Slowly, Alexandra arose and Jordan stood too, towering over her. "Do you know," she breathed, staring up at him in dazed, quiet anger, as if he belonged in Bedlam, "I think you are quite mad."

Unexplainably, he smiled a little at that. "I don't doubt it," he said, unable to tell her Tony's return to the district now practically confirmed Fawkes' suspicions, and that her life was also likely to be in danger from him since she could, at this moment, be carrying the next Hawthorne heir. With quiet firmness, he added, "But I expect you to obey me, nonetheless."

Alexandra opened her mouth to tell him she didn't care a snap for his silly rules, but he pressed his finger to her lips, his smile widening. "The wager, Alexandra—you promised to be my obedient wife. You wouldn't want to forfeit this early in the game, would you?"

Alexandra gave him a look of well-bred disdain. "I'm in no danger of losing the bet, my lord. You've already lost it." Holding her glass, she walked over to the fireplace and pretended to inspect a fragile fourteenth-century vase.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Jordan asked, coming up silently behind her.

Alexandra ran a finger over the base of the priceless treasure. "Your part of the wager was to try to make yourself so agreeable to me that I would want to stay with you."

"And?"

"And," she replied with an arch glance at him over her shoulder, "you're failing."

She expected him to dismiss that with arrogant unconcern. Instead, he put his hands on her shoulders and turned her around to face him. "In that case," he said, gazing down at her with a solemn smile, "I shall have to try harder, shan't I?"

Caught unawares by the combination of gravity and tenderness in his expression, Alexandra let him kiss her, clinging to her sanity while his strong arms encircled her, drawing her against him, as he bent his head and his mouth captured hers. He kissed her long and lingeringly, tasting her lips as if truly savoring each moment.

When he finally dropped his arms many minutes later, Alexandra stared at him in speechless amazement. How could he be so impossibly tender one moment and so cold, withdrawn, and arbitrary the next, she wondered, staring up into his heavy-lidded, mesmerizing grey eyes. Her voice was quiet as she voiced the thought running through her mind. "I truly wish I understood you."

"What is it you don't understand?" Jordan asked, but he already knew.

"I'd like to know the real reason you ripped up at me at the stables today."

She expected him to dismiss the matter with a teasing remark or try to shrug it off, but he surprised her by doing neither. With quiet honesty he said, "Actually I gave you the real reason, but I left it for last."

"What?"

"My pride was hurt that you left me in the middle of the night," he admitted.

"Your pride was hurt," Alexandra repeated, gaping at him, "so you called me a dox—a bad name?"

Alexandra missed the glint of amusement in his eyes, and so it took a moment before she realized he was ridiculing himself, not her. "Naturally I did that," he admitted gravely. "Surely, you don't expect an intelligent grown man, who has fought bloody battles in two countries, to have the courage to look a woman in the eye and simply ask her in a calm, reasonable voice why she didn't want to spend the night with him?"

"Why not?" she uttered, perplexed, and then she laughed aloud as she realized what he was saying

"Male ego," he admitted with a lopsided grin. "We'll go to any lengths to protect our egos, I fear."

"Thank you," Alexandra said gently, "for telling me the truth."

"That's the main reason why I tore into you. But I must admit there is something about this house that always puts me in a grim mood."

"But you grew up here!"

"And that," he said lightly as he took her arm and guided her into the drawing room, "is probably why I don't like it."

"What do you mean?" she blurted.

Jordan smiled down at her, but he shook his head. "A long time ago, in my grandmother's garden, you asked me to say what I feel and think, and I'm trying to do that. However, I'm not accustomed to baring my soul yet. We'll have to ease into it," he teased. "I'll answer your question someday."

Jordan had set out to "try harder to make himself agreeable" and during their meal he accomplished that goal with a resounding success that was devastating to Alexandra's peace of mind.

When they first married, she thought that he had tried to be pleasing to her, but his efforts were nothing compared to this. For two hours as they dined, he turned the full force of his devastating charm on her, teasing her with his flashing white smile and amusing her with scandalous, hilarious on dits about people she knew in London.

And afterward, he took her to his bed and made love to her with a passionate intensity so hot it should have forged them into one body and one soul. Then he held her in his arms against his heart throughout the night.

Accepting the basket of sweets she'd asked cook to prepare, Alexandra climbed into her carriage the next morning, determined to call upon Tony in blatant defiance of Jordan's orders. She tried to convince herself she wasn't falling in love with Jordan, that she was simply curious about Jordan's parents, but in her heart she knew that wasn't entirely true. She was dangerously close to losing her heart to him and desperately anxious to understand the enigmatic, compelling man she'd married. Tony was the only one she could turn to now who might be able to give her the answers she sought.

After informing Olsen, her appointed "personal groom," that she would not require his attendance to call upon the Wilkinsons, Alexandra set out on her way to the Wilkinsons' little cottage. When she finished her brief visit, she left and turned her horse toward Tony's house. Blissfully unaware of Olsen, who followed alertly behind her, keeping to the cover of the woods whenever possible, she sent her horse trotting down the country lane.

"Alexandra!" Tony exclaimed, grinning and holding out his hands to her as he strode from the house and down the short flight of steps to the narrow, tree-lined drive. "I gathered, from the note Jordan sent me this morning, that he meant to keep you exclusively to himself for the next few weeks."

"He. doesn't know I've come," Alexandra said, hugging him warmly. "Will you swear to keep it a secret?"

"Of course. I give you my word," Tony promised with a solemn smile. "Come in and see my mother and Bertie— they'll be delighted to see you. They won't breathe a word of your visit," he reiterated when Alexandra hesitated.


Tags: Judith McNaught Sequels Billionaire Romance
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