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A Lady Never Tells(7)

By:Candace Camp

When they walked inside, they saw Royce speaking to a small man who was nodding and smiling obsequiously. Royce turned at the sound of the sisters’ entrance and cast them a wry look, but made no protest at their ignoring his instructions. He turned back, said a few more words, then withdrew something from his pocket and handed it to the man.

The man scurried off, and Sir Royce came over to Mary and the others. “Holcombe is the innkeeper of the Boar and Bear, and he has suggested that you wait in the private room while he makes sure that the bedchambers are turned out in the quality you deserve. My driver will bring in your things.”

A maid appeared to show them into one of the private areas set aside for the drinking or dining convenience of their guests who did not care to rub elbows with the other occupants of the tavern and inn. After a few minutes, she appeared again, carrying a pot of tea and mugs for the girls, as well as assurances that she would soon bring them steaming bowls of stew if they liked.

All the girls agreed that they would very much like it. Sir Royce cast a comprehensive glance around the room and said, “Well, ladies, it appears that you are well settled here, so I will bid you adieu.”

Mary’s sisters clustered around him, showering him with thanks. Even shy Rose offered him a blushing smile with a soft assurance of her gratitude. Only Mary kept her distance, watching Royce with a cool and thoughtful air. When he had bid each of the others good-bye, Royce turned to Mary and swept her an elegant bow.

“Miss Bascombe. It has been a pleasure.”

“Indeed.” Mary nodded, realizing that her gesture came out too primly. She was, she thought, appearing ungrateful, but she could not seem to relax around him.#p#分页标题#e#

He hesitated, then reached inside his coat, saying, “Allow me to give you my card, in case—”

Mary held up her hand. “No. Please. That is very kind of you, but I assure you, we will be fine. I will contact our grandfather tomorrow.”

“Ah, then you do have family here?”

“Yes.” Mary could see further questions forming in his eyes, and stepped forward quickly, opening the door into the hallway and turning to him in a clear gesture of dismissal. “Thank you, Sir Royce. I appreciate all you have done for us.”

With a wry look at her, he laid his card upon the table, then tipped his hat to Mary and stepped past her into the hallway. Mary, with a quick glance back at her sisters, followed him into the hall, closing the door behind her .

“Sir Royce …”

He turned inquiringly.

“As I said, I appreciate what you have done for us, but—I saw you give that man money.”

“Man? What man?”

“The innkeeper. I cannot allow you to pay for our accommodations. We do not even know you. And I am quite capable of paying our way. We are not penniless, I assure you.” That, she thought, was not entirely a lie; there were still a few coins left in her purse.

“Of course not,” he replied smoothly. “I would never presume in such a manner. What I gave him was not payment for the rooms. ’Twas merely a trifle, a small … incentive, shall we say, to ensure the innkeeper’s immediate attention to rooms for you.”

“Then I shall pay you back for that.”

Sir Royce waved such an idea away, and Mary set her jaw mulishly. “I insist, sir. I have no desire to be beholden. I cannot, of course, compensate for the kindnesses you have done us, but I can and will repay you for any money you have spent on us.”

“My dear girl, it was nothing. I haven’t even any idea what I handed him.”

He regarded her blandly, and irritation rose in Mary. She knew that he was purposely thwarting her, and she could not help but be suspicious that Sir Royce was lying to her. It was most kind of him, of course, but still …

“I cannot allow you to leave without repaying you,” she told him stubbornly, planting her hands on her hips.

He regarded her for a moment, and his eyes began to twinkle. “Well, then, allow me to take this in exchange.”

And with that, Royce took a step forward and wrapped an arm around her waist, then bent his head and kissed her.

Chapter 2

Mary froze in surprise. It wasn’t as if no man had ever tried to kiss her before. She had had a few suitors, even if they did not number as Rose’s did. And there had been men in the tavern who, laboring under the mistaken notion that any woman in or around a tavern was fair game, had grabbed her and tried to steal a kiss—or more. She had taken care of all of them in ways ranging from subtle to painful.

But she was unprepared for this man’s kiss—not only the smooth way he swept her in, but also the intoxicating effect of the kiss itself. His lips were firm and warm, pressing into hers with soft insistency, opening her mouth to his. The dark, subtle scent of his cologne teased at her senses, combining with the heat of his body, the taste of his lips, the feel of his chest pressing against hers, into a swirl of sensation that left her breathless, even dizzy. Mary felt herself warming, melting, and she realized that she was no longer standing stiffly in astonishment but sinking into Royce. It was, she knew on some level, reprehensible. But right here and now, she didn’t care about anything but what she was feeling.