Her mind absorbed with her thoughts, Alexandra walked slowly to the door, but as she pulled it closed, there was a loud clatter and the sound of something roiling across the wooden floor. Realizing that she had dislodged something that had been leaning against the doorframe, Alexandra turned around. Her puzzled gaze scanned the floor, then riveted in horror and hatred upon the stout, polished wooden cane that some faceless tutor had been instructed to use on Jordan.

Her eyes blazed with blue fire as she stared at the evil thing, while she actually longed to do bodily injury to the nameless tutor who had used it. Then she turned on her heel and slammed the door to the schoolroom behind her. As she passed a servant in the hall, she thrust the cane at him and said, "Burn this."

Standing at the study window, Jordan watched Alexandra walking toward the stables with what appeared to be several books cradled in her arm. An almost overpowering urge to call and offer to spend the day with her swept over him, surprising him with its intensity. He missed her already.

Two hours later, Jordan's bewildered secretary, Adams, who had been summoned for the usual afternoon of dictation, sat with his quill poised in readiness to take down the rest of a letter to Sir George Bently, which his employer had been in the process of dictating. In the midst of dictating, the Duke of Hawthorne's rapid-fire composition had slowed and he had fallen silent, gazing absently out the window.

Bewildered by the duke's unprecedented gaps in concentration—which had persisted all afternoon—Adams hesitantly cleared his throat, wondering if perhaps the duke's silence was a dismissal.

Jordan jerked his wandering attention from rapt contemplation of the fluffy cloud formations in the bright blue sky and straightened self-consciously, glancing at the secretary. "Where was I?"

"Sir George's letter," Adams said. "You had just begun to issue instructions for the investment of the profits from the last voyage of The Citadel.

"Yes, of course," Jordan said, his eyes wandering back to the windows. A cloud shaped like a chariot was rearranging itself and becoming a giant sea gull. "Tell him to outfit The Sea Gull—er—The Valkyrie," Jordan amended, "for sailing at once."

"The Valkyrie, your grace?" Adams asked, bewildered.

The duke's gaze shifted reluctantly from the windows to Adams' confused face. "Isn't that what I just said?"

"Well, yes, it is. But a paragraph earlier, you'd desired Sir George to outfit The Four Winds."

Adams watched in amazement as an expression that could only be described as acute embarrassment crossed his employer's aristocratic face before the duke tossed the documents in his hand aside and curtly said, "That will be all for today, Adams. We'll continue tomorrow afternoon as usual."

While Adams was secretly wondering what momentous, dire event had caused his employer to cancel his afternoon work for the second time in eight years—the first time occurring on the day of the duke's uncle's interment—his employer added blandly, "No, not tomorrow afternoon, either."

Already partway across the room, Adams turned round and looked at his employer in startled inquiry, more amazed than ever by this additional postponement of a stack of rather urgent correspondence.

"I'm engaged for the afternoon," the duke explained blandly. "A picnic."

Struggling valiantly to maintain an impassive visage, Adams nodded and bowed. Then he turned and tripped over a chair.

Telling himself that he was merely restless and too long cooped up indoors, Jordan walked out of the house and headed for the stables. But when Smarth rushed out of the stables to ask if he wanted a mount, Jordan changed his mind and instead strolled along the path that led to one of the gamekeeper's cottages at the edge of the woods beyond the stables, where Alexandra had said she gave her lessons.

A few minutes later, the sound of singing reached him, and as he ascended the two wooden steps of the cottage, he smiled to himself as he realized that, instead of "wasting time" with song as he'd first supposed, Alexandra was teaching her pupils the alphabet, using a cheerful little song that named each letter. Shoving his hands into his pockets, he stood unseen in the doorway, listening to the sound of her lilting voice and looking about him with inner amazement.

Seated upon the floor, singing with rapt attention, were not only children of all ages, but several adults as well. After some thought, he was able to identify two of the women as wives of his tenants, and an elderly man as the grandfather of his head bailiff. Beyond that, he had no idea who the other adults were or to which families the children belonged.

They recognized him, however, and the singing began to grind down to an awkward unmelodious halt as older children stopped singing and silenced their younger siblings. A few yards to his right, Alexandra tipped her head to the side, smiling at her pupils. "Had enough for today?" she asked sympathetically, misunderstanding the reason for their sudden lack of attention. "In that case, here's your 'thought to remember' until we meet again on Friday: 'All men are equal,' " she quoted as she moved toward the doorway where Jordan was standing, obviously intending to bid her students goodbye as they left. "It is not birth that makes the difference, it is virtue." Her left shoulder collided with Jordan's and she whirled around.

"What a thing to tell them," Jordan said in a soft, teasing voice, ignoring the occupants of the cabin, who had hastily leapt to their feet and were gaping at him in awe. "You'll incite anarchy with quotations like that."

He stepped out of the doorway and the cottagers, correctly interpreting his movement as a dismissal, hastily lined up and filed awkwardly outdoors.

"They didn't say a word to you," Alexandra said, watching in bewilderment as the cheerful, friendly students she liked so well, scooted guiltily past and then fled into the woods beside the cottage.

"Because I didn't say a word to them," Jordan explained with utter unconcern.

"Why didn't you?" Alexandra asked uncertainly, her pleasure at his unexpected arrival almost blotting out her confusion.

"Unlike many landholders, my forebears have never been on personal terms with their cottagers," Jordan replied indifferently.

Unbidden, a vision of a lonely little boy, forbidden to fraternize with anyone on this vast, populated estate, came to mind, and Alexandra's eyes filled with tenderness as she gazed up at him. Longing to lavish him with all the love in her heart, she linked her arm through his and said, "I'm surprised to see you this afternoon. "What brought you out here?"


Tags: Judith McNaught Sequels Billionaire Romance
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