"I give you my word to go straight home," she said with a dazzling smile born of relief, and hastily left.

Jordan watched her, his eyes slightly narrowed as he contemplated the reason for that suspiciously bright smile of hers, as well as the wisdom of trusting her. It was not so much his faith in her word that had led him to make his offer, but rather that he could not honestly believe she would defy him again, now that she understood the lengths to which he would go to ensure her obedience to his will. Besides, he decided philosophically, turning his attention back to his friends and acquaintances, where else could she possibly go but home? No one, not even his grandmother, would shelter her from her husband.

Jordan was not the only one who watched Alexandra leave, a great many other guests did so as well, and they were not at all fooled by her apparently harmonious departure from her husband.

"Hawk means to deal with her when he gets home," Lord Ogilvie assured the large group of people around him. "You can be sure he won't let her behavior go unpunished a single night. What's more, he'll wear her ribbon on Queen's Race day."

"To be sure!" agreed young Sir Billowby.

"Indubitably!" seconded the Earl of Thurston.

"No doubt about it," declared Lord Carleton stoutly.

Lady Carleton looked at the Duchess of Hawthorne, who was ascending the staircase, and bravely declared, "I hope all of you are wrong. Hawthorne has broken hearts from all over England. It's time a woman broke his!"

Sir Billowby's shy young wife put up her chin and seconded that opinion. "I hope she gives her ribbon to someone else to wear!"

"Don't be ridiculous, Honor," said her husband. "I'm going to wager £100 that she'll give it to Hawk."

The two ladies looked at each other and then at the gentlemen. "My lord," Lady Honor informed her scandalized husband as she withdrew £100 from her reticule, "I'll take that wager."

"So will I!" Lady Carleton declared.

By the time Alexandra climbed into her carriage, enough money had already been wagered in that ballroom to fatten Prinny's coffers for years, and the odds had soared to 25 to 1 in Jordan's favor. Only the younger ladies held out any hope that Alexandra would be the first female to resist the "irresistible" Duke of Hawthorne.

Chapter Twenty-Three

Moonlight spilled across the mansions that marched along Upper Brook Street as Alexandra waved her coachman off and stealthily slid her key into the lock of No. 3. Pushing the door open a scant inch, she peered into the front hall. As she'd hoped, Higgins and the rest of the servants had retired for the night.

She slipped inside, silently closed the door behind her, and tiptoed up the long staircase. At the doorway to her bedchamber, she hesitated, wondering if her devoted maid had decided to await her return despite Alexandra's instructions. Deciding she dare not risk opening the door to find out, Alexandra hurried down the long hall, which was bordered on both sides with guest bedrooms. At the end of the hall a staircase led up to the next story; and she tiptoed up the steps and along the hall, stopping at the last door on the right. Silently, she turned the handle and peered into the dark, empty room that had been used long ago by the family governess, then slipped inside.

Smiling with delight at her own ingenuity, she pulled off her gloves and tossed them onto a shadowy object she identified as a small chest of drawers. She had not broken her word; she had come directly home.

Except when her husband marched into her bedchamber tonight, intending to mete out whatever punishment he had in mind, she would not be there.

A chill crept up her spine as she imagined how angry he was going to be, but the alternative of presenting herself to suffer God-knew-what fate tonight was too repugnant to consider.

Tomorrow, she decided, she would take whatever money Penrose had obtained for her grandfather's watch, and as soon as Jordan left the house, she and her two faithful old friends would leave London.

Stripping off her gown, Alexandra stretched out on the narrow bed, which had no linen on it, and closed her eyes. Weariness and confusion closed over her as she went over Jordan's behavior tonight. How could he be so murderously angry with her, and at the same time try to spare her public embarrassment, she wondered. She would never understand him. All she was sure of at that moment was that she was reduced to hiding from him in his own house—hiding in fear and anger from the same man whose disappearance had once made her want to die in order to be with him.

Lord Camden had arrived at the ball just as Jordan was leaving, only to discover that Melanie had already left. Politely refraining from showing the slightest surprise when Jordan suddenly recalled that he'd sent his own carriage home an hour earlier because he'd intended to ride home with Alexandra, Lord Camden obligingly offered him a ride home. The Camden carriage drew up before the house at No. 3, and Jordan bounded down. His mind on Alexandra, who would by now be awaiting him in her room, Jordan paid scant attention to the lone horseman who waited in the shadow of a house across the street, hat pulled low over his face, but his presence registered somewhere on the perimeter of Jordan's preoccupied mind. As if he scented danger, he turned on the second step to say goodbye to John Camden, but his gaze flicked to the slender horseman just as the shadowy figure raised his arm.

Jordan dove down and to the left just as the pistol fired, then came up in a running crouch, charging across the street in a futile attempt to give chase to the assassin who was already galloping away, wending deftly between the bulky carriages making their decorous way along Brook Street—the same crowd of carriages that prevented John Camden from giving chase in his own.

Edward Fawkes, a ruggedly built gentleman who specialized in handling delicate matters for a group of very select clients who did not want the authorities involved, glanced at his watch. It was nearly one o'clock in the morning as he sat across from the Duke of Hawthorne, who had employed him yesterday to investigate the two attempts on the duke's life and to learn who was behind them.

"My wife and I will depart for Hawthorne in the morning after we arise," the duke was saying. "An assassin can melt into the streets and alleys of London far easier than he can conceal himself in the country. If it were only my own life that is in jeopardy, I'd stay in the city. But if my cousin is behind this, he won't be able to risk my producing an heir, therefore my wife is now also endangered."

Fawkes nodded his agreement. "In the country, my men will be able to spot an unfamiliar person on the grounds of Hawthorne or loitering about the village. We can watch him."


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