His leather shoes were soaked through. As he shifted from one foot to another, removing his footwear, he explained himself. "Forgive me for denying you my company. I was employed and quite short on time."

Her eyebrow raised in suspicion.

"Was? Hearing your words uttered with a past tense, I take it to mean you are no longer earning an honest living? Pray, what mischief caused your termination this time?"

He shook his head. "I assure you, it was but a simple misunderstanding. A navigational error in the home of my employer. Entirely not my fault."

"Oh no?" she replied, eyes full of skepticism at his words. "Somehow I doubt you were guiltless."

For a moment he thought to declare his total innocence. But his mouth opened just slightly in such defense before he closed it back. The Baroness had little faith in what men said...and in this case, she was correct. He shrugged his shoulders.

"Perhaps I pocketed a few baubles."

Her reply was a little huff of satisfaction. "So I thought."

At her rather pleased tone, his own took on a slight edge of defensiveness. "Had my master's daughter not encountered me, I might have escaped undetected."

Curiosity was in her question. "She revealed your crime to her father?"

He shook his head. "Not quite so."

There was a slight pause as she waited for him to reply, and she asked, "What then?"

A smirk formed at the corner of his mouth. "She did not see what I had stolen. Her interests were of a more...carnal nature."

The Baroness returned her hands to her hips. She took a small step forward, her expression growing dark. He knew an accusation was coming, and she did not hide her displeasure.

"Have you have come to me straight from the bed of another woman?"

He sighed. "Sheathe your claws, ma belle. She was but fifteen. I delight in all women, but I am not an absolute letch. I declined her invitation. But she did not take kindly to my rejection. She told her father a tale of impropriety, and he promptly set a band of mercenaries upon me."

As he gave his head a last rub with the towel, he glanced at her, wishing to judge her expression and body language. Physically, she seemed to relax, as her shoulders sank a little and her arms didn't seem as tightly crossed. He'd been quite certain from the start that he could count on her feminine instinct...the need to nurture and care. She only confirmed it when she stepped forward, taking the towel from his hand. Her facial features had softened, the suspicion easing away...though her voice remained haughty.

"Remove yourself from those wet things before you catch your death."

He smirked, relishing the opportunity to tease her. She was so very appealing when she was worked up. With graceful movement, he pulled his wet shirt over his head, reaching out to drop it to the floor. He fixed his gaze on her, noting the way her eyes were scanning him up and down. Clearly, she took pleasure in what she was seeing.

"You wish to admire me, do you?"

Her eyes flashed with an indignant light. She wasn't quite ready to let down her guard, and as if to emphasize it, she threw a coverlet at him, purposely aiming at his head.

"Cheeky bastard. Cover yourself. And then go into my dressing room. I will have a meal brought up, but I will not have the servants knowing of your presence."

He shrugged. "It is not as though they are unfamiliar with me."

"Which is precisely why they will not know you are here," she replied. "The last time you visited, I caught two of my maids whispering about you. I had to convince my husband that the pair were plotting against me, telling malicious lies. Fortunately the dolt believed it and had the pair sacked."

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