The Present Page 17

He yawned, stood up, and pulled her to his side. "I'll let you know, by the time we get upstairs, whether I can wait until morning or not to hear how they handled those snooping townsfolk."

She moaned a bit, but then chuckled as she put an arm around his waist. "Same way you probably would have. They told them to mind their own bloody business."

"Excellent, the American way," he replied as he walked them out the door.

They left more than one English groan behind them.

James paused by his wife's bedroom as he did each night to see if the door would open. Tonight he was annoyed enough not to bother even trying. She'd been utterly unreasonable in her anger, utterly uncommunicative as well, re fusing to discuss it. He really was at his wits' end on how to set things right with her, particularly when he hadn't done anything wrong to be setting right.

He needed a miracle to get out of this mess. That thought reminded him of the conversation he'd had with Jason the night the younguns had snuck into the parlor to open The Present. Before Anthony had found him in Jason's study and they'd started their commiserative drinking, James had found Jason there doing some drinking himself.

"I hope you've got more of that on hand, because I could use a full bottle myself," he told his brother when he entered the room.

Jason nodded. "Fetch a glass on the sideboard and start with this one."

James did, then took the seat across from Jason's desk, waiting for him to pour from the near-empty decanter next to him. When he did, he said pointedly, "I know why I'm drinking, but why are you?"

Jason didn't answer that, said instead, "James, you confound me. You, out of all of us, have a certain unique finesse in handling women—at least, you always did in the past. Where's it gone to?"

James leaned back in his chair and took a long swill of his brandy before answering, "Easy to handle women when you aren't emotionally involved with them, quite another thing when you love one to distraction. I've used every means I can think of to get George to at least discuss what's bothering her, but George is, well, George, and she won't budge until she's bloody well ready to. It's got nothing to do with Tony or Jack. I've at least narrowed that down. She merely used them as a convenient excuse to explode— at me. I'm the problem, but since I haven't done a single thing out of the ordinary that might have set her temper off, I'm bloody well in the complete dark."

"It sounds like she just hasn't figured out yet how to approach the matter with you, whatever it is. That could be part of the problem, her own frustration in being unable to express it," Jason suggested.

"George? Having trouble expressing herself?" James all but rolled his eyes.

"Not ordinarily," Jason agreed. "But this doesn't sound like an ordinary problem, or it would be out in the open already, wouldn't it?"

"Possibly," James allowed thoughtfully, then, "Bloody hell. I'm done with trying to figure out what's wrong. Everything I make a guess at just points out more clearly that this makes no sense a'tall."

Jason, staring at the glass in his hand, snorted. "Women make sense when they're upset? When did they ever?"

James chuckled at that, since it reminded him of the realization he'd come to a few years ago, yet he'd never broached the subject with his brother. It also gave him his answer to why his brother might be in need of a fortifying brandy or two. In a word, women problems.

So he asked baldly, "How long have you been in love with Molly?"

Jason glanced up, but his expression didn't show the surprise that question should have brought. "Since before Derek was born."

James couldn't quite conceal his own surprise at that answer and the obvious conclusion it brought. "Good God . . . well, damn it all, Jason, why the deuce have you never told any of us?"

"You think I didn't want to? I'd shout it from the rooftops if it were my choice, but it's not. Molly had valid reasons for wanting the truth about us kept secret, even from Derek—at least she managed to convince me those reasons were valid. I'm not so sure anymore, but that's a moot point after all these years of secrecy.''

"Why don't you just marry the woman and have done with it?" James said reasonably.

Jason laughed without humor. "I'm trying to. I have been trying to since the divorce from Frances, but Molly won't budge in her refusal. She's got this gigantic scandal imagined in her mind and she refuses to inflict it on the family."

James raised a golden brow. "On the family? When has this family not had a scandal brewing of one sort or another?"

Jason raised a brow himself. "True, to which you, for one, made sure of."

James chuckled at his brother's censorious tone. "Let's not get into that. I'm reformed, don't you know."

Jason shook his head bemusedly. "I still can't credit how that came about."

"Love, of course. It does produce amazing miracles. Speaking of which, it's looking like I'll need one of those to get out of this confounding situation with George. If I find one, Jason, I'll be sure to pass it along, since you seem to be in need of a miracle yourself as well."

Remembering that conversation with his brother, James had a feeling that Jason might have found his miracle, thanks to their grandmother, yet one hadn't dropped into his own lap yet. But enough was enough and tomorrow he'd tell his wife so. Tonight he was simply too tired. Tonight he'd probably say something he'd end up regretting, and then he would have something to apologize for.

He walked away, but no more than three steps were taken before he spun about and pounded on her door. To hell with waiting. He was tired, yes, but he was even more tired of sleeping alone.

From inside the room he heard, "It's open."

James frowned down at the doorknob, tried it. Damned if it wasn't open. Bloody hell. It would have to be open the one time he made a racket pounding on it rather than just checking it first.

He entered the room, closed the door, then leaned back against it, crossing his thick arms over his chest. Georgina was sitting on the bed, wearing the white silk negligee and robe that he'd given her last Christmas. She was brushing her long brown hair. He always enjoyed watching her do that—another thing he'd been denied lately.

He raised a brow at her and asked dryly, "Forget to lock the door?"

"No," she said simply.

The golden brow lifted just a bit higher. "Don't tell me you've gotten all maudlin over the elders' love story and decided to forgive me because of it?"

Her sigh was loud enough to hear across the room "Maudlin, no. Finally realizing that putting this off isn't going to make it go away, yes, their story did help me to see that the unavoidable can't be avoided. So you may as well know, there's nothing to forgive you for, James.”

"Well, I always knew that, but what the devil d'you mean by nothing?"

She lowered her gaze and mumbled something that he couldn't make out. This had him crossing the room to stand in front of her. He lifted her chin. Her large brown eyes were inscrutable. She'd learned how to do that from him.

"Let's try this again, shall we?" he said. "Now, what d'you mean, there's nothing to forgive me for?"

"I was never angry with you. The way I've been behaving had nothing to do with you—well, it did, but not for the reason I let you think. I was already upset about something else when Jack said what she did. I used that as an excuse, because I wasn't ready to fess up to the other. I didn't want to upset you."

"I hope you know, George, that you haven't made one bloody bit of sense. Didn't want to upset me? Do I look like I haven't been upset?"

His frown answered that question quite satisfactorily. She actually smiled.

"Let me rephrase that," she suggested. "I didn't want to upset you with what was really bothering me, which was not wanting to upset you at all."

He made a sound of frustration at that point. "I know it's American reasoning that makes what you say sound like gibberish to the English mind, but do try—"

"Rubbish," she cut in with a snort. "I'm just still hedging, is all."

"Good of you to own up to that, m'dear. Now own up to why."

"I was getting to that," she continued to hedge.

"Notice I'm patiently waiting."

"You're never patient."

"I'm always patient, and you're still hedging," he all but growled. "George, I'm warning you, I'm bloody well at the end of my patience." See?

He gave her a scowl worthy of decimating an ordinary opponent. She was unaffected, well aware she had nothing to worry about from his scowls. But she was pushing it. Finally she sighed again.

"I know you love the twins," she said. "You can't help but love them, they're such darlings. But I also know you were horrified at the thought of having them, when Amy and Warren produced twins, and him being my brother, you realized we might have some, too."

"Not horrified," he corrected. "Just bloody well surprised that they run in your family, when your family didn't have any to show for it."

"Horrified," she reiterated stubbornly.

He sighed this time, though only for effect, "If you insist. And your point?"

"I didn't want to horrify you again."

"Again?" And then he blinked. "Good God, George are we having another baby?"

At which point she burst into tears. James, on the other hand, burst into laughter. He simply couldn't help it. But that just had her crying louder.

So he lifted her up, sat down on the bed and placed her on his lap, wrapped his arms around her carefully, and said, "You know, George, we're really going to have to work on your way of announcing these things. Recall how you told me about Jack's impending arrival?"

She did indeed. They'd been in the middle of a heated exchange on his ship, where she'd just got done calling James an English lord, a Caribbean pirate!

He'd replied, "I hate to point this out, you little witch, but those aren't epithets."

She'd shouted back, "They are as far as I'm concerned. My God, and to think I'm going to have your baby."

To which he had countered heatedly, "The devil you are! I'm not touching you again!"

She had stomped away with the parting shot, "You won't have to, you stupid man!" which had finally got the point across to him that she was already pregnant.

"And the second time, d'you recall that you actually denied you were pregnant? Told me you were just putting on a little weight, as if I couldn't bloody well tell the difference." He snorted.

She stiffened at that point. "You blame me for not mentioning it, after what you said when Amy had her twins? 'We are not having any, d'you hear!' Those were your exact words, you odious man. Well, we did have some, didn't we, and we may have some more, and some more, and—"

"How you do go on," he cut in with a chuckle. "My dearest girl, you shouldn't hold a man accountable for one unguarded moment of surprise."

"Shock," she corrected.

"Surprise," he repeated adamantly. "That's all it was, you know. And I did adjust to it remarkably well, if I do say so myself. In fact, you can give me twins every year if you're up to it, and I'll adore them all equally. You know why, don't you?"

She frowned. "Why?"

"Because I love you, and at the risk of sounding exceedingly conceited," he added with a smug grin, "I know you love me, too. Stands to reason, then, don't it, that anything that we produce from that love will be cherished, whether it comes in a single package or in pairs. I'll love them all, silly girl. Don't ever doubt that again."

She put her head against his chest with a sigh. "I have been rather silly, haven't I?"

"Considering where I've been sleeping lately," he replied dryly, "I'll refrain from answering that, if it's all the same to you."

She kissed his neck in apology. "I'm really sorry about that."

"As you should be."

It was his condescending tone that prompted her to reply, "Did I ever mention that four generations back, there was a rare instance of triplets in my family?"

"I know you're expecting to hear yet another 'Good God, George, we're not having any of those either,' but I'm going to have to disappoint you. Now, if I didn't think you were pulling my leg ..."

She giggled, which more or less admitted she was doing just that. But then she asked curiously, since she had come upstairs early, "Did Amy finish the journal tonight '

"Yes. Amazing gift my grandmother had. I prefer to think it was just incredible good guessing on her part, but who's to say for sure?"

"My, I did miss a lot, didn't I?"

James nodded. "You'll want to read it for yourself, if you can manage to get it away from Jason. I've a feeling he has someone else he'd like to have read it first, though."

"Molly?"

James chuckled. "So you noticed, too?"

"The softening of his edges whenever she's around? Who could miss that?"

"Just most of us," he replied dryly.

"DID IT GET FINISHED TONIGHT?" MOLLY ASKED WHEN JASON joined her in her bed that night.

"Sorry, did I wake you?"

She yawned and snuggled up close to him. "No. I've just missed you these last nights, so I tried to stay awake tonight. Didn't think I was going to manage it, though. I was just nodding off."

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