Tears of joy clouded her magnificent eyes. "You bought it back from that horrid Mr. Demarcus?"
"Yes. And he is horrid" He and your uncle ought to be partners. They both possess the instincts of camel traders. I paid 100,000 pounds for it."
Her mouth fell open, and admiration lit her face. "100,000 pounds! Oh, Ian-"
"I love it when you say my name."
She smiled at that, but her mind was still on the splendid bargain he'd gotten. "I could not have done a bit better!" she generously admitted. "That's exactly what he paid for it. and he told me after the papers were signed that he was certain he could get 150,000 pounds if he waited a year or so."
"He probably could have."
"But not from you!" she announced proudly.
"Not from me," he agreed, grinning. "Did he try?"
"He tried for 200,000 pounds as soon as he realized how important it was to me to buy it back for you."
"You must have been very clever and skillful to make him agree to accept so much less."
Trying desperately not to laugh, Ian put his forehead against hers and nodded. "Very skillful," he agreed in a suffocated voice. "Still, I wonder why he was so agreeable?" Swallowing a surge of laughter, Ian said, "I imagine it was
because I showed him that I had something he needed more " than he needed an exorbitant profit."
"Really?" she said, fascinated and impressed. "What did you have?"
Standing on the terrace near the balustrade, Ian gazed out at the magnificent gardens of Montmayne, where Elizabeth and their three-year-old daughter, Caroline, were kneeling among the geraniums, examining the vivid blooms. Their heads were so close together that it was impossible to distinguish where Elizabeth's bright golden hair stopped and Caroline's began. Something Elizabeth said caused Caroline to give forth a peal of happy laughter, and Ian's eyes crinkled with a smile at the joyous sound.
Seated at a wrought-iron table behind him, his grandfather and Duncan were indulging in a game of chess. Tonight seven hundred guests would arrive to attend the ball Ian was giving to celebrate Elizabeth's birthday. The silent concentration of the chess players, was abruptly interrupted by the arrival of a six-year-old boy, who already bore a remarkable resemblance to Ian, and the boy's tutor, who looked like a man driven to the brink of despair at having to cope with a six-year-old intellect that also bore a remarkable resemblance to Ian's.
"I beg your pardon," Mr. Twindell said, bowing apologetically to the chess players, "but Master Jonathon and I have been engaged in a debate which I have just realized that you, Vicar, can settle. if you will be so kind?"
Dragging his gaze from the chessboard, and his mind from the victory that was almost in his grasp, Duncan smiled sympathetically at the harassed tutor. "How may I be of assistance?" he asked, looking from the tutor to the handsome six-year-old whose attention had momentarily shifted to the chessboard.
"It concerns," Mr. Twindell explained, "the issue of heaven, Vicar. Specifically, a description of said place which I have, all morning, been attempting to convince Master Jonathon is not loaded with impossible inconsistencies."
At that point Master Jonathon pulled his bemused gaze from the chessboard. clasped his hands behind his back, and regarded his great-uncle and his great-grandfather as if sharing a story too absurd to be believed. "Mr. Twindell," he explained, trying to hide his chuckle, "thinks heaven has streets made of gold. But of course, it can't."
"Why can't it?" said the duke in surprise. "Because the streets would be too hot in summer for the horses' hooves," Jon said, looking a little stricken by his great-grandfather's shortsightedness. Turning expectantly to his great-uncle, Jon said, "Sir, do you not find the idea of metal streets in heaven a highly unlikely possibility?"
Duncan, who was recalling similar debates with Ian at a similar age, leaned back in his chair while an expression of gleeful anticipation dawned across his face. "Jon," said he with eager delight, "ask your father. He is right over there at the balustrade."
The little boy nodded agreeably, paused to cup his hand over the duke's ear and whisper something, then he turned I to do as bidden.
"Why didn't you answer Jon's, question, Duncan?" the duke asked curiously. "A description of heaven ought to be right in your line." Duncan's brows lifted in mocking denial. "When Ian was six years old," he said dryly, "he used to engage me in theological and rhetorical debates just like this one. I used to I lose. It was most disconcerting." Shifting his gaze to the little boy who was waiting for his father to notice him," Duncan said gleefully, "I have waited for this day for decades. By the by," he added, "what did Jon whisper to you just now?"
The duke flushed. "He. . . ah . . . said you'll have my queen in check in four moves if I don't move my knight."
It was the burst of laughter from the two men at the chess table that made Ian glance over his shoulder and see Jonathon waiting beside, and slightly behind, him. Smiling, he turned to give his full attention to the son who was conceived that snowy night he'd returned to the cottage in Scotland. "You look," he teased, "like a man with something on his mind." He glanced at the harassed expression on the tutor's face, then back at his son, and added sympathetically, "I gather you and Mr. Twindell have had another polite disagreement? What is it about this time?"
A relieved grin lit up Jon's face and he nodded. While everyone else might be shocked by his thoughts or baffled by his questions, his father, he knew, would not only understand but provide acceptable answers. "It's about heaven," Jon confided, almost rolling his eyes in amusement as he explained in a low, conspiratorial voice, "Mr. Twindell wants me to believe heaven is a place with gold streets. Can you imagine," he added with a chuckle, "the temperature pure gold would reach if the sun were to hit it for ten consecutive hours in July? No one would want to walk on the streets'"
"What did Mr. Twindell say when you mentioned that?" Ian asked with amused gravity.
"He said we probably wouldn't have feet." "Now that's an alarming thought," Ian agreed "What do you think heaven will be like?"
"I haven't the foggiest idea. Do you?" "Yes, but it's only my opinion," Ian explained to his puzzled son. Crouching down, he put his arm around the little boy's shoulders and gestured toward the garden. As if Elizabeth and Caroline sensed that they were being observed, they both looked up at the terrace, and then they smiled and waved-two green-eyed girls with gilded hair and love shining in their eyes. "In my opinion," Ian solemnly confided to his son, "that is heaven, right there."