"No, my lady! No. You're wrong. Wronger than anybody's ever been if you think a thing like that! Why would you say such a thing?"

Stunned by the intensity of that denial, Alexandra brought her temper under control and managed a weak smile and a shrug, "My grandfather always said that if you want to know what a man will become, look to his father."

"Your grandsire was wrong when it comes to Master Jordan and his father," Smarth said vehemently.

It occurred to Alexandra that Smarth could be a veritable treasure trove of information about Jordan, if she could only get him to tell her the unembellished truth. Stoically, she told herself she didn't care to know anything about her temporary husband, but even while she thought it, she was already saying, albeit a little irritably, "Since I'm not allowed to go anywhere without a guard, would you cafe to walk over to the fence with me so I may watch the colts frolic?"

Smarth nodded, and when they were standing at the fence, he said abruptly: "You shouldn'ta placed that wager against him, my lady, if you'll forgive me for sayin' it."

"How did you know about the wager?"

"Everybody knows 'bout it. John Coachman had it from Lord Hackson's groom the same afternoon it was writ in the book at White's."

"I see."

"It was a bad mistake, announcin' to everyone you don't care nothin' for his grace, and don't never intend to do it. It's a sign o' how much he cares for you that he didn't let it bother him much. Why, even the master's mama wouldn'ta dared do such a—" Smarth stopped abruptly, flushed, and stared miserably at his feet.

"I never meant for it to be a public wager," Alexandra said, then with an appearance of mild interest she casually inquired, "Speaking of my husband's mother, what was she like?"

Smarth shifted uneasily from one foot to the other. "Beautiful, o' course. Liked parties—had all sorts of 'em here, all the time."

"She sounds quite gay and lovely."

"She weren't nothin' like you!" Smarth exploded, and Alexandra gaped at him, taken aback both by his vehemence and the realization that he regarded her in such flattering terms. "She never noticed nobody beneath her rank, nor cared for nobody but herself."

"What an odd thing to say! What do you mean?"

"I got to get to work, my lady," Smarth said miserably. "Anytime you want to hear good things 'bout his grace, you come back and I'll think o' some."

Seeing that it would be futile to press him further, Alexandra let him go. Yet she couldn't banish the feeling, nor her curiosity over its source.

On the pretext of needing a door hinge oiled, she summoned Gibbons, the footman who was as devoted to Jordan as Smarth, and who had also been her confidante while she stayed at Hawthorne. Like Smarth, the old footman was delighted to see her, and more than eager to launch into tales of Jordan as a boy, but the moment she asked about his parents, Gibbons hemmed and hedged and suddenly recalled he had urgent work to do belowstairs.

Dressed in a peach silk gown, with her hair falling loose over her shoulders, Alexandra left her room at nine, the appointed hour for supper, and walked slowly downstairs. Now that she was about to face Jordan for the first time since their angry confrontation at the stable, her curiosity over him gave way to a return of her earlier indignation and not a small amount of dread.

Higgins stepped forward as she turned toward the dining room and swiftly opened the doors to the drawing room instead. Confused, Alexandra glanced at him and hesitated. "His grace," the butler informed her, "always partakes of a glass of sherry in the drawing room before supper."

Jordan glanced up when Alexandra walked into the drawing room, and he went over to the sideboard where he poured sherry into a glass for her. Alexandra watched his deft movements as he filled her glass, her gaze running over his tall, lithe frame while she tried to ignore how incredibly handsome he looked in a wine-colored coat that clung to his broad shoulders and grey trousers that emphasized his long, muscular legs. A single red ruby winked in the folds of the snowy neckcloth that contrasted sharply with his sun-bronzed face. Wordlessly he held the glass of sherry toward her.

Uncertain of his mood, Alexandra walked forward and took the glass from his outstretched hand. His first words made her long to pour the sherry over his head. "It is my custom," he informed her, like a teacher reprimanding a tardy student, "to have sherry in the drawing room at eight-thirty and supper at nine. In future, please join me here promptly at eight-thirty, Alexandra."

Fire ignited in Alexandra's eyes, but she managed to keep her voice level. "You've already told me where I may sleep, where I may go, who must accompany me, and when I must eat. Would you care to instruct me as to when I may breathe?"

Jordan's brows snapped together, then he leaned his head back and sighed heavily. Reaching up in a gesture of frustration and uncertainty, he massaged the muscles at the back of his neck as if they were tense, then he dropped his hand. "Alexandra," he said, sounding both rueful and exasperated, "I meant to begin by apologizing for the way I treated you at the stable today. You were an hour late returning, and I was worried about you. I didn't intend to start our evening off now by reprimanding you or suffocating you with more rules. I'm not an ogre—" He broke off as Higgins tapped discreetly at the door, before carrying in a note on a silver tray.

Very slightly mollified by his apology, Alexandra sat on a velvet upholstered chair and idly glanced around the immense drawing room, noting the heavy baroque furniture upholstered in wine velvet that actually conveyed an almost oppressive splendor. Oppressive splendor, she thought, mentally chiding herself. Jordan's moody attitude about his home must be rubbing off on her.

Taking the note from the tray, Jordan sat down across from her and broke the seal, his eyes scanning the brief missive, his expression going from curiosity to disbelief to fury. "This is from Tony," he informed her, his grey eyes suddenly flinty, his jaw clenched so tight the bones of his face stood out. "It seems that he has decided to leave London in the midst of the Season and is even now in residence at his house not three miles from here."

The realization that her friend was now so close filled Alexandra with delight. Her face glowing with pleasure, Alexandra said, "I meant to call upon his mama and brother tomorrow—"

"I forbid you to go there," Jordan interrupted coolly. "Ill send Tony a note and explain that we wish to have the next few weeks entirely to ourselves." When she looked thoroughly mutinous, Jordan's voice became clipped: "Do you understand me, Alexandra? I forbid you to go there."


Tags: Judith McNaught Sequels Billionaire Romance
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