"Over a month." Elizabeth drew a shattered breath, her voice filled with tears. "Do you have any idea how proud Ian is?" she whispered brokenly. "He is so proud. . . and I made an accused murderer out of him. Tomorrow he'll be a public joke."
The dowager hesitated and then said brusquely, "He is a strong man who has never cared for anyone's opinion except perhaps yours and Jordan's and a very few other's. In any case, I daresay you, not Kensington, will look the fool in tomorrow's papers."
"Will you take me to the house?" "The one on Promenade?"
Elizabeth was momentarily shocked out of her misery. "No, of course not. Our house on Upper Brook Street."
"I do not think," the duchess said sternly, "that is a wise idea. You heard what the Lord Chancellor said."
Elizabeth disagreed, with only a tremor of doubt. "I would much rather face Ian now than dread doing it for an entire night."
The dowager, obviously determined to give Ian time to get his temper under control, remembered a pressing need to stop at the home of an ailing friend, and then at another. By the time they finally arrived in Upper Brook Street it was nearly dark, and Elizabeth was quaking with nerves-and that was before their own butler looked at her as if she were beneath contempt. Obviously Ian had returned, and the servants' grapevine already had the news of Elizabeth's testimony in the House of Lords. "Where is my husband, Dolton?" she asked him.
"In his study," Dolton said, stepping back from the door.
Elizabeth's gaze riveted on the trunks already standing in the hall and the servants carrying more of them downstairs. Her heart hammering wildly, she walked swiftly down the hall and into Ian's study, coming to a halt a few feet inside, pausing to gather her wits before he turned and saw her. He was holding a drink in his hand, staring down into the fireplace. He'd removed his jacket and rolled up his shirtsleeves, and Elizabeth saw with a fresh pang of remorse that he was even thinner than he'd seemed in the House. She tried to think how to begin, and because she was so overwhelmed with emotions and explanations she tackled the least important-but most immediate-problem first, the trunks in the hall. "Are-are you leaving?"
She saw his shoulders stiffen at the sound of her voice, and when he turned and looked at her, she could almost feel the effort he was exerting to keep his rage under control. "You're leaving," he bit out.
In silent, helpless protest Elizabeth shook her head and started slowly across the carpet, dimly aware that this was worse, much worse than merely standing up in front of several hundred lords in the House.
"I wouldn't do that, if I were you," he warned softly. "Do-do what?" Elizabeth said shakily.
"Get any nearer to me." She stopped cold, her mind registering the physical threat in his voice, refusing to believe it, her gaze searching his granite features.
"Ian," she began, stretching her hand out in a gesture of mute appeal, then letting it fall to her side when her beseeching move got nothing from him but a blast of contempt from his eyes. "I realize," she began again, her voice trembling with emotion while she tried to think how to begin to diffuse his wrath, "that you must despise me for what I've done." "You're right." "But," Elizabeth continued bravely, "I am prepared to do anything, anything to try to atone for it. No matter how it must seem to you now, I never stopped loving-"
His voice cracked like a whiplash. "Shut up!" "No, you have to listen to me," she said, speaking more quickly now, driven by panic and an awful sense of foreboding that nothing she could do or say would ever make him soften. "I never stopped loving you, even when I-"
"I'm warning you, Elizabeth," he said in a murderous voice, "shut up and get out! Get out of my house and out of my life!" ,
"Is-is it Robert? I mean, do you not believe Robert was the man I was with?"
"I don't give a damn who the son of a bitch was." Elizabeth began to quake in genuine terror, because he
meant that-she could see that he did. "It was Robert, exactly as I said," she continued haltingly. "I can prove it to you beyond any doubt, if you'll let me."
He laughed at that, a short, strangled laugh that was more deadly and final than his anger had been. "Elizabeth, I wouldn't believe you if I'd seen you with him. Am I making myself clear? You are a consummate liar and a magnificent actress."
"If you're saying that be-because of the foolish things I said in the witness box, you s-surely must know why I did it."
His contemptuous gaze raked her. "Of course I know why you did it! It was a means to an end-the same reason you've had for everything you do. You'd sleep with a snake if it gave you a means to an end."
"Why are you saying this?" she cried.
"Because on the same day your investigator told you I was responsible for your brother's disappearance, you stood beside me in a goddamned church and vowed to love me unto death! You were willing to marry a man you believed could be a murderer, to sleep with a murderer."
"You don't believe that! I can prove it somehow-I know I can, if you'll just give me a chance-"
"I don't want proof."
"I love you," she said brokenly.
"I don't want your ?love,' and I don't want you. Now-" He glanced up when Dolton knocked on the door.
"Mr. Larimore is here, my lord."
"Tell him I'll be with him directly," Ian announced, and Elizabeth gaped at him. "You-you're going to have a business meeting now?"
"Not exactly, my love. I've sent for Larimore for a different reason this time."
Nameless fright quaked down Elizabeth's spine at his tone. "What-what other reason would you have for summoning a solicitor at a time like this?"
"I'm starting divorce proceedings, Elizabeth." "You're what?" she breathed, and she felt the room whirl. "On what grounds-my stupidity?"
"Desertion," he bit out. At that moment Elizabeth would have said or done anything to reach him. She could not believe, actually could not comprehend that the tender, passionate man who had loved and teased her could be doing this to her-without listening to reason, without even giving her a chance to explain. Her eyes filled with tears of love and terror as she tried brokenly to tease him. "You're going to look extremely silly, darling, if you claim desertion in court, because I'll be standing right behind you claiming I'm more than willing to keep my vows."