Snatching at the excuse he'd offered, she nodded hastily. "Yes. I haven't been feeling well."

"Is that why you went to London? To see a physician?" She nodded a little wildly, and to her bewildered horror he started to smile-that lazy, tender smile that always made her senses leap. "Are you with child, darling? Is that why you're acting so strangely?" Elizabeth was silent, trying to debate the wisdom of saying yes or no-she should say no, she realized. He'd hunt her to the ends of the earth if he believed she was carrying his babe.

"No! He-the doctor said it is just-just-nerves." "You've been working and playing too hard," Ian said, looking like the picture of a worried, devoted husband. "You need more rest."

Elizabeth couldn't bear any more of this-not his feigned tenderness or his concern or the memory of Robert's battered back. "I'm going to sleep now," she said in a strangled voice. "Alone." she added, and his face whitened as if she had slapped him.

During his entire adult life Ian had relied almost as much on his intuition as on his intellect, and at that moment he didn't want to believe in the explanation they were both offering. His wife did not want him in her bed; she recoiled from his touch; she had been away for two consecutive nights; and-more alarming than any of that-guilt and fear were written allover her pale face.

"Do you know what a man thinks," he said in a calm voice that belied the pain streaking through him, "when his wife stays away at night and doesn't want him in her bed when she does return?"

Elizabeth shook her head.

"He thinks," Ian said dispassionately, "that perhaps someone else has been taking his place in it."

Fury sent bright flags of color to her pale cheeks.

"You're blushing, my dear," he said in an awful voice.

"I am furious!" she countered, momentarily forgetting that she was confronting a madman.

His stunned look was replaced almost instantly by an expression of relief and then bafflement. "I apologize, Elizabeth. "

"Would you p-please get out of here!" Elizabeth burst out in a final explosion of strength. "Just go away and let me rest. I told you I was tired. And I don't see what right you have to be so upset! We had a bargain before we married-I was to be allowed to live my life without interference, and quizzing me like this is interference!" Her voice broke, and after another narrowed look he strode out of the room.

Numb with relief and pain, Elizabeth crawled back into bed and pulled the covers up under her chin, but not even their luxurious warmth could still the alternating chills and fever that quaked through her. Several minutes later a shadow crossed her bed, and she almost screamed with terror before she realized it was Ian, who had entered silently through the connecting door of their suite.

Since she'd gasped aloud when she saw him, it was useless to pretend she was sleeping. In silent dread she watched him walking toward her bed. Wordlessly he sat down beside her, and she realized there was a glass in his hand. He put it on the bedside table, then he reached behind her to prop up her pillows, leaving Elizabeth no choice but to sit up and lean back against them. "Drink this," he instructed in a calm tone.

"What is it?" she asked suspiciously. "It's brandy. It will help you sleep."

He watched while she sipped it, and when he spoke again there was a tender smile in his voice. "Since we've ruled out another man as the explanation for all this, I can only assume something has gone wrong at Havenhurst. Is that it?"

Elizabeth seized on that excuse as if it were manna from heaven. "Yes," she whispered, nodding vigorously.

Leaning down, he pressed a kiss on her forehead and said teasingly, "Let me guess-you discovered the mill overcharged you?" Elizabeth thought she would die of the sweet torment when he continued tenderly teasing her about being thrifty. "Not the mill? Then it was the baker, and he refused to give you a better price for buying two loaves instead of one."

Tears swelled behind her eyes, treacherously close to the surface, and Ian saw them. "That bad?" be joked, looking at the suspicious sheen in her eyes. "Then it must be that you've overspent your allowance." When she didn't respond to his light probing, Ian smiled reassuringly and said, "Whatever it is, we'll work it out together tomorrow."

It sounded as though he planned to stay, and that shook Elizabeth out of her mute misery enough to say chokingly, "No-it's the-the masons. They're costing much more than I-I expected. I've spent part of my personal allowance on them besides the loan you made me for Havenhurst." "Oh, so it's the masons," he grinned, chuckling. "You have to keep your eye on them, to be sure. They'll put you in the poorhouse if you don't keep an eye on the mortar they'll charge you for. I'll have a talk with them in the morning."

"No!" she burst out, fabricating wildly. "That's just what has me so upset. I didn't want you to have to intercede. I wanted to do it all myself. I have it all settled now, but it's been exhausting. And so I went to the doctor to see why I felt tired. He-he said there's nothing in the world wrong with me. I'll come home to Montmayne the day after tomorrow. Don't wait here for me. I know how busy you are right now.

"Please," she implored desperately, "let me do this, I beg you!" Ian straightened and shook his head in baffled disbelief. "I'd give you my life for the price of your smile, Elizabeth."

"You don't have to beg me for anything. I do not want you spending your personal allowance on this place, however. If you do," he lied teasingly, "I may be forced to cut it off." Then, more seriously, he said, "If you need more money for Havenhurst, just tell me, but your allowance is to be spent exclusively on yourself. Finish your brandy," he ordered gently, and when she had, he pressed another kiss on her forehead. "Stay here as long as you must. I have business in Devon that I've been putting off because I didn't want to leave you. I'll go there and return to London on Tuesday. Would you like to join me there instead of at Montmayne?"

Elizabeth nodded.

"There's just one thing more," he finished, studying her pale face and strained features. "Will you give me your word the doctor didn't find anything at all to be alarmed about?"

"Yes," Elizabeth said. "I give you my word."

She watched him walk back into his own bed chamber. The moment his door clicked into its latch Elizabeth turned over and buried her face in the pillows. She wept until she thought there couldn't possibly be any more tears left in her, and then she wept harder.

Tags: Judith McNaught Sequels Billionaire Romance