"It's God's ears you need, not his teeth," the sour-faced woman informed him as she caught Elizabeth's sleeve and pulled her one step into the house. "We are expected," she informed Jake. In his understandably dazed state, Jake took another look at the bedraggled, dusty ladies and erroneously assumed they were the women from the village come to clean and cook for Ian and him. His entire countenance changed. and a broad grin swept across his ruddy face. The growing lump on his head forgiven and forgotten, he stepped back. "Welcome, welcome," he said expansively, and he made a broad, sweeping gesture with his hand that encompassed the entire dusty room. "Where do you want to begin?"
"With a hot bath," said Lucinda, "followed by some tea and refreshments."
From the corner of her eye Elizabeth glimpsed a tall man who was stalking in from a room behind the one where they stood. and an uncontrollable tremor of dread shot through her.
"Don't know as I want a bath just now," Jake said. "Not for you, you dolt, for Lady Cameron."
Elizabeth could have sworn Ian Thornton stiffened with shock. His head jerked toward her as if trying to see past the rim of her bonnet, but Elizabeth was absolutely besieged with cowardice and kept her head averted.
"You want a bath?" Jake repeated dumbly, staring at Lucinda.
"Indeed, but Lady Cameron's must come first. Don't just stand there," she snapped, threatening his midsection with her umbrella. "Send servants down to the road to fetch our trunks at once." The point of the umbrella swung meaningfully toward the door, then returned to jab Jake's middle. ";But before you do that, inform your master that we have arrived."
"His master," said a biting voice from a rear doorway, "is aware of that."
Elizabeth swung around at the scathing tone of Ian's voice, and her fantasy of seeing him fall to his knees in remorse the moment he set eyes on her collapsed the instant she saw his face; it was as hard and forbidding as a granite sculpture. He did not bother to come forward but instead. remained where he was, his shoulder propped negligently against the door frame, his arms folded across his chest, watching her through narrowed eyes. Until then Elizabeth had thought she remembered exactly what he looked like, but she hadn't. Not really. His suede jacket clung to wide shoulders that were broader and more muscular than she'd remembered, and his thick hair was almost black. His face was one of leashed sensuality and arrogant handsomeness with its sculpted mouth and striking eyes, but now she noticed the cynicism in those golden eyes and the ruthless set of his jaw-things she'd obviously been too young and naive to see before. Everything about him exuded brute strength, and that in turn made her feel even more helpless as she searched his features for some sign that this aloof, forbidding man had actually held and kissed her with seductive tenderness.
"Have you had an edifying look at me, Countess?" he snapped, and before she could recover from the shock of that rude greeting his next words rendered her nearly speechless. "You are a remarkable young woman, Lady Cameron-you must possess the instincts of a bloodhound to track me here. Now that you've succeeded, there is the door. Use it."
Elizabeth's momentary shock gave way to a sudden, almost uncontrollable burst of wrath. "I beg your pardon?" she said tightly.
"You heard me."
"I was invited here."
"Of course you were," Ian mocked, realizing in a flash of surprise that the letter he'd had from her uncle must not have been a prank, and that Julius Cameron had obviously, decided to regard Ian's lack of reply as willingness, which was nothing less than absurd and obnoxious. In the last months, since news of his wealth and his possible connection to the Duke of Stanhope had been made public, he'd become accustomed to being pursued by the same socialites who had once cut him. Normally he found it annoying; from Elizabeth Cameron he found it revolting.
He stared at her in insolent silence, unable to believe the alluring, impulsive girl he remembered had become this coolly aloof, self-possessed young woman. Even with her dusty clothes and the smear of dirt on her cheek, Elizabeth Cameron was strikingly beautiful, but she'd changed so much that-except for the eyes-he scarcely recognized her. One thing hadn't changed: She was still a schemer and a liar.
Straightening abruptly from his stance in the doorway, Ian walked forward. "I've had enough of this charade, Miss Cameron. No one invited you here, and you damn well know it."
Blinded with wrath and humiliation, Elizabeth groped in her reticule and snatched out the handwritten letter her uncle had received inviting Elizabeth to join Ian there. Marching up to him, she slapped the invitation against his chest. Instinctively he caught it but didn't open it.
"Explain that," she commanded, backing away and then waiting.
"Another note, I'll wager," he drawled sarcastically, thinking of the night he'd gone to the greenhouse to meet her and recalling what a fool he'd been about her.
Elizabeth stood beside the table, determined to have the satisfaction of hearing his explanation before she left-not that anything he said could make her stay. When he showed no sign of opening it, she turned furiously to Jake, who was sorely disappointed that Ian was deliberately chasing off two females who could surely be persuaded to do the cooking if they stayed. "Make him read it aloud," she ordered the startled Jake.
"Now, Ian," Jake said, thinking of his empty stomach and the bleak future that lay ahead for it if the ladies went away, "why don't you jes' read that there little note, like the lady asked?"
When Ian Thornton ignored the older man's suggestion, Elizabeth lost control of her temper. Without thinking what she was actually doing, she reached out and snatched the pistol off the table, primed it, cocked it, and leveled it at Ian Thornton's broad chest. "Read that note."
Jake, whose concern was still on his stomach, held up his hands as if the gun were pointed at him. "Ian, it could be a misunderstanding. you know, and it's not nice to be rude to these ladies. Why-don't you read it, and then we'll all sit down and have a nice"-he inclined his head meaningfully to the sack of provisions on the table supper."
"I don't need to read it," Ian snapped. "The last time I read a note from Lady Cameron I met her in a greenhouse and got shot in the arm for my trouble."
"Are you implying I invited you into that greenhouse?" Elizabeth scoffed furiously.
With an impatient sigh Ian said, "Since you're obviously determined to enact a Cheltenham tragedy, let's get it over with before you're on your way."