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A Lady Never Tells(5)

By:Candace Camp

“Please, allow me to escort you to a respectable inn,” he urged.

Mary hesitated for a moment, glancing at her sisters. Lily looked decidedly wilted, and even Camellia nodded, pulling her hand out from her skirts to show Mary the knife she held. “I can take care of him, Mare.”

Sir Royce’s eyebrows vaulted upward, and Gordon, following Royce’s gaze, goggled and exclaimed, “Bloody hell, is that a knife?”

“I believe so,” Royce replied calmly, adding, “Language, Coz—there are ladies present.”

Gordon appeared as if he might dispute this statement, but at a look from the older man, he subsided, saying only, “Beg pardon.”

“Gordon—can you manage on your own?” Royce continued. “I fear there isn’t enough room in my carriage for all of us.”

The other man, still eyeing Camellia’s knife, nodded. “Of course. I mean, if you’re sure it’s safe …”

“I think I can hold my own,” Sir Royce assured him. “Will you promise me that you will go straight home?”

“Home! Not there!” Gordon protested. “Mother’s in residence here.”

“Very well. Then straight to your father. He’s at the estate, is he not?”

Gordon looked pained, but nodded grudgingly. “Yes. I’ll go to Father and tell him everything.”

“Good. If I find out differently, I shall lay this all in Oliver’s hands.”

Gordon groaned, but nodded again and trudged off down the street.

“Will he be all right?” Lily asked, watching him walk away. “He seemed a trifle, well …”

“Drunk,” Camellia helpfully added.

Sir Royce looked somewhat nonplussed, but said only, “Yes. You are correct. I am afraid he has overindulged somewhat. But I think he will manage well enough.”

“Is that why he is dressed that way?” Lily asked. “Because he has been drinking?”

Royce let out a short laugh and shook his head. “No, I fear he was probably quite sober when he bought those clothes.” He glanced around. “Now, um, I assume you had some baggage?”

“Oh! Our bags! Rose will be worried sick about us,” Mary exclaimed. The girls all whirled around and started at a run back in the direction from which they had come.

With a sigh, Royce stepped up onto the tiger’s footplate of his carriage and grabbed the handle, gesturing the coachman forward. “I fear we must follow them, Billings.”

“Aye, sir,” the coachman replied, his colorless voice indicating that he had long ago accepted the fits and starts of his employer.

The girls ran to the docks, the carriage lumbering behind them. Royce’s jaw dropped open when he saw, perched atop two battered trunks, a raven-haired, blue-eyed beauty … with a long rifle resting across her lap.

“Good Gad!” Royce hopped lightly to the ground and strode toward the cluster of girls. “There is another one of you.”

“Yes, this is my other sister, Rose.”

“Of course it is.” He made an elegant leg to the lovely young woman, who shyly nodded back. “And I see that you brought a rifle with you.”

“Of course. We couldn’t just leave Father’s gun behind.”

“Naturally …” Royce replied faintly. “And who knows when one might have use of it? Any other weapons about your persons? Pistols, perhaps?”

“They’re in our bags,” Lily told him. “We didn’t think we would need them, really.”#p#分页标题#e#

“Mm. I would venture that a rifle—and your sister’s knife—should be enough for everyday occurrences.” He turned toward his driver, who had followed him from the carriage. “Well, Billings, load up the luggage, and we shall be on our way.”

Royce opened the door of the carriage and stretched out his hand toward Mary. “Miss Bascombe …”

Mary herded her sisters over to the vehicle, and Royce handed them up into the carriage, Mary hanging back until last. She would have liked to grab the handle beside the door and swing herself up into the carriage, but she could not, without rudeness, ignore Sir Royce’s outstretched hand. She couldn’t explain even to herself quite why she was reluctant to take Sir Royce’s hand. She only knew that she dreaded the contact—and at the same time was somehow eager for it.

Royce turned from handing the last of her sisters into the carriage. Mary hesitated, then reached out and slipped her hand into his. His fingers closed around hers lightly. She could feel the heat of his skin; he seemed unusually warm to her—or was it just that her own hands had grown suddenly icy?