Sniffing, hecrossed his arms andliftedhis chinso that he could glaredown hisnose at her self-righteously. "Nay."
She blinked once, then drew her head back in amazement.
"Yes. Nay. Iam nothelpingyou have a childthat willbear someone else’sname, " he announced primly. But then he added, "However, if youwouldcare to reconsider and agreeto marry me…well, then, ofcourse I wouldbe obliged to – "
Daniel paused and stared at her in amazement. He hadn’t expectedit tobe this easy."All right? "
"Aye. All right, " she repeated, thenreached up to tugher gown off hershoulders.It droppedto thefloor, leaving herstandingin apoolof silk in just a pair of tightblack breeches.
Very nice tightblackbreeches, he decided, taking a stepback toward herbeforecatching himself andstopping. Thiswas too easy. Hegazed at her face suspiciously for a moment, then asked, "Youareagreeing tomarry me? "
Her mouth twitched with irritation at hismakingher clarify, and he watched a struggle take place on her face; then she snapped, "I am agreeingto reconsider."
"Not good enough." Whirling away, hecontinuedhiswalk to thesideboard, pouredhimself a nice stiff drink, anddowned itin onegulp.
"Thurborne!" she snapped again, stomping a foot in impotent rage.
Daniel turned toglance ather, then wheeled abruptlyback to thesideboard. Damn, she was a sexy littlebundle when she was furious!"Call me Daniel, " hecalled over his shoulder. "We know each other wellenoughfor that, I should think."
Instead she called him a string of words that he had never heard put together before. Actually, he decided, tossing back another drink, he had never heard a lady sayevenone of the words she had just uttered, letalone all of them togetherinsuch a creative manner.
She was still muttering some inventive, though not very pleasant, things that she wouldlike to do tohima, moment later when the rustle of clothing made himglance back tosee that she was donningher gown. Even thataction wassexy, he thought glumly, turning backforanother gulp of brandy beforereaching up tostraighten his own clothes.He had barelyfinisheddoing so when therewas a tap at thesalon doorand it was pulledopen by Henry. The man peeredhopefully inside.
His expression drooped immediately upon seeing the two of them standing so far apart; then his gaze narrowedon Valoree.
Daniel glanced toward her to see that while her hair was a touch disheveled, her dress was back in place. She also looked as sour as a lemon, however, and was glaring daggers in his direction.Ignoring her, Daniel smiled pleasantly at Henry. "Come tojoin us? "
"Nay."he glowered at them. "Thenextsuitor’s here."
"Hmmph." Valoree started forthe dooreven asHenry pulled it open and stepped aside. Daniel couldn’tatfirstsee the manin question.He did, however, seeValoree’s responseto him. She stumbled to a halt, her eyes widening slightly, then flashed a brilliantsmile and moved forward again, holdingout herhand. A figure immediately stepped through the door totake theproffered appendage, liftingit for a kiss.
Daniel stewed. Henry had let him know shortly after the incident that had leftValoreelyingunconscious onthefloorin thekitchen that hishope was for Daniel and Valoreeto come to anunderstanding. Ithad happenedafter Valoreehad been carried toher room and whilethewomenwere undressing and tending to her. The two men had waited in the salon, and Henry had confessedas much, then informedhim of her first suitors and their intendedactivities. He hadalso said thatthere wouldbe an hour between the firsttwo and the third fellow that Daniel could take advantage of, but hehad notmentionedwhothe next fellow was. Now Daniel nearly groaned aloud as he recognized the golden-haired man with thewinningsmile.Hawghton. Of allthe bloody luck! "My lord." Valoree moved a step closer to the man as he releasedher andstraightened, andDaniel felt his hands clenchat hissides.
"Lady Ainsley, " Hawghton purredin his perfect voice, flashing her his perfect smile. "I must say thatyour beauty is a pleasant surprise. Ifeartherash youwere sporting yesterday did notshow you off toadvantage."
Daniel grimaced at that.She was lookinglovely today. Her face was free of makeup, and completely recovered thanks to his mother’s miracle salve.Probably one of theonlytimes thatone of herdamn salves hadactually worked, too, he thought bitterly.
"Thank you, my lord. Itis sokindof youto say so, " she purred, then tossed a glare in Daniel’s direction, asif to underlinethe fact that he hadnot.
"Oh, Thurborne, " Hawghton greeted, as if just noticing his presence. "I did not see you at first, old man." Then a concerned expression crossed his face. "I am sorry, did I getthetimewrong? Mayhapmyappointment was not until later."
"Oh, do not mind old Thurborne."Valoree’s voice washeavy with disgust. "He’s a friend ofUncle Henry’s."
Daniel glanced at her sharply and she smiled at him in a cold-eyed waythattold him she hadguessed from the start how he had "just happened"to be inthe park.Well, he supposed he shouldhaveknown she would figureit out.
"I see, " Hawghton murmured, his gaze moving between the two of them. Then he seemed to come to some decision and turned on his most charming smile. "Well, then. I thought mayhap we couldattendthe theater this afternoon. They areperforming Sir George Etherege’s "She WouldIfShe Could." It is supposed tobe quite amusing."
Nodding, Valoree started towardthe door. "I shall just go fetch myaunt and uncle and we can be off." Then she paused to examine Daniel pointedly. "ShallI see you out, my lord? You werejustleaving, were younot? "
Nodding, Daniel set thedrink he hadbeen holding down, then movedsilently toward her.Shedidn’t waitfor him, butstepped out into the hall, leaving him to follow. By the time he had reached the hall, she was at the front doorand pullingit open.
Pulling the door tothesalonclosedwith a snap, Daniel crossed to Valoree determinedly, caught her about the waist, and drew her against hischest.She tried to bring her armsup, but he had pinned them nicely to her side. Then she opened her mouth, probably to bestow upon him a few more of her colorful endearments, buthe covered hermouthwith hisown, taking full advantage of the moment.
Valoree didn’t crumble right away – she did have some backboneto her – but when he pushed the door closedwith his foot, caught her hands, and held them behindher back with one of hissothatthe other could roam freely over her br**sts, sheat least stilled and stopped struggling.It took several minutes of thorough kissingandfondlingbefore sheactually began to kiss him back, butonlya moment or so more afterthat before she was as liquid fire inhisarms and moaning intohismouth.That was when he stopped.
Taken bysurprise, she sagged against the wall and watched blanklyas he straightened his cravat and cuffs.
"I justthought I would leave yousomething to remember me by, " he saidwith a wink, then opened the door and slipped out quickly.A growl of rageslid from her throatandshe grabbed a vasefromthe table beside her. Daniel pulled thedoor closed and chuckledas he heard the smashof glass behind it.
The battle lines, it seemed, had been drawn.
"Icannot believe youdidthat!" Meg snapped, climbing intothe carriage and seatingherself across from Valoree so that she could glare at her throughthe darkness. "What on earth is thematter with you? Are you deliberately trying to ruin any possibility of finding a husband andclaimingyour inheritance? Becauseif you are, you are doing a fine job ofit!"
"There is nothing the matter with me, " Valoree snapped impatiently. "Scrantom was feelingme up with his stinky old foot underthetable!"
"What? "Megblinked in amazement, seeming at a loss for a moment; thenshe sighed impatiently."Well, that may be, but an old man playing a littlefootsie – "
"Footsie? " Valoree snorted her disgust."He had hisfoot under my skirt, halfwayup my thighs, andwas still movingupward until I put a stop to it."
Meg bither lip. "Oh."
"Aye, oh, "Valoree said in a snarl, turningher head to glare out the window of the stationary carriage. Itwas stationary because they werewaitingfor Henryand him tocome out.
Him was how Valoree thought of Daniel Thurborne now. Just him. The man wasa cankeronher butt. A wart on her nose. A pus-ridden carbuncle on her arse.
In short, he was making her life absolute hell. He was everywhere she went.Therewasn’ta moment’s peace fromhim.
Every walk, every dinner, every anything one of her suitors choseto do during theirappointed times with her . . . he was there.Which might not have been so bad hadhe simplybeen present. More often than not his wit and charm turned what would have been hellacious hours spent in the company of boring, whining, or just plain weakmen into bearable chores.
Unfortunately he did morethan that. Heteased, and chatted, and made her laugh, waiting thewhole time like a vulture. And the moment the opportunity presented itself, he pounced, taking her inhis arms and makingherdizzy with passion, working her into a frenzy ofwant, then stopping and walking away, leaving hera bundledball of knotted nerves. Andit was hell.
He didn’t even have to kiss ortouch her anymore.Themoment she saw him, Valoree’s body began tohum withwant. Should he brush against her innocently in passing, a jolt of desire shot throughher likelightning.Andforget fighting it. At first she had tried toavoidany situationhe might take advantageof, but now she sought them out. Now she looked for them. He had worked his frustrating magic on her behind trees, in hallways, under stairways, andeven, once, in a closet.Butalleach episodedid was make her more miserable. And she was reaching the breakingpoint. Even losing control of herlife didn’tseem like such a horrible price to pay to gain release from this terrible frustration. And that scared the devil out of her.
Back-from-the-Dead Red, scourge of the Caribbean, the pirate feared by theSpanish, French, andDutch alike, waslaid low by the need for a man betweenher legs.
Notjust any man. Him. Only he would do. Oh, she had tried kissing her various suitors, and even a bit more on the less repulsive ones.But itwas liketryingto substitute wine for rum.
Winewas sweet but not very strong; rumwas spicy and had a kick.Valoree wanted the damn kick! But shedidn’twant tohave tomarry the kicker. Whata pain.
A titter from Megdrew her head around, and Valoreepeeredat the older woman in question. "Whatis sodamn funny? "
"Oh, dear. Iwas just thinking ofLord Scrantom’s face when you slammedyour knife into thetable beside hishand.I think he relievedhimself on thespot."Shecovered her mouthtokeep a laugh in, then shook her head. "Then whenyou pulled it out – "
Shebegan to laugh helplessly, and Valoree smiled slightly as she recalled the moment. It had been rather funny, now that she thought ofit. She had tugged the knifeout of the tableinthe sudden silence, nonchalantly turning it over, to hold it half an inch in front of Scrantom’s quivering nose sothat hecould seethe decimated insect on its end. "A fly, " she had said, as if that explainedeverything, "Peskylittle things. Theyliketocrawl up under a lady’s skirts and tickle her legs." Then she had shot her gaze to himcoldly and added meaningfully, "I hate things that crawl upmyskirts and tickle my legs."
The man had gone intoa dead swoon. Valoree had wipedthe flyoff on hissleeveand stood to leave the room, saying, "Cross him offthe list, Henry. He wouldn’t survivelong enough to get me with child." Then she had come out here to wait in the carriageforthemtojoin her, which Meg had done almost right away. Daniel and Henry, the only other guests at Scrantom’s dinner, hadn’tyetcome out.
"Where is Henry? "she asked impatiently.
Megleanedforward to peerthrough the window at the town house."I am not sure. I thought Henry was right behindme, but – Oh, heretheycome."
Valoree leaned forwardto seethe men chatting asthey walked toward the carriage. They parted at the end of the walk, Thurborne moving toward hiscarriage, and Henry hurrying over towhere Meg and Valoreewaited.
"Come on, " hesaidcheerfully, pullingthedoor open. "Iinvited Thurborne back for something to eat, since Scrantom’s shenanigans cheated us out of half our dinner. He’s offered us a liftinhis carriage."
Valoree blinked in surprise that Henry had known what the man was about, then frownedas what he saidsank in. "What’s wrong with our carriage? "
"Nothing, if ye don’t mind riding in a sea of silk, " Henry muttered in disgust. "It’s too damnsmall forthe three of us, let alone all four."
"Well, he can just follow inhiscarriage, " she argued, but not with verymuch force behind it. A momentlater, as Henry pursed his lips and looked downhis nose at her, she heavedasigh and started out of the carriage. Satisfiedby her agreement, Henry turned totellNo-Nosethechange ofplans.
She supposed she wasn’treally fooling anyonebysucha weak protest, at least notHenry. Heknew her too well tobe fooled by it, but she felt better that She had at least made the effort. Valoree attempted notto look too eageras she walkedfrom one carriage to theother.She even muttered something unpleasantunder her breath whenDaniel winked at her as he helped her inside. A heartbeat later, they were all seated, and Valoree was cursing herself for herweakness as the carriage theynowrode in moved outto followtherented hack home.
The Thurbornecarriage was larger than the one themen had rented for their stay inLondon, but Daniel didn’t seem to be aware of that. Hewas sittingsqueezed up againsther, his hip and outer thigh pressedagainsthers, and hisarm rubbing herswith the movement of thecoach as hechatted with Henry. It was all what She had hopedfor, ofcourse, but it was sheer hell anyway.
Amazing, thethings that youcould learn about yourselfwhen put intonewsituations. For instance, until she had come to London and metThurborne, Valoree hadn’thad a clue that she had such masochistic tendencies.
Shewas berating herself forafool whenthere was a sudden shout of warning, the shriek of horses, and a loud crash. The carriage lurchedviolently, throwing Valoree against Daniel, but a glance outthe window showed a wagon tipping on its sideeven as itwas pulledpast by two panicked horses.