She rounded in angry stupefaction on the grinning assistant, who was listening attentively to the captain's testimony. "Why on earth didn't you say in the papers what had happened to my brother? Obviously my husband and Mr. Delham knew it. And you must have known you could provide the captain and crew to prove it."

Reluctantly, the assistant tore his gaze from the bench and said softly, "It was your husband's idea to wait until the trial was under way before springing his defense on them."

"But why?"

"Because our illustrious prosecutor and his staff showed no sign of dropping the case no matter what we claimed. They believed their evidence was enough for a conviction, and if we'd told them about the Arianna, they'd have kept stalling for time to look for more evidence to disprove Captain Granthome's potential testimony. Moreover, the Arianna and his crew were on a voyage, and we weren't completely certain we could locate them and get them back here in time to testify. Now our frustrated Lord Prosecutor has nothing readily at hand to use as rebuttal, because he didn't anticipate this. And if your brother is never seen again, there's still no point in his digging about for more circumstantial, incriminating evidence, because even if he found it-which he won't-your husband cannot be tried twice for the same crime."

Now Elizabeth understood why Ian had looked bored and disinterested, even though she still couldn't comprehend why he'd never softened when she'd explained it was Robert she was with, not a lover, and offered the proof of Mrs. Hogan's letter and even the promise of her testimony.

"Your husband orchestrated the entire maneuver," the assistant said, looking admiringly at Ian, who was being addressed by the Lord Chancellor. "Planned his own defense. Brilliant man, your husband. Oh, and by the by, Mr. Delham said to tell you that you were splendid up there."

From that point on, the rest of the proceedings seemed to move with the swiftness of a necessary, but meaningless ritual. Obviously realizing that he hadn't a chance of discrediting the testimony of the Arianna's entire crew Lord Sutherland put only a few perfunctory questions to Captain Granthome, and then allowed him to be dismissed. After that, there remained only the closing statements of both barristers, and then the Lord Chancellor called for a vote.

In renewed tension, Elizabeth listened and watched as the Lord High Steward called out the name of each lord. One after another, each peer arose, placed his right hand upon his breast, and declared either "Not guilty upon my honor," or "Guilty upon my honor." The final vote was 324 to 14, in favor of acquittal. The dissenters, Peterson Delham's assistant whispered to Elizabeth were men who were either biased against Ian for personal reasons, or else they doubted the reliability of her testimony and Captain Granthome's.

Elizabeth scarcely heard that. All she cared about was that the majority were for acquittal, and that the Lord Chancellor had finally turned to pronounce judgment and was speaking.

"Lord Thornton," the Lord Chancellor was saying to Ian as Ian slowly rose, "it is the finding of this commission that you are innocent of all charges against you. You are free to leave." He paused as if debating something, then said, in what struck Elizabeth as a discordant note of humor, "I would like to suggest informally that if it is your intention to abide under the same roof as your wife tonight, you seriously reconsider that notion. In your place I would be sorely tempted to commit the act that you have already been accused of committing. Although," he added as laughter began to rumble through the galleries, "I feel certain you could count on an acquittal here on grounds of justifiable cause."

Elizabeth closed her eyes against the shame that she hadn't let herself feel over her testimony. She told herself that it was better to be mistaken for an absurd henwit than a scheming adulteress, but when she opened them again and saw Ian striding up the aisle, away from her, she no longer cared one way or another.

"Come, Elizabeth," the dowager said, gently putting her hand on Elizabeth's arm. "I've no doubt the press will be out there. The sooner we leave, the better our chance to evade them."

That proved to be pure whimsy, Elizabeth saw as soon as they emerged into the sunlight. The press, and a mob of spectators who'd come to hear firsthand news of the day's trial, had gathered in front of Ian's path. Instead of trying to dash around them Ian shouldered his way through them, his jaw clenched. Drowning in agony, Elizabeth watched as they called epithets and accusations at him. "Oh, my God," she said, "look what I've done to him."

The moment Ian's coach thundered away, the crowd turned, looking for new prey as the lords began emerging from the building.

"It's her!" a man from the Gazette who wrote about the doings of the ton shouted, pointing toward Elizabeth, and suddenly the press and the mob of spectators were descending on her in terrifying numbers. "Quick, Lady Thornton," an unfamiliar young man said urgently, dragging her back into the building, "follow me. There's another way out around the corner."

Elizabeth obeyed automatically, clutching the duchess's arm as they plowed back through the lords who were heading for the doors. "Which coach is yours?" he asked, looking from one to the other.

The duchess described her vehicle, and he nodded. "Stay here. Don't go out there. I'll have your coachman drive around this side to fetch you."

Ten minutes later the duchess's coach had made its way to the side, and they were inside its safety. Elizabeth leaned out the door. "Thank you," she told the young man, waiting for him to give his name.

He tipped his hat. "Thomas Tyson, Lady Thornton, from the Times. No, don't look panicked," he said reassuringly. "I haven't any notion of trying to barge in there with you now. Accosting ladies in coaches is not at all my style." For emphasis he closed the door of the coach.

"In that case," Elizabeth told him through the open window with her best attempt at a grateful smile, "I'm afraid you're not going to do very well as a journalist."

"Perhaps you'd consent to talk to me another time-in private?"

"Perhaps," Elizabeth said vaguely as their coachman sent the horses off at a slow trot, wending their way around the vehicles already crowding into the busy street.

Closing her eyes, Elizabeth leaned her head wearily against the squabs. The image of Ian being chased by a mob and called "Murderer!" and "Wife killer!" dug viciously into Elizabeth's battered senses. In an aching whisper she asked the duchess, "How long have they been doing that to him? Mobbing him and cursing him?"


Tags: Judith McNaught Sequels Billionaire Romance
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