The Viscount's Rose(4)

By: Meara Platt

Perhaps more than a little.

He was about to insist on attending to her ankle when Nicola entered the garden. Julian frowned. “I thought I told you to wait in the carriage.”

“I was worried about you.” She started to mimic his frown, but when she saw Rose beside him her expression suddenly lightened and she couldn’t stifle her knowing grin. “I see you’ve met Rolf.”

Rose was still blushing. “In a most unusual way.” She pointed to her foot. “Your brother rescued me. My work table fell on my leg.”

“But I heard a blast. It couldn’t have been just the table toppling. What happened? And you both have soot on your faces and all over your clothes.”

Rose nodded. “Someone sabotaged my kiln.”

“Oh, dear! You said this pottery business was run by scurrilous knaves. I never dreamed they’d behave so badly. Rolf, you might have been killed!”

“They only meant to destroy the kiln as a warning to me,” Rose said with a stubborn set to her jaw and a passionate blaze in her eyes. “Well, they’ve warned me and now it is done. But they won’t stop me.”

Julian groaned inwardly. The girl was beautiful and strong-willed, a great combination if one were seeking a debauched night of… but never with Rolf. No, indeed. Not with his sister’s best friend. “What makes you believe these knaves are done with you? Assuming this was more than a mere accident.”

“I can assure you, I am always careful with my kiln. It was no accident.” The swirls of blue in her eyes shone as brightly as gemstones.

Julian frowned. He was already caught up in a mission and didn’t have time to protect Rose, but he wasn’t about to turn his back on her if she was in any danger. “What if they try again? If what you say is true, I can’t imagine your parents allowing you to continue this enterprise.” He glanced at the twins. “Think of your sisters, if not yourself. They might have been standing near the kiln or by the door as it blew off its hinges.”

Her mouth was drawn in a taut, thin line. “Are you through lecturing me?”

“Not nearly through.” After all, he’d earned the right to speak his mind by pulling her out of the rubble, hadn’t he? “What of your season? It’s hardly under way and you’re already hurt. I’m sure your parents put a lot of time and effort into launching you into society. They’d much rather see you married than injured… or worse.”

Nicola was nodding as he spoke, a rare moment when he and his sister agreed on something. “My brother’s right, Rolf. You can’t put your life at risk for the sake of a dish or vase, no matter how beautiful. We’re in our debut season. We promised to get through it together, so you ought to be thinking of balls and courtship and handsome eligible bachelors, like Julian, for example.”

He glowered at his sister. “But not me.”

Rose’s eyes rounded and she blushed in obvious embarrassment. “Of course not, Lord Emory. I wouldn’t presume. I’m most grateful for your assistance and promise to be more careful. You’re right, of course. It galls me to have them win, but I suppose they have for the moment. My family will be relieved. As you said, they brought us to London in the hope we’d find suitable husbands.” She glanced at her ankle and then looked up and cast him a wan smile. “There’ll be no dancing for me for a while. In truth, I was never very good at it anyway.”

Perhaps he’d been a little too stern with her. “I’m sure you’re an excellent dancer. I’ll claim the first waltz once you’ve healed.” Oh, hell. He shouldn’t have said that. Now Nicola will think her matchmaking scheme had worked when nothing was further from the truth.

Rose shook her head and laughed lightly. “Prepare to have your toes stepped on, my lord.”

He arched an eyebrow and grinned. “I’ll wear my thickest boots.”

“Our Uncle George is a doctor. He’ll properly tend to my ankle when he returns.” Rose didn’t mean to appear unappreciative, but she sorely wished Lord Emory would leave before he lifted her into his arms again and insisted on carrying her into the house. She’d rather manage on her own even though her ankle was sore.

It wasn’t broken, but Lord Emory had not given ground on tending it. He’d put a cold compress on it and then bound her foot and ankle with the bandages Pruitt had retrieved from her uncle’s quarters. She was in as good a shape as could be expected; even Uncle George would commend him on the admirable job he’d done. “My uncle’s an excellent doctor. The best in London.”