"Your primary job is to protect my wife," the duke said curtly. "Once we're all at Hawthorne, I'll think of some plan to draw whoever is doing this out of hiding. Arrange for four of your men to ride guard around my coach tomorrow. With my own people, that will give us a total of twelve outriders."

"Is it possible the person who shot at you tonight could have been your cousin?" Edward Fawkes asked. "You said he wasn't at White's or the Lindworthy ball tonight."

Jordan wearily kneaded the knotted muscles at his nape. "It wasn't him. The horseman was much smaller than my cousin. Moreover, as I told you, I'm not completely convinced my cousin is behind this." Until today, when he learned old Grangerfield was dead, Jordan had hoped he was the one. After all, the first attempt had been made the night Jordan met Alexandra—only two days after he wounded Grangerfield in a duel. After tonight's episode, however, Jordan could no longer hold on to that hope.

"The two most common motives for murder are revenge and personal gain," Fawkes said carefully. "Your cousin has a great deal to gain from your death. More now even than before."

Jordan didn't ask what he meant; he already knew it was Alexandra. Alexandra—? His face paled as he recalled the vaguely familiar, slender figure who'd shot at him tonight. It could have been a woman…

"You've thought of something important?" the investigator said quickly, correctly assessing Jordan's expression.

"No," Jordan snapped and surged to his feet, abruptly concluding the meeting. The idea of Alexandra trying to kill him was ludicrous. Absurd. But the words she'd hurled at him this morning came back to haunt him: Whatever it takes, I'll be free of this marriage.

"Just one more thing, your grace," Fawkes said as he also arose. "Could the person who shot at you tonight have been the same one you thought you'd killed on the road near Morsham last spring—the one you left for dead? You described him as being of small stature."

Jordan felt dizzy with relief. "It could have been. As I said, I couldn't see his face tonight."

When Fawkes left, Jordan climbed the stairs to his own chamber. Tired, angry, and frustrated at being the target of some unknown lunatic who wanted him dead, he sent his sleepy valet off to bed and slowly removed his shirt. Alexandra was in the next room, he thought, and his weariness began to dissipate as he visualized awakening her from sleep with a kiss.

Walking over to the connecting door, he strode through her dressing room and into the dark bedchamber. Moonlight sifted through the windows, casting a silvery beam across the perfectly smooth satin coverlet atop her bed.

Alexandra had not come home.

Striding swiftly into his own room, he jerked the bellrope.

Thirty minutes later, the entire sleepy-eyed household staff was lined up before him in the drawing room answering his questions—with the single notable exception of Penrose, Alexandra's elderly servant. He, too, was mysteriously missing.

After intensive questioning, all Jordan had learned for certain was that his coachman had watched Alexandra walk up the front steps of the house and safely reach the door. Then she had waved him off—an action which the coachman confirmed was unprecedented.

"You may go back to bed," he told all thirty-one servants but one old man with spectacles, whom Jordan identified as Alexandra's footman, hung back looking worried and angry.

Jordan went over to the side table, poured the last of his port into a glass, and with a cursory glance at Filbert, instructed him to bring up another bottle. Negligently tossing down the liquid, he sank into a chair and stretched his legs out, trying to calm his rampaging fear. Somehow, he didn't quite believe Alexandra had come to any harm, and he would not let himself consider that her absence incriminated her in the attempt on his life tonight.

The more he concentrated on that inexplicably bright smile she had given him when she promised to come directly home after the ball, the more convinced he became she'd simply gone somewhere else after tricking the coachman into believing she'd come inside. Before she actually left the ball, she'd undoubtedly asked some cicisbeo of hers to follow her home and then take her up. Since Jordan had threatened to beat some sense into her tonight, that wasn't at all surprising, he thought. She had probably gone to his grandmother, Jordan decided as the port began to soothe his raw nerves.

"Bring the bottle over here," he ordered, eyeing the sour-faced, elderly footman, with ill-concealed belligerence. "Tell me something," he said shortly, addressing a servant on a personal matter for the first time in his life, "was she always like this—your mistress?"

The old footman stiffened resentfully, in the act of pouring port in the duke's glass. "Miss Alex—" Filbert began, but Jordan interrupted him in a glacial voice: "You will refer to my wife properly," he snapped. "She is the Duchess of Hawthorne!"

"And a lotta good it's done her!" the servant flung back furiously.

"Just exactly what is that supposed to mean?" Jordan demanded, so taken aback by this unprecedented display of temper from a mere servant that he failed to react with the outrage one might have reasonably expected from a man of his temperament and rank.

"It means what it says," Filbert snapped, slamming the bottle down on the table. "Bein' the Duchess of Hawthorne ain't never brought her nothing but heartbreak! Yer as bad as her pa was—no, yer worse! He only broke her heart, you broke her heart and now yer tryin' to break her spirit!"

He was halfway across the room when Jordan's voice boomed like a thunderclap. "Get back here!"

Filbert obeyed, but his gnarled hands were clenched into fists at his sides, and he glared resentfully at the man who had made Miss Alexandra's life a misery from the day she met him.

"What the hell are you talking about?"

Filbert's jaw jutted belligerently. "If you think I'm gonna tell you things so's you can use them agin' Miss Alex, then yer in fer a shock, yer high holiness!"

Jordan opened his mouth to tell the incredibly insolent man to pack his bag and get out, but more than satisfaction, he wanted an explanation for the servant's startling revelations. Reining in his temper with a supreme effort, Jordan said icily, "If you have anything to say that might soften my attitude toward your beloved mistress, then you'd be wise to speak out now." The servant still looked balky. "In the mood I'm in," Jordan warned him honestly, "when I get my hands on her, she'll wish to God she'd stayed out of my sight."

Tags: Judith McNaught Sequels Billionaire Romance
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