"He didn't look ill yesterday."

She tried to smile sweetly, but it was a difficult maneuver while her teeth were gritted together. "Children can fall ill so quickly. If you'll excuse me."

He grabbed her arm. "If he were truly ill, then you would not have come to work today."

Oh, blast. He had her there. "I didn't say he was desperately ill," she ground out, "but I'd like to tend to him, and—"

"If he isn't desperately ill, then surely you can spare two minutes for me." And then, before she had a chance even to yelp, he'd grabbed her by the elbow and yanked her into his cottage.

"Mr. Siddons!" she shrieked.

He kicked the door shut. "I thought we'd gotten past 'Mr. Siddons.' "

"We've regressed," she hissed. "Let me out."

"Stop acting like I'm about to ravish you."

She glared at him. "I don't see why that seems such an impossibility."

"Good God," he said, raking his hand through his hair. "When did you develop these termagant tendencies?"

"When you forced me into your cottage!"

"I certainly wouldn't have done so if you hadn't started lying about your brother."

Her mouth fell open, and she let out a little huff of outrage. "How dare you accuse me of lying!"

"Aren't you?"

"Well, yes," she admitted testily, "but that is only because you are a rude, arrogant boor who refuses to accept no for an answer."

"Refusing to accept the negative usually guarantees a positive result," he replied, his voice so condescending that Elizabeth had to grab on to her skirt just to keep from smacking him.

Her voice and her eyes pure ice, she said, “It appears my only escape is allowing you to speak your piece. What was it you desired to say?''

He shook a piece of paper in front of her. “I obtained this from Lady Danbury."

"Your notice of termination, I hope," she muttered.

He let that one pass. "It's Lady Danbury's guest list. And I regret to inform you that none of these gentlemen is acceptable."

"Oh, and I suppose you know them all personally," she scoffed.

"As a matter of fact, I do."

She yanked the paper out of his hand, ripping a small corner off in the process. "Oh, please," she said derisively. "There are two lords and a sir. How could you know all of them?"

"Your brother is a sir," he reminded her.

"Yes, well, your brother is not," she shot back.

"You don't know that."

Her head jerked up. "Who are you?"

"My brother isn't a sir," he said in an annoyed voice. "I don't even have a brother. I was merely pointing out that you have the unfortunate habit of leaping to assumptions without sorting through your facts."

"What," she said, so slowly that he knew her temper was hanging by a frayed thread, "is wrong with these men?"

"Three of them are married."

Her jaw shook, probably from grinding her teeth together. "What is wrong with the unmarried guests?"

"Well, for one thing, this one"—he pointed to Sir Bertram Fellport—"is a drunk."

"Are you certain?"

"I could not in all conscience allow you to marry a man who abuses spirits."

"You didn't answer my question."

Damn, but she was tenacious. "Yes, I'm certain he's a drunk. And a mean one, at that."

She looked back down at the torn paper in her hand. "What about Lord Binsby?"

"He gambles."

"Excessively?"

James nodded, beginning to enjoy himself. "Excessively. And he's fat."

She started to point again. "What about—"

"Married, married, and married."

She looked up sharply. "All three of them?"

He nodded. "One of them even happily."

"Well, that certainly bucks tradition," she muttered.

James declined to comment.

Elizabeth let out a long exhale, and he noticed that her sighs were bridging the gap from annoyed to weary. “That still leaves Mr. William Dunford and Captain Cynric Andrien. I suppose one is deformed and the other a simpleton?"

He was sorely tempted to agree with her, but one look at Dunford and the captain and she'd know he'd been bamming her. “They are both considered to be handsome and intelligent," he admitted.

"Then what is the problem?"

"Dunford's a rake."

"So?"

"He's certain to be unfaithful."

"I'm hardly a prize, James. I can't expect perfection."

His eyes glowed hot. “You should expect fidelity. You should demand it."

She stared at him in disbelief. “It would be lovely, I'm sure, but it hardly seems as important as—''

"Your husband," he growled, "will remain faithful to you or he will answer to me."

Elizabeth's eyes bugged out, her mouth fell open, and then she collapsed into a fit of giggles.

James crossed his arms and glared at her. He was not accustomed to having his shows of gallantry laughed at.

"Oh, James," she gasped, "I'm so sorry, and that was very sweet of you. Almost"—she wiped her eye—

"sweet enough for me to forgive you for abducting me."

"I didn't abduct you," he said sullenly.

She waved her hand. “How on earth do you expect to defend my honor once I'm married?"

"You're not marrying Dunford," he muttered.

"If you say so," she said, so seriously and so carefully that he knew she was dying to laugh again. “Now, then, why don't you tell me what is wrong with Captain Andrien?''

***

***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com

***