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what a lady wants

Lady Felicity Melville has discovered a young man in her garden in the middle of the night fleeing from the arms of the Lady Pomfrey and the pistol of Lord Pomfrey.

Felicity stared down at him. “Have you no shame? No morals whatsoever?”

“What do you mean?” he said cautiously.

“I mean—” She thought for a moment. “I suppose before I make any accusations regarding your morals I should determine if you are or are not a burglar.”

“Fair enough.” She could hear the grin in his voice. “I can assure you I am most certainly not a burglar.”

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely.”

“Why should I believe you?”

“Good point. I have no idea.” He thought for a moment. “I would think, if I were a burglar, I probably wouldn’t be taking the time to chat with you. Furthermore, if I were a burglar I certainly wouldn’t be plying my trade with the lady of the house present. It’s obviously a sure way to get caught.”

“That would depend on whether you were a good burglar.”

“Oh, I would be a very good burglar. However, I am not.”

She sighed. “No, I don’t suppose you are.”

“You sound disappointed,” he said slowly.

“Not precisely. One should never be disappointed to learn one’s home and family are safe.”

He stepped nearer and stared up at her. He was almost directly beneath the balcony now. She couldn’t make out his features but his voice was surprisingly nice. “And yet you definitely sound disappointed.”

“Well, if you’re not a burglar then you . . . It scarcely matters.”

“I should be happy to rob your house if you wish.”

She scoffed. “Don’t be absurd. I have no desire for you or anyone to rob my house.”

“That is a relief. I haven’t the faintest idea how to properly rob a house and I should hate to be found out.” He chuckled. “A man could get shot that way.”

“A distinct possibility.” Indeed, there was an antique dueling pistol in the top drawer of her nightstand at this very moment. She had purchased it after a nasty incident in Venice and had kept it beside her bed ever since. It was of sentimental value more than true protection really although a pistol close at hand made her feel a little adventurous. Odd that she hadn’t remembered it before now. Of course, the weight of the spyglass still in her hand was reassuring.

“Now then, as we have resolved that question I should like—”

“As we have established that you probably are not a burglar I assume you were,” Felicity wrinkled her nose, “dallying with Lady Pomfrey?”

Silence greeted her question then a resigned sigh drifted upward. “Dallying is as good a word as any.”

“That’s rather reprehensible of you isn’t it?”

He paused. “Is it?”

“Absolutely.” She collapsed the spyglass in a measured, methodical manner and searched for the right words. It wasn’t every day she chastised a man for scandalous behavior. “Lady Pomfrey is a married woman. Therefore your actions were indeed reprehensible. Morally that is.”

“Do you think so?”

She nodded. “I do.”

“I see.” He paused for a long moment. “I, however, do not.”

She snorted in disbelief. “You can’t possibly disagree. Your behavior is improper and immoral and—”

“Ah ha. That’s where you’re wrong.”

“I most certainly am not.”

“Oh but you are.” An annoying note of triumph rang in his voice. “You see, I am not married.”

She furrowed her brow in confusion. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“I am not married which means I have not broken any sort of vow of fidelity or loyalty or whatever else one promises when shackling one’s life forever to a spouse.” He shrugged. “My morals therefore are not in question.”

She gasped. “Surely you don’t believe that?”

“Surely I do. I take my word, and any promises I might make, up to and including marriage vows which I have never taken nor do I have any intention of taking in the foreseeable future, quite seriously. Honoring my word is my responsibility, my solemn duty as it were. However, the actions others take in regard to whatever promises they might make are not my responsibility.”

“Come now. You bear some culpability. Lady Pomfrey couldn’t dally by herself.”

“I wouldn’t wager on—never mind.” He choked back a laugh. “Now then if there’s nothing else-”

“You are a man of questionable morals aren’t you?”

“I suppose that depends on your point of view. I have no question at all about my morals. And while I would love to continue to debate my behavior and the ethical considerations regarding that behavior, I should take my leave.”

“Indeed you should,” she murmured, struck by a vague sense of disappointment. It was ridiculous even if this—or rather he—was the most interesting thing to happen in her life in some time. Or ever.

“Unless you plan to summon the authorities and have me arrested?”

“Don’t be absurd. If I had wanted to summon the authorities I would have done so by now.” While it was highly improper for a man who had just escaped the justifiable wrath of an irate husband to be under her balcony in the middle of the night, it was probably not worthy of arrest. Apparently though this adventure had come to an end. Pity. She gestured at the far side of the garden. “If you head toward the break in the top of the wall, you’ll find a gate a few feet away. It leads to the mews and the passage to the street.”

“What break?”

“There.” She waved again. “You can see it from here, edged against the night sky. It’s just above the border of tall hedges over there.”

“I can’t see it, it’s dark. And I daresay I wouldn’t be able to see it from down here anyway.” He blew a frustrated breath and moved to the trellis. “Damnation, it’s been a hell of a night.”

“Indeed it has.” She peered over the side of the balcony. “What are you doing?”

“I’m climbing up your trellis.”

Felicity ignored the thrill that ran up her spine, whether of fear or excitement she wasn’t entirely certain. Probably a bit of both. “Is that wise?”

“It is if I’m to see where this blasted gate of yours is and get out of here.”

“Perhaps if you looked a bit harder.” She backed away from the balcony struck by the realization that she could indeed be in danger. She gripped the spyglass tighter and clutched it to her chest, its weight a comfort and reassurance. It could indeed serve as a more than adequate weapon and put a nasty dent in a man’s skull. Beyond that, she had no doubt as to her abilities to scream if necessary. “I really don’t think you should come—”

“If you’re fearing for your virtue, you needn’t.” An arm appeared over the balustrade and her breath caught. Dear Lord he was far faster than she’d expected. Although she shouldn’t have been surprised. The man had already climbed down one building, sprinted across a lawn and scaled a wall not to mention whatever other activities he might have engaged in previously, and he hadn’t seemed the least bit out of breath.

He hauled himself on to the balcony, planted his feet on the floor and straightened. She was right, he was tall. Nearly a head taller than she and she was of above average height. It was far too dark to see his features well but what she could make out was quite nice. Of course in the light of day he could well be hideous although she doubted Lady Pomfrey would ever be involved with an unattractive man. Regardless, his smile would be wicked and no doubt, irresistible. If she knew nothing else about him she knew that.

“I am far too tired to engage in anything other than sleep which I intend to do the moment I am in my own bed.”

“I wasn’t the least bit worried,” she said in a lofty manner.

“Then why are you armed?” He nodded at the spyglass in her hands.

“This?” She shifted the spyglass from one hand to the other. “This is simply an old spyglass that once belonged to a seafaring relative.”

“A spyglass?” He glanced from the instrument in her hands to her telescope. “And I see you have a larger telescope as well.”

“I study the stars. I find them fascinating.”

He laughed. “As fascinating as your neighbors?”

Heat flashed up her face. “I am an astronomer. Amateur admittedly but an astronomer nonetheless. I do not study my neighbors!”

“No?”

“I will admit that once I heard shouting and shots I did wish to see what was happening but I do not make a habit of peeking in other people’s houses.”

He snorted in obvious disbelief and turned away to study the garden wall. At this particular moment she regretted that she hadn’t bashed him with the spyglass and noted that it was not too late to do so. Of course, if she rendered him unconscious he would probably be discovered and her reputation would be shattered as he was obviously a man of disrepute and—

“You’re foolish not to be worried you know. Speaking to a stranger of questionable morals in the middle of the night and allowing him to enter your bed chamber—”

“I allowed nothing of the sort.” Indignation sounded in her voice. “You took liberties that were not granted to you. You climbed into my garden uninvited and now, again uninvited, you appear in my room and—”

“Yes, well, that is just the kind of thing a man of questionable morals does.” He nodded. “I see the break in the wall now and how to get to it so I shall bid you good night.”

She huffed. “Go on, then.”

“Before I once again take to the trellis I should like to thank you for your assistance.”

She shrugged. “I really didn’t do anything.”

A grin sounded in his voice. “Precisely. And it is most appreciated.” Without warning he stepped closer, took her free hand in his and raised it to his lips. “My dear girl, if you were my younger sister I would make certain you were locked up for the better part of the next year to ensure there would be no repetition of tonight’s incident.”

“Would you?” She raised a brow. “If it were my younger sister I would make certain she was armed with something other than a spyglass should there be a repetition of tonight’s incident.”

“Well said.” He laughed, released her hand and stepped to the balcony. He swung a leg over the side and reached for the trellis. “Oh, and one more thing. Do try to keep men of questionable morals from climbing into your bed chamber in the future.”

©2007 Victoria Alexander