I missed you, he thought. "I finished my work early," he lied. Covering her hand with his, Jordan strolled with her across the front lawns to the pavilion at the far edge of the lake. "This is my favorite spot at Hawthorne," he explained, propping a shoulder against one of the white columns that supported the pavilion's roof. Shoving his hands into his pockets, he swept the woods and lake with an absent glance, oblivious to the flowers she'd added to the clearing beside them. "I imagine that, if you combined all the hours I spent in this pavilion as a boy and young man, they'd amount to years."

Thrilled that the handsome, enigmatic man she had married was finally beginning to open himself to her, Alexandra smiled at him. "It was my favorite place while I was at Hawthorne before. What did you do when you were here?" she asked, remembering the vivid, hopeless daydreams she'd invented about Jordan, while sitting upon the brightly colored cushions of the pavilion.

"Studied," he answered flatly. "I didn't like the schoolroom much. Or my tutor, for that matter."

Alexandra's smile wobbled as she envisioned a handsome, solitary boy, driven by his father to excel in everything.

Jordan saw tenderness glowing in her blue eyes and grinned at her, completely unaware of why her attitude had warmed. "What did you do, when you came here?" he teased.

Alexandra shrugged uneasily. "Daydreamed, mostly."

"About what?"

"The usual things." She was spared the need to answer that, because Jordan was suddenly staring at a clearing in the woods with a puzzled frown. "What is that?" he asked, straightening from his lounging position and walking into the circular clearing. Strolling directly over to the wedge-shaped marble marker, he read the simple words upon it with an indescribable expression of disbelief on his face:

JORDAN MATTHEW ADDISON TOWNSENDE

12tH DUKE OF HAWTHORNE

BORN JUNE 27, 1786

DIED APRIL 16, 1814

Turning to Alexandra with a look of almost comical disgust, he demanded, "Anthony stuck me out here in the woods? Didn't I merit the family cemetery in his estimation?"

Alexandra chuckled at his unexpectedly droll reaction to seeing his own passing engraved in marble. "There's a monument to you there, too. But I—we—thought this was such a pretty spot for a, well, little marker in your memory." She waited for him to remark upon the fact that the clearing had been widened and flowers added, and when he didn't notice, she prompted lightly, "Do you notice anything different about this place?"

Jordan glanced around, oblivious to the serenity and beauty she'd created. "No. Is something different?"

She rolled her eyes in laughing disgust. "How can you possibly overlook a veritable garden of flowers?"

"Flowers," he repeated without interest. "Yes, I see them," he added, turning away from the clearing.

"Did you really?" Alexandra teased, but she was serious too. "Without turning back to look, tell me what colors they were."

Jordan shot her a quizzical look and took her arm, starting toward the house. "Yellow?" he ventured after a moment.

"Pink and white."

"I was close," he joked.

But on the way back to the house, he noticed for the first time that the roses blooming lavishly in the manicured beds beside the house were divided by color, rather than mixed together, and that the pink ones reminded him of her lips. Slightly embarrassed by the heretofore untapped sentimentality she was awakening in him, Jordan glanced at her bent head, but the next thought he had was even more shockingly sentimental than the last: His birthday was only five days away, and he wondered if she'd noted that when they'd looked at the dates carved into the marble marker.

A vision of Alexandra awakening him with a kiss and a wish for his happy birthday floated delightfully through his mind, and suddenly he very much wanted her to remember the date, to do some small thing to show him he was important to her. "I'm getting old," he remarked with careful nonchalance.

"Mmmm," Alexandra mused absently, toying with an idea so intriguing, so perfect, she was fairly bursting to think it through and begin to execute it.

Obviously, Jordan realized with disappointed chagrin, she neither knew nor cared that his birthday was near, and by hinting to her about it, he was behaving like a lovestruck boy who yearned for some special token of affection from his ladylove.

As soon as they entered the front hall, Jordan started to leave her and summon his bailiff, but Alexandra's voice stopped him. "My lord," she said.

"Jordan!" he said shortly.

"Jordan," she repeated, smiling into his eyes in a way that made him long to pull her into his arms, "are we still to have our picnic tomorrow at the stream?" When Jordan nodded, she explained, "I have some calls to make in the morning—Mrs. Little, the gamekeeper's wife, has just given birth to a baby boy, and I must bring her a gift. There are other calls, as well. May I meet you at the stream?"

"Fine."

Alarmed and annoyed by his ever-increasing desire to have her near him all the time, Jordan deliberately did not join her for supper nor did he take her to his bed that night. Instead, he lay awake in his huge bed atop its dais, his hands linked behind his head, staring at the ceiling and forcing himself not to go to her room. At dawn, he was still awake—mentally redesigning Alexandra's bedroom suite. She ought to have a spacious marble bathing room like his own, he had charitably concluded, and a much larger dressing area as well. Of course, if that were done, there would be no room in her own bedchamber for a bed. A faint, thoroughly satisfied smile touched his lips and he closed his eyes at last. He would let her sleep with him in his bed, he generously decided.

In the interest of modernization, no sacrifice was too great.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Her heart singing with the plans she'd been putting into effect all morning, Alexandra rode to the clearing and dismounted. Jordan was standing on the bank of the stream, his broad back to her, gazing across the water, apparently lost in thought. She felt neither guilt nor concern about her secret visit to Tony today, for she was confident Jordan wouldn't object when he discovered the reason for it tomorrow.

With the lush grass muffling the sound of her approach, she walked toward him, her emotions wavering between joy at seeing him and uncertainty because he had neither dined with her last night nor made love to her. Aware that his attitude toward her had begun to cool when they walked back from the pavilion, she hesitated and then threw caution to the winds. She loved him, and she was determined to teach him to love and to laugh.


Tags: Judith McNaught Sequels Billionaire Romance
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