Only once did he have a bad moment, and that was when Elizabeth entered the dining room carrying a tray of food. and he thought she'd cooked the meal. A moment later a footman walked in bearing another tray, and Ian inwardly sighed with relief. "This is Winston, our footman and cook," she told Ian, guessing his thoughts. Straight-faced, she added, "Winston taught me everything I know about cooking." Ian's emotions veered from horror to hilarity, and the footman saw it.

"Miss Elizabeth," the footman pointedly informed Ian, "does not know how to cook. She has always been much too busy to learn."

Ian endured that reprimand without retort because he was thoroughly enjoying Elizabeth's relaxed mood. and because she had actually been teasing him. As the huffy footman departed, however, Ian glanced at Jordan and saw his narrowed gaze on the man's back, then he looked at Elizabeth, who was obviously embarrassed.

"They think they're acting out of loyalty to me," she explained. "They-well, they recognize your name from before. I'll speak to them."

"I'd appreciate that, " Ian said with amused irritation. To Jordan he added, "Elizabeth's butler always tries to send me packing. "

"Can he hear?" Jordan asked unsympathetically.

"Hear?" Ian repeated. "Of course he can." "Then count yourself lucky," Jordan replied irritably, and the girls dissolved into gales of laughter.

"The Townsendes' butler, Penrose, is quite deaf, you see," Elizabeth explained.

Dinner progressed among bursts of merriment and revelations about both Alexandra and Elizabeth that amazed Ian, including the fact that Alexandra was evidently as handy with a rapier as Elizabeth was with a pistol. So entertaining was Elizabeth that Ian found himself ignoring his very satisfactory meal and simply lounging back in his chair, watching her with a mixture of amusement and pride. She sparkled like the wine in their crystal glasses, glowed like the candles in the centerpiece, and when she laughed, music floated through the room. With the instincts of a natural hostess she drew everyone into each topic of conversation, until even Jordan and Ian were participating in the raillery. But best of all, she was at ease in Ian's presence. Artless and elegant and sweet, she turned to him and teased him, or smiled at something he said, or listened attentively to an opinion. She wasn't ready to trust him yet, but she wasn't that far away from it, he sensed.

After dinner the ladies adhered to custom and adjourned to the drawing room, leaving the gentlemen to enjoy their port and cigars at the table.

"Ian was lighting a cigar the first moment I saw him," Elizabeth confided to Alex when they were comfortably seated in the drawing room. Glancing up, she saw the worried frown on Alexandra's face, and after a moment she quietly said, "You don't like him, do you?"

Alex's gaze flew to hers while the faint disappointment in. Elizabeth's voice registered on her. "I-I don't like the things he's done to you," she admitted.

Tipping her head back, Elizabeth closed her eyes, trying' to know what to say, what to think. A long time ago Ian had told her he was half in love with her, yet now that they were betrothed he'd never spoken a word of it. had not even

pretended. She wasn't certain of his motives or his feelings;

she wasn't certain of her own, either. All she really knew was that the sight of his hard, handsome face with its chiseled features, and bold amber eyes never failed to make her entire being feel tense and alive. She knew he liked to kiss her, and that she very much liked being kissed by him. Added to his other attractions was something else that drew her inexorably to him. From their very first meeting, Elizabeth had sensed that beneath his bland sophistication and rugged virility Ian Thornton had a depth that most people lacked. "It's so hard to know," she whispered, "how I ought to feel or what I ought to think. And I have the worst feeling it's not going to matter what I know or what I think, " she3dded almost sadly, "because I am going to love him." She opened her eyes and looked at Alex. "It's happening, and I cannot stop it. It was happening two years ago, and I couldn't stop it then, either. So you see," she added with a sad little smile, "it would be so much nicer for me if you could love him just a little, too."

Alex reached across the table and took Elizabeth's hands in hers. "If you love him, then he must be the very best of men. I shall henceforth make it a point to see all his best qualities!" Alex hesitated, and then she hazarded the question: "Elizabeth, does he love you?"

Elizabeth shook her head. "He wants me, he says, and he wants children."

Alex swallowed embarrassed laughter. "He what?" "He wants me, and he wants children."

A funny, knowing smile tugged at Alexandra's lips. "You didn't tell me he said the first part. I am much encouraged," she teased while a rosy blush stole over her cheeks.

"I think I am, too," Elizabeth admitted, drawing a swift, searching look from Alex.

"Elizabeth, this is scarcely the time to discuss this-in fact," Alex added, her flush deepening. "I don't think there is a really good time to discuss it-but has Lucinda explained to you how children are conceived?"

"Yes, of course," Elizabeth said without hesitation. "Good, because I would have been the logical one otherwise, and I still remember my reaction when I found out. It was not a pretty sight, " she laughed. "On the other hand, you were always much the wiser girl than I."

"I don't think so at all," Elizabeth said, but she couldn't imagine what there was, really, to blush about. Children, Lucinda had told her when she'd asked. were conceived when a husband kissed his wife in bed. And it hurt the first time. Ian's kisses were sometimes almost bruising, but they never actually hurt, and she enjoyed them terribly

As if speaking her feelings aloud to Alexandra had somehow relieved her of the burden of trying to deal with them, Elizabeth was so joyously relaxed that she suspected Ian noticed it at once when the men joined them in the drawing room.

Ian did notice it; in fact, as they sat down to playa game of cards in accordance with Elizabeth's cheery suggestion, he noticed there was a subtle but distinct softening in the attitudes of both ladies toward him.

"Will you shuffle and deal?" Elizabeth asked. He nodded, and she handed the deck of cards to him, then watched in rapt fascination as the cards seemed to leap to life in Ian's hands, flying together with a whoosh and snap, then sliding out in neat little piles that flew together again beneath his fingers. "What would you like to play?" he asked her.

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