"Not really," she answered obliquely. "Actually, I try to emulate you, Dand."
He cocked his head. "How so?"
"Worldy, streetsmart," she listed off his qualities. "Without remorse or an inconvenient conscience or
attachments of any kind and thus having no need to make explanations to anyone."
"And how have you arrived at this rather unflattering estimation of my character?" he asked, clearly
"I don't think it unflattering at all," she said in genuine surprise. "It seems most practical."
"Really?" he said, his eyes narrowed with amusement but also speculation. "Again, what makes you think
this of me?"
"Well, your two best friends, who happen to be my brothers-in-law, thought you had betrayed them to the
French, killed the guard who was to have provided the evidence of your perfidy, and sought to murder
them but was stopped in this pursuit only because my sister Helena managed to drive a sword into your
side a moment before you, disguised as vicar, intended to skewer her with your own."
"Such a graphic account, Charlotte. Perhaps you should write one of those over-heated gothic novels that
are all the rage?"
She ignored him. "And yet, here you are, unconcerned and placid as a plate of pike despite all the nasty
suspicions surrounding you. How ever do you manage?"
"I take comfort in knowing that I did not do any of the aforementioned things. I do, indeed, have a
conscience, Lottie. And while it is hardly spotless, I acquit myself of charges of attempting to
murder my one time companions. Besides, Father Tarkin would vouch for me."
"Ah, but you have been away from St. Bride's for a long time. People change." She moved behind his
chair, looking down at the rumpled hair streaked with gold from going bareheaded in the sun. "How do
I know you are innocent?"
His gaze tracked her watchfully.
"I never saw the man who claimed to be Vicar Tawster," she continued. "Only Helena can identify him.
All I know is that you remain intent on not revealing yourself to your former companions. Or my sister.
Perhaps there is a reason."
He didn't bother to reply. His collarless shirt lay opened, pulled askew so that she could see his
shoulder, tanned and smoothly capped with muscle. A few inches over would be the infamous rose brand.
Though she had never seen it, both of her sisters had told her of the souvenir the torturer at the
LeMons dungeon had branded into their husbands and Dand Ross's hides.
She bent down, bringing her lips to within inches of his ear. He smelled clean, of soap and camphor.
He didn't even bother looking around. He took entirely too much for granted. No man of the ton had ever
taken her for granted. And yet Dand Ross did. A wicked impulse arose within her.
"Added to which," she whispered in his ear, "you didn't appear in London for many months after the
episode with Helena and the sword. Perhaps you retired to France to recover from your wound? Perhaps,"
she leaned over his shoulder, "you carry the mark...here!"
Her hand darted down, pressing low on his side. His heartbeat jolted once beneath her palm and before
she realized what he was doing he seized her wrist, holding her hand hostage against his ribs a second
before jerking her over his shoulder and toppling into his lap. She looked up, startled, into a face
dark and suddenly alien, her offending hand held in a steel grip well away from his body.
A glimmer of fear shivered through her. She hadn't realized he was so strong or could move so fast. Or
that he could look at her with such a hard expression.
Abruptly, she began to struggle. He controlled her with humiliating ease, the heat from his body seeping
into her in every inappropriate place, setting her skin afire and bringing to life her long forgotten
ability to blush. He didn't even notice.
"Do you really think I am a murderer?" His low voice had lost all trace of amusement. "And if so, do you
really want to play this game with me?"