The old man paled and swallowed, but he remained mutinously silent. Sensing that Filbert was wavering but that intimidation alone would never get him to talk freely, Jordan poured some port into a glass and in an action that would have knocked Society onto its collective face, the Duke of Hawthorne held the glass toward a lowly footman and invited in a man-to-man voice, "Now then, since I apparently hurt your mistress—unintentionally—suppose you have a drink and tell me how I'm like her father. What did he do?"

Filbert's suspicious gaze shifted from the duke's face to the glass of port in his outstretched hand, then he slowly reached for it. "D'you mind if I sit whilst I drink?"

"By all means," Jordan replied, straightfaced.

"Her father was the lowest scoundrel what ever lived," Filbert began, oblivious to the way the duke's brows shot up at this added insult. He paused to take a long, fortifying swallow of his drink, then he shuddered, glaring at the stuff in the glass with unhidden revulsion. "Gawd!" he uttered. "What is this?"

"Port—a special kind that is made exclusively for me."

"Probably ain't no call fer it from no one else," Filbert replied, wholly unimpressed. "Vile stuff."

"That opinion is shared by most people. I seem to be the only one who likes it. Now, what did her father do to her?"

"Do yer happen to have any ale about?"

"I'm afraid not."

"Whisky?" Filbert asked hopefully.

"Certainly. In the cabinet over there. Help yourself."

It took six glasses of whisky and two hours to drag the story out of the reluctant footman. By the time Filbert was nearly finished, Jordan—who had felt challenged to switch to whisky and match him drink for drink—was slouched in his chair, his shirt unbuttoned halfway down his chest, trying to keep his head clear.

"And one day, about six, seven weeks after her pa dies," Filbert was finishing, "this fine carriage pulls up and in it is this beauteous lady and her pretty yellow-haired daughter. I was there when Miss Alex opened the door and the lady—who weren't no real lady—announces bald as you please that she's Lawrence's wife and the gel with her is his daughter!"

Jordan's head jerked around. "He was a bigamist?"

"Yep. And you shoulda seen the helter-pelter argument atween the two Mrs. Lawrences. But Miss Alex, she doesn't get mad. She jest looks at the yellow-haired girl and says in that sweet way o' hers: 'You're very pretty.'

"The blond chit don't say nothin', she sticks her nose up in the air. Then the chit notices this tin locket, shaped like a heart, that Miss Alex was wearin' round her neck. It was gived to Miss Alex by her pa on her birthday, and she treasured that locket like you wouldn't believe—always touchin' it whilst she wore it and worryin' it'd get lost. The blond chit asks Miss Alex if her pa gived her that, and when Miss Alex said he had, the gel pulls out this gold chain hangin' round her neck, and on the end o' it is this beautiful gold locket in the shape o' a heart.

" 'He gave me a valuable gold one,' the chit says in a way that made my hand itch to slap her. 'Yours is jest old tin.' "

Filbert paused to have another swallow of his whisky and smack his lips. "Miss Alex didn't say a word, she jest lifts her chin—like she does when she's tryin' to be brave—but there's so much pain in her eyes, it would have made a grown man cry. I cried," Filbert admitted hoarsely. "I went to my room, an' I cried like a babe."

Jordan swallowed against the unfamiliar aching lump in his throat. "Then what happened?"

"The next mornin' Miss Alex comes down to breakfast, jest like always, and she smiles at me, jest like always. But for the first time since her pa gived it to her, she weren't wearin' that locket. She never wore it again."

"And you think I'm like her father?" Jordan bit out furiously.

"Ain't you?" Filbert said contemptuously. "Ye break her heart every time yer around, and then it's left to me 'n' Penrose to try to pick up the pieces."

"What are you talking about?" Jordan insisted, clumsily splashing more whisky into his glass. Filbert stuck his empty glass forward and Jordan obediently filled it, too.

"I'm talkin' about the way she cried when she thought you was dead. One day I come upon her standin' in front o' yer portrait at yer big country house. She used to spend hours jest lookin' at you, and I think to myself she's so thin you can see clean through her. She points to you and she says to me in that shaky little voice that means she's tryin not to cry, 'Look, Filbert. Wasn't he beautiful?' " Filbert paused to sniff distastefully—an eloquent expression of his private opinion of Jordan's looks.

Slightly pacified by the astounding news that Alexandra had apparently cared enough to grieve for him after all, Jordan overlooked the servant's unflattering opinion of his face. "Go on," he said.

Filbert's eyes suddenly narrowed with anger as he warmed to his story: "You made her fall in love with you, then she comes to London an' finds out you never meant to treat her like a proper wife. You only married her for pity! You meant to send her off to Devon, just like her papa done to her mama."

"She knows about Devon?" Jordan said, stunned.

"She knows about all o' it. Lord Anthony finally had t' tell her the truth 'cause all your fancy London friends were laughin' at her behind their hands for lovin' you. They all knew how you felt about her, because you talked 'bout her to yer ladybird, and she talked to everyone else. You called it a marriage of inconvenience. Ye shamed Miss Alex and made her cry all over again. But you'll not be able to hurt her again—she knows you for the lyin' cad you be!"

Having said his piece, Filbert shoved to his feet, put down his glass, drew himself up to his full height, and said with great dignity, "I told her, an' I'll tell you: She shoulda let you die the night she found you!"

Jordan watched the old man march off without displaying any effects from the astonishing quantity of liquor he'd consumed.

He stared blindly at his empty glass, while the reasons for Alexandra's complete change in attitude since his disappearance slowly began to crystallize. Filbert's brief but eloquent description of a painfully thin Alexandra staring at his portrait at Hawthorne made his heart wrench. Across his mind paraded a vivid image of Alexandra coming to London wearing her heart on her sleeve—and then facing the cold disdain Elise had apparently instigated by repeating Jordan's thoughtless, joking remark.

Leaning his head against the back of his chair, Jordan closed his eyes while regret and relief flooded through him. Alexandra had cared for him. The image he had cherished of the enchanting, artless girl who had loved him had not been false, and for that he was suddenly, profoundly overjoyed. The fact that he had wounded her in countless ways made him wince, but not for one moment was he willing to believe the damage was irreparable. Neither was he fool enough to think she'd believe any explanation he could make. Actions, not words, would be the only way to make her lower her guard and love him again.


Tags: Judith McNaught Sequels Billionaire Romance
Source: www.StudyNovels.com