"If he followed my instructions, he's in his room," Jordan dryly replied, "meditating on the Eighth Commandment."

Alexandra, who had leapt to the understandable conclusion that her cold-hearted, autocratic husband would have let the authorities haul poor Penrose off to be hanged, stared at him in confusion. "That's all you did? Send him to his room?"

"I could hardly have the closest thing I have to a father-in-law carted off to a dungeon, now could I?" Jordan replied.

Utterly dumbfounded by his odd mood this morning, Alexandra stared searchingly at him. "Actually, I thought you could and would."

"Only because you don't really know me, Alexandra," he said in a tone Alexandra could have sworn was conciliatory. Briskly, he continued, "However, I intend to remedy that, beginning"—he glanced up as footmen came trooping downstairs bearing several trunks, including here—"in one hour, when we leave for Hawthorne."

Alexandra swung around, saw her trunks and turned back to him, her eyes blazing with rebellion. "I won't go."

"I think you'll agree to go when I set forth the terms for your consideration, but first, I would like to know why Penrose was trying to sell my… your grandfather's… watch."

Alexandra hesitated, then decided silence was best.

"The obvious answer to that is that you wanted money," Jordan continued in a matter-of-fact voice. "And I can think of only two reasons why you should need funds. The first reason would be that you've been placing more scandalous wagers against me, which I forbade you to do. Frankly, I doubt you've done that." He held up his hand when Alexandra looked angry at his supposition that she would meekly accede to his orders. "My reason for discounting the possibility you've placed additional wagers against me since yesterday has nothing to do with the fact that I forbade it. I simply don't think you've had the time to defy me again."

His lazy grin was so unexpected and so contagious that Alexandra had to fight the urge to smile back at him.

"Therefore," he concluded, "I would assume the reason you suddenly want money is the same reason you gave me two days ago—you want to leave me and live on your own. Is that it?"

He sounded so understanding that Alexandra reversed her former decision and nodded in the affirmative.

"Just as I thought. In that case, let me offer a solution to your predicament which should also appeal to your penchant for gambling. May I?" he politely asked, motioning her to a chair in front of his desk.

"Yes," Alexandra agreed, sitting down while he leaned against his desk.

When she was settled, Jordan said, "I will give you enough money to live out the rest of your life in regal splendor, if after three months you still wish to leave me."

"I—I don't entirely understand," Alexandra said, scrutinizing his tanned face.

"It's quite simple. For three full months, you must agree to be my most obedient, loving, biddable wife. During that time, I will endeavor to make myself so—shall we say— 'agreeable' to you that you no longer wish to leave me. If I fail, you may leave at the end of three months. It's as simple as that."

"No!" Alexandra burst out before she could stop herself. The thought of Jordan deliberately trying to charm and entice her was more than she could bear to contemplate, and the intimate implications of being his "loving" wife made her face burn.

"Afraid you'll fall under my 'spell'?"

"Certainly not," she lied primly.

"Then why should you not agree to the wager? I'm betting a fortune that I can make you wish to stay. Evidently, you're afraid you'll lose, or you wouldn't hesitate."

He slid the challenge in so smoothly that Alexandra scarcely saw it coming before he'd hit home.

"I—there are other things to consider—" She stalled lamely, too shaken to think of any.

"Ah, yes—there's the possibility that in the ardent performance of my husbandly duties, I might get you with child, is that it?"

Speechless with dismay and horror at that heretofore unthought-of possibility, Alexandra simply stared at him, pink-cheeked, as he idly picked up a paperweight from his desk. "I intend to do my utmost to bring that about, my sweet," he baldly promised. "Moreover," he continued, balancing the weight in his palm, exactly as he was balancing her future, "our wager is contingent upon your granting me your favors in bed without resentment. In other words," he finished with smiling bluntness, "if you shirk or protest or fail to cooperate—you lose."

"You're mad!" Alexandra burst out, leaping from her chair, but her frantic mind could come up with no better means of ending this unwanted marriage.

"I must be," he agreed without rancor. "Three months doesn't give me much time. Six months would be more fair, now that I think on it."

"Three is more than fair!" Alexandra exclaimed.

"Agreed," he smoothly said. "Three months it is. Three months of wedded bliss for me, in return for—shall we say—a half million pounds?"

Alexandra clenched her trembling hands and hid them behind her back, her mind whirling with a dizzying combination of jubilation and resentment. A half million pounds… A half million pounds… A fortune!

In payment for services to be rendered in his bed.

By offering her the money, he was reducing her to the status of one of his mistresses; offering to "pay her off" when they were finished.

"Don't think of it in that way," Jordan quietly suggested, watching the reactions play across her expressive face and correctly interpreting them. "If I lose the wager, then consider the money as a belated 'reward' for saving my life."

With her pride somewhat soothed by that, Alexandra hesitated and then nodded slightly, noncommittally. "It's a highly irregular proposition in most regards—"

"Our marriage has been 'highly irregular' in every regard," Jordan said dryly. "Now then, do I need to put our wager in writing, or shall we trust one another to keep to the terms?"

"Trust!" Alexandra repeated scornfully. "You told me yourself you don't trust anyone." He had told her that in bed, and she had asked him to trust her. She had told him that love could not survive without trust. Watching him, she knew he was recalling the conversation.

He hesitated as if coming to an important decision. Then he said with gentle solemnity, "I trust you."

The three quietly spoken words carried a wealth of underlying meaning that Alexandra adamantly refused to believe he intended. She tried to ignore the warmth in his steady gaze, but she could not sustain her animosity when he was behaving in this odd, almost tender fashion. Deciding that the best way to deal with her enigmatic spouse was to remain calm and reserved at all times, she politely said, "I'll consider your wager."


Tags: Judith McNaught Sequels Billionaire Romance
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