It was the longest three weeks of his life. It was the shortest three weeks of hers.

Chapter 28

Nervous and happy, Elizabeth stood before the full-length mirror in her bedchamber on Promenade Street while Alexandra sat upon the bed" smiling at her and at four of the maids Ian had sent over to help her dress and do her packing. "Excuse me, milady," another maid said from the doorway, "Bentner said to tell you that Mr. Wordsworth is here and insists he must see you at once, even though we explained it is your wedding day."

"I'll be right down," Elizabeth said, already looking around for a dressing robe that would be acceptable apparel for greeting a male caller.

"Who is Wordsworth?" Alex asked, frowning a little at the idea of Elizabeth being interrupted in her bridal preparations.

"The investigator I hired to try to discover what has happened to Robert."

Wordsworth was prowling anxiously across the carpet, his hat in his hand, when Elizabeth stepped into the little salon. "I'm sorry to disturb you on your wedding day," he began, "but in truth, that is the very reason for my urgency. I think you ought to close the door," he added.

Elizabeth reached out a hand that was suddenly shaking and closed the door.

"Lady Cameron." he said in a worried voice, "I have reason to think your future husband could be involved in your brother's disappearance."

Elizabeth sank down on the sofa. "That is-is preposterous. " she stated shakily. "Why would you say such a thing?"

He turned from the window and faced her. "Are you aware that Ian Thornton dueled with your brother only a week before Robert disappeared?"

"Oh, that!" Elizabeth said with relief. "Yes, I am. But no real harm was done."

"On the contrary, Thornton-er?Kensington-took a ball in the arm."

"Yes, I know."

"Did you also know your brother fired before the call to fire was given?"

"Yes. "

"For now, it is important that you consider the mood that must have put Kensington in. He was caused pain by a dishonest act on your brother's part, and that in itself could be reason for him to seek retribution."

"Mr. Wordsworth," Elizabeth said with a faint smile, "if Ian-Lord Kensington-had wanted some sort of violent retribution, which I think is what you're implying. he'd have gotten it on that dueling field. He is an extraordinary marksman. He didn't, however," she continued, carried away with her loyal defense of Ian, "because he does not believe in dueling to the death over personal disagreements'"

"Really," said Wordsworth with unhidden sarcasm. "Really," Elizabeth averred implacably. "Lord Thornton

told me that himself, and I have reason to know it's true," she added, thinking of the way he'd declined Lord Everly's challenge when Everly called Ian a card cheat.

"And I have reason to know," Wordsworth said with equal implacability, ?"that the Scotsman you're marrying" -he loaded the word with all the scathing scorn many English felt for their "inferior" counterparts-"hasn't a qualm about taking a man's life in a duel."

"I don't-"

"He's killed at least five that I know of for certain."

Elizabeth swallowed. "I'm certain he had-had just cause, and that-that the duel was fair."

"If that is what you wish to believe. . . however, there is more."

Elizabeth felt her palms grow moist. Half of her wanted to get up and leave. and the other half was paralyzed. "What do you mean?"

"Let us remember, if you please, what we already know. Thornton was wounded and undoubtedly-even justifiably -furious at your brother's jumping the call to fire."

"I know that. . . at least, I'm willing to accept it. It makes sense."

"And did you also know, my lady, that three days after your brother's unsuccessful attempt to kill Thornton in a duel your brother tried again-this time on Marblemarle Road?"

Elizabeth slowly stood up. "You're wrong! How could you know such a thing? Why would Robert suddenly decide to . . ." Her voice trailed off. Three days after their duel Viscount Mondevale had withdrawn his offer, and with it all hope of financial reprieve for Robert and herself, and her brother had vanished.

"I know it because with the information you gave me I have been systematically re-creating every move your brother made during the week of his disappearance. It is standard procedure to go backward in time in order to pick up the threads that lead us forward through the mystery. Three days after his duel your brother spent the afternoon in the Knightbridge Club, where he became foxed and began talking about wanting to kill Thornton. He borrowed a carriage from an acquaintance and said he was going looking for his prey. I was able to ascertain that his ?prey' was in London that day, and that he left in the late afternoon for Derbyshire, which would have meant he took Marblemarle Road. Since he would have had to change horses somewhere on the road, we began checking with the posting houses to discover if anyone meeting Thornton's or your brother's description could be recalled. We had luck at the Black Boar; the posting boy there remembered Thornton well because he gave him half a crown. What he also remembered. very fully, was a hole near the window of Thornton's coach and his conversation with Thornton's coachman, who was shaken up enough to talk about how the hole came to be there. It seems there had been an altercation a few miles back in which a man bearing Robert's description-a man Thornton told him was Robert Cameron-had ridden out on the road and tried to shoot Thornton through the window.

"Two days later your brother spoke of what he had done to cronies of his at the Knightbridge. He claimed that Thornton had ruined you and him, and that he would die before Thornton got away with it. According to one of Thornton's grooms, that very night your brother again rode out of the darkness and accosted Thornton on the road to London. This time, your brother shot him in the shoulder. Thornton managed to subdue him with his fists, but your brother fled on horseback. Since Thornton couldn't pursue him through the woods in his coach, your brother made good his escape. The next day, however, after leaving his club, your brother abruptly disappeared. He left everything behind in his rooms, you said. His clothes, his personal effects, everything. What does all this say to you, Lady Cameron?" he asked abruptly.

Elizabeth swallowed again, refusing to let herself think beyond what she knew. "It says that Robert was obsessed with avenging me, and that his methods were-were not exactly-well, aboveboard."

Tags: Judith McNaught Sequels Billionaire Romance