A feeling of inexpressible dread roared through Jordan's body, pounding in his brain, screaming in his heart as he recalled seeing Alexandra holding the decanter of port when he returned from the bank of the stream. "Would you like some wine? It's the special kind you drink."

"Your wife paid another secret visit to your cousin this morning."

Jordan shook his head as if to deny what his intellect was already beginning to suspect, while pain and shock and fury tore through every fiber of his being.

Correctly interpreting the signs of acceptance, Fawkes said quietly, "Your wife and your cousin were betrothed when you returned. Did it not seem odd to you that your cousin relinquished her to you so easily?"

The duke slowly turned his head and looked at Fawkes, his grey eyes iced with rage and pain. He said nothing. Wordlessly, he strode to the table where a decanter of brandy reposed on a silver tray, jerked the stopper from the decanter, and filled a glass to the brim. He tossed down two swallows.

Behind him, Fawkes said gently, "Will you permit me to tell you what I believe and why?"

Jordan inclined his head slightly, but did not turn.

"There is always a motive for premeditated murder, and in this instance personal gain is the most likely one. Since your cousin, Lord Townsende, has the most to gain by your death, he would naturally be the most likely suspect, even without the added evidence that points to him."

"What 'evidence'?"

"I'll get to that in a moment. But first, let me say that I believe the bandits who waylaid you near Morsham a year ago were not after your purse, nor did they pick you at random as a victim. That was the first attempt on your life. The second attempt was, of course, made shortly afterward when you were abducted from the docks. Until then, Lord Townsende's reason for trying to do away with you would have been to seize your title and holdings. Now, however, he has an additional reason."

Fawkes paused, waiting, but the duke remained silent, standing with his back to him, his broad shoulders rigid. "The additional reason is, of course, a desire to have your wife whom he tried to wed and whom he now continues to see in secret. Since she goes to him, I think it's safe to assume she also wishes to wed him, something she cannot do so long as you are alive. Which means Lord Townsende now has an accomplice—her."

Drawing a long breath, Fawkes said, "I must be blunt from now on, if I'm to have your cooperation and protect your life…"

When the tall man across the room said nothing, the investigator correctly interpreted his silence as reluctance and said briskly: "Very well. According to the gossip my men have overheard among your servants, on the night an attempt was made on your life in London, your wife gave everyone a fright by not returning home until the following morning. Do you know where she was?"

Jordan swallowed more of his brandy, his back still turned to the investigator. "She said she slept in a spare room on the servant's floor."

"Your grace, is it possible the horseman who shot at you that night might have been a woman, rather than a man?"

"My wife is an excellent shot," the duke clipped sarcastically. "If she'd tried to shoot me, she'd not have missed."

"It was dark and she was mounted," Fawkes murmured, more to himself than to Jordan. "Perhaps her horse moved slightly as she fired. Still, I'm inclined to doubt she actually tried to do it herself—it's too risky. In the past, outsiders have been hired to do you in, but now they're trying it on their own, which puts you in far greater peril and makes my job ten times as difficult. Which is why I'm going to ask you to pretend we haven't any idea Nordstrom the footman was poisoned. Let your wife and your cousin think you're ignorant of any scheme of theirs. I've instructed Dr. Danvers to say he thinks Nordstrom's heart simply stopped, and I was cautious when I questioned the kitchen servants about Nordstrom's activities that day, not to put any excessive emphasis on the decanter of wine. They've no reason to think we suspect foul play. If we can carry on that ruse and tighten the surveillance on your wife and Lord Townsende, we ought to have some forewarning of the next attempt on your life, and be able to catch them in the act," Fawkes concluded. "I think they'll try the poison again, since they think we're unaware of it, but perhaps not. If they do, they'll not risk poisoning anything which others might also ingest, because more than a single death would definitely awaken suspicion. For example, that brandy you're drinking is probably safe enough because it's served to guests, but I caution you against eating or drinking anything your wife gives you, which she could have touched without your seeing her. Beyond that, all we can do is watch and wait."

Finished, Fawkes fell silent, waiting for some reaction, but the duke remained as rigid as steel. He hesitated, then he bowed to the duke's stiff back. Softly, and with genuine regret, he said, "I'm very sorry, your grace."

Fawkes had just closed the study door when the deathly silence of the hallway was suddenly shattered by an explosive crash and the sound of breaking glass within the study. Thinking someone had fired through the windows, Fawkes flung the door open and then stopped short: A magnificent gold and crystal brandy decanter, which had once belonged to a French king, was now lying on the polished wood floor a few feet away from the wall against which the duke had hurled it. The duke, who had betrayed no trace of emotion throughout the interview, was standing with his hands braced wide against the mantel of the fireplace, gripping it for support; his broad shoulders were shaking with silent anguish.

Alexandra whirled around in a swirl of bright green silk as Jordan stalked into the drawing room, a dazzling smile on her face that faded slightly as she beheld the hardness of her husband's taut jaw and the cold glitter in his eyes, "Is—is something wrong, Jordan?"

At her gentle use of his name, the muscles of his face clenched so tight a nerve in his cheek began to pulse. "Wrong?" he repeated cynically while his gaze wandered over her body with insulting thoroughness, inspecting her breasts, her waist, then her hips, before lifting to her face. "Not that I can see," he replied with scathing indifference.

Alexandra's mouth went dry and her heart began to beat in heavy, terrifying dread as she sensed that Jordan had seemingly withdrawn from her, as if the closeness, the tenderness and laughter they'd shared had never existed. Panic drove her to try to recover what they had found by reaching for a decanter of sherry on the table. Jordan had said he liked having her do wifely things for him, and so she did the only thing she could think of. Filling a small stemmed glass with sherry, she turned and held it out to him, a wobbly smile on her face. "Would you like some sherry?"


Tags: Judith McNaught Sequels Billionaire Romance
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