“On the contrary, Mr. Montague, given our inclinations, perhaps outside is the very best place for us to converse.”
“Do you plan to screech like a parrot?” he asked with suspicion.
“No more than you intend to bellow like a bull,” she said prosaically, hurrying down the outside steps. “It simply happens.”
“I do not bellow. I am considered an even-tempered man.” When she did not immediately object, he took charge of the conversational opening to continue listing his attributes. “I am ambitious, hardworking, and have access to a fine home in Chelsea, one I’m told has a conservatory suitable for birds.”
Jocelyn almost laughed aloud. Among all his annoying character traits, Mr. Montague’s cleverness was the most useful. Remarkably, he’d come to the same conclusions that she had, and he’d worked out all the benefits, disposed of the arguments, and was acting on the knowledge without hesitation. She liked a man of action–especially one who agreed with her.
A conservatory suitable for birds? Carrington House had a conservatory…
She’d had Lady Bell’s driver take her past her old home and knew it was empty, but she could not be so optimistic as to believe Mr. Montague owned it now. It didn’t seem possible that Harold would be so deep in debt as to sell it a mere six years after their father had died.
“You only have access to a fine home if your father approves of your choice of bride,” she reminded him. “And while Lady Bell has no legal authority to deny me, I am very fond of her and would not hurt her feelings by ignoring her advice. She does not approve of you.”
Still holding her arm, Montague checked the courtyard and the waiting carriage, and finding no one about, studied her face with cynical disbelief. “How can you be so blamed sure of what I want to ask?” he demanded. “We scarcely know each other.”
“I may not be as learned as a man who attended Oxford, but I am well-tutored in matters of matrimony. After this morning’s debacle, your decision is a simple matter of deduction. Society bears pressure, whether we like it or not. Gossip can ruin your chances as well as mine. Marriage might not be a palatable choice, but sometimes it’s the lesser of all evils.”
She had a tendency to prattle when nervous. She drew in a deep breath and changed the topic. It was time to learn if he could be trusted. “Will you take Percy back to London for me? I fear Lady Belden will not be in a receptive mood to my arguments should she discover I’ve purloined a duke’s pet.”
Incredulity darkened his icy eyes to nearly black. “You want me to steal the featherbrain?”
“He is already stolen. You need only transport him. I assume you have rooms where you may keep him until I can make other arrangements?” She checked to be certain the driver was still idling in the barn and opened the carriage door.
“Why?” he demanded. “Why would I possibly agree to this inanity?”
Well, if he was going to act all male and stupid…Jocelyn turned and batted her long lashes at him. Tapping a finger to her dimpled cheek, she smiled angelically. “Because you think you can tell Lady Belden about my parrot theft and blackmail me into marrying you so you can have access to my funds and join the army in the spring?”
“Of all the sapskulled…” He halted his insults and studied her through eyes darkened with interest and cynicism. “And I suppose you know this because you intended to blackmail me into marrying you so you could have my house with its aviary?”
His eyes turned a tarnished silver when he was angry. Jocelyn felt a dangerous thrill at the intensity of his focus. She was glad she had some experience in dealing with the results of risky behavior or she’d faint.
“Check and checkmate. I think we shall get along very well together,” she announced. “Especially if we are a thousand miles apart.”
She leaned inside the carriage and lifted the seat to produce a box with air holes. Percy squawked, “Africa knows!” and shifted his weight so she nearly dropped him. “He will probably travel easier pinned on your shoulder, but the cage can be tied to your saddle.”
“You are not normal, you know that?” he asked, warily taking the box, which muffled Percy’s protests. “Women do not marry for birds.”
“Most men do not marry to get themselves killed, either,” she said cheerfully. “We must get to know each other before making a permanent decision, I suppose.”