That thought made her so angry she felt physically sick. Pulling her hands from her face, she looked around the cheerful room as if she were searching for some way to escape. Somehow, some way, she decided desperately, for the sake of sanity and serenity, she had to get away from here. From him. She did not want to face yet another emotional holocaust. Peace was what she wanted. Peace and quiet and reality for the rest of her life.

At the thought of leaving London and her newfound friends, she felt a pang of loss, but it was offset by the thought of finding peace and tranquillity somewhere else. He'd only been home one day, and already jealousy was beginning to torment her. The idea of returning to Morsham, which she'd conceived on the spur of the moment yesterday when she was talking to Melanie, took on new and greater appeal now, looming on the horizon of her mind like a sweet haven waiting for her.

But if she was going to find her way back to her old life, she knew there was no point in waiting idly for fate to lend a hand. Fate, she decided, had never been a reliable ally of hers. Fate had forced her into marriage with a man who didn't want her and who was, moreover, a cad. Fate had brought him back and now she was expected to meekly submit to the whims of a man who still didn't want her and who was not only a cad, but an arrogant, unfeeling, dictatorial one, to boot!

Women, she had learned to her pain, were nothing but chattel, particularly in the upper classes, where they were selected like mares for their bloodlines by men who mated with them for the sake of obtaining a suitably aristocratic heir, and then they were turned out to pasture. She, however, was not a helpless, highborn female, Alexandra reminded herself bracingly. She had taken care of herself, her mother, her house, and two elderly servants quite satisfactorily from the time she was fourteen.

Surely, as a grown woman now, she could return to her former life and continue to manage even better than she had. She would do what her grandfather had hoped she would—she would take up where he had left off, teaching children to read and write. She was a respectably married woman now, and Alexandra felt quite certain the villagers would not ostracize her for her single long-ago lapse in propriety. And even if they did, Alexandra rather thought she would prefer to live like an outcast until they forgave her than continue to be what she was now—a feather blown about by the whims of fate and of one rude, indomitable man.

It was now time, she decided staunchly, to take charge of her own life and to choose its direction. The latter was easy enough—she had only one direction open to her and that was back. She would go back home and be mistress of her own life. But in order to accomplish that, she had to dissuade her unwanted husband from his absurd decision to keep her as his wife. And she needed money.

The second part of that worried her the most. The only money she had was from the last quarterly allowance Tony had given her, but that wouldn't be enough to rent a cottage, buy wood for the winter, and purchase the things she and Filbert and Penrose would require until they could get a vegetable garden started. For that she would need ten times what she had. She couldn't sell the jewels that the duchess and Tony had given her, they were family heirlooms and not truly hers. The only thing of value she owned was her grandfather's watch. She would sell it, Alexandra decided with an awful, wrenching pain. She would have to sell it and quickly, without wasting precious time. Time, she had learned to her mortification, was Jordan's ally and her enemy. Given enough time and proximity, she was terrified that Jordan could and would have her melting in his arms.

Feeling slightly better, now that she had a plan, Alexandra walked over to the table where she always had tea after her fencing matches with Tony and sat down. She was pouring herself a cup from the tray that had been set out for her in advance, when her two faithful, elderly friends presented themselves.

"Lawd, Miss Alexandra, you've gotten yerself into the devil of a coil this time," Filbert exclaimed without tact, formality, or preamble, his nearsighted eyes searching her face through the spectacles she'd bought for him, which enabled him to see a great deal better than before. Almost wringing his hands with anxiety, he sat down across from her at the table—as he had always done when they were a "family" in Morsham. Penrose sat down across from him and leaned forward, straining to hear, as Filbert continued: "I heared what the duke said to you yesterday when the two of you were alone and I told Penrose. Yer husband's a hard man, and that's the simple truth, or he'd not've ripped up at you th' way he done. What," he demanded with anxious concern for her, "are we goin' to do?"

Alexandra looked at the two old men who had cared for her, cheered her, and borne her company for all of her life and smiled wanly. There was no point in lying to them, she knew; although they were slightly impaired physically, they were anything but mentally impaired. They were, in fact, nearly as sharp now as they were in the old days when she could never get by with a trick they didn't anticipate. "I want to take us back to Morsham," she declared, wearily raking her hair back off her forehead.

"Morsham!" Penrose whispered reverently, as if the name were "Heaven."

"But I need money to do it, and all I have is what's left of my last quarter's allowance."

"Money!" said Filbert grimly. "It's always been a lack of money for you, Miss Alexandra. Even when your papa was alive, curse his treacherous—"

"Don't," Alexandra said automatically. "It isn't fitting to speak ill of the dead."

"In my opinion," Penrose announced with lofty dislike, "it's a pity you saved Hawthorne's life. Instead of shooting his assailant, you should have shot him."

"And afterward," Filbert spat, "you should've drove a stake through his heart, so the vampire couldn't come back from the dead like this and haunt yer life!"

That bloodthirsty speech made Alexandra shudder and laugh at the same time. Then she sobered, drew a long breath, and said to Penrose in a resolute voice that brooked no argument, "My grandfather's gold watch is in the drawer beside my bed. I want you to take it to Bond Street and sell it to whichever jeweler will pay the most for it."

Penrose opened his mouth to protest, saw the stubborn set of her small chin, and reluctantly nodded.

"Do it now, Penrose," she said in a pain-edged voice, "before I can change my mind."

When Penrose left, Filbert reached across the table and covered her hand with his blue-veined one. "Penrose and I got a tiny sum we've set aside over the last twenty years. It ain't much—seventeen pounds and two shillings atween us."


Tags: Judith McNaught Sequels Billionaire Romance
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