"As you wish," he agreed, bowing.
"Also, when I am with my wife, you can tell your people to keep their distance. If they're doing their jobs, we should be able to wander about the grounds without fear of danger. I will not sacrifice our privacy, nor will I be forced to hide inside my house day and night. When I'm with my wife, I'll look out for her myself."
"Your grace," Fawkes said, holding out his hands in a gesture of conciliation, "I know from years of experience that situations like this are trying, to put it mildly, particularly to men of your station. But I would be remiss in my duty if I didn't tell you that Lord Townsende's unprecedented decision to return to his home at this time of the year makes him a prime suspect. Furthermore, my men and I are only trying to protect your wife—"
"For which I am paying you a fortune!" Jordan interrupted acidly. "Therefore, you can damn well do it my way."
Fawkes, who was no stranger to the unfair demands the nobility were accustomed to making upon all those around them, nodded resignedly. "We shall try, your grace."
"And I'll countenance no more of your groundless suspicions about my wife."
Fawkes bowed again and left. But when the study doors closed behind him, the resolve, the absolute certainty slowly drained from Jordan's hard face. Shoving his hands in his pockets, he leaned his head back against his chair and closed his eyes, trying to block out the words Fawkes had spoken, but they pounded in his brain like a thousand vicious hammers. Lord Townsende's unprecedented return makes him a prime suspect… Your wife and Lord Townsende went for a stroll and carried on an intense conversation… They embraced and kissed one another… I find their actions suspect…
A silent shout of denial in Jordan's brain drowned out the investigator's words, and he lurched forward in his chair, shaking his head as if to clear it. This was madness! It was hard enough to face the fact that Tony, whom he loved like a brother, was probably trying to kill him. But he would not allow himself to think for another moment that Alexandra was also betraying him. The artless, enchanting young beauty who had teased and laughed with him today and then clasped him to her while he made love to her, was not secretly lusting after Tony, he told himself furiously. Such an idea was insane! Obscene!
He refused to believe it.
Because he couldn't bear to believe it.
A ragged sigh escaped Jordan as he faced the truth. From the moment she had hurtled into his life, Alexandra had stolen his heart. As a girl, she had enchanted and amused him. As a woman, she delighted, infuriated, enticed, and intrigued him. But no matter what she did, her smile warmed him, her touch heated his blood, and her musical laughter made his spirits soar.
Even now, beset by jealousy and plagued by doubt, he smiled when he thought of the way she had looked this morning, seated upon a tree limb with the sunlight glinting in her hair and her long, bare legs exposed to his view.
In a ball gown, she was elegant and serene as a goddess; in his bed, she was as unconsciously provocative as the most exotic temptress; and seated on a blanket with her bare legs curled beneath her and her gorgeous hair blowing in the wind, she was still every inch a duchess.
A barefoot duchess. His barefoot duchess, Jordan thought possessively. She was his by the law of God and man.
Picking up his quill, Jordan determinedly threw himself into his work, blocking out everything else on his mind. But for the first time in his life, he could not completely lose himself in it.
Nor could he entirely forget that Alexandra had lied to him about her whereabouts yesterday.
Sunlight streamed through the single high window of the austere room where Jordan had once learned his lessons under the harsh threat of a cane. Smoothing a wisp of hair back into her neat chignon, Alexandra studied the titles of the books which filled the low bookcases that ran the full length of one long wall, searching for primers she could use to teach elementary reading skills to the children who would soon be assembling in the gamekeeper's cottage.
Awe and admiration filled her as she gazed at the titles and began fully to realize the scope and depth of the knowledge Jordan must possess. There were thick leather-bound volumes containing the words. of Plato, Socrates, Plutarch, as well as dozens of lesser-known philosophers, whose names Alexandra scarcely recognized. There were entire sections on architecture, on every period of European history and the lives and accomplishments of every European ruler. Some were written in English; others in Latin, Greek, and French. Mathematics must have been a special interest of Jordan's, for there was a mind-boggling array of books on that specific subject, many of them with titles so complicated that Alexandra could only guess what they referred to. Geography books, books by explorers, books on ancient cultures; every subject her grandfather had ever mentioned seemed to be represented here and in great depth.
Smiling slightly, Alexandra came to the end of the last case, and there on the bottom shelf were the reading primers she sought. Bending down, she selected two that would do for a start. With the books and a slate cradled in one arm, she walked slowly across the wooden floor, sensing the same peculiar combination of sentimentality and depression she'd felt the first time she entered this unwelcoming room more than a year ago.
How could he have spent years up here in this lonely place, she wondered. Her own lessons had been learned in a sunny room, or outdoors in the sunshine, she remembered fondly—taught by her grandfather who found peace and delight in knowledge—and who had instilled in her that same joy while he taught her.
Pausing at the desk that faced the tutor's larger one, Alexandra gazed down at the initials carved on the top and lovingly traced each one with a fingertip: j.a.m.t.
The first time she had seen those initials she had believed Jordan was dead, and she remembered the desolation she had felt that day and during the months that followed. But now, this very moment, he was downstairs, working in his study—alive and vital and handsome. Instead of lying in a watery grave, Jordan was seated at his desk, wearing a snowy-white shirt that set off his tanned face and clung to his broad shoulders and buff-colored riding breeches that emphasized his long, muscular legs and thighs.
He was alive and healthy and here with her, exactly as she had once prayed and dreamed he would be. God had truly answered her prayers, she realized, and the knowledge suddenly filled her with a piercing sweetness and profound gratitude. He had sent Jordan back to her and even helped her begin to understand the gentle, autocratic, tender, brilliant, sometimes cynical man she loved.