Lucinda's thin gray brows shot up, and she cast a dubious sideways glance at Elizabeth.
"I realize that must sound extremely peculiar, but can you imagine how absolutely exhilarating it was to have that man at the point of a gun for just a few minutes? Do you find that-odd?" Elizabeth asked when Lucinda stared straight ahead in angry, thoughtful silence.
"What I find odd," she said in a tone of frosty disapproval mingled with surprise, "is that you evoke such animosity in that man."
"I think he's quite demented."
"I would have said embittered." "About what?"
"That is an interesting question." Elizabeth sighed. When Lucinda decided to work out a problem that puzzled her she would not leave it alone. She could not countenance behavior of any sort that she didn't understand. Rather than wonder about Ian Thornton's motivations, Elizabeth decided to concentrate on what they ought to do in the next few hours. Her uncle had adamantly refused to waste a coach and coachman in idleness while she spent the requisite time here. At his instructions they'd sent Aaron back to England as soon as they reached the Scottish border, where they'd then hired a coach at the Wakeley Inn. In a sennight Aaron would come here to fetch them. They could, of course, return to the Wakeley Inn and wait for Aaron's return, but Elizabeth didn't have enough money to pay for a room for Lucinda and herself.
She might be able to hire a coach at the inn and pay for it when she reached Havenhurst, but the cost might be more than she could manage, even if she did her most brilliant bargaining.
And worse than all of that was the problem of her Uncle Julius. He was bound to be furious if she returned in two weeks' less time than she was to have been gone-providing she could manage to return. And once she arrived home, what would he say?
At the moment, however, she had an even larger problem: what to do now, when two defenseless women were completely lost in the wilds of Scotland, at night, in the rain and cold.
Shuffling footsteps sounded on the gravel path, and both women straightened, both suppressing the hope soaring in their breasts and keeping their faces carefully expressionless.
"Well, well, well," Jake boomed. "Glad I caught up with you and-" He lost his thought as he beheld the utterly comic sight of two stiff-backed women seated on a trunk together, prim and proper as you please, beneath a black umbrella in the middle of nowhere. "Uh-where are your horses?"
"We have no horses," Lucinda informed him in a disdainful voice that implied such beasts would have been an intrusion on their tete-a-tete.
"No? How did you get here?"
"A wheeled conveyance carried us to this godforsaken place."
"I see." He lapsed into daunted silence, and Elizabeth started to say something at least slightly pleasant when Lucinda lost patience.
"You have, I collect, come to urge us to return?"
"Ah-yes. Yes, I have."
"Then do so. We haven't all night." Lucinda's struck ??? Elizabeth as a bald lie.
When Jake seemed at a loss as to how to go about it, Lucinda stood up and assisted him. "I gather Mr. Thornton is extremely regretful for his unforgivable and inexcusable behavior?"
"Well, yes, I guess that's the way it is. In a way."
"No doubt he intends to tell us that when we return?" Jake hesitated, weighing his certainty that Ian had no intention of saying anything of the kind against the certainty that if the women didn't return, he'd be eating his own cooking and sleeping with a bad conscience and a bad stomach. "Why don't we let him make his own apologies?" he prevaricated.
Lucinda turned up the path toward the house and nodded grandly. "Bring the trunks. Come, Elizabeth."
By the time they reached the house Elizabeth was tom between relishing an apology and turning to flee. A fire had been lit in the fireplace, and she was vastly relieved to see that their unwilling host was absent from the room.
He reappeared within moments, however, minus his jacket, carrying an armload of firewood, which he dumped beside the hearth.
Straightening, he turned to Elizabeth, who was watching him with a carefully blank expression on her face. "It appears a mistake has been made," he said shortly.
"Does that mean you've remembered sending the message?"
"It was sent to you in error. Another man was being invited up here to join us. Unfortunately, his message went to your uncle."
Until that moment. Elizabeth wouldn't have believed she could feel more humiliated than she already did. Robbed of even the defense of righteous indignation, she faced the fact that she was the unwanted guest of someone who'd made a fool of her not once but twice.
"How did you get here? I didn't hear any horses, and a carriage sure as hell can't make the climb."
"A wheeled conveyance brought us most of the way," she prevaricated, seizing on Lucinda's earlier explanation, "and it's gone on now." She saw his eyes narrow with angry disgust as he realized he was stuck with them unless he wanted to spend several days escorting them back to the inn.
Terrified that the tears burning the backs of her eyes were going to fall, Elizabeth tipped her head back and turned it, pretending to be inspecting the ceiling, the staircase, the walls, anything. Through the haze of tears she noticed for the first time that the place looked as if it hadn't been cleaned in a year.
Beside her Lucinda glanced around through narrowed eyes and arrived at the same conclusion.
Jake, anticipating that the old woman was about to make some disparaging comment about Ian's house, leapt into the breach with forced joviality.
"Well, now," he burst out, rubbing his hands together and striding forward to the fire. "Now that's all settled, shall we all be properly introduced? Then we'll see about supper." He looked expectantly at Ian, waiting for him to handle the introductions, but instead of doing the thing properly he merely nodded curtly to the beautiful blond girl and said, "Elizabeth Cameron-Jake Wiley."
"How do you do, Mr. Wiley," Elizabeth said.
"Call me Jake," he said cheerfully, then he turned expectantly to the scowling duenna. "And you are?"
Fearing that Lucinda was about to rip up at Ian for his cavalier handling of the introductions, Elizabeth hastily said, "This is my companion, Miss Lucinda Throckmorton-Jones."
"Good heavens! Two names. Well, no need to stand on formality, since we're going to be cooped up together for at least a few days! Just call me Jake. What shall I call you?"
"You may call me Miss Throckmorton-Jones," she informed him, looking down the length of her beaklike nose.