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A Lady Never Tells(6)

By:Candace Camp

She looked up into his face. She was closer to him now than at any time before, and she could see clearly, even in the growing dusk, how sinfully long and thick his lashes were. They were the same rusty brown as his eyebrows, darker than his thick blond hair, and they accentuated the bright green of his eyes. He was looking straight into her eyes, and there was in his gaze an intensity, a heat, that made her feel suddenly shy. She cast her eyes down; she could feel color rising in her cheeks. Almost imperceptibly, his fingers tightened on hers.

Mary stepped quickly up into the carriage, and for an instant it seemed as though he might hold on to her hand, but then he released her. Her three sisters had squeezed onto one seat, so she sat down on the seat across from them, realizing that she would have to ride next to Sir Royce, who, after a moment’s consultation with his driver, entered the carriage and sank onto the soft leather seat beside Mary.

Mary, avoiding his gaze, looked around her at the luxurious vehicle. She had never been in a carriage of such elegance and comfort. It was roomy, with wide benches cushioned in dark red leather, and behind their backs were squabs of the same butter-soft leather. Short, heavy curtains framed the windows, drawn back to admit the dwindling evening light.

The carriage started forward over the uneven cobblestones. Mary was very aware of Royce’s presence beside her. His broad shoulders seemed to take up a great deal of space, and his muscular thighs were only inches from her. She held herself tight against the other wall of the carriage, afraid the vehicle might lurch and send her knocking against him.

For a long time, there was only silence in the carriage, the four girls and their rescuer regarding each other carefully. Finally, Sir Royce said, “May I ask whence you young ladies have traveled to London?”

“Three Corners,” Lily answered promptly. “That’s a little town not far from Philadelphia. In Pennsylvania. The United States.”

He nodded. “I see. And what brings you to England?”

“Lily …” Mary sent her sister a warning glance.

Lily looked at her, surprised. “But what’s wrong with—”

“No, no doubt your sister is quite right,” Sir Royce said easily. “One can never be too cautious in the city. It can be a dangerous place. Though,” he added with a glance toward Camellia, “I am not entirely certain that holding a knife at the ready is necessary. It could lead people to leap to the wrong conclusion.”

“We don’t usually go about bearing arms, Mr.—I mean, Sir Royce,” Mary put in. “But, as you said, the city can be a dangerous place. So Camellia decided to wear her knife today.”#p#分页标题#e#

“Wear?” He looked blankly at Camellia, as if he would see it hanging about her neck.

Camellia smiled faintly and reached down to lift the hem of her skirt, exposing a bit of her shapely calf, to which was strapped a small leather scabbard. She bent and slipped the blade she had been carrying back into the scabbard, then shook out her skirts and regarded Sir Royce evenly.

“I see.” It gave Mary a small spurt of satisfaction to see the man, who was far too cool by half, look faintly disconcerted. “Handy. Well, clearly, I need not worry about your safety.”

“No,” Mary agreed firmly. “You need not.”

Mary was not sure why she was so reluctant to reveal anything about herself or her sisters to this man. He had, after all, done nothing harmful to them—or even suspicious. On the contrary, he had done them more than one good turn. Perhaps it was simply that this Englishman affected her in ways she was unused to or that she felt somehow unsure of herself around him. Or maybe she was just irritated by the relief that had swept her when Sir Royce had taken charge of their problem and set out to escort them to an inn. It was so nice, so easy, to put all her worries into someone else’s hands for once, to not be the one in charge, entrusted with protecting her sisters and leading them to a better life.

But that was something she absolutely could not do. She had learned from her mother’s bitter experience that putting one’s entire welfare in a man’s hands was foolish. Better by far to rely only on oneself.

Sir Royce held her challenging gaze for a long moment. There was something in his eyes—interest? amusement? a challenge of his own?—that both intrigued and confused her. Finally it was Mary who turned her face away, no longer able to hold his gaze.

After that, there was silence—even Lily, usually curious to a fault, was too exhausted to ask any questions—until the carriage rolled at last to a stop in the courtyard of an inn. Sir Royce got out, telling the girls to remain inside. Mary and her sisters exchanged a glance and promptly scrambled out of the vehicle after him, following him into the inn.