"Not that handsome," Jordan said, stung. And this time Alexandra dissolved in mirth. Turning, she wrapped her arms around him and kissed him soundly. "Actually, he rather reminds me of you," she said, "in his coloring and height and build."
"I hope that hasn't anything to do with why you can't like him," her husband teased.
"Jordan, do stop. I'm worried, really I am. He's-well, he almost frightens me. Even though he seems very civilized on the surface, there's a forcefulness, maybe even a ruthlessness beneath his polished manners. And he stops at nothing when he wants something. I saw that yesterday when he came to the house and persuaded Elizabeth to agree to marry him."
Turning, Jordan looked at her with a mixture of intent interest, surprise, and amusement. "Go on," he said.
"Well, at this particular moment he wants Elizabeth, and I can't help fearing it's a whim."
"You wouldn't have thought that if you'd seen his face blanch the other night when he realized she was going to try to brave society without his help."
"Really? You're certain?"
" Are you certain you know him well enough to judge him?"
"Absolutely certain," he averred. "How well do you know him?"
"Ian," Jordan said with a grin, "is my sixth cousin." "Your what? You're joking! Why didn't you tell me before?"
"In the first place, the subject never came up until last night. Even if it had, I wouldn't have mentioned it. because until now Ian refused to acknowledge his relationship to Stanhope, which was within his rights. Knowing his feelings about that, I regarded it as a compliment that he was willing to admit our relationship. We're also partners in three shipping ventures,"
He saw her staggered expression and chuckled. "If Ian isn't an actual genius, he's very close to it. He's a brilliant strategist. Intelligence," he teased. "runs in the family."
"Cousins!" Alex repeated blankly. "That shouldn't surprise you. If you go back far enough, a vast number of the aristocracy have been connected at some point by what we called ?advantageous marriages'. I suspect, however, that the thing that confuses you about Ian is that he's half Scot. In many ways he's more Scot than English. which accounts for what you're calling a ruthless streak. He'll do what he pleases, when he pleases, and the devil with the consequences. He always has. He doesn't care what anyone thinks of him or of what he does,"
Pausing, Jordan glanced meaningfully at the couple who'd paused to look at a shrubbery on the front lawn. Ian was listening to Elizabeth intently, an expression of tenderness on his rugged face. "The other night, however, he cared very much what people thought of your lovely friend. In fact, I don't like to think what he might have done had anyone actually dared to openly insult her in front of him. You're right when you aren't deceived by Ian's civilized veneer. Beneath that he's a Scot, and he has a temper to go with it. though he usually keeps it in check."
"I don't think you're reassuring me," Alex said shakily. "I should be. He's committed himself completely to her.
That commitment is so deep that he even reconciled with his grandfather and then appeared with him in public, which I know was because of Elizabeth."
"What on earth makes you think that?" "For one thing, when I saw Ian at the Blackmore he had no plans for the evening until he discovered what Elizabeth was going to do at the Willingtons. The next I knew, he was walking into that ball with his grandfather at his side. And that, my love, is what we call a show of strength."
She looked impressed by his powers of deduction, and Jordan grinned. "Don't admire me too much. I also asked him. So you see, you're worrying needlessly," he finished reassuringly. "Scots are a fiercely loyal lot, and Ian will protect her with his life."
"He certainly didn't protect her with his life two years ago, when she was ruined."
Sighing, Jordan looked out the window. "After the Willingtons' ball he told me a little of what happened that long-ago weekend. He didn't tell me much-Ian is a very private man-.but reading between the lines, I'm guessing that he fell like a rock for her and then got the idea she was playing games with him."
"Would that have been so terrible?" Alex asked, her full sympathy still with Elizabeth.
Jordan smiled ruefully at her. "There's one thing Scots are besides loyal."
"What is that?" "Unforgiving," he said flatly. "They expect the same loyalty as they give. Moreover, if you betray their loyalty, you're dead to them. Nothing you do or say will change their heart. That's why their feuds last from generation to generation."
"Barbaric," Alexandra said with a shiver of alarm. "Perhaps it is. But then let's not forget Ian is also half English, and we are very civilized." Leaning down, Jordan nipped her ear. "Except in bed."
Ian had run out of diversions and resigned himself to going indoors, but as they reached the front steps Elizabeth turned and stopped. In the voice of one confessing to an action she isn't certain was entirely wrong, she said, "This morning I hired an investigator to try to locate my brother, or at least find out what has happened to him. I tried to do it before, but as soon as they realized I had no money they wouldn't accept my promise to pay them later. I thought I would use part of your loan for Havenhurst to pay him."
It took a conscious effort for Ian to keep his face expressionless. "And?" he asked.
"The dowager duchess assured me that Mr. Wordsworth is extremely good. He's frightfully expensive; however, we were finally able to come to terms."
"The good ones are always expensive," Ian said, thinking of the 3,000 pounds retainer he'd paid to an investigator this morning for the same purpose. "How much did he charge you?" he asked, intending to add that amount to her allowance.
"Originally he wanted ? 1,000 whether he finds news of Robert or not. But I offered to pay him twice his fee if he's successful."
"And if he isn't?"
"Oh, in that case I didn't think it was fair that he receive anything." she said. "I persuaded him I was right."
Ian's shout of laughter was still ringing in the hall when they entered the drawing room to greet the Townsendes.
Ian had never enjoyed a dinner of state, or dinner a deux as much as he enjoyed the one that evening. Despite the scarcity of furnishings at Havenhurst, Elizabeth had turned the dining room and drawing room into an elegant bower of fresh-cut, artfully arranged flowers, and with the candles glowing in the candelabras, it was as beautiful a setting for dining as any he'd ever seen.