Fifteen minutes after the duchess's coachman pulled the horses to a teeth-jarring stop in front of Westminster, Lord Kyleton came bounding up to their coach with Ramsey " trotting doggedly at his heels. "What on earth-" he began. .
"Help us down," the dowager said. "I'll tell you what I can on the way inside. But first tell me how it's going in there."
"Not well. Badly-very badly for Kensington. The head prosecutor is in rare form. So far he's managed to present a convincing argument that even though Lady Thornton is rumored to be alive, there's no real proof that she is."
He turned to help Elizabeth, whom he'd never met, down from the coach while continuing to summarize the prosecutors' tactics to the duchess: "As an explanation for the rumors that Lady Thornton was seen at an inn and a posting house with an unknown man, the prosecutors are implying that Kensington hired a young couple to impersonate her and an alleged lover-an implication that sounds very plausible, since it was a long time before she was supposedly traced, and an equally long time before the jeweler came forward to give his statement. Lastly," he finished as they rushed past the vaulted entryway, "the prosecutors have also managed to make it sound very logical that if she is still alive, she is obviously in fear for her life, or she would have shown herself by now. It follows, according to them, that Lady Thornton must know firsthand what a ruthless monster her husband is. And if he is a ruthless monster, then it follows that he'd be fully capable of having her brother killed. The brother's disappearance is the crime they believe they have enough evidence on to send him to the gallows."
"Well, the first part of that is no longer a worry. Have you stopped the trial?" the duchess said.
"Stopped the trial," he expostulated. "My dear duchess, it would take the prince or God to stop this trial."
"They will have to settle for Lady Thornton," the dowager snapped.
Lord Kyleton swung around, his gaze riveting on Elizabeth, and his expression went from shock to relief to biting contempt. He withdrew his gaze and quickly turned, his hand reaching for a heavy door beside which sentries stood at attention. "Stay here. I'll get a note to Kensington's barrister that he is to meet us out here. Don't speak to a soul or reveal this woman's identity until Peterson Delham comes out here. I suspect he'll want to spring this as a surprise at the right moment. "
Elizabeth stood stock still, braced against the pain of his blistering look, aware of its cause. In the eyes of everyone who'd followed the stories in the newspapers. Elizabeth was either dead or an adulteress who'd deserted her husband for an unidentified lover. Since she was here in the flesh and not dead, Lord Kyleton obviously believed the latter. And Elizabeth knew that every man in the cavernous chamber on the other side of that door-including her husband-was going to think exactly the same thing of her until she proved them wrong.
The duchess had hardly spoken at all in the coach during their ride here; she'd listened closely to Elizabeth's explanation, but she obviously wanted it proven in that chamber before she accepted it herself. That withholding of faith by the dowager, who'd believed in Elizabeth when scarcely anyone else had, hurt Elizabeth far more than Lord Kyleton's condemning glance.
A few minutes later Lord Kyleton returned to the hallway. "Peterson Delham was handed my note a moment ago. We'll see what happens next."
"Did you tell him Lady Thornton is here?" "No, your grace," he said with strained patience. "In a trial, timing can mean everything. Delham must decide what he wants to do and when he wants to do it."
Elizabeth felt like screaming with frustration at this new delay. Ian was on the other side of those doors, and she wanted to burst past them and let him see her so badly that it took a physical effort to stand rigidly still. She told herself that in a few minutes he would see her and hear what she had to say. Just a few more minutes before she could explain to him that it was Robert she'd been traveling with, not a lover. Once he understood that, he would surely forgive her-eventually-for the rest of the pain she'd caused him. Elizabeth didn't care what the hundreds of lords in that chamber thought of her; she could endure their censure for as long as she lived, so long as Ian forgave her.
After what seemed like a lifetime, not a quarter-hour, the doors opened, and Peterson Delham, Ian's barrister, strode into the hall. "What in God's name do you want, Kyleton? I've got all I can do to keep this trial from becoming a massacre, and you drag me out here in the middle of the most damning testimony yet!"
Lord Kyleton looked uneasily at the few men strolling about the hall, then he cupped his hand near Peterson Delham's ear and spoke rapidly. Delham's gaze froze on Elizabeth's face at the same instant his hand locked on Elizabeth's arm, and he marched her forcibly across the hall toward a closed door. "We'll talk in there," he said tersely.
The room into which he hauled her contained a desk and six straight-back chairs; Delham went straight to the desk and flung himself into the chair behind it. Steepling his fingers. he gazed at Elizabeth over the tops of them, scrutinizing her every feature with eyes like blue daggers, and when he spoke his voice was like a blast of ice: "Lady Thornton, how very good of you to find the time to pay us a social call! Would it be too pushing of me to inquire as to your whereabouts during the last six weeks?"
At that moment Elizabeth's only thought was that if Ian's barrister felt this way about her, how much more hatred she would face when she confronted Ian himself. "I-I can imagine what you must be thinking. " she began in a conciliatory manner.
He interrupted sarcastically, "Oh, I don't think you can. madam. If you could, you'd be quite horrified at this moment."
"I can explain everything," Elizabeth burst out. "Really?" he drawled blightingly. "A pity you didn't try do that six weeks ago!"
"I'm here to do it now," Elizabeth cried, clinging to a slender thread of control.
"Begin at your leisure," he drawled sarcastically. "There are only three hundred people across the hall awaiting your convenience."
Panic and frustration made Elizabeth's voice shake and her temper explode. "Now see here, sir, I have not traveled day and night so that I can stand here while you waste time insulting me! I came here the instant I read a paper and realized my husband is in trouble. I've come to prove I'm alive and unharmed, and that my brother is also alive!"
Instead of looking pleased or relieved he looked more snide than before. "Do tell, madam. I am on tenterhooks to hear the whole of it."