“Your sister seemed distressed to leave you alone with me. I wonder why?” he whispered in her ear.
Tempest started at his unexpected closeness. Her lips parted as she was prepared to reprimand him for his impudence, but what she saw in his hand prompted her to swallow the insult.
Chance was holding her straw bonnet.
He should have been angry with her. Lady Tempest and possibly her sister had spied on him and his friends, but her woebegone expression when she noticed he was in possession of her bonnet was incredibly endearing. When he had stuffed it beneath his waistcoat, he had no idea if he would ever track down its owner.
Mathias had not expected their spy to be so attractive. With hair the color of rich coffee and skin as smooth and flawless as cream, she had large hazel-colored eyes and full pink lips. He was usually drawn toward more exotic forms of beauty, but he could not deny that he was intrigued.
Lady Tempest stared at it as if it were a viper. “Where did you find it?”
An unnatural pinkish tint was splashed across her cheeks and nose. Too much sun could be to blame because she had been deprived of her straw bonnet, or perhaps she was embarrassed that she had been soundly caught by him.
She was not the only one who was uncomfortable. It was disconcerting to know that he had shamelessly stripped down in front of her and she had gotten a good look at his cock.
The realization was enough to make him blush. “I discovered this rather charming item near a large boulder close to where my friends and I had decided to take a swim.” He held out the crushed bonnet and she snatched it from his hands as if his touch had fouled it. “Since the bonnet belongs to you, I can only conclude that it was you who was concealed in the tall grass on the opposite side of the river. Mayhap your sister, too?”
In a nervous gesture, Lady Tempest grabbed her long braid and pulled it forward. The dark glossy braided rope beckoned like a spoken invitation for him to stroke it. However, when he reached out to test the weight of her braid, she slapped his fingers. His mouth thinned with annoyance. “The grass did not entirely conceal your dark hair. So do not bother to deny that you were there. What did you see?”
Mathias preferred petite ladies who were soft in all the right places. Tall, gangly-limbed females were often awkward creatures who seemed uncomfortable in their own skin, but Lady Tempest was not clumsy or too thin. She was only five inches shorter than his admirable stature of six feet, and her confidence hadn’t faltered until he presented her with her lost bonnet. It was a relief that he did not have to strain the muscles in his neck to observe her reaction to his question. Her inability to look him in the eyes and her visible distress told him that whatever explanation she was about to offer was more than likely to be a clever lie.
“You can tell me the truth,” he assured her, lowering his voice in an attempt to soothe her. “If you are worried about Mrs. Sheehan—”
“I am not worried!”
He smiled at her indignation. One could not help but admire her spirit. “I can be generous if you are honest with me. Your chaperone does not even have to know that you have been a very wicked girl,” Mathias teased.
Impotent fury burned in her hazel eyes. “What are you implying? That I deliberately spied on you and your friends? Do you think so highly of yourself?”
Mathias scowled, but his fierce expression eased when he figured out the source of her outrage. “Got an eyeful for your mischief, eh? I’ll wager you have never seen a naked man, let alone three.”
“Ugh, you are vile and arrogant! What gentleman removes his breeches in public with no regard to whoever might have been passing by, I ask you?” she demanded, shaking her crushed bonnet at him.
“No more arrogant than the lady who hid in the grass to watch three men disrobe. Did you turn away in disgust or did you call to your sister and invite her to watch the spectacle?”
Her eyes widened. “It wasn’t like that at all,” she said, her eyes bright with heat and shame. “I thought I was alone when I sat down on the boulder. I took off my shoes so I could wade into the river. Then I heard laughter.”
Mathias had not set out to make her cry, and Lady Tempest had the look of a lady who was struggling to tether her tears. “You were curious,” he said, trying to soften the misdeed.
She exhaled slowly. “At first, I was merely curious about the source of the laughter. I had no wish to intrude, and since I was alone, it seemed prudent not to reveal my presence. I pushed my way through the tall grass and it was then that I realized that you and your friends were—” She fluttered her hand since she had no intention of speaking of their nakedness.
“But you stayed?”
“No!” Worried that their discussion might be overheard, she glanced at the coach in the distance. Satisfied that no one was paying attention, she continued. “I turned to leave, but my sister startled me. I didn’t expect her to follow me. Arabella wanted to know what had caught my interest. She thought I had found a rare bird.”
Mathias tipped his head back and laughed. Two innocent ladies had definitely encountered something rare. “Of course, you tried to stop her.”
“Naturally. However, Arabella was insistent—Oh, you can figure out the rest. I panicked and told my sister to run when you called out to us. I prayed all the way back to our camp that you wouldn’t pursue us.”
He had no doubt. “My apologies for ruining your splendid escape.”
“Arabella and I ran most of the way. When you took so long to find us, I thought we had eluded you.”
He erroneously had concluded that their spies had nefarious purposes. “You might have if I had not discovered your straw bonnet.”
A look of disbelief flashed across her face. “You searched for us because of my bonnet?”
Mathias would not have been comforted by the motivations that had driven him and his companions to look for her. A lusty country miss would have soothed his wounded pride. “Partly. I will admit that I was curious about the owner.”
Lady Tempest sighed. “I suppose I owe you and your friends an apology for my intrusion.”
“Your remorse is enough. I will explain everything to Thorn and St. Lyon.”
His generosity seemed to lighten her mood. “You have my gratitude, sir. If Mrs. Sheehan learned of this, she would feel it was her duty to tell my brother, and he would not find any of this amusing. I know my brother. He would find some reason to blame you and your companions for my blunder.”
“The gent sounds like a charming fellow,” Mathias said dryly. “Perhaps I know him.”
Lady Tempest shrugged daintily. “He has never mentioned the name Chance, but Oliver does not feel it necessary to share his private life with his younger sisters.”
“Oliver Brant, Earl of Marcroft.” She had glanced away and missed the recognition and dismay in his eyes. His face was expressionless when her gaze switched back to him. “Are you acquainted with my brother?”
He could not believe his bad luck. Lady Tempest was a Brant. He could not imagine that she would be happy to learn that he was a Rooke. “I do not believe so.”
She tilted her head to the side as she studied his face. “I do not mean to be rude, but I could not help but notice that you have bruises on your face.”
Mathias snorted. “Do I? So nice of you to bring them to my attention.” Particularly since it was your brother’s fist that did the damage.
Lady Tempest pursed her lips. “My brother has bruises on his face, too.”
He had already deduced that the lady was intelligent. Nor was he pleased with her connecting him with her dastardly brother. “Bruises are as common as birthmarks, my lady.”
She ignored his dismissive tone. “Are you positive that you do not know my brother? He won’t speak of it, but it’s obvious that he was in a fight. Is that how you received that colorful bruise on your cheek? Were you brawling?”
A cold wind blew up his spine. Lady Tempest had mentioned that her brother would be returning. He had no intention of waiting for Marcroft or any other member of the Brant family to appear.
“Your brother is a stranger to me, my lady. I prefer to keep it that way. Now, if you will excuse me, my friends and I have a long ride home.” Mathias formally bowed and walked away from the bemused young woman.
He could not have been more stunned if the lady had punched him in the face. Marcroft was her brother. The Marquess of Norgrave was her father. Mathias was so angry, he was tempted to march back and shake her for being related to his father’s enemy. His enemy. Lady Tempest was his enemy.
By God, he wished he had never met her.
Copyright © April 2016. Excerpt from YOU CAN’T ALWAYS GET THE MARQUESS YOU WANT by Alexandra Hawkins. Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks. All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher or Author.