me." Ian saw the pain in her eyes, and despite his belief that all this had to be said, it took an almost physical effort not to try to her hurt with his hands and silence her with his mouth.

"You see," she explained slowly, "I anticipated that you might send me away until you got over your anger, or that you'd live with me and retaliate in private-things that an ordinary man might do. But I never imagined you would try to put a permanent end to our marriage. And to me. I should have anticipated that, knowing what Duncan had told me about you, but I was counting too much on the fact that, before I ran away, you'd said you loved me-"

"You know damned well I did. And I do. For God's sake if you don't believe anything else I've ever said to you, at least believe that.'

He expected her to argue, but she didn't, and Ian realized that she might be young, and inexperienced, but she was also very wise. "I know you did," she told him, softly. "If you hadn't loved me so deeply, I could never have hurt you as much as I did-and you wouldn't have needed to put an end to the possibility I could ever do it again. I realized that was what you were doing, when I stood in your study and you told me you were divorcing me. If I hadn't understood it, and you, I could never have kept fighting for you all this time."

"I won't argue with your conclusion, but I will swear to you not to ever do anything like that again to you. "

"Thank you. I don't think I could bear it another time." "Could you enlighten me as to what Duncan told you to

make you arrive at all that?'" Her smile was filled with tenderness and understanding. "He told me what you did when you returned home and discovered your family had died."

"What did I do?" "You severed yourself from the only other thing you loved-a black Labrador named Shadow. You did it so that you couldn't be hurt anymore-at least not by anything over which you had control. You did essentially the same thing, although far more drastically, when you tried to divorce me."

"In your place," Ian said, his voice rough with emotion as he laid his hand against her cheek, "I think I'd hate me."

His wife turned her face into his hand and kissed his palm. "Do you know," she said with a teary smile, "how it feels to know I am loved so much. . ." She shook her head as if trying to find a better way to explain, and began again, her voice shaking with love. "Do you know what I notice whenever we are out in company?"

Unable to restrain himself, Ian pulled her into his arms, holding her against his heart. "No," he whispered, "what do you notice?"

"I notice the way other men treat their wives, the way they look at them, or speak to them. And do you know what?"

"What?" "I am the only wife," she whispered achingly, "with the exception of Alex, whose husband adores her and doesn't care if the whole world knows it. And I absolutely know," she added with a soft smile, "that I am the only wife whose husband has ever tried to seduce her in front of the Hospital Fund Raising Committee." .

His arms tightened around her, and with a groaning laugh, Ian tried, very successfully, to seduce his wife on the sofa.

Snowflakes were falling outside the windows, and a log tumbled off the grate sending bright sparks up the chimney. Sated and happy, wrapped in Ian's arms beneath the blanket he'd drawn over them, Elizabeth's thoughts drifted lazily from the breakfast they hadn't eaten yet to the sumptuous breakfast he would have undoubtedly been served, had they been at Montmayne. With a sigh, she moved away from him and got dressed.

When she was turning the bacon, he came up behind her, his hands settling on her waist as he peered over her shoulder. "That looks awfully edible," he teased. "I was rather counting on our ?traditional' breakfast."

She smiled and let him turn her around. "When do we have to return?" she asked, thinking whimsically of how cozy it was up here with him.

"How does two months sound?" "It sounds wonderful, but are you certain you won't be bored-or worried about neglecting your business affairs?" 

"If they were going to suffer overmuch from my neglect, my love, we'd have pockets to let after the last three months.  Evidently," he continued with a grin, "I'm much better organized than I thought. Besides, Jordan will let me know if there's a particular problem that needs my attention."

"Duncan has provided me with nearly a hundred books, If," she said, trying to think of ways he could occupy his time if they stayed, "but you've probably read them already, and even if you haven't," she said with laughing exaggeration, "you'd be done with the lot of them by Wednesday. I'm afraid you'll be bored." 

"It will be difficult for me," he agreed dryly. "Snowbound up here with you. Without books or business to occupy my time, I wonder what I'll do," he added with a leer. She blushed gorgeously, but her voice was serious as she studied his face. "If things hadn't gone so well for you-if you hadn't accumulated so much wealth-you could have been happy up here, couldn't you?"

"With you?" "Of course." His smile was as somber as hers. "Absolutely." "Although," he added, linking her hands behind her back and drawing her a little closer, "you may not want to remain up here when you learn your emeralds are back in their cases at Montmayne."

Her head snapped up, and her eyes shone with love and relief. "I'm so glad. When I realized Robert's story had been fabrication, it hurt beyond belief to realize I'd sold them."

"It's going to hurt more," he teased outrageously, "when you realize your bank draft to cover their cost was a little bit short. It cost me 45,000 pounds to buy back the pieces that had already been sold, and 5,000 pounds to buy the rest back from the jeweler you sold them to."

"That-that unconscionable thief," she burst out. "He only gave me 5,000 pounds for all of them!" She shook her head in despair at Ian's lack of bargaining prowess. "He took dreadful advantage of you."

"I wasn't concerned, however," Ian continued teasing, enjoying himself hugely, "because I knew I'd get it all back out of your allowance. With interest, of course. According to my figures," he said, pausing to calculate in his mind what it would have taken Elizabeth several minutes to figure out on paper, as of today, you now owe me roughly 151,126 pounds."

"One hundred and-what?" she cried, half laughing and half irate.

"There's the little matter of the cost of Havenhurst. I added that in to the figure."

Tags: Judith McNaught Sequels Billionaire Romance