Standing on a grassy ledge near the center of the village, Elizabeth leaned back against the tree behind her, watching them. She swallowed past the permanent lump of anguish that had been lodged in her throat and chest for four weeks and turned her face in a different direction, looking across at the steep cliff that rose upward from the sparkling bay below. Gnarled trees clung to the rock, their bodies disfigured by their lifelong battle with the elements-twisted and ugly and strangely beautiful in their showy autumn garb of red and gold.

She closed her eyes to shut out the view; beauty reminded her of Ian. Ruggedness reminded her of Ian. Splendor reminded her of Ian. Twisted things reminded her of Ian Drawing in a long, shattered breath, she opened her eyes again. The roughened bark of the tree trunk bit into her back and shoulders, but she didn't move away; the pain proved to her that she was still living. Except for the pain, there was nothing. Emptiness. Emptiness and grief. And the sound of Ian's husky voice in her mind, whispering endearments when they made love. . . teasing her.

The sound of his voice. . . the sight of Robert's battered back.

"Where is he?" Jordan demanded of Ian's London butler, and when the servant replied he brushed past him, striding swiftly to the study. "I have news, Ian."

He waited while Ian finished dictating a brief memorandum, dismissed his secretary, and then finally gave him his attention. "God, I wish you'd stop this!" Jordan burst out.

"Stop what?" Ian asked, leaning back in his chair. Jordan stared at him in helpless anger, not certain why Ian's attitude so upset him. Ian's shirtsleeves were rolled up, he was freshly shaven, and, except for a dramatic loss of weight, he looked like a man who was in control of a reasonably satisfactory life. "I wish you'd stop acting as if-as if everything is normal!"

"What would you have me do?" he replied, getting up and walking over to the tray of liquor. He poured some Scotch took them and, grinning, hoisted the heavy burdens onto their own muscular shoulders.

"No, at the moment I'm glad you're not given to the masculine version of hysterics. I have news, as I said, and though you aren't going to find it pleasant from a personal viewpoint, it's the best possible news from the standpoint of your trial next week. Ian," he said uneasily, "our investigators-yours, I mean-have finally picked up Elizabeth's trail"

Ian's voice was cool, his expression unmoved. "Where is she?"

"We don't know yet, but we do know she was seen traveling in company of a man on the Denman Road two nights after she disappeared. They put up at an inn about fifteen miles north of Lister. They"-he hesitated and expelled his breath in a rush-"they were traveling as man and wife, Ian."

Other than the merest tightening of Ian's hand upon the glass of Scotch, there was no visible reaction to this staggering news, or to all its heartbreaking and unsavory implications. "There's more news, and it's as good-I mean as valuable-to us."

Ian tossed down the contents of his glass and said with icy finality, "I can't see how any news could be better. She has now proven that I didn't kill her, and at the same time she's given me irrefutable grounds for divorce."

Biting off an expression of sympathy he knew Ian would only reject, Jordan watched him return to his desk, then he continued determinedly, "A prosecutor might try to contend that her traveling companion was a kidnapper in your pay. The next piece of news could help persuade everyone at your trial that she had planned and prepared in advance to leave you."

Ian regarded him in dispassionate silence as Jordan explained. "She sold her jewels to a jeweler in Fletcher Street four days before she disappeared. The jeweler said he hadn't come forward sooner because Lady Kensington. whom he knew as Mrs. Roberts, had .seemed very frightened. He said he was reluctant to give her away if she'd run from you for some good reason."

"He was reluctant to-give away the profit on the stones in case they hadn't actually been hers to sell," Ian contradicted with calm cynicism. "Since the papers haven't reported them stolen or missing, he assumed he could safely come forward."

"Probably. But the point is that at least you won't be tried for that trumped-up charge of doing away with her. Of equal importance, since it's now obvious she ?disappeared' of her own will, things won't look so bad for you when they try you on the charges of having her brother. . ." He trailed off, unwilling to say the words.

Ian picked up his quill and a contract from the stack next to his elbow as Jordan finished, "The investigators failed to learn the jewels were missing because the staff at Havenhurst believed they were safely at your house, and your servants believed they were in London."

"I can see how it would have happened," Ian said without interest. "However, the odds are it won't carry any weight with the prosecution. They will insist I hired impostors to sell the jewels and travel together, and that argument will be believed. Now, do you want to proceed with that combined shipping venture we've been discussing, or would you rather forgo it?"

"Forgo it?" Jordan asked, completely unable to deal with Ian's ruthless lack of emotion.

"At the moment, my reputation for honesty and integrity has been destroyed. If your friends would rather withdraw from the venture, I'll understand."

"They've already withdrawn," Jordan admitted reluctantly. "I'm staying with you."

"It's just as well they have," Ian replied, reaching for the contracts and beginning to scratch out the names of the other parties. "n the end, there'll be greater profit for us both."

"Ian," Jordan said in a low, deliberate voice, "you are tempting me to take a swing at you, just to see if you'll wince when I hit you. I've taken about all I can of your indifference to everything that's happening." Ian glanced up from his documents, and Jordan saw it then-the muscle clamping in Ian's jaw, the merest automatic reaction to fury or torment, and he felt a mixture of relief and embarrassment. "I regret that remark more than I can say," he apologized quietly. "And if it's any consolation, I know firsthand how it feels to believe your wife has betrayed you."

"I don't need consolation," Ian clipped. "I need time." "To get over it," Jordan agreed.

"Time," Ian drawled coolly, "to go over these documents."

As Jordan walked down the hall toward the front door he wasn't certain if he'd only imagined that minuscule sign of emotion.

Elizabeth stood near the same tree where she came to stand and look out at the sea every day. A ship was expected to arrive any time now-one that was bound for Jamaica, Robert said. He was eager to be away from Britain, nervously eager, and who could blame him, she thought, walking slowly over to the edge of the ledge. It fell off sharply, dropping several hundred feet to the rocks and sand below.


Tags: Judith McNaught Sequels Billionaire Romance
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