That Perfect Someone Page 8

“He"s only visiting England.”

“A foreigner? Well, darn, that"s not ideal—I would be devastated if you moved away from England—but other foreigners have settled in our fair country.” That was true. Julia had put up roadblocks in her mind without really thinking about it. But that she and Jean Paul lived in two different countries meant nothing when those two countries were neighbors. She"d been to France herself on business. She knew how little time it took to cross the Channel. Why, it took longer to make the trip to northern England to confer with her managers there than it did to visit France. So that, at least, wasn"t a good reason not to see the man again.

But she teased her friend, “You"re getting a little ahead of yourself, aren"t you?”

“Nonsense, we have to think of everything, you know, when it comes to picking a husband for you, including where he"ll want you to live. But you won"t find very many men with pockets as deep as yours, so I"m sure you could convince your chap to live wherever you want to. You could even put it in your marriage contract!”

Julia laughed. She wasn"t in the habit of thinking that far ahead, not where men were concerned, and certainly not on a first meeting.

But she admitted with a half grin, “France isn"t so far away.”

“Oh, my, a Frenchman? No indeed, a hop, skip, and a jump, as Harry would say. And I"ve even met a few Frenchmen recently, so perhaps I know him?”

“Jean Paul is his name.”

Carol"s brow knitted thoughtfully before she shook her head. “No, that doesn"t sound at all familiar. But the important question is, are you interested? Do you hope to see him again?” The excitement Carol had encouraged waned suddenly when Julia had to admit, “He"s charming, intriguing, and I even found myself quite stimulated by our interaction, but I"m afraid he"s spoken for, or at least, he"s already in love with someone else, although she"s married.”

“How disappointing, though not a total dead end, eh?”

No indeed, and with that in mind, Julia went looking for him a while later. But he"d taken her advice. He was gone. Realizing that she"d probably never see him again, she felt a distinct sense of loss. Which was silly. She didn"t even know what he really looked like, though the half of his face that had been visible hinted that he was handsome. Yes, she"d been drawn to him. He could be amusing when he wasn"t overcome by dejection. He"d made her laugh. He"d made her thrill to the touch of his lips. And he"d stolen her breath—how long she"d waited for something like that to happen! But he wasn"t available in the normal sense, and she didn"t have the least idea how to win over a man who"d already been won over!

She tried to put him from her mind. Some of the crowd unexpectedly thinned out even before the unmasking, though many more left just prior to it. But enough were gone that the dancing picked up and she stopped declining when asked. She even had the opportunity to share a mild flirtation with another young man who didn"t know her circumstances yet, but she wasn"t really interested by then, so she actually confessed that she was engaged, which ended his efforts abruptly. She didn"t even know why she did that. She just knew that all the gaiety she"d felt earlier had gone out of her.

As the night wore on, her mood didn"t improve. It became almost as melancholy as Jean Paul"s. So she was glad when it was time to go home. Crawling into her bed that night, she was struck by the irony of her situation. Here she was on the brink of finally becoming available, of finally having her own come-out, of finally putting herself on the marriage mart, as the ton fondly called it. It should have been the most exciting time of her life and it had been. Until tonight. Until she got run over by emotions she"d never before experienced. And maybe that was it. What Jean Paul had made her feel was what she"d always imagined it would be like when she found her perfect someone. Why else would her mind be filled with nothing but him after only one meeting? Her dejection came from knowing there wouldn"t be any other meetings.

She"d walked off before letting him know how to find her—if he cared to try. And he was French. No one there knew him, at least Carol didn"t, and so she doubted anyone else did either. He wasn"t even supposed to be there tonight. So she had no way to find him even if she wanted to. Did she want to? But two people there did know him. One he loved, the other wanted to kill him for it. But asking them would be really bad form. Wouldn"t it?

Chapter Ten


Ohr said it as he leapt forward to help the hotel employee drag Richard into their room. The door bursting open hadn"t startled him. The sight of Richard did. The young man, probably no more than a boy, was definitely having trouble with Richard"s mostly dead weight.

“Found him lying on the curb out front,” the young man said as Ohr took over and easily got Richard to his bed.

“The hack driver wouldn"t help any further,” Richard mumbled. “He was angry that I got blood all over his seats.”

With a frown, Ohr tossed the boy a coin for his assistance and closed the door behind him.

He lit another lamp before he approached the bed again.

The dead silence prompted Richard to ask, “That bad?”

“What ran you over?” was all Ohr said.

Richard was curled on his side, holding his ribs. He couldn"t imagine how many were broken, but it had to be a lot. Each breath was excruciatingly painful. But he supposed he was lucky to still be alive. And he"d been so close to escaping! He"d been about to jump for the same wall he"d climbed over earlier to enter the ball when a hand swung him around and a fist landed in his gut.

Bent over, gasping for breath, he"d demanded, “Why"d you do that?”

“You really have to ask?”

He hadn"t seen who landed the punch, not that he didn"t know. But that dry voice confirmed it. Ever since he"d vaulted over another wall, the one in Georgina"s garden, after she"d slapped him and he"d turned to see that her husband had witnessed it, he"d known this day was coming.

But he"d had to take that risk that day, he"d wanted her so much. And now he had to pay for it.

It was his own fault for letting his last encounter with Malory deceive him into thinking James wouldn"t really kill him, when the man had come to the Caribbean to help Gabby rescue her father and had completely ignored Richard"s presence while he"d concentrated on the task at hand. So Richard hadn"t given sufficient credence to James"s warning that he"d harm him if he ever came near his wife again.

Tonight, he"d tried to tell James, “I was leaving—!”

“Not soon enough.”

The second blow, an uppercut, connected with his cheek and knocked him on his arse. He was vaguely aware that at least half of the men who"d been on the terrace and scattered around the small garden were now scurrying over the garden wall, no doubt thinking that Lady Regina"s uncle had been elected to get rid of the party crashers.

“Enough,” Richard had said as he managed to get to his feet. “You"ve made your point.” The thin porcelain of his mask had shattered completely with that last blow, small pieces of it littering the ground around his feet. With the mask smashed against his cheek, he"d felt the sharper sting mixed with the wider area of pain where the hammer of James"s fist had landed, but his cheek was already turning numb.

On his feet again, he got a good look at James Malory and took heart. The man didn"t look angry. He could have been utterly bored, he was so lacking in expression.

So Richard felt his stomach turn in dread when James said, “We"ve barely begun.” If the man weren"t such a brute specimen, Richard might have stood a chance. Ohr had taught him some unusual Asian maneuvers that had kept him from getting even a scratch in the many brawls he and the rest of Nathan"s crew tended to get into in all the rowdy taverns they frequented. He"d done everything right tonight in the way of defense, he"d just known it wouldn"t do any good. This particular Malory couldn"t be stopped. Gabrielle had made sure he knew that when she"d delivered James"s warning that he was going to kill him if he ever saw him again. The man was extraordinary in the ring. He"d never, ever, been beaten, she"d told him. But then you only had to look at Malory to guess that, he had so much power in his upper body, and fists like sledgehammers.

It was a grueling punishment for Richard"s trespass, absolutely the worst beating of his life.

James didn"t stop until Richard was unconscious. He wished he"d been knocked out sooner.

Most of those men who had vaulted out of the garden when the violence began had actually stayed to watch the show, hanging from the wall on the other side of it, feeling safe with the wall between them and Malory. A few of them had felt enough pity for Richard to help him out of there and into a passing hack after James went back into the ballroom.

“So?” Ohr prompted now.

“Malory,” was all Richard said.

“Then you"re going to need a doctor.”

Ohr moved quickly to the door to try to catch the young hotel employee before he disappeared down the hall, but the chap had had the same thought. Ohr found him about to knock on the door when he opened it.

“It occurred to me your friend might need—”

“A doctor, yes, thank you.” Ohr gave the lad another coin.

“Right away, sir.”

Ohr closed the door with a chuckle. Richard knew it amused his friend no end to be called

“sir,” a form of address that simply didn"t fit a pirate and never would.

A room over a tavern was usually one of their better accommodations unless they were in St. Kitts, where Richard and Ohr had rooms at Nathan"s home. But this hotel was in the better end of town, in Mayfair no less, an area of London that had been developed for fashionable residences mostly by the powerful Grosvenor family back in the seventeenth century. The area included several large squares in the north, including Berkeley Square, where Georgina lived.

Their hotel had once been one of those fancy residences, and it was the first place where Ohr had ever been called “sir.”

When Ohr came back to the side of the bed to look down at Richard, he said, “Let me guess, you went to her party, didn"t you?”

“It was a ball, and a masked one at that. He never should have noticed me.”

“Then how did he? No, let me guess again, you got stupid, didn"t you? Couldn"t just have a look and leave, eh?”

Richard might have flinched. He couldn"t tell, his face was too numb. “I don"t think he knew it was me to begin with, he just caught me staring at her too long.”

“Don"t kid yourself. Gabby was there, so he"d immediately think of you. And what"s that stuck on your cheek?”

“Porcelain shards probably. He broke the mask I was wearing when he punched my face.”

“He didn"t notice the mask?”

“I"m sure he didn"t care.”

“Your face is bloody. You better hope it doesn"t scar. But you"ve got more blood on you than a few punches would account for. Did he take a knife to you? I find that hard to—”

“No, his fists were quite enough. The mess is probably from my nose when it broke. It bled a lot before it stopped. That, at least, I"ve experienced before and is the least of my concerns.

I"m more worried about my ribs. It bloody well feels like one or more has broken through my skin.”

Ohr tsked. “Let me have a look.”

“No! Don"t move me. I"m actually able to breathe in this position.”

“I"m only going to open your shirt. Don"t be a girl about it,” Ohr scolded, but after doing so, he added, “I suppose you"re allowed to be a bit girlish about this. Damn, Rich, you"re already a solid mass of bruise, right down to your belly.”

“Any ribs poking through?” Richard asked with dread.

“Not that I can see on the front side, but I"m not going to try to get you out of that jacket and shirt to examine the rest. I"ll leave that to the doctor.”

“Do we have a bottle of rotgut?”

“I never travel without a few. And good idea. If those ribs are broken, the doc will probably have to push them back into place before he binds you up. It would help if you can"t feel it by then.”

Richard groaned. He didn"t think he could stand any more pain than what he was already enduring.

But Ohr was saying, “It"s probably going to take a while for a doctor to be found at this time of night. Don"t worry, you"ve got time to drink yourself into a stupor.” It took Ohr a few minutes to stuff enough pillows under Richard"s head so he didn"t have to change his position, which was at least tolerable, and could tilt the bottle without spilling the whiskey.

“You were lucky, you know,” Ohr said after Richard had downed a third of the bottle.

“Malory could have messed up your face so bad you wouldn"t recognize yourself even after mending. And why didn"t he?”

“Not enough pain to suit him, I"m sure. And his strategy was sound. He kept me in a constant state of gasping for every breath—or flat on my back.” On an angry note, Ohr demanded, “What the hell, did you forget everything I taught you?” Richard downed another third of the bottle before he replied, “Not at all. I was a good student. You even said so. I didn"t even try to hit the man, I was so busy defending myself. It bloody well didn"t work. Have you forgotten what he looks like?”

“Even mountains can be cut down to size, but I get the point. Malory is the type you have to hurt early, or it"s all over—for you. And you should have stayed down when he knocked you down.”

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