Malory took every ounce of patience and self-control he possessed, and he didn't have an abundance of either to begin with. It must have shown in his expression, because James added, "Sure you don't want to have a go at me now?"

"No."

"You will be sure to tell me when you change your mind, won't you?"

"You may depend upon it."

James laughed in hearty approval. "Sometimes you're as amusing as that bounder Eden. Not often, but you do have your moments."

Chapter 20

With Henri storing Mrs. Hillary's trunks in the attic--the newly hired nurse had only just settled into her room next to the nursery--

Amy once again opened the door for the arrival of all five Anderson brothers. This time they were expected. Georgina had invited her brothers to dinner and intended to share it with them in the formal dining room. There'd been a bit of a row with James over that decision, since he'd insisted she wasn't ready to leave her room yet, but they had compromised by having him carry her downstairs.

Amy was prepared this time, composed, and thrilled to see that Warren hadn't refused the invitation just to avoid her. That had been a definite possibility, and one she'd have felt terrible about. But apparently he was going to pretend that yesterday hadn't happened by ignoring her. She wondered how long he'd be able to manage that, because she certainly wasn't going to ignore him.

Drew took her attention off Warren for the moment, however, as the others filed past, heading toward the parlor. He captured her hand and quite charmingly bent over it to brush the back of her knuckles with his lips. It wasn't until he straightened up that she noticed his black eye. Having also noted the scab on Warren's lip, she didn't find it too difficult to figure out what had happened.

"Does it hurt?" she asked 209 sympathetically.

"Horribly." Drew grinned at her to belie that statement. "But you could kiss it to make it better."

She grinned impishly back at him. "I could give you one to match it."

"Now, where have I already heard that?"

The look he cast at Warren said exactly where, but Warren wasn't the least bit amused. Before they came to blows again, however, Amy remarked, "I hope you've come up with a reasonable excuse for your sister. This isn't a good time for her to be worrying over her brothers."

"Never fear, sweetheart. Georgie's quite used to our scrapes and bruises. She probably won't even notice. But just in case." He turned back to Warren, who hadn't followed his other siblings into the parlor yet. "What say we fell down the same set of stairs?"

"Put the blame where it's due, Drew. Georgie expects no better of me."

"Well, I'm all for that, especially since all I did was make an innocent remark--what the devil did I remark to set you off last night?"

"I don't remember," Warren lied.

"Well, there you go, we were both drunk. She'll understand that perfectly, but better I tell her. You'll just get all defensive and put a pall on the evening."

Drew left to do that, and Amy was amazed to find herself alone with Warren for the moment. She could have sworn he would have taken pains to avoid that, but, in fact, he made no immediate move to follow Drew.

She looked at him expectantly, but when he said nothing, she opted for a little teasing. "Shame on you,"

she chided mildly. "Did you have to take it out on him last night?"

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Yes, you do. You would have much preferred to throttle me than your brother."

"As I recall," he said tersely, "switching you was what I had in mind."

"Rubbish." She grinned up at him, no longer intimidated by that particular threat. "Making love to me is

what you really wanted and almost did. Care to chase me again to see what happens?" 211

His face darkened, a clear indication that the conversation wasn't going as he would like. He corrected it quite bluntly. "I came by earlier today to remind you of the promise you made me."

She frowned, momentarily at a loss. "What promise?"

"That you would do anything I asked. I'm asking you to leave me alone."

Her mind went into a frantic whirl. She'd actually forgotten, and so hadn't come up with a means to get out of the bargain she'd struck with him. She'd made that promise to keep him from harm. It was really too bad of him to use it against her now. Yet she'd known that that was just what this stubborn man would do.

She finally locked on an answer, though it wasn't the least bit sporting of her to use it. She consoled herself that it was no more sporting of him to hold her to a promise made in a moment of panic and for his benefit.

"You've already made your request," she told him.

"The hell I did."

"You did. You asked me to draw up my hood

last night, right after you put your weapons away. And I did."

"Amy--was

"Well, you did."

"Witch. You know very well--was

"Don't be angry, Warren. How can I help you down the path to happiness if you make me give up trying?"

He said nothing to that. He was too furious to say anything.

Amy groaned as he walked away from her. She'd just lost valuable headway. In his mind, she'd lied, she couldn't be trusted, she'd reinforced his opinion of all women. Drat it, could this courtship get any harder?

The evening went surprisingly well despite Warren's brooding silence. James took one look at him and decided he'd get no satisfaction out of provoking him any more today, so he left him alone. Georgina frowned at him occasionally, determined to have another private talk with him, but not tonight.

Amy was hard pressed to be cheerful herself after what she'd done. And she couldn't think of any way to make it up to Warren, other than 213 to do as he'd asked, which she wasn't about to do. She had too much optimism to give up on him, and the wager she had going with Jeremy added to her confidence. But things certainly didn't look very promising right now.

Conrad Sharpe had arrived that afternoon from the country, and he and Jeremy, with a few dry remarks from James, kept the conversation with the four other Anderson brothers quite lively. The new Skylark office was also discussed. Amy hadn't heard about it previously, but to her amazement, she learned that Warren would be staying in London longer than she'd thought, to manage the new office until a replacement could be sent over from America. She was thrilled, the pressure to accomplish a miracle in so short a time alleviated--until Georgina pointed out, quite logically, that although Skylark was an American company, the London office would benefit by an English manager, who could more easily deal with his own countrymen.

Warren apparently didn't like the idea, but Clinton said he would consider it, and Thomas actually agreed with his sister. But no matter how

they decided in the end, Warren still wouldn't be leaving with his brothers, which was a definite plus for Amy. Whether it was a week or two months, she needed all the extra time she could get.

"By the by, Amy"--James suddenly drew her into the conversation--"I saw your father today and he mentioned that he and your mother will be hieing off to Bath to enjoy the waters in a few days, then up to Cumberland. Eddie boy has a mine there he wants to inspect before investing in it."

This was a subject Amy was familiar with. "Yes, he likes to meet the owners and managers personally, since his first impressions are always accurate and determine which investment he'll go with and recommend."

"So I'm learning," James replied. "But they'll be gone for several weeks, m'dear. You're welcome to stay with us until they return, of course, or they'll delay leaving if you'd like to go along."

It was immensely gratifying that he was asking for a decision from her. Just weeks ago she wouldn't have been consulted, but told what had been decided for her after the fact. Of course, there was nothing to decide. She wasn't about to leave London

while Warren was still in it. 215

"I'll stay here, if it's no trouble," she said.

"What trouble?" Georgina put in. "You and your magic touch are nothing but a help to me. Why, even Artie and Henri jump to do your bidding, while I have to browbeat them to do mine. I'd keep you here until you marry if your mother wouldn't object, but of course she would."

"So it's settled, then?" James asked between them.

"Not quite," Georgina said. "If you stay, Amy, I insist you start receiving your callers again. Your uncle won't mind the commotion. In fact, I rather think he'll enjoy intimidating all your beaux." And she grinned.

"Practice, you know, for Jacqueline. But you do agree you can't continue to hide from all those conquests you made at your come-out, not for several more weeks?"

Amy glanced at Warren before she answered. One word from him, even an expressive look, and she'd come up with a reason why she'd like to stay hidden a bit more. But he deliberately turned away, telling her he wasn't the least bit interested in her answer.

"Yes, I suppose I will," she finally said.

But she'd stared at Warren too long. When she turned away, it was to catch Jeremy's all-too-discerning eyes on her, and that wretched scamp blurted out, "Good God, not him!"

Her blush gave truth to his accusation, whether she chose to deny it or not. But fortunately, no one saw the color ride up her cheeks except Jeremy, since he'd gained everyone's attention, as well as the same general question coming at him now from different directions.

"Not who?" This was from his father. "What the devil are you going on about, young'un?"

The look Amy gave Jeremy promised the most dire retribution if he revealed her secret. Of course, that wouldn't have kept his mouth shut if they weren't such good friends. But they were, and so he was compelled to correct his mistake--for the moment.

"Sorry," Jeremy said, and even managed a sheepish look. "Afraid my mind was wandering. I happened to recall that Percy was contemplating courting the dear girl."

"Percy? As in Percival Alden?" James wanted clarification, and at Jeremy's nod, he added, "Over his dead body." 217

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