Despite his closed eyes and apparent sleepiness, Jordan had already registered the unusually bright smile on his wife's face, as well as the fact that her hip was pressing against his thigh. Normally, Alexandra's smiles were reserved, not relaxed, and she scrupulously avoided touching him whenever possible, unless he was making love to her.
Curiosity over the reason for her very pleasant, but very unusual behavior this morning made him open his eyes and look at her. With her hair tumbling over her shoulders and her skin glowing with health, she looked delicious. She also looked like she had something on her mind. "Well?" he said lightly, restraining the urge to pull her down on top of him. "I am, as you can see, awake."
"Good," she said, hiding her uncertainty behind a vivacious smile, "because there's something special I'd like to do this morning."
"At this hour?" Jordan teased. "What is there to do, save to sneak out to the road, pounce on an unwary traveler, and steal his purse. Only thieves and servants are about now."
"We don't have to leave for a while yet." Alexandra hedged as her courage began to ebb, and she braced for his refusal. "And if you'll recall, you did say you wanted to make yourself agreeable to me—"
"What is it you'd like to do?" Jordan asked with a sigh, mentally considering the usual things women tried to get men to do with them.
"You want me to take you shopping for a new bonnet in the village?" he ventured unenthusiastically.
She shook her head, sending her hair tumbling over her left shoulder and breast.
"You want to ride out early to see the sun rise over the hills so you can sketch the view?"
"I can't draw a straight line," Alexandra confessed. Drawing a shaky breath, she summoned all her courage and announced, "I want to go fishing!"
"Fishing?" Jordan repeated, gaping at her as if she'd taken leave of her senses. "You want me to to go fishing at this hour of the morning?" Before she could answer, he shoved his head deeper into the pillows and firmly closed his eyes, apparently rejecting the idea—but there was a smile in his voice as he said, "Not unless there wasn't a scrap of food to eat and we were both prostrate from starvation."
Encouraged by his tone, if not his words, she cajoled, "You wouldn't have to spend your time teaching me the proper technique—I already know how to fish."
He opened one eye, his voice amused. "What makes you think I do?"
"If you don't know how, I'll show you."
"Thank you, but I can manage on my own," he said with asperity, studying her intently.
"Good," Alexandra said, so relieved she was almost babbling. "So can I. I can do everything for myself, including put my own worm on my own hook—"
His lips quirked in a smile. "Excellent, then you can bait my hook. I refuse to awaken helpless worms at this ungodly hour and then compound the crime by torturing them."
His humor was so contagious that a gurgle of laughter escaped Alexandra as she stood up and tightened the belt on her rosesilk dressing robe. "I'll take care of all the arrangements," she said happily and headed for her bedchamber.
Leaning back against the pillows, Jordan admired the unconsciously seductive sway of her hips as she walked away, while he fought down the urge to summon her back to his bed and spend the next hour in the delightful—and laudable—occupation of siring his heir. He did not want to go fishing. Nor did he understand why she did, but he was certain there was a reason for it, and he was curious to discover what it was.
Alexandra had indeed taken "care of all the arrangements," he realized when they wended their way on horseback down the opposite side of the high ridge that blocked the house from view of a wide, rushing stream.
Tying their horses to a pair of trees at the base of the ridge, he walked beside her down to the grassy banks of the stream, where a bright blue blanket had been spread out beneath a giant oak tree. "What's all that?" he asked, indicating the two large baskets and one small one beside the blanket.
"Breakfast," Alexandra replied, shooting him a laughing glance. "And dinner, too, from the looks of it. Evidently, cook doesn't have much faith in your ability to catch our meal."
"In any case, I haven't more than an hour to spend trying."
Alexandra paused in the act of picking up a fishing pole, her face confused and disappointed. "An hour?"
"I have a dozen things to do today," Jordan replied. Crouching down, he selected a pole from the ones brought out earlier by the servants and tested its flexibility by bending it between his hands. "I'm a very busy man, Alexandra," he added absently, by way of explanation.
"You're also a very wealthy man," she answered, affecting an offhand attitude as she tested her own pole. "So why must you work so hard all the time?"
He thought for a moment and chuckled. "So I can remain a very wealthy man."
"If being wealthy costs you the right to relax and enjoy life, then the price of wealth is altogether too high," she said, pivoting on her heels and looking at him.
His brow furrowed in thought, Jordan tried to recall the philosopher who authored that quotation, and couldn't. "Who said that?"
She gave him a plucky smile. "I did."
Jordan shook his head in silent amazement at her quick mind as he put a worm on his hook, then walked over to the bank. Sitting down beside a huge fallen tree with its branches stretching out over the water, he cast his line in.
"That's not the best place to catch the big ones," his wife advised him with an air of vast superiority as she came up behind him. "Would you hold my pole for me, please?"
"I thought you said you could do everything for yourself," he teased, noticing she'd taken off her riding boots and stockings. Before he could guess what she was about, Alexandra hitched up her skirts, displaying a pair of slim calves, trim ankles, and small bare feet, then she scampered up onto the wide trunk of the fallen tree with the agile grace of a gazelle. "Thank you," she said, reaching for her pole.
He handed it to her, expecting her to sit down where she stood, but to his alarmed surprise, she walked out along a thick branch hanging above the rushing water, balancing like an acrobat. "Come back here!" Jordan said sharply, raising his voice in alarm. "You could fall in."
"I swim like a fish," she informed him, grinning over her shoulder, and then she sat down—a barefoot duchess with her shapely legs dangling over the water and sunlight shining in her hair. "I've been fishing since I was a girl," she said conversationally as she cast her line into the stream.