Home > Ruthless (The House of Rohan #1)(11)

Ruthless (The House of Rohan #1)(11)
Anne Stuart

“Don’t be tiresome,” Rohan said. “You have a very pretty little sister, do you not?”

She wasn’t going to show her terror. She’d always known she’d be safe enough—she hadn’t the face to drive men to distraction, and a determined libertine such as Rohan would have beauty at his fingertips. But her baby sister was a different matter. She’d already done everything she could to keep her safe, and she had nothing left to barter.

Except rage. “If you or anyone touches my sister I’ll kill you,” she said in a cold, determined voice.

He flashed her his exquisite smile. “Now, that was said with real conviction. Your sister must be quite extraordinarily pretty.”

“My sister is none of your business.” She quickly came up with a more believable lie. “As soon as my father arranges it we’ll return to England and she’ll be happily married…”

“You expect your father to arrange a marriage for her?” he asked, leaning against the wall of the study. He still wore his long silken waistcoat, unbuttoned, and during the night his white shirt had opened even more. Exposing his chest. Women weren’t meant to see men’s bare chests, and for the first time she could understand why. There was something deliberately enticing about that expanse of flesh, and it could lead a girl to sinful thoughts.

Not that she was a girl. And she was impervious to sinful thoughts. “She won’t have an arranged marriage,” she snapped. “I intend to make certain she marries for love.”

His look of astonishment wasn’t feigned. “My dear child,” he said softly. “You cannot tell me you still believe in the existence of love! Not after the life you’ve been forced to live.”

“My life has been just fine,” she said coolly. “And I’m not thinking for myself, but for Lydia, absolutely. It’s no less than she deserves.”

“And why don’t you deserve it?”

She didn’t flush. She’d trained herself not to show any reaction, and she was a far better liar than he gave her credit for. “I have no interest in it. Lydia’s a different matter. As soon as our father…”

“You know as well as I do that your father is dead. The new Baron Tolliver is in town, looking to make your acquaintance.”

She kept her expression calm, her hands gripping her skirts, out of sight. “How do you know that?”

“I am kept abreast of everything that goes on in émigré society, poppet. Lord Jasper Harriman died of an apoplexy several months ago, and the heir who has taken his place is now in Paris. He’s yet to make my acquaintance, though I assure you that time will come if he stays here long enough. I doubt there’s any rescue coming from that direction.”

She wasn’t going to let him get to her. “Then Lydia will simply have to marry a handsome, kind, wealthy Frenchman,” she said calmly.

He moved away. “And what will happen to you and your mother? If your sister is as pretty as I suspect she is, from your fiercely protective mien, then a good marriage isn’t out of the question. A deranged belle-mère and a sister-in-law are less appealing.”

She flushed, knowing he spoke nothing but the truth. “We both know that my mother won’t live for much longer,” she said. “As for me, I am perfectly capable of being independent. I can become a governess. I can teach English and the pianoforte, or I could obtain a position as companion to an older lady.”

“Not once she discovers you spent the night with me.”

She rose. Huddling in the chair was a sign of weakness, and standing he still towered over her not inconsiderable height. But sitting gave him an even greater advantage. “There’s no reason that would happen. You have nothing to gain by spreading such vile rumors.”

“They aren’t rumors, my pet. It’s the simple truth. As for what I have to gain, I’m afraid you put far too low a price on your charms. I’ve told you, you’re a rarity in these parts, and I find myself reluctantly fascinated.”

“Listen to your reluctance,” she said briskly. “I’m not worth the trouble. And charming though this conversation is, I need to get home and see to my mother.”

“But what if I don’t want to let you go? You can hardly walk all the way back to the city, and you continue to fascinate me.” He flicked an imaginary speck off the snowy-white shirt he wore.

He moved closer, and she moved back, surreptitiously, putting the chair between them with a casual air. Not that she seriously distrusted him—this was a game he was playing, nothing more. Like a great hungry tomcat playing with a little white mouse. Or so he thought.

“I’ve walked more than five miles before, I can do it now.”

“In bare feet?” he said pointedly.

She immediately crouched so that her threadbare skirts covered her feet.

“Now, that distresses me,” he said. “You have quite lovely feet. Most women have fat little toes and broad feet. And dancers—God help me, they have the ugliest feet of all. But you really have exquisite…”

“I would appreciate it if you would stop rhapsodizing over my anatomy and summon a carriage,” she said, mortified. He might well have been talking about her br**sts, and she wondered what else he’d been observing in such a familiar manner.

“Your hands,” he said, startling her. “You’re quite ridiculously easy to read. You were wondering what I was going to go on about next. I’m quite fascinated by your hands.”

She immediately tucked her hands into her shawl, but he wasn’t deterred. “They don’t look particularly soft. Not the plump, white, useless hands most women have. You have long, beautiful fingers, narrow palms, and yet there’s strength in those hands. I rather think I want to feel them on my body.”

She let out a hiss of breath, ridiculously, undeniably shocked. So shocked she forgot to move as he came closer. Dangerously close. “Don’t look so horrified, sweeting. Surely you didn’t mistake my interest in you as any humanitarian behavior on my part. I don’t give a damn if your mother dies, and I don’t let myself be distracted from my activities unless there’s something I want more. That would be you.”

She stared at him. “And how long have you suffered this disorder of the brain, my lord?”

“And how long have you disregarded your worth, Miss Harriman?” he replied.

Six years, she could have told him. But she didn’t. That time was over, long forgotten, and she didn’t have to think about it.

He was playing a game with her—he’d already admitted he was very good at games, and she’d seen the women who surrounded him. “If you will please summon your housekeeper I have no doubt she’ll be able to retrieve my shoes and then I’ll be on my way.” Her manner was brisk and practical, the perfect counterpoint to his absurdly seductive manner. To prove her point she rose to her full height again, exposing her bare feet.

“Miss Harriman, are you possibly so unwise as to call my bluff?” he asked, his voice silken.

“Certainly not, Monsieur le Comte. I simply choose not to play this little game of yours.” There was a bellpull by the door, and she crossed the room and yanked it.

She half expected him to come after her. To catch her hand as she reached for the bellpull, to pull her into his arms, tight against his body, as he had last night.

He took one step toward her, and then halted, his self-deprecating smile back in place as he dropped back down on the settee. “So be it.” He waved one pale hand in her direction. “Mrs. Clarke will see you to the carriage.”

The door opened as he spoke. “Mrs. Clarke will do no such thing,” that lady pronounced. “You will get up and take this young woman home, like the gentleman you once were.”

Elinor expected to see him explode. Instead he merely leaned back with a sigh of acquiescence. “Call me when the carriage is ready.”

“This is no way to entertain a young lady, Master Francis,” Mrs. Clarke said in a scolding voice.

“Then remove her,” he said in a bored voice.

“Master Francis.” Mrs. Clarke’s comfortable Scots voice held a note of warning, and he opened his eyes again.

“Why I ever brought you with me to France is a matter beyond my comprehension,” he said wearily, sitting back up.

“You didn’t bring me. We followed you, against your express orders. Which should make it clear that I’m going to do what I think is right, at least in my part of the house, and anyone you bring here will have to be treated respectfully.”

“Yes, Mrs. Clarke,” he said in a mockingly subdued voice. “You will allow me to change before I escort the young lady home, won’t you? I have standards I need to uphold. And for that matter, she seems to be in need of shoes.”

“I have them with me, sir,” Mrs. Clarke said, perfectly obsequious now that she’d gotten her way. “Go ahead and change. We’ll be waiting for you.”

“We? If you’re going then there’s no need for me…”

“I’m not going, Master Francis. You know I have a grave aversion to Paris. I’ll merely be keeping the young lady company until you change your clothes. And it would behoove you to hurry—the longer we’re together the more things I could tell her.”

She expected Rohan to look more than a little disgruntled, but he simply laughed. “I doubt anything you tell her would surprise her. She already knows I’m a total wastrel.”

“If you take too long, I’ll be telling her all the good things I know of you.”

“Good god,” he said in tones of absolute horror. “I’ll be as quick as the devil.” He’d reached the door, then stopped for a moment, looking back at Elinor, staring at her.

“Master Francis…” Mrs. Clarke said in a warning tone.

“I just wanted to take a last glance at her exquisite feet before you covered them up again. It might be a while before I see them again.”

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