Chapter Thirty-One

The defeated expression on Dr. Danvers' face as he stepped into the hall outside Alexandra's bedchamber and closed the door made agony scream through Jordan's brain.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly to the distraught group waiting in the hall. "There was nothing I could do to save her. When I got here, she was already beyond hope and beyond reach."

The dowager pressed her handkerchief to her lips and turned into Tony's arms, weeping while Melanie sought her husband's embrace. John Camden's hand came to rest consolingly on Jordan's shoulder, then he took his sobbing wife downstairs to join Roddy Carstairs.

Turning to Jordan, Dr. Danvers continued, "You can go in now and say your goodbyes, but she won't hear you. She's in a deep coma. In a few minutes—a few hours, at most—she'll slip away quietly." At the expression of raw anguish on the duke's face, Dr. Danvers added gently, "She'll feel no pain, Jordan, I promise you."

A muscle worked spasmodically in Jordan's throat as, with a look of wordless, impotent rage directed at the innocent physician, he walked swiftly into Alexandra's bedchamber.

Candles burned beside her canopied bed, and she lay as still and white as death upon the satin pillows, her breathing so shallow it was almost imperceptible.

Swallowing past the lump in his throat, Jordan sat in the chair beside her bed and gazed down upon her beloved face, wanting to memorize every line of it. She had such smooth skin, he thought achingly, and such incredibly long eyelashes—they lay like lush, dark fans against her cheeks… She wasn't breathing!

"No, don't die!" he cried hoarsely as he grabbed her limp hand, frantically feeling for a pulse. "Don't die!" He found a pulse—thready and faint but still there—and suddenly he couldn't stop talking to her. "Don't leave me, Alex," he pleaded, holding her tightly. "God, don't leave me! There are a thousand things I want to tell you, places I want to show you. But I can't if you go away. Alex, please, darling… please don't go away.

"Listen to me," Jordan begged urgently, somehow convinced that she would stay alive if she understood how much she meant to him. "Listen to what my life was like before you hurtled into it wearing that suit of armor— Life was empty. Colorless. And then you happened to me, and suddenly I felt feelings I never believed existed, and I saw things I'd never seen before. You don't believe that, do you, darling? But it's true, and I can prove it." His deep voice ragged with unshed tears, Jordan recited his proof: "The flowers in the meadow are blue," he told her brokenly. "The ones by the stream are white. And on the arch, by the arbor, the roses are red."

Lifting her hand to his face, he rubbed his cheek against it. "And that's not all I noticed. I noticed that the clearing by the pavilion—the one where my plaque is—looks like the very same one where we had our duel a year ago. Oh, and darling, there's something else I have to tell you: I love you, Alexandra."

Tears choked his voice and made it a tormented whisper. "I love you, and if you die I'll never be able to tell you that."

Driven by anger and desperation, Jordan clutched her hand tighter and abruptly switched from pleas to stern threats. "Alexandra, don't you dare leave me! If you do, I'll toss Penrose out on his deaf ear! I swear I will. And without a reference. Right on his ear, do you hear me? And then I'll kick Filbert out right behind him. I'll make Elizabeth Grangerfield my mistress again. She'd love to fill your shoes as the Duchess of Hawthorne…"

The minutes became an hour, and then another, and still Jordan kept on talking, switching mindlessly from pleas to threats and then, as hope finally began to die within him, to cajolery: "Think of my immortal soul, sweetheart. It's black and, without you here to make me mend my ways, I'll undoubtedly slip back into my old habits."

He waited, listening, watching, her lifeless hand gripped in his as he tried to infuse his own strength into her, and then, suddenly, the determination and hope that had driven him to talk ceaselessly to her crumbled. Despair wrapped around his heart, suffocating him, and tears stung his eyes. Gathering her limp body into his arms, Jordan laid his cheek against hers, his massive shoulders racked with sobs. "Oh, Alex," he wept, rocking her in his arms like a baby, "how will I go on living without you? Take me with you," he whispered. "I want to go with you…" And then he felt something—a whispered word against his cheek.

Jordan's breath stopped and he jerked his head back, his eyes frantically searching her face as he gently lowered her against the pillows. "Alex?" he implored achingly, bending over her, and just when he thought he'd imagined the faint flutter of her eyelids, her pale lips parted, trying to form a word.

"Tell me, darling," he said desperately, leaning close to her. "Say something, please, sweetheart."

Alexandra swallowed, and when she spoke, her words were so faint they were nearly inaudible. "What, darling?" he pleaded urgently, not certain what she was saying.

Again she whispered, and this time Jordan's eyes widened as he finally understood. He stared at her hands held tightly in his and then his shoulders shook as he began to laugh. It started as a low rumble in his chest, then exploded in great, gusty shouts of laughter that rang out along the balcony and brought the dowager, the doctor, and Tony running into the room in the obvious misapprehension that Jordan's grief had destroyed his mind.

"Tony," Jordan said with a wobbly grin, holding Alexandra's hand in his and beaming at her. "Alexandra thinks," he said, his shoulders beginning to rock with laughter again, "that Elizabeth Grangerfield has big feet. "

Alexandra turned her head on the pillows as Jordan walked through the doorway that joined her suite with his: It had been two days since she'd been injured, two days and nights of drifting in and out of wakefulness. Each time she had awakened, he was sitting beside her bed, keeping a silent vigil, his fear for her etched deeply into his drawn features.

Now that she was fully conscious, she would have liked to hear him talk to her in that same tender tone he'd used these past two days, or to look at her with love burning in his eyes. Unfortunately, however, Jordan's features were perfectly composed and completely unreadable this morning—so much that Alexandra wondered if she'd only dreamed the tender, tormenting sweetness of his words to her when he believed she was dying.

"How are you feeling?" he asked, his deep voice conveying only polite concern as he came to stand beside her bed.

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