Elizabeth capitulated, smiling at the gray-haired man. "I'll just get a wrap from upstairs. Shall I bring something for you, sir?"

"Not for me," he said, wrinkling his nose. "I don't like tramping about at night." Belatedly realizing he was openly abdicating his duties as chaperon, Duncan added quickly, "Besides, my eyesight is not as good as it once was." Then he spoiled that excuse by picking up the book he'd been reading earlier, and-without any apparent need for spectacles-he sat down in a chair and began reading by the light of the candles.

The night air was chilly, and Elizabeth pulled her wool shawl tighter around her. Ian didn't speak as they walked slowly across the back of the house.

"It's a full moon," she said after several minutes, looking up at the huge yellow orb. When he didn't reply, she cast about for something else to say and inadvertently voiced her own thoughts: "I can't quite believe I'm really in Scotland."

"Neither can I." They were walking around the side of a hill, down a path he seemed to know by instinct, and behind them the lights from the cottage windows faded and then vanished completely.

Several silent minutes later they rounded the hill, and suddenly there was nothing in front of them but the darkness of a valley far below, the gentle slope of the hill behind them, a little clearing on their left, and a blanket of stars overhead. Ian stopped there and shoved his hands into his pockets, staring out across the valley. Uncertain of his mood, Elizabeth wandered a few paces to the end of the path on the left and stopped because there was nowhere else to go. It seemed colder here, and she absently pulled her shawl closer about her shoulders, stealing a surreptitious look at him. In the moonlight his profile was harsh, and he lifted his hand, rubbing the muscles in the back of his neck as if he was tense.

"I suppose we ought to go back," she said when several minutes had passed, and his silence became unsettling.

In answer Ian tipped his head back and closed his eyes, looking like a man in the throes of some deep, internal battle. "Why?" he said, still in that odd posture.

"Because there's nowhere else to walk," she answered, stating the obvious.

"We did not come out tonight to walk," he said flatly. Elizabeth's sense of security began to disintegrate. "We didn't?"

"You know we didn't."

"Then-then why are we here?" she asked. "Because we wanted to be alone together."

Horrified at the possibility that he'd somehow known what thoughts had been running through her mind at supper, she said uneasily, "Why should you think I want to be alone with you?"

He turned his head toward her, and his relentless gaze locked with hers. "Come here and I'll show you why."

Her entire body began to vibrate with a mixture of shock, desire, and fear, but somehow her mind remained in control. It was one thing to want to be kissed by him at the cottage where the vicar was nearby, but here, with absolute privacy and nothing to prevent him from taking all sorts of liberties, it was another matter entirely. Far more dangerous. More frightening. And based on her behavior in England, she couldn't even blame him for thinking she'd be willing now. Struggling desperately to ignore the sensual pull he was exerting on her, Elizabeth drew a long, shaky breath. "Mr. Thornton," she began quietly.

"My name is Ian," he interrupted. "Considering our long acquaintance-not to mention what has transpired between us-don't you think it's a little ridiculous to call me Mr. Thornton?"

Ignoring his tone, Elizabeth tried to keep hers nonjudgmental and continue her explanation. "I used to blame you entirely for what happened that weekend we were together," she began softly. "But I've come to see things more clearly." She paused in that valiant speech to swallow and then plunged in again. "The truth is that my actions that first night, when we met in the garden and I asked you to dance with me, were foolish-no, shameless." Elizabeth stopped, knowing that she could partly exonerate herself by explaining to him that she'd only done all that so her friends wouldn't lose their wagers, but he would undoubtedly find that degrading and insulting, and she wanted very much to soothe matters between them, not make them much, much worse. And so she said haltingly, "Every other time we were alone together after that I behaved like a shameless wanton. I can't completely blame you for thinking that's exactly what I was."

His voice was heavy with irony. "Is that what I thought, Elizabeth?"

His deep voice saying her name in the darkness made her senses jolt almost as much as the odd way he was looking at her across the distance that separated them. "Wh-what else could you have thought?"

Shoving his hands into his pockets, he turned fully toward her. "I thought," he gritted, "you were not only beautiful but intoxicatingly innocent. If I'd believed when we were standing in the garden that you realized what the hell you were asking for when you flirted with a man of my years and reputation, I'd have taken you up on your offer, and we'd both have missed the dancing."

Elizabeth gaped at him. "I don't believe you."

"What don't you believe-that I wanted to drag you behind the hedges then and there and make you melt in my arms? Or that I had scruples enough to ignore that ignoble impulse?"

A treacherous warmth was slowly beginning to seep up Elizabeth's arms and down her legs, and she fought the weakness with all her might. "Well, what happened to your scruples in the woodcutter's cottage? You knew I thought you'd already left when I went inside."

"Why did you stay," he countered smoothly, "when you realized I was still there?"

In confused distress Elizabeth raked her hair off her forehead. "I knew I shouldn't do it," she admitted. "I don't know why I remained."

"You stayed for the same reason I did," he informed her bluntly. "We wanted each other."

"It was wrong," she protested a little wildly. "Dangerous and-foolish!"

"Foolish or not," he said grimly, "I wanted you. I want you now." Elizabeth made the mistake of looking at him, and his amber eyes captured hers against her will, holding them imprisoned. The shawl she'd been clutching as if it was a lifeline to safety slid from her nerveless hand and dangled at her side, but Elizabeth didn't notice.

"Neither of us has anything to gain by continuing this pretense that the weekend in England is over and forgotten," he said bluntly. "Yesterday proved that it wasn't over, if it proved nothing else, and it's never been forgotten-I've remembered you all this time, and I know damn well you've remembered me." 


Tags: Judith McNaught Sequels Billionaire Romance
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