Elizabeth glanced up as Ian handed her a glass of champagne. "Thank you," she said, smiling up at him and gesturing to Duncan, the duke, and Jake, who were now convulsed with loud hilarity. "They certainly seem to be enjoying themselves," she remarked. Ian absently glanced at the group of laughing men, then back at her. "you're breathtaking when you smile."
Elizabeth heard the huskiness in his voice and saw the almost slumberous look in his eyes, and she was wondering about its cause when he said softly, "Shall we retire?"
That suggestion caused Elizabeth to assume his expression must be due to weariness. She, herself, was more than ready to seek the peace of her own chamber, but since she'd never been to a wedding reception before, she assumed that the protocol must be the same as at any other gala affair which meant the host and hostess could not withdraw until the last of the guests had either left or retired. Tonight, every one of the guest chambers would be in use, and tomorrow a large wedding breakfast was planned, followed by a hunt. "I'm not sleepy-just a little fatigued from so much smiling," she told him, pausing to bestow another smile on a guest who caught her eye and waved. Turning her face up to Ian, she offered graciously, "It's been a long day. If you wish to retire, I'm sure everyone will understand."
"I'm sure they will," he said dryly, and Elizabeth noted with puzzlement that his eyes were suddenly gleaming.
"I'll stay down here and stand in for you," she volunteered.
The gleam in his eyes brightened yet more. "You don't think that my retiring alone will look a little odd?"
Elizabeth knew it might seem impolite, if not precisely odd, but then inspiration struck, and she said reassuringly, "Leave everything to me. I'll make your excuses if anyone asks."
His lips twitched. "Just out of curiosity-what excuse will you make for me?"
"I'll say you're not feeling well. It can't be anything too dire though, or we'll be caught out in the fib when you appear looking fit for breakfast and the hunt in the morning." She hesitated, thinking, and then said decisively, "I'll say you have the headache."
His eyes widened with laughter. "It's kind of you to volunteer to dissemble for me, my lady, but that particular untruth would have me on the dueling field for the next month, trying to defend against the aspersions it would cause to be cast upon my . . . ah . . . manly character."
"Why? Don't gentlemen get headaches?"
"Not," he said with a roguish grin, "on their wedding night."
"I can't see why." "Can you not?"
"No. And," she added with an irate whisper, "I don't see why everyone is staying down here this late. I've never been to a wedding reception, but it does seem as if they ought to be beginning to seek their beds."
"Elizabeth," he said, trying not to laugh. "At a wedding reception, the guests cannot leave until the bride and groom retire. If you look over there, you'll notice my great-aunts are already nodding in their chairs."
"Oh!" she exclaimed, instantly contrite. "I didn't know. Why didn't you tell me earlier?"
"Because," he said, taking her elbow and beginning to guide her from the ballroom, "I wanted you to enjoy every minute of our ball, even if we had to prop the guests up on the shrubbery."
"Speaking of shrubbery," she teased, pausing on the balcony to cast a last fond look at the "arbor" of potted trees with silk blossoms that occupied one-fourth the length of the entire ballroom, "everyone is talking about having gardens and arbors as themes for future balls. I think you've started a new ?rage'."
"You should have seen your face," he teased, drawing her away, "when you recognized what I had done."
"We are probably the only couple," she returned, her face
turned up to his in laughing conspiracy, "ever to lead off a ball by dancing a waltz on the sidelines." When the orchestra had struck up the opening waltz, Ian had led her into the mock "arbor," and they had started the ball from there.
"Did you mind?"
"You know I didn't. " she returned, walking beside him up the curving staircase.
He stopped outside her bed chamber, opened the door for her, and started to pull her into his arms, then checked himself as a pair of servants came marching down the hall bearing armloads of linens. "There's time for this later," he
whispered. "All the time we want."
Oblivious to Berta's pinched face as the maid brushed her heavy hair, Elizabeth sat at her dressing table clad in a lacy cream silk nightdress that Madame la Salle had insisted would be extremely pleasing to the marquess on his wedding night.
At the moment, however, Elizabeth wasn't worried about the way her breasts were revealed by the deep V of the bodice or the way her left leg was exposed to the knee by the seductive slash in the gown. For one thing, she knew the bedclothes would hide her; for another, now that she had solitude for the first time since this morning, she was finding it much harder to ignore the tormenting things Mr. Wordsworth had said.
Trying desperately to think of other things. Elizabeth shifted impatiently in her chair and concentrated on her wedding night instead. Staring at her hands folded in her lap, she bent her head to give Berta better access to her long tresses, her mind going over Lucinda's explanation about how babies were conceived. Since Ian had been very emphatic about wanting children, there was every chance he might wish to start tonight; if so, according to Lucinda, they would evidently share a bed.
She frowned as she reconsidered Lucinda's explanation; it did not, in Elizabeth's opinion make a great deal of sense.
She was not ignorant of the way other species on earth created their young; on the other hand, she realized that people could not possibly behave in such an appalling fashion. But still, a kiss in bed from a spouse? If that were so, why had she heard occasional scandalous gossip about a certain married lady in the ton whose baby was purportedly not her husband's? Obviously there was more than one way to make a baby, or else Lucinda's information was incorrect.
That brought her to the matter of sleeping accommodations. Her suite adjoined his, and she had no idea whether, if he did wish to share a bed with her, it would be this one or his. As if in answer to her unspoken questions, the door that connected this chamber with Ian's opened, and Berta jumped in fright; then she glowered at Ian, whom she, like several of Elizabeth's servants, continued to fear and blame,
and went scurrying out. closing the door behind her. Elizabeth, however, felt only a swift surge of admiration, and she smiled a little as he walked toward her with those long, easy strides that always looked both certain and relaxed Still clad in the formal black trousers he'd worn, he'd removed his coat, waistcoat, and neckcloth, and his white frilled shirt was open at the neck, revealing the strong, tanned column of his throat. He looked, she thought, as ruggedly virile and elegant in shirtsleeves as in formal attire. In the midst of that, Wordsworth's accusations slid insidiously through her mind, and Elizabeth thrust them away.