His eyes turned to blazing daggers as they shifted to the glass she held, and the nerve in his cheek began to pulsate wildly. When he raised his gaze to her face, Alexandra stepped back in alarm from the unexplainable violence glittering in his eyes. With his gaze riveted to hers, he took the glass from her hand. "Thank you," he said a split second before the fragile stem snapped in his hand.
Alexandra uttered an alarmed little cry and whirled around, looking for something to use to blot the sherry from the magnificent Aubusson carpet before it stained.
"Don't bother," Jordan snapped, catching her elbow and jerking her roughly around. "It doesn't matter."
"Doesn't matter?" Alexandra uttered in confusion. "But—"
Softly, and without any emotion, he said, "Nothing matters."
"Shall we dine, my sweet?"
Swallowing her rising panic, Alexandra nodded. He had made "my sweet" sound almost like an epithet. "No, wait!" she burst out nervously, and then shyly she added: "I have something I want to give you."
Poison? Jordan thought sarcastically, watching her.
"This," she said and held out her hand to him.
Lying across her open palm was her grandfather's treasured gold watch.
Raising her glowing eyes to his, Alexandra said unsteadily, "I—I want you to have it." For one horrible, incredible moment, she actually thought Jordan was going to refuse it. Instead, he took it from her and dropped it carelessly into his coat pocket. "Thank you," he said with curt indifference. "Assuming it keeps accurate time, it's a half hour past time to dine."
If he had slapped her, Alexandra could not have been more hurt or more bewildered. Like a puppet, she placed her hand upon his proffered arm and let him escort her to the dining room.
Throughout the meal, she tried vainly to convince herself she was merely imagining his complete change in attitude.
When he did not take her to his bed and make love to her that night, she lay awake, trying to understand what she had done to make him regard her with aversion.
When he ceased speaking to her altogether the next day, except when absolutely necessary at meals, she endured it for an entire day before she finally swallowed her pride and meekly asked him what she had done wrong.
He looked up from the work on his desk, furious at her interruption, his eyes raking over her as she stood before him like a nervous supplicant, her shaking hands clasped behind her back. "Wrong?" he repeated in the cool, voice of a complete stranger. "There is nothing wrong, Alexandra, except in your timing. Adams and I are working, as you can see."
Alexandra whirled around, embarrassed to the depths of her soul by the heretofore unnoticed presence of Adams, who was seated at a small desk near the windows. "I—I'm sorry, my lord."
"In that case," he nodded meaningfully toward the door, "if you don't mind—"
Alexandra took his rude hint to leave and did not attempt to speak to him until that night, when she heard him enter his bedchamber. Summoning all her courage, she put on a dressing robe, opened the adjoining door, and stepped inside.
Jordan was removing his shirt when he saw her reflection in the mirror and his head jerked toward her. "Yes, what is it?" he snapped.
"Jordan, please," Alexandra burst out, walking toward him, an innocent temptress with her hair tumbling over her shoulders, sliding to and fro against the rich pink satin of her gown as she moved near him. "Tell me what I've done to anger you."
Jordan gazed down into her blue eyes and his hands clenched at his sides as he fought the simultaneous impulse to strangle her for her treachery and the stronger urge to take her to his bed and pretend for just one hour longer that she was still his enchanting, alluring, barefoot duchess. He wanted to hold her and kiss her, to wrap her around him like a blanket and lose himself in her, to blot out the last days of hell. Just for an hour. But he couldn't, because he couldn't blot out the tormenting picture of her and Tony embracing and planning his murder. Not even for an hour. Or a minute.
"I'm not angry, Alexandra," he said frigidly. "Now get out of here. When I want your company, I'll let you know."
"I see," Alexandra whispered, and turned away.
But all she "saw" was the tears that blinded her as she walked with painful dignity back to her own bed.
Alexandra stared mindlessly at the embroidery frame in her lap, her long fingers still, her heart as dark and bleak as the sky beyond the open curtains at the drawing-room windows. For three days and nights, Jordan had been a stranger to her, a cold, forbidding man who looked at her with icy blatant disinterest or contempt, on those rare occasions when he looked at her at all. It was as if someone else now inhabited his body—someone she did not know, someone she sometimes saw watching her with a expression in his eyes that was so malign it made her shiver.
Not even Uncle Monty's unexpected arrival and bluff presence had any effect on lightening the heavy atmosphere at Hawthorne. He had come to Alexandra's rescue—he explained to her privately after settling into his rooms yesterday and critically surveying the plump bottom of the upstairs maid who was turning down his bed—because he'd heard belatedly in London that "Hawthorne had looked like the wrath of God," when he discovered her wager in the book at White's.
But all of Uncle Monty's dogged, transparently obvious attempts to engage Jordan in friendly conversation yielded nothing but scrupulously courteous, extremely brief responses. And Alexandra's attempts to pretend that was normal and natural fooled no one, including the servants, into believing they were a happily married couple. The entire household, from Higgins the butler to Henry the dog, were vibrantly, nervously aware of the strained atmosphere.
In the oppressive silence of the drawing room, Uncle Monty's hearty voice boomed out like a thunderclap, making Alexandra jump: "I say, Hawthorne, capital weather we're having!" Lifting his white brows in an inquiring expression, hoping for an answer that might lead to further conversation, Uncle Monty waited.
Jordan raised his eyes from the book he was reading and replied, "Indeed."
"Not a bit wet," Uncle Monty persevered, his cheeks rosy from the wine he'd imbibed.
"Not wet at all," agreed Jordan, his face and voice devoid of expression.
Unnerved but undaunted, Uncle Monty said, "Warm, too. Good weather for crops."
"Is it?" Jordan replied in a tone that positively discouraged any additional attempt at conversation.