Read The Hopeless Hoyden Online
Authors: Margaret Bennett
She smiled sweetly. "What I mean is--"
“I know exactly what you mean. And you can forget it along with the act. You were right the first time. I am pigheaded."
They glowered at one another for all of a minute before Emily finally shrugged her shoulders. She could see he wasn't going to listen to reason. Besides, she was cold, and the faster they got inside the better. "Suit yourself," she said, "but it will be all the worse for me when I have to explain why your corpse is laid out in the garden."
Gabriel was fascinated, angry too, but fascinated. Never had he met a girl like Emily. He could see she was cold and yet she'd said nothing, realizing the futility of complaining. And damn, she was right. The pipe would support his weight, but the ledge was another matter. Did he dare chance this adorable girl's life, though? Damn, did they have a choice?
He reached his hand out to help her up. "All right, Emily. We do it your way."
“Great!" she said, taking his hand and bouncing up on her toes.
“Not so fast." He grabbed her arms as she made to fly by him. "We will do this exactly as I say."
She gave him a steady look. She was beginning to realize that the Viscount wasn't like Tom or Nicholas or any other man she’d met before. "What do you mean?"
“You'll come up behind me."
“Behind you? But--"
“And you only get on that ledge if I say so."
“That's it, Em." He gave her a lopsided grin. "I won't be responsible for having to explain your crumpled body at the base of the ivy."
"Oh, all right, but do hurry. It is cold out here."
The drain pipe was hidden under the ivy, just where Gabriel said it would be. Within seconds after testing to see if it would hold his weight, he was halfway to the ledge.
“Start climbing, Em," he called down to her in a loud whisper.
Climbing was hardly new to her, though trees were more her specialty. Grabbing her night clothes in one fist, she realized she probably could not have climbed the pipe alone. But Gabriel had forged the way by providing hand holds and support for her feet in the thick ivy, making the going much easier. Her toes, numb from the cold, felt bruised and bloodied, and soon her hands were nearly raw. Emily said nothing to Gabriel and was glad that, once he saw she could make the climb, he'd continued up and was waiting by the ledge. It didn't take her long to see his reasoning for her to follow him up.
Most of her legs were exposed as she worked her way straight up the pipe, hand over hand. At one point the ivy came lose, and half her body swung out, causing her to lose her footing as well.
Emily heard Gabriel but could do nothing. The ivy in her other hand was working loose from the wall. She frantically snatched the ivy for another support, but all she got were handfuls of ivy leaves.
Gabriel reached down and grabbed the back of her gown and robe at the nape of her neck and saved her from falling. Bent completely over, he pulled her up beside him, then wrapped one arm around her waist, supporting most of her weight as she grabbed for a fistful of the rope-like vines.
“Are you all right?" he asked.
All Emily managed was a nod, but not because of the close call. His nearness set her heart to wildly beating and made her knees weak. She took several deep breaths to get control of herself. Another mistake, she realized as she reveled in his scent.
“You don't have to do this, Em."
“Don't be silly, Gab.” She sounded breathless to her own ears. She swallowed hard. “Besides, I am perfectly fine."
“I won't be able to keep you from falling once you're out on the ledge."
“If you're trying to scare me, save your breath."
“Very well." He shifted her weight and eased her closer to the ledge. She wanted to cling to him. He felt so good, so warm, so safe. She let go of the vine, then quickly grabbed it again when the branch in her other hand pulled away from the brick. Instantly, she felt his arm tighten around her waist, drawing her close to his body again.
“Test it first while I've got you." Then, he clasped her to his chest and whispered in her ear. "Be careful, Em."
This time his hand grabbed a handful of her robe at the waist before she eased her weight on the cold stone. It held and gradually Emily slid from the vine onto the ledge with one hand clutching the ivy, the other stretched out, until her fingers curled around a brick.
The window that appeared so close from the ground now seemed miles away. She looked down and shuddered. It was a twenty foot drop. But she was committed and so inched along until Gabriel was forced to let go of her robe and hold her hand, then her fingers. She was inches from the window. All she had to do was grab the window frame. Expecting Gabriel to let go, she reached and grasped the frame.
“I got it, Gab," she said and he freed her hand. She quickly grabbed the jam and swung in through the open window. Pulling her skirts in after her, she turned and poked her head out. With several lengths of vine wrapped around one arm, Gabriel made his was back down the drainpipe.
“Quiet, Em,” he said in a near whisper. “I'll meet you at the library door."
Holding her breath, she watched as he started to work his way toward the ground. Then turning, she saw she was in a bedroom. The room was lit by a single taper on a commode next to the biggest bed she'd ever seen. It was twice the size of a normal bed. She realized then it was Gabriel's chamber. But she didn't have time to take a good look around. Her feet sank into the deep pile carpet as she raced across the room and out the door into the corridor and down the stairs.
Gabriel was standing outside the library door, waiting for her.
“Quickly, Em," he said once she unlocked the French window. "Chesterfield just rode up to the stables and is headed this way."
*** Chapter 4 ***
“Where do you suppose he has been?" Emily asked.
“It hardly matters now,” Gabriel replied. “If he sees you with me, looking like this...." There was a wealth of warmth in his voice, and Emily felt a hot blush suffuse her cheeks.
“Who goes there?" Chesterfield's voice, coming from the other side of the French doors, sent Emily frantically flying for the door to the hallway. She was half way up the stairs before she wondered how Gabriel would explain his disheveled appearance to Chesterfield.
Once safely in her room, Emily went to the washstand, poured water from an ewer into a matching china basin, and used a hand towel to cleanse the blood from her feet and hands. Though there were numerous bruises and scratches, none appeared serious. Rinsing out the towel, she then opened a window and tossed out the contents from the bowl. She didn't want Grace asking any embarrassing questions in the morning. Changing into a clean gown, she dragged an arm chair over to the door and curled up in it. With one ear against the jam, she waited for the Viscount.
That arrogant man had much to answer for. After tonight, he certainly couldn't deny something harvy-carvy was going on. Why had he been in the garden? She then remembered his dread of being caught with her and forced into marriage. While this thought caused her heart to flutter, she chose to ignore it. She intended to put his mind to rest, even if it meant informing him outright she had no such devious designs on him.
According to the chimes of the long case clock in the hall at the bottom of the stairs, a half hour passed before her vigilance was rewarded as the two men came up the stairs. Emily strained to hear what they were saying but couldn't make out their words. In desperation, she opened the door and poked her head out.
Harry Chesterfield stood down the hall with his back to her, half concealing Gabriel who was facing her. When Gabriel's head suddenly jerked to his right, Emily knew he saw her and gestured with her hand for him to come to her room. While Chesterfield babbled on about some fishing hole, she was rewarded with Gabriel's answer, a casual shake of his head--no!
Emily wasn't used to taking no for an answer. With violent arm movements, she indicated the urgency of seeing him in her room. Then, she waited for his response, and waited. She was getting ready to repeat the pantomime when Chesterfield finally made a move toward his room.
“The ladies want a quiet day to let the chaperones recoup from their journeys," she heard Chesterfield say. "If the fishing is as good as you say, I'm game to have a go at it."
“It's settled then," replied Gabriel, clapping his guest on his shoulder. “I'll make sure you get an early call. See you in a few hours."
Emily quickly ducked inside her room but didn't close the door completely. She suspected Gabriel would try to bypass her, and so, when he was even with her door, she darted into the hall, grabbed the sleeve of his jacket and yanked. She continued to pull on his arm until he quit fighting and allowed her to drag him into her room.
“Are you insane?" he hissed after she'd firmly shut the door.
“No. But you are if you think for one moment I could sleep not knowing what Chesterfield was doing out tonight.” She waited and when he didn’t reply, she asked, “So, what did he say he was up to?"
“Emily, it's after midnight and I have to be up in five hours."
“Did you ask where he had been? Did he say anything about your clothes?" She pointed to his vest. The top button was glaringly absent where his cravat was messily stuffed into it. “Do you know your waistcoat is torn?"
“No, and, more importantly, you haven't heard one word I've said."
They stood toe to toe, glowering at one another. Gabriel must have sensed that it was a losing battled, for he gave in first with an exasperated sigh.
“He'd gone to the Boar's Head Inn to, er, visit a friend."
Emily nodded her head knowingly. “That would be Rose."
For a moment, Gabriel was speechless. “How . . .how is it that you know about these things?"
She had obviously shocked him and tried to suppress a satisfied grin.
“No, don't answer that," he added. “It's better if I don't know."
“It is common gossip hereabouts that the bar maid is not adverse to making a shilling or two under the table."
“Say no more, Emily." Gabriel held up both hands while turning a deaf ear toward her. “This whole conversation is most improper, to say nothing of the circumstances."
One fluttering hand waved his objection aside. She did, however, change the subject. “What time are you going fishing tomorrow?"
“Because the ladies will hardly be eager to see me in the drawing room. Besides, all they do is chat and tat."
“And you think you can go fishing with the men?"
"I always did with my brothers, so why not?"
“Because 'tis only men."
“What does that matter?"
“Because you'll not be welcome. Do you understand?"
From his tone, she decided it was better to agree. At least, for now. “Oh pooh, I suppose."
“Good. Now, I bid you good night."
By eight the next morning, Emily was in the dining room, eating breakfast alone. She hadn't expected to encounter anyone else that early and was surprised when Jane Taber entered and bid her a timid good morning.