"She'd dare anything," Ian said, remembering the young temptress he'd known. When most girls her age were blushing and simpering, Elizabeth Cameron had asked him to dance at their first meeting. That same night she'd defied a group of men in the card room; the next day she'd risked her reputation to meet him in a cottage in the woods-and all that merely to indulge in what she'd described in the greenhouse as a "little weekend dalliance." Since then she must have been indulging in more of those-and indiscriminately-or else her uncle wouldn't be sending out letters offering to marry her off to virtual strangers. That was the only possible explanation for her uncle's action, an action that struck Ian as unprecedented in its flagrant lack of tact and taste. The only other possible explanation would be a desperate need of a moneyed husband, and Ian discounted that. Elizabeth had been gorgeously and expensively dressed when they met; moreover, the gathering at the country house had been composed almost exclusively of the social elite. And what few snatches of gossip he'd heard of her shortly after that fateful weekend had indicated that she moved among the highest circles of the ton, as befitted her rank.
"I wonder where they'll go," Jake continued, frowning a little. "There's wolves out there, and all sorts of beasts."
"No self-respecting wolf would dare to confront that duenna of hers, not with that umbrella she wields," Ian snapped, but he felt a little uneasy.
"Oho!" said Jake with a hearty laugh "So that's what she was? I thought they'd come to court you together. Personally, I'd be afraid to close my eyes with that gray-haired hag in bed next to me."
Ian was not listening. Idly he unfolded the note, knowing that Elizabeth Cameron probably wasn't foolish enough to have written it in her own girlish, illegible scrawl. His first thought as he scanned the neat, scratchy script was that she'd gotten someone else to write it for her. . . but then he recognized the words, which were strangely familiar, because he'd spoken them himself: Your suggestion has merit. I'm leaving for Scotland on the first of next month and cannot delay the trip again. Would prefer the meeting take place there, in any case. A map is enclosed for direction to the cottage. Cordially -Ian.
"God help that silly bastard if he ever crosses my path!" Ian said savagely.
"Who d'you mean?"
"Peters?" Jake said, gaping. "Your secretary? The one you sacked for mixin' up all your letters?"
"I should have strangled him! This is the note I meant for Dickinson Verley. He sent it to Cameron instead."
In furious disgust Ian raked his hand through his hair. As much as he wanted Elizabeth Cameron out of his sight and out of his life, he could not cause two women to spend the night in their carriage or whatever vehicle they'd brought, when it was his fault they'd come here. He nodded curtly to Jake. "Go and get them."
"Me? Why me?"
"Because," Ian said bitterly, walking over to the cabinet and putting away the gun, "it's starting to rain, for one thing. For another, if you don't bring them back, you'll be doing the cooking."
"If I have to go after that woman, I want a stout glass of something fortifying first. They're carrying a trunk, so they won't get much ahead of me." .
"On foot?" Ian asked in surprise.
"How did you think they got up here?" "I was too angry to think."
At the end of the lane Elizabeth put down her side of the trunk and sank down wearily beside Lucinda upon its hard top, emotionally exhausted. A wayward chuckle bubbled up inside her, brought on by exhaustion, fright, defeat. and the last remnants of triumph over having gotten just a little of her own back from the man who'd ruined her life. The only possible explanation for Ian Thornton's behavior today was that he was a complete madman.
With a shake of her head Elizabeth made herself stop thinking of him. At the moment she had so many new worries she hardly knew how to begin to cope. She glanced sideways at her stalwart duenna, and an amused smile touched her lips as she recalled Lucinda's actions at the cottage. On the one hand, Lucinda rejected all emotional displays as totally unseemly-yet at the same time she herself was possessed of the most formidable temper Elizabeth had ever witnessed. It was as if Lucinda did not regard her own outbursts of ire as emotional. Without the slightest hesitation or regret Lucinda could verbally flay a wrongdoer into small, bite-sized pieces and then mentally stamp him into the ground and grind him beneath the heel of her sturdy shoe.
On the other hand, were Elizabeth to exhibit the smallest bit of fear right now over their daunting predicament, Lucinda would instantly stiffen up with disapproval and deliver one of her sharp reprimands.
Cognizant of that, Elizabeth glanced worriedly at the sky, where black clouds were rolling in, heralding a storm; but when she spoke she sounded deliberately and absurdly bland. "I believe it's starting to rain, Lucinda," she remarked while cold drizzle began to slap the leaves of the tree over their heads. "So it would seem," said Lucinda. She opened an umbrella with a smart snap, holding it over them both. "It's fortunate you have your umbrella."
"I always have my umbrella." "We aren't likely to drown from a little rain." "I shouldn't think so." Elizabeth drew a steadying breath, looking around at the harsh Scottish cliffs. In the tone of one asking someone's opinion on a rhetorical question, Elizabeth said, "Do you suppose there are wolves out here?"
"I believe," Lucinda replied, "they probably constitute a larger threat to our health at present than the rain."
The sun was setting, and the early spring air had a sharp bite in it; Elizabeth was almost positive they'd be freezing by nightfall. "It's a bit chilly."
"I daresay we won't be too uncomfortable, in that case." Elizabeth's wayward sense of humor chose that unlikely moment to assert itself. "No, we shall be snug as can be while the wolves gather around us."
"Quite." Hysteria, hunger, and exhaustion-combined with Lucinda's unswerving calm and her earlier unprecedented entry into the cottage with umbrella flailing-were making Elizabeth almost giddy. "Of course, if the wolves realize how hungry we are, there's every chance they'll give us a wide berth."
"A cheering possibility." "We'll build a fire," Elizabeth said, her lips twitching. "That will keep them at bay, I believe." When Lucinda remained silent for several moments, occupied with her own thoughts, Elizabeth confided with an odd surge of happiness, "Do you know something, Lucinda? I don't think I would have missed today for anything."