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A Lady Never Tells(3)

By:Candace Camp

“Thank you!” The woman at the head of the pack trotted up to them and stopped, panting. The other two pulled up beside her, and for a moment the two men and three women gazed at each other with considerable interest.

They were, Sir Royce thought, a veritable bevy of beauties, even flushed and disheveled as they were, but it was the one in front who intrigued him most. Her hair was a deep chocolate brown and her eyes an entrancing mingling of blue and green that made him long to draw closer to determine the precise color. There was a firm set to her chin that, along with her generous mouth and prominent cheekbones, gave her face an unmistakable strength. Moreover, that mouth had a delectably plump bottom lip with a most alluring little crease down the center of it. It was, he thought, impossible to see those lips and not think of kissing them.

“You are most welcome,” Sir Royce replied, pulling his booted foot off the miscreant’s back in order to execute a bow.

The thief took advantage of this gesture to spring to his feet and run, but Royce’s hand lashed out and caught him by his collar. He glanced inquiringly at the women.

“Do you want to press charges? Should we take him to a magistrate?”

“No.” The first woman shook her head. “As long as I have my case back, that is all that matters.”

“Very well.” Sir Royce looked at the man he held in his grip. “Fortunately, the lady has a kind heart. You may not be so lucky next time.”

He released the thief, who scrambled away and vanished around a corner, and turned back to the group of young women. “Pray, allow me to introduce myself—Sir Royce Winslow, at your service. And this young chap is my cousin, Mr. Harrington.”#p#分页标题#e#

“I am Mary Bascombe,” the young woman replied without hesitation. “And these are my sisters Camellia and Lily.”

“Appropriately so, for you make a lovely bouquet.”

Mary Bascombe responded to this flattery with a roll of her eyes. “My mother had an exceeding fondness for flowers, I fear.”

“Then tell me, Miss Bascombe, how did it happen that you are not named for a flower?”

“Oh, but I am,” she responded, smiling, and a charming dimple popped into her cheek. “My name is actually Marigold.” She watched him struggle to come up with a polite response, and chuckled. “Don’t worry. You need not pretend it isn’t horrid. That is why I go by Mary. But …” She shrugged. “I suppose it could have been worse. Mother could have named me Mugwort or Delphinium.”

Royce chuckled, growing more intrigued by the instant. The girls were all lovely, and Mary, at least, spoke as perfect English as any lady—even though there was a certain odd accent he could not quite place. Looking at their fresh, appealing faces or hearing her speech, he would have presumed that she and her sisters were young gentlewomen. But their clothes were not anything that a young lady would wear, even one just up from the country. The dresses and hairstyles were plain and several years out of date, as though the sisters had never seen a fashion book. But, more than that, the girls behaved with the most astonishing lack of decorum.

There was no sign of an older female chaperoning them. And they had just gone running through the streets with no regard for their appearance or the fact that their bonnets had come off. Then they had stood here, regarding him straightforwardly with never a blush or averted gaze or a giggle, as if it were perfectly ordinary to converse with strange men. Of course, they could hardly be expected to follow the dictum of not speaking to a man without having been properly introduced, given the way they had met. But no well-bred young lady would have casually offered up her name to a stranger even if he had helped her. And she certainly would not have volunteered the girls’ first names as Mary Bascombe had just cheerfully done. Nor would she have commented in that unrestrained way regarding her mother’s naming them. Most of all—what in the world were they doing down here by the docks?

“Are you—Americans?” he asked abruptly.

Mary laughed. “Yes. How did you know?”

“A lucky guess,” he replied with a faint smile.

Mary smiled back, and her face flooded with light. Royce’s hand tightened involuntarily on the handle of his cane, and he forgot what he had been about to say.

Mary, too, seemed suddenly at a loss for words, and she glanced away, color rising in her cheeks. Her hands went to her hair, as though she had suddenly realized its tumbled-down state, and she fumbled to repin it.

“I— oh, dear, I seem to have lost my hat.” She glanced around.