She did not have long to wait. Jordan's hand shifted from her shoulder and came to rest against the side of her face, his fingers gently caressing her cheek as he cuddled her closer to him and then began slowly stroking her hair.

When she awoke, they had driven up to the stables and Jordan was gently lifting her down from the carriage. Ignoring the avidly curious, surreptitious stares of the servants at the stable, Jordan lowered her to the ground and grinned at her. "Did I tire you out, sweet?" he asked, and chuckled huskily when she blushed.

With her hand linked through his arm, they began strolling toward the house, while behind them a groom began to hum off-key, another whistled, and Smarth began to sing an outrageously bawdy ditty whose tune Jordan recognized. Stopping in his tracks, Jordan turned and stared hard at his servants. Beneath his penetrating gaze, the whistles abruptly died down and the humming wavered to a tuneless stop. Smarth reached quickly for the reins of Jordan's restive horse and led him into the stable; a groom snatched up his pitchfork and energetically dug it into the hay.

"Is something wrong?" Alexandra asked.

"I must be paying them too much," Jordan joked, but his expression was puzzled. "They're entirely too cheerful."

"At least you're finally beginning to notice there's music in the air," his wife pointed out with an irreverent smile.

"Shrew," he teased with a chuckle that was rich and deep, but his grin faded as he looked down into her beautiful face and soberly thought, I love you.

The words crashed into his brain, almost bursting out of him in their need to be said. She wanted to bear those words, Jordan realized instinctively as her eyes held his, looking into his soul.

He would tell her tonight, he decided. When they were alone in his bed, he would say the words he'd never said before. He'd release her from their wager and solemnly ask her to stay with him. She wanted to stay, he knew that, as well as he knew this lovely, bewitching, joyous girl loved him.

"What are you thinking?" she softly asked.

"Ill tell you tonight," he promised huskily. Putting his arm around her waist, Jordan drew her tightly against his side and they strolled together back to the house—two lovers returning from a halcyon day, sated, unhurried, content.

As they passed the wide, rose-covered arch that marked the entrance to the formal gardens, Jordan grinned ruefully to himself and shook his head as he realized, for the first time in his life, that the roses tumbling over the arch were red. Rich, vibrant red.

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Unwilling to relinquish her company, Jordan walked upstairs with her and into her bedchamber. "Did you enjoy your afternoon, princess?" he asked.

The endearment made her eyes glow like twin aquamarines. "Very much."

He kissed her and then, because he wanted some reason to linger, he walked slowly toward the adjoining door. As he passed her dressing table, he saw upon it her grandfather's watch in a velvet case and paused to study the heavy gold timepiece. "Do you have a likeness of your grandfather?" he asked idly, picking up the watch and turning it over in his hand.

"No. I keep his watch there as sort of a reminder of him."

"It's an exceptionally fine piece," he remarked.

"He was an exceptionally fine man," she replied in a polite tone that completely belied the secret smile in her eyes as she watched his profile.

Unaware of her smile or her scrutiny, Jordan looked at the watch. A year ago, he remembered, he had accepted this watch as if it were merely his due. Now he wanted it more than he'd ever wanted anything in his life. He wanted Alexandra to give it to him again. He wanted her to look at him as she once had, with love and admiration shining in her eyes, and to give him the watch that she had intended for a man she deemed "worthy" of it.

"It was a gift from a Scottish earl who admired my grandfather's knowledge of philosophy," she said softly.

Putting the watch down, Jordan turned away. It would take a while longer to earn her trust, he decided, but someday she would surely find him worthy of it. On the other hand, she might give it to him for his birthday, he decided with an inward smile—allowing, of course, that she realized his birthday was only four days away. "It's a beautiful piece," he repeated, adding, "Time certainly has a way of passing. Before you know it, another year is gone. I'll join you in the drawing room before supper."

Jordan leaned nearer to the mirror, inspecting the closeness of his shave. In an exceptionally good humor because he was about to join Alexandra in the drawing room, he grinned at his valet in the mirror and said jokingly, "Well, Mathison, what do you think—will this face of mine spoil the lady's appetite?"

Behind him, Mathison, who was patiently holding up an impeccably tailored black evening coat for Jordan to put his arms into, was so startled to be addressed in this comradely fashion by his normally taciturn employer, that the poor valet had to clear his throat twice before answering in a stammering, blustering tone, "I daresay her grace, being of refined tastes herself, can only delight in your appearance this evening!"

Jordan's lips quirked with amusement at the memory of his "refined" young wife perched upon a tree limb with a fishing pole in her hand. "Tell me something, Mathison," Jordan asked as he shrugged into the black coat. "What color are the roses on the arch at the gardens?"

Startled by the abrupt change of topic and the question itself, Mathison replied blankly, "Roses, your grace? What roses?"

"You need a wife," Jordan replied, chuckling as he clapped the astonished manservant on the arm like a brother. "You're worse off than I was. At least I knew there were roses on—" He broke off abruptly as Higgins hammered on his door in an unprecedented frenzy, calling "Your grace—your grace!"

Waving Mathison aside, Jordan stalked to the door and yanked it open, angrily confronting the stately butler. "What the devil is the matter with you?" he demanded.

"It's Nordstrom—a footman, your grace," Higgins said, so distraught that he actually tugged on Jordan's sleeve, pulling him into the hallway and closing the door before he began to babble disjointedly, "I told Mr. Fawkes at once, just as you said to do should anything unusual happen. Mr. Fawkes needs to see you at once in your study. At once. He told me not to tell anyone, so only Jean in the kitchen and I are aware of the dire event which—"

"Calm yourself!" Jordan snapped, already heading for the red-carpeted staircase.

Tags: Judith McNaught Sequels Billionaire Romance