"Include you," Jordan blazed in disbelief. "Include you with a woman who—" At the last instant he cut off the words he'd been about to use, but Alexandra provided them for him—"who shared your bed?" she hissed.
"You're scarcely in a position to lecture me on manners, madam. From all accounts, your behavior in the last weeks has been anything but that which befits my wife!"
"My behavior!" Alexandra exploded. "For your information," she informed him with blazing sarcasm, "if I behaved in a way that befits your wife, I would have to try to seduce every member of the opposite sex who crosses my path!"
That outburst so stunned Jordan that for a split second he felt like shaking her for her insolence and, at the same time, he was suddenly struck with the realization that she was jealous. His temper slightly mollified, he glanced up and realized that half the dancers had moved off the floor to better observe the unprecedented altercation between him and his infuriating wife, and the rest were openly staring at them.
Jerking his gaze from their audience, he clenched his teeth in an artificial smile aimed at Alexandra's head and snapped, "Smile at me, dammit! The whole ballroom is watching us."
"I most certainly will not," she blazed irrationally, but she managed to smooth her features into a semblance of calm. "I'm still engaged to your cousin!"
That excuse was so inane, so unexpected, that Jordan swallowed a stunned laugh. "What a peculiar code of ethics you have, my love. You happen to be married to me at the moment."
"Don't you dare call me your love, and the least you could do is consider Anthony's position in all this," Alexandra cried. "Think how humbling it will be to him if everyone thinks I've fallen straight into your arms. Have you no loyalty at all to your cousin?"
"A difficult moral dilemma for me," Jordan agreed mendaciously, "but in this case, I find my loyalties are entirely with myself."
Jordan stared down at the tempestuous young beauty in the provocative lemon-yellow gown, her face both delicate and vivid with her stormy Aegean-blue eyes and rose-petal lips, and he suddenly saw her as she'd looked the last time she'd worn light yellow—standing in his grandmother's garden, her enchanting face turned up to the sky, while she explained to him in her soft, sweet voice: "Every season of the year comes with a promise that something wonderful is going to happen to me someday. In winter, the promise comes with the smell of snow… In summer, I hear it in the boom of thunder and the lightning that streaks across the sky… Most of all, I feel it now, in springtime, when everything is green and black—"
She'd been hoping for something wonderful, and all she'd gotten was a four-day marriage followed by fifteen months of widowhood, along with what appeared to be a great deal of disillusioning information about the life he had led before he married her.
The fury within him died abruptly and, as he looked down into her glorious eyes, his stomach clenched at the thought of taking her home and making her cry.
"Tell me something," he asked softly. "Do you still think dirt smells like perfume?"
"Do I what?" she said, warily studying his slightly softened features, a bewildered frown creasing her smooth forehead. "Oh—now I remember, and no I don't," she hastily added, reminded that he had found her pitiful. "I've grown up now."
"So I see." Jordan said with a mixture of tenderness and budding desire.
Alexandra saw his expression gentle and hastily looked away, but her own anger had begun to drain. Her conscience reminded her that her public wager and her hostile conduct on this dance floor—where he had taken her to salvage her pride—had been inexcusable. No longer feeling entirely the innocent and injured party, she bit her lip and raised her eyes to his.
"Truce?" he offered with a lazy smile.
"Until we're out of here," Alexandra instantly agreed, and when she gave him a tentative smile, she could have sworn she glimpsed approval in those inscrutable grey eyes.
"What happened to the puppy I bought you?" he asked, his smile deepening.
"Henry is at Hawthorne. Oh, and you were wrong," she added mischievously. "The boy who sold him to you didn't lie—he's a purebred."
"Huge?" Jordan asked. "With paws the size of saucers?"
She shook her head. "Dinner plates."
Jordan laughed and she smiled. The couples on the dance floor renewed their interest in the music, quizzing glasses were lowered, and conversations resumed. When the dance ended, Jordan put his hand under her elbow and guided her forward into the crowd, but their departure was immediately delayed by groups of Jordan's friends who pressed around them, anxious to welcome him home.
Alexandra, who already had a reasonably viable plan to ensure he would not find her in her rooms tonight, expected him to rush her off, but instead he spent the next half hour talking to the people who sought his attention, his hand covering her fingers where they rested on his arm.
Left with no other choice, Alexandra stood reluctantly by his side, trying to appear calm and to look as if standing by Jordan were no different than standing by Tony had been.
But if she tried to treat Jordan as she had treated Tony, she noticed at once that the ton certainly didn't. They had treated Tony cordially, and with the respect due his rank, but never with the near-reverence they were showing to Hawk tonight. As she watched bejeweled ladies curtsy to him and elegant gentlemen bow respectfully and shake his hand, Alexandra realized that, to them, Tony had been merely the custodian of a title, but Jordan was the title.
He was Hawthorne, as he had been born to be.
Standing at his side, she began to fear she might have overestimated her ability to manipulate him into letting her go back to Morsham once she had money. After being amongst the ton for all these weeks, she'd erroneously equated Jordan with the other aristocrats she'd come to know—polished, fastidious, and urbane. But also soft. Placid.
Now, as she watched Jordan interact with the other men, she was miserably aware that beneath his civilized, urbane facade, he was nothing like them.
Beside her, Jordan bent his head to her and spoke in a polite, but forceful voice. "If you'll give me your word to go straight home, you can leave now. That way, it will appear that you're going on with your evening and I with mine. I'll follow you in a quarter hour."
Amazed by his thoughtful gesture and relieved beyond words because it made her plan even easier to execute, Alexandra nodded and started to step away, but his hand clamped down on her arm. "Your word, Alexandra," he demanded shortly.