Always a Rogue, Forever Her Love(14)

By: Christi Caldwell

“Yes, my lord, but—”

“His purse that night, and his cottage.” Fire flared to life in her eyes, and if looks could scorch she’d have set the entire coach ablaze. “I’ll not make apologies for my win. Furthermore, your brother,” the inept wastrel, “should not send you to beg for him.” Yes, Marshville may have sent his sister here to try and reclaim the small property, but Jonathan wouldn’t relinquish his hold on…Cottage Rosegarden…or was it Rosecliff Cottage? Either way, he’d won it from the baronet quite fairly.

Miss Marshville gritted her teeth so hard, the click of the two rows meeting filled the carriage, and he wagered would result in a nasty megrim the next morning. “I am not begging. I do not beg.”

Suddenly, the most wicked musings filled his head; Miss Marshville’s wide mouth quivering with wonder as he lowered himself over her lean, lithe frame and laid masterful claim to her body.

“Nor did my brother send me to you.”

Mention of Sir Albert effectively doused his ardor.

“I’m here, my lord, b-because…” Her voice broke. She swallowed audibly.

Jonathan cursed, words not fit for any genteel lady’s ears. She colored quite prettily. “Do not cry,” he commanded. He abhorred tears. Tears of all kinds. Great, gasping sobs. Little droplets. The single bead that trailed down a fragile cheek. And living in a household with five women, he’d grown accustomed to the whole gamut of tears. None of which he’d grown comfortably able to ignore.

Anger flared to life in her previously sad eyes. “I do not cry.”

He snorted.

“I do not,” she insisted.

“All ladies cry, Miss Marshville.”

“As I said, I do not.”

He arched a quizzical eyebrow, and waved a hand. “Well then, Miss Marshville? You were saying?”

She glanced down at her palms a long moment and then turned them up. “I’m here because I hope you might do the gentlemanly thing and return my cottage.”

“ My cottage,” he felt inclined to remind her. He shook his head. “And I’m sorry, Miss Marshville, but it will not benefit you if I return it to your brother.”

She tossed her hands up as if exasperated. “I assure you, it would.”

“It wouldn’t.” The young lady could be no more than twenty, or somewhere around there in years. By her boldness in coming out at this late hour, she’d demonstrated not only her extreme desperation but also her absolute naiveté. “Your brother would merely wager that cottage off to some other gentleman.”

“You do not care about the cottage. You didn’t even remember you won it,” she seethed. “You selfish, selfish…bas—cad,” she finished far more weakly than had she uttered the words on her lips and tongue. “You’d deny me my property?”

He inclined his head. “Perhaps I am selfish, Miss Marshville,” he concurred. “But if I were to return the cottage to your brother, then Rosecliff Cottage would be no more your property than it would be mine.” Jonathan knew from the slight slump to her shoulders that she understood the truth of his admission.

She closed her eyes a moment, seeming to forget he sat across from her. Mayhap even where she was. “I cannot go home.”

As the proud Miss Marshville sat there, so very clearly defeated, a slight pull tugged at his heart. Pity, and something else, something more but indefinable. “I’ll see you home,” he assured her. He rapped on the ceiling of the carriage, and the driver sprung the horses into forward movement. “Your location, Miss Marshville,” he said a touch impatiently when she remained tucked in the corner, in abject silence.

She blinked as if in a haze. “I cannot return there,” she whispered.

Jonathan closed his eyes and sent out a prayer for patience. They were back to discussing Rosecliff Cottage, were they?

“My brother will…” She gave her head a shake, and seemed to pull herself from the reverie she’d been trapped within.

But damn it.

Those three words.

My brother will…

Her brother would what? Scold her? Be the death of her? The words to follow that very important ‘will…’ mattered very much.