Secrets for Seducing a Royal Bodyguard (5 page)

Vivian jerked out of his hold, unnerved by the intimate touch. A prickling flush crept up her neck, stinging her skin.
St. George jerked a bit too, looking startled. Frowning, he sat back.
“Forgive me,” he said in a tight voice. “You’ve been through a wrenching ordeal, and I’ve not been as careful with you as I should have been. As for Tom, you needn’t worry. I shot one man and my coachman managed to wing another, knocking him off his horse. Tom will handle the other two.”
She blinked at him, her heart still thrumming with the intensity of their silent exchange, but she decided to ignore that for now. Best to keep her attention on present circumstances. “I’m fine,” she said. “But that leaves two men against Tom. Those are hardly even odds.”
“In Tom’s case, those are
very
good odds.”
She eyed him doubtfully. She wanted to trust him, but after the last awful hours trust seemed very hard to come by.
“But what if one of them gets past him.” A horrible thought struck her. “What if there are more? What if they come after us?”
In truth, she had no idea how many men had been involved in her kidnapping. But when they’d carried her into that cave, she’d gained the distinct impression there were at least half a dozen, if not more. What if they were in pursuit this very moment?
Despite her best efforts to remain calm, her heart began to race again. She swallowed the sensation that her stomach was crawling up into her throat. The feeble light of the single carriage lamp was hardly enough to push back the threatening night, and dark spots began to swarm across her vision.
“Lady Vivien, look at me.” St. George’s level voice slashed through her panic. She forced herself to focus on him. His black gaze captured hers again, although this time he maintained a respectable distance between them.
“Yes?” She winced, hating the quaver in her voice. She cleared her throat and straightened her spine, determined to bring her wayward emotions under control. Surely they weren’t out of danger, even though the carriage had slowed to a steady trot from the initial mad dash of their escape. Logically, she understood the road would be treacherous at night, but every fiber of her being shrieked for them to hurry.
“I promise you, my lady, you are safe. I will not let anything happen to you.”
She pondered his statement for a few moments. “I thank you, sir. And I’m sure you
think
so, but I will not feel out of harm’s way until I have arrived home safely.”
He crossed his arms across his brawny chest, frowning at her. For the first time, she noticed the hollows under his cheekbones and the drawn look around his eyes, as if he’d not slept well for quite some time.
“I gave you my word,” he said. “Is that not enough?”
She almost raised her brows at his easy, masculine arrogance. “I’m sure it is, but you see . . .” she trailed off, not wanting to offend him. After all, the man
had
rescued her. Still . . .
“What?”
She grimaced. “What if there were more of them in pursuit? What if they got past Tom?”
He let out a weary sigh. Shifting in his seat, he drew back the curtain over the window and let down the glass. After a quick glance behind them, he called forward to the coachman.
“Any sign of trouble, John?”
The coachman’s reply, muffled by the sound of horses’ hooves and creaking wheels, drifted back, too indistinct to catch. But it satisfied St. George for he pulled his head inside, pushed up the window, and settled back in his seat. He extended his long legs, his boots pushing up against her skirts, his body seeming to take up every spare inch of space. He lifted one eyebrow, giving her a self-satisfied, challenging stare. Clearly, this was a man little used to being questioned and, she suspected, little used to failure. If he said he would do something, Vivien would bet one hundred guineas on his success.
She took in the muscular physique and the strong, determined face with its hard, deep-set gaze. An almost overwhelming sense of power emanated from him—carefully leashed, she thought, but still barely disguised by his relaxed pose. She also noted his plain but clearly expensive clothing and the well-made boots that encased his muscled calves. Then she glanced around the dimly lit interior of the coach, finally registering its details. The fixtures were handsome, highly polished brass, the wood framework richly dark and fine-grained, and the benches and cushions were covered in plush black velvet. Everything she saw spoke of wealth and power, and of a quiet confidence—one that had no desire or need to draw notice.
She snapped her attention back to the man sitting across from her, still and watchful and entirely in command. Vivien realized something then that her terror had not yet allowed her to fully grasp. From the moment he had walked into her dreary cell, St. George had controlled events with a calm yet lethal intent that swept everything before it.
Including her.
She froze, barely breathing as she met his gaze. He studied her, his eyes as dark, cold, and glittering as a winter’s eve. She prised open her reluctant lips.
“Mr. St. George, who
are
you?”
Chapter Five
Given the look on Lady Vivien’s face, Aden knew her question was not rhetorical. She stared at him, her blue eyes wide, her pretty mouth pursed with anxiety and doubt.
Doubt about him. He’d never thought of himself in heroic terms, but given the night’s events he would have thought her ladyship would have been a tad more grateful. Such was obviously not the case.
When he didn’t immediately answer, she shifted, trying to tuck her pale little feet under her mantle and away from his boots.
Her naked feet, the same feet that had been exposed to the elements for the last hour.
Idiot
. If he didn’t get her warm, she’d likely freeze to death before he returned her to the arms of her not-so-loving family.
He reached under the seat and pulled out a woolen blanket, then moved across to sit beside her. A little gasp escaped her and she shrank farther into her corner. Aden frowned. Her behavior made no sense. He expected some degree of skittishness, but her reaction was more than that.
“There’s no need to be alarmed, my lady,” he soothed. “If I don’t get you warmed up, Sir Dominic will have my head on a platter as will your mamma, I expect.”
Mentioning Dominic and her mother did the trick. Her shoulders, which had travelled up around her ears, dropped, and she gave him a tentative smile. He draped the blanket over her, tucking it around her waist. He hesitated a moment, but then common sense overcame social prohibitions. He bent forward, brushed aside the blanket, and grasped her ankles.
She gasped, trying to jerk away from him. “Sir, what are you doing?”
“Your feet are frozen,” he said, grasping at his fraying patience. She needed his care, but it had become manifestly clear the lady had a strong will and an equally strong need to remain in control of her circumstances. He could respect that and would, at a more convenient time. Right now, she had to stop questioning him and start obeying.
Peering down at her feet, she wriggled her toes against his palms. She frowned. “I can’t feel them at all.”
“Exactly. If we don’t get them warm, you might lose one or two toes to frostbite.”
She squeaked with dismay. It was a funny, high-pitched little sound, and for some reason he found it adorable.
His brain stuttered.
Adorable?
When the hell did he start using a word like that?
“Turn sideways, my lady,” he said in a brusque voice, shaking off the odd impulse to cuddle her.
She cast him an uncertain look but then complied, shifting along the padded bench. He drew her feet into his lap and settled the blanket over their bodies. The cold didn’t bother him but it made sense to share body heat, particularly since it would be another hour before reaching the inn where they would change horses. While the ostlers took care of that, he’d procure heated bricks and something hot for her to drink.
He reached under the blanket to gently wrap his hands around her feet.
Blast
. He’d been right to be concerned. They felt like little blocks of ice under his fingers.
She jumped a bit, then settled. Shyly, she pushed back a bedraggled lock of hair and gave him a tentative smile. “If I could survive this incident with all limbs intact, I would be very grateful. I don’t know what Mamma would say if I came home without my toes.” She gave a little snort. “Actually, I do. She would find that more horrifying than anything else.”
He studied her face in the flickering light of the carriage lamps. Her bow-shaped mouth had flattened into a cynical line.
Interesting.
And disturbing. One so young and lovely should have no call to wear an expression like that. But from the little Dominic had told him about her family, Aden wasn’t completely surprised.
“And you’d have the devil of a time finding dancing slippers to fit,” he said as he began to carefully knead her feet. “You’d have to stuff the toes with rags to keep the slippers from falling off.”
She snickered, and the muscles in the back of his neck loosened. Why the hell he should care about her relationship with her family was a mystery. In his experience, families were more trouble than they were worth. The only relevant question about Lady Vivian’s mother and brothers was whether they’d had anything to do with her abduction. Given the fact that her older brother, Lord Blake, had flat-out refused to pay any kind of ransom—even before one had been demanded—certainly put him in a category of suspicion.
Glancing up, he was pleased to see she had finally relaxed, snuggling into her corner and closing her eyes. Much of the tension had drained from her face, although her delicate features were still devoid of color and she carried bruise-like smudges under her eyes. Those should quickly fade once she had food and proper rest.
Allowing a rare feeling of satisfaction to slip through him—a genuine sense that his actions tonight
had
made a difference—Aden concentrated on massaging her feet. At some point, he needed to question her and extract as much information about her kidnappers as she could recall. And he needed to know why
she
thought she’d been abducted. Lady Vivien was clearly an intelligent woman, more so than the average flighty
ton
female. She might very well have observed something—even unconsciously—that would help narrow his search for the villain who’d planned this.
For now, though, he would let her rest.
And he would allow himself the oddly pleasing task of taking care of her. As he rubbed her feet, stroking warmth and life back into them, his senses opened to her. Her feet were slender and high-arched, delicate like the rest of her, with skin like living silk under his touch. Carefully, he stroked a bit higher, moving over her ankles. He glanced up, checking for her reaction, but she was quiet and still. Slowly, he inched farther up to her calves. The soft skin chilled his fingertips, and he almost convinced himself that he touched her only to bring the warmth back to her limbs.
Liar
.
It had been months since he’d been with a woman—too long, given how simply touching her ankles primed him for more. The last woman he’d taken had been a pampered beauty, a plump, sophisticated confection he’d thoroughly enjoyed. Compared to her, Lady Vivien was too slender, bordering on unfashionably thin. But she had gentle curves and a supple strength to her body that he found disturbingly attractive.
Aden frowned. Disturbing was unacceptable. Women offered a respite and a release, an interlude of charming companionship. Nothing more. Not by preference, but by necessity. His work dictated he suspend that part of his life, perhaps forever. Emotional entanglements always complicated an agent’s life. Hell, they complicated life, period, and since he’d found out the dirty secret of his birth, he’d done everything he could to separate himself from the overwrought passions that too often came with close relationships.
Of course, his own family had been only too willing to assist him in establishing that distance. But there was something about Lady Vivien that tested the high barriers he’d wrought around his emotions. At this point, it was merely a light tapping on the wall, but it—
“You haven’t answered my question, Mr. St. George.”
He jerked, coming back to himself. Damn, stroking her like that, like she was a sleepy, purring cat, had tipped him into a mental lull. He’d practically forgotten they’d just escaped one of the most notorious gangs in the West End. Not that he had any doubts Tom had eliminated their two remaining pursuers, but Aden had played the fool to let his guard so thoroughly drop.
The fact that he’d done so—despite the incident in France only a few weeks ago—told him just how dangerous a distraction Lady Vivien posed. Little wonder she’d garnered the reputation as one of the most fascinating women—and gamesters—in the
ton
. Yes, she was lovely and intelligent, but that didn’t explain it. Still, he’d have to spend more time with her to decipher that puzzle, and he had no intention of doing so. He couldn’t afford to like her, for either of their sakes.
Briskly, he wrapped her feet into the folds of the blanket. When he finally met her gaze, she looked heavy-lidded and sated, and some of the color had returned to her cheeks. She looked like she’d just come from a man’s bed after a night of thorough shagging.
Christ Almighty.
He lifted her legs and shifted off the seat, tucking the blanket around her limbs. Moving to the opposite bench, he pulled his coat around him. Now she looked puzzled, her luscious lower lip thrust out in a little pout that begged for a response. That did nothing for his self-control, but it certainly had a marked effect on his burgeoning erection.
He forced himself to give her an impassive stare. “What question would that be, my lady?”
When she rolled her eyes he had to repress a smile. He hadn’t forgotten her question and she knew it.
“Who
are
you?” she repeated with a decisive tilt of her chin. Her tone brooked no attempt at evasion.
He gave her a lazy smile. “As I recall, we did exchange introductions. I am Aden St. George, at your service.”
Now her lovely eyes narrowed with irritation. “Yes, of the Thornbury St. Georges. But that tells me next to nothing. You obviously know a fair amount about me—from Sir Dominic, I assume. But I still know very little about you.”
He shrugged, holding his silence. After all, there was very little he could tell her.
A frown creased her brow and she glanced toward the window of the coach. And just like that, damned if she didn’t begin to look nervous again, her gaze flickering back to him and then once more to the window.
Mentally, he sighed. The less she knew about him the better, but he didn’t want her stewing all the way back to London. The last thing he wanted was for her to fret herself into a state of hysteria.
Not that she hadn’t conducted herself with a great deal of aplomb so far. In fact, when he’d almost fallen off the step of the coach, she’d had the presence of mind to grab onto him. But now she had nothing to do but think, and worry over her abduction like a kitten with a toy. She had no control over events—even over her own person. She’d been mauled and terrified, and had lived for hours with the threat of rape. Aden had more than a passing acquaintance with helplessness, and if answering a few questions restored a measure of her dignity then he would do what he could.
Within limits, of course.
“What is it you wish to know, my lady?”
“Are you in the military? Tom called you
captain
, after all.” She waved a vague hand. “And other things, too. Few men of the
ton
would be comfortable sneaking about damp tunnels and subduing dangerous criminals.” She frowned. “In fact, that sounds more like—”
He cut her off. “Yes, I’m with the Royal Horse Guards.” Partly true, since he’d served for six months in The Blues when he’d finished university. But it hadn’t taken Dominic long to recruit him into the Service. His “commission” with the Guards was nothing more than a convenient cover, used only when necessary.
She raised her eyebrows. “Then why aren’t you with your regiment?”
“I’m on leave, temporarily attached to the Home Office.”
“So that’s how you know Sir Dominic.”
He gave her a slight smile, not answering. To the world at large, Dominic worked for the Home Office. Only a select few knew he was one of the most powerful spymasters in England, with extensive connections in both the highest and lowest circles of English society. On any given day Dominic could be whispering in the ear of the Duke of York or enjoying a pint of heavy wet with some of the more disreputable denizens of Whitechapel. He was equally at home in both settings, which made him invaluable to the Crown.
Lady Vivien chewed on her plump lower lip, sending a powerful flash of heat to his groin. He wished like hell she’d stop doing that.
“Why did Sir Dominic send you to my rescue, instead of alerting Bow Street and hiring Runners?”
“My lady, we’re trying to stifle gossip, not generate it.”
She grimaced. “Of course. How foolish of me. I don’t know why that didn’t occur to me before.”
“You’re doing very well, all things considered.”
The carriage bumped through a rut, jolting her slight figure and sending the blanket sliding off her shoulders. Her mantle gaped open over her throat and chest, showing off the pale perfection of her skin. His hand itched to stroke her. Having already experienced the feel of that skin with his naked hand, he knew how soft she would be.
Staring at him with a thoughtful air, Vivien readjusted the blanket around her shoulders, shrouding herself with the heavy fabric. Aden told himself that was a good thing.
“How did Sir Dominic know where to find me?”
He forced back a stab of impatience. Normally, he was on the giving and not the receiving end of an interrogation. But he couldn’t blame her curiosity.
“Let’s just say that Sir Dominic has friends in low places. When your mother came to him with the news of your abduction, he made discreet enquiries. It didn’t take long for information to filter back. Kidnapping gently born ladies off the street is not a regular occurrence.”
“I should hope kidnapping any kind of woman off the streets is not a regular occurrence,” she huffed.
He had to repress a smile at her tone. “I share your hope, my lady.”
She eyed him narrowly, as if she sensed he found her amusing. He didn’t, but he did find her . . . damn, the word that kept springing to mind was
adorable
.
“Of course you do.” Her voice was dry as toast, which also made him want to laugh. He could well imagine her ability to hold her own with the sharp-toothed vipers of the
ton
. It would appear Lady Vivien did not back down from anyone.
“Why you?” she asked, abruptly changing course.

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