Walking over to the windows, Elizabeth parted the draperies, studying the guests who were standing on the terrace or strolling about the gardens. The last thing she wanted was for Ian to see her go to the greenhouse and follow her there. Such a possibility seemed extremely remote, but even so, it seemed wise to take no further chances. She almost sagged with relief when she saw his tall form on the terrace below. Clearly illuminated by a pair of torches, he was occupied with three women who were flirting with him while a footman hovered on the edge of their group, patiently waiting for recognition. She saw Ian glance at the footman, who then handed him something she supposed to be a drink.
Ignoring the sharp tug of her senses as she looked down on his dark head, Elizabeth turned away from the windows. Rather than leaving the house by the back doors, which opened out onto the terrace where she knew Ian was, she left by the side doors and stayed away from the lit torches.
In the doorway to the greenhouse Elizabeth hesitated. "Valerie?" she called in a low voice, looking around.
Moonlight poured in through the glass panels of the roof, and when no one answered, Elizabeth walked inside and looked about her. Pots of flowers bloomed everywhere-in orderly rows upon the tables and on benches. More delicate species adorned the shelves beneath the tables, sheltered from the direct rays of the sun that would pour through the glass ceiling in the daytime. Trying to calm her nerves, Elizabeth strolled down the aisles, studying the blooms.
The greenhouse was larger than the one at Havenhurst, she noted, and part of it was apparently used as a sort of solarium, for there were trees growing in pots, and beside them were ornate stone benches with colorful cushions on them.
Elizabeth wandered down the aisle, oblivious to the dark shadow looming in the doorway, moving silently down the aisle. Her hands clasped behind her back, she bent down to sniff a gardenia.
"Elizabeth?" Ian said in a clipped voice. She whirled around, her heart slamming against her ribs, her hand flying to her throat, her knees turning to jelly.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"You... you startled me," she said as he strolled up to her, his expression oddly impassive. "I didn't expect you to come here," she added nervously.
"Really?" he mocked. "Whom did you expect after that note the Prince of Wales?"
The note! Crazily, her first thought after realizing it was from him, not Valerie, was that for an articulate man his handwriting verged on the illiterate. Her second thought was that he seemed angry about something. He didn't keep her long in doubt as to the reason.
"Suppose you tell me how, during the entire afternoon we spent together, you neglected to mention that you are Lady Elizabeth?"
Elizabeth wondered a little frantically how he'd feel if he knew she was the Countess of Havenhurst, not merely the eldest daughter of some minor noble or knight.
"Start talking, love. I'm listening." Elizabeth backed away a step.
"Since you don't want to talk," he bit out, reaching for her arms, "is this all you wanted from me?'
"No!" she said hastily, backing out of his reach. "I'd rather talk."
He stepped forward, and Elizabeth took another step backward, exclaiming, "I mean, there are so many interesting topics for conversation, are there not?"
"Are there?" he asked, moving forward again.
"Yes," she exclaimed, taking two steps back this time. Snatching at the first topic she could think of, she pointed to the table of hyacinths beside her and exclaimed, "A-Aren't these hyacinths lovely?"
"Lovely," he agreed without looking at them, and he reached for her shoulders, obviously intending to draw her forward.
Elizabeth jumped back so swiftly that his fingers merely grazed the gauze fabric of her gown. "Hyacinths," she babbled with frantic determination as he began stalking her step for step, past the table of potted pansies, past the table of potted lilies, "are part of genus Hyacinthus, although the cultivated variety, which we have here, is commonly called the Dutch hyacinth, which is part of H. orientalis -"
"Elizabeth," be interrupted silkily, "I'm not interested in flowers." He reached for her again, and Elizabeth, in a frantic attempt to evade his grasp, snatched up a pot of hyacinths and dumped it into his outstretched bands.
"There is a mythological background to hyacinths that you may find more interesting than the flower itself," she continued fiercely, and an indescribable expression of disbelief, amusement, and fascination suddenly seemed to flicker across his face. "You see, the hyacinth is actually named for a handsome Spartan youth ? Hyacinthus who was loved by Apollo and by Zephyrus, god of the west wind. One day Zephyrus was teaching Hyacinthus to throw the discus, and he accidentally killed him. It is said that Hyacinthus's blood caused a flower to spring up, and each petal was inscribed with the Greek exclamation of sorrow." Her voice trembled a little as he purposefully set the pot of hyacinths on the table. "A-Actually, the flower that sprang up would have been the iris or larkspur, not the modern hyacinth, but that is how it earned its name."
"Fascinating." His unfathomable eyes locked onto hers. Elizabeth knew he was referring to her and not the history of the hyacinth, and though she commanded herself to move out of his reach, her legs refused to budge.
"Absolutely fascinating," he murmured again, and in slow motion she watched his hands reach out and gently grasp her shoulders, rubbing lightly. "Last night you were ready to do battle with a roomful of men because they dared believe I'd cheated, yet now you're afraid. Is it me you fear, sweetheart? Or something else?"
The endearment spoken in his rich baritone voice had the same stirring effect on her as the touch of his lips. "I'm afraid of the things you make me feel," she admitted desperately, trying to get control of herself and the situation. "I realize that this is merely a-a little weekend dalliance-"
"Liar," he teased, and he took her lips in a sweet, swift kiss. Her mind reeled from the brief touch, but the moment he lifted his mouth from hers she rushed into frightened speech. "Thank you," she blurted inanely. "H-Hyacinths are not the only flower with an interesting history. There are lilies, too, which are also part of the genus-"
A lazy, seductive grin swept across his handsome face, and, to Elizabeth's helpless horror, her gaze fastened on his mouth. She couldn't still the shiver of anticipation as he bent his head. Her brain warned her she was mad, but her heart knew this truly was good-bye, and the knowledge made her lean up on her toes and kiss him back with all the helpless, confused longing she felt. The sweetness of her yielding. combined with the way her hand slid up his chest and rested against his heart while her other hand curved around his nape, would have seemed to any man to be either the actions of a woman who was falling in love or else those of an experienced flirt. Elizabeth-naive, inexperienced. and very young-was acting on pure instinct. and was unaware that everything she did was convincing him she was the former.