Home > The Other Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys #3)(17)

The Other Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys #3)(17)
Author: Julia Quinn

“You know,” he said thoughtfully, “I rather think I am.”

She felt her mouth grow slack, and for a moment she could do nothing but stare at him. “Why?”

He shrugged. “You annoy me.”

“Well, you annoy me too,” she shot right back.

And then he laughed. He laughed as if he couldn’t help it, as if it were the only possible reaction to her words. “Oh come now, Miss Bridgerton,” he said when he caught her watching him as if he’d gone mad, “even you must admit we’ve hit a new low.” He chuckled some more, then added, “I feel as if I’ve been tossed back into a childhood spat with one of my siblings.”

She felt herself thawing, but only a little bit.

He offered her a conspiratorial grin. “I have the most astonishing urge to pull your hair and say, ‘You annoy me more.’”

She pressed her lips together, because she didn’t want to say what she was dying to say, which was “You annoy me even more .”

He looked at her.

She looked at him.

Eyes went narrow on both sides.

“You know you want to say it,” he goaded.

“I’m not talking to you.”

“You just did.”

“Are you three ?”

“I believe we have already concluded that we are both acting like children.”

“Fine. You annoy me even more. You annoy me more than all of my brothers put together. You annoy me like a wart annoys the bottom of one’s foot, like rain annoys a garden party, like misquoted Shakespeare annoys my very soul!”

He looked at her with renewed respect. “Well,” he murmured, “nothing can come of nothing.”

She glared at him.

“What? That was perfectly quoted. King Lear , I believe.” He cocked his head to the side. “Also, do you have warts?”

She threw up her arms. “Oh my God.”

“Because if you do, it would be only polite to inform me. They’re highly contagious, you know.”

“I’m going to kill you,” she said, her statement more of an incredulous conclusion than a rant. “By the end of this voyage, I will have strangled you. I am quite certain of it.”

He reached down and swiped a piece of her bacon. “It’s harder than you think, strangling a man.”

She shook her head in disbelief. “Dare I inquire how you know such a thing?”

He tapped his chest and said, “Privateer,” as if that were explanation enough. “One often ends up in unsavory locales. Not that I’ve strangled anyone, mind you, but I’ve seen it attempted.”

He spoke so offhandedly, as if he were discussing village gossip or an impending change of the weather. Poppy couldn’t decide if she was appalled or fascinated. This had to be somewhere on the list of Things One Ought Not to Bring Up at Breakfast, but still . . .

She couldn’t resist. “I know I shouldn’t ask but—”

“I intervened,” he said, taking the lid off the tea and peeking inside. He glanced up, the blue of his eyes glinting devilishly through his lashes. “That was your question, I assume.”

It was unsettling how easily he deduced her thoughts, but surely anyone of sound mind would have had the same question. “It was,” she confirmed, “but I assure you I don’t want to know the details.”

“Please, Miss Bridgerton. You know that you do.” He rested his hip against the edge of the table and leaned roguishly toward her. “But I shan’t tell you the story. You’ll have to beg for it later.”

Poppy shook her head, refusing to be trapped into another juvenile exchange. At this rate they’d be stuck in an endless loop of will-not, will-too until they reached Portugal. Besides, she’d seen enough of his skill with double entendre not to make a fuss over any statement containing the word beg .

“Is that a pelican?” he asked, his arm reaching out even as he looked toward the window.

She slapped his hand. “Not the bacon.”

So he took her last triangle of toast. “It was worth a try.”

“Captain James,” she asked, “how many siblings do you have?”

“Four.” He bit off one corner of the toast. “Three brothers and one sister. Why do you ask?”

She cast a cynical glance at the purloined toast, bitten down into a slightly off-kilter rhombus. “I knew you had to have several.”

He grinned. “Aren’t you perceptive.”

“I’d wager you’re not the oldest.”

“Well, that much is obvious. If I were the heir, I’d not be out here on the water, would I?”

Not the heir . . . “Interesting,” she murmured.

“What?”

“You referred to your brother as the heir. One has to come from a specific sort of background to do that.”

“Not necessarily,” he said, but she knew he was trying to cover his tracks. He’d let slip another detail of his background, which meant she now knew two things about him: he had served in the navy, and his family were likely members of the landed gentry.

He had not confirmed either detail, of course, but she had faith in her conclusions.

“Regardless . . .” she said, deciding not to pursue it further for now. Better to tuck the tidbit away for future use. “You don’t act like the oldest.”

He nodded in a most courtly manner, acknowledging her point.

“But I’d also wager you’re”—she touched a finger to her mouth as she pondered this—“not the youngest .”

He seemed to find this amusing. “But . . . ?”

“The second to youngest. Most definitely.”

“Why, Miss Bridgerton, you are correct. May I ask how you came to your conclusion?”

“You’re not spoiled,” she said with an assessing eye, “so I wouldn’t think you the youngest.”

“You don’t find me spoiled? I’m touched.”

She rolled her eyes. “But as you’ve so ably just demonstrated, you’re highly irritating. Enough so to be the second youngest.”

“Highly irritating?” He let out a bark of laughter. “From you I take that as the highest of compliments.”

She nodded graciously. “Please do, if it gives you comfort.”

He leaned toward her, his voice growing husky. “I am always in need of comfort,” he murmured.

Poppy’s cheeks caught fire. Score another one for him, damn it.

His grin made it quite clear that he was not oblivious to her distress, but he must have taken pity on her, because he popped the last bite of toast into his mouth and said, “And now I must ask where you fall in your own family order.”

“Right in the middle,” she replied, relieved to have returned to the previous topic. “Two brothers on one side, and two on the other.”

“No sisters?”

She shook her head.

“Well, that explains a lot.”

She rolled her eyes. Again.

He looked mildly disappointed that she did not ask him to elaborate, but knowing him, he probably assumed she’d beg for that story later too. “I’ll be on my way, then,” he said. “The ship won’t steer itself.”

“But surely Mr. Jenkins or Mr. Carroway can do so.”

“Indeed they can,” he allowed. “But I do like to keep an eye on things. I rarely spend much time in my cabin during the day.”

“Why did you come down?”

He looked at her blankly for a moment, then said, “Oh yes, the book.” He picked it up, made a little emphasizing motion with it in the air, and said, “Must give this to Mr. Carroway.”

“I would tell you to give him my regards, but of course I do not know him.”

He gave her a wry half smile. “Your greatest pleasure.”

“For now, at least.”

He acknowledged her quip with an approving nod. “Well done, Miss Bridgerton.”

Out the door he went, leaving her alone with her breakfast and her thoughts, which unfortunately consisted of one part pleasure at his compliment and twelve parts annoyance with herself for feeling that way.

   
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