Ian's clipped, cynical reply stilled his hand. "I think it is for something much stronger." The implication that Ian found the occasion repugnant, rather than cause for celebration, was not lost on the duke. Inclining his head in another faint, knowing smile, he pulled the bell cord. "Scotch, isn't it?" he asked.

Ian's surprise that the old man seemed to know what drink he preferred was eclipsed by his astonishment when Ormsley instantly whisked into the room bearing a silver tray with a decanter of Scotch, a bottle of champagne, and two appropriate glasses on it. The butler was clairvoyant or lad wings, or else the tray had been ordered before Ian arrived.

With a quick, self-conscious smile directed at Ian, the butler withdrew, closing the doors behind him. "Do you think," the duke asked with mild amusement, "we could sit down, or are we now to have a contest to see who can stand the longest?"

"I intend to get this ordeal over with as quickly as possible," Ian countered icily.

Instead of being insulted, as Ian meant him to be, Edward. Avery Thornton looked at his grandson, and his heart swelled with pride at the dynamic, forceful man who bore his name. For over a decade Ian had flung one of the most important titles in England back in Edward's face, and while that might have enraged another man, Edward recognized in the gesture the same proud arrogance and indomitable will that had marked all the Thornton men. At the moment, however, that indomitable will was on a collision course with his own, and so Edward was prepared to yield in almost anything in order to win what he wanted most in the world his grandson. He wanted his respect, if he couldn't have his love; he wanted just one small, infinitesimal piece of his affection to carry in his heart. And he wanted absolution. Most of all he needed that. He needed to be forgiven for making what had been the biggest mistake of his life thirty-two years ago, and for waiting too long to admit to Ian's father that he was wrong. To that end, Edward was prepared to endure anything from Ian-except his immediate departure. If he couldn't have anything else-not Ian's affection or his respect or his forgiveness he wanted his time. Just a little of it. Not much-a day or two, or even a few hours to cherish, a few memories to hoard in his heart during the dreary days before his life ended.

In hopes of gaining this time the duke said noncommittally, "I can probably have the papers drawn up within the week."

Ian lowered his glass of Scotch. In a cold, clear voice he said, "Today."

"There are legalities involved." Ian, who dealt with thousands of legalities in his business ventures on a daily basis, lifted his brows in glacial challenge. "Today."

Edward hesitated, sighed, and nodded. "I suppose my clerk could begin drawing up the documents while we have a talk in here. It's a complicated and time-consuming business, however, and it will take a few days at least. There's the matter of the properties that are yours by right-"

"I don't want the properties," Ian said with contempt. "Nor the money, if there is any. I'll take the damned title and be done with it, but that's all."

"But-" "Your clerk should be able to draw up a straightforward document naming me your heir in a quarter of an hour. I'm on my way to Brinshire and then to London. I'll leave as soon as the document is signed."

"Ian," Edward began, but he would not plead, particularly not when he could see it was useless. The pride and unbending will, the strength and determination that marked Ian as his grandson, also put him out of Edward's reach. It was too late. Surprised by Ian's willingness to take a title but not the wealth that accompanied it, he arose stiffly from his chair and went down the hall to tell his clerk to draw up the documents. He also told him to include all the properties and their substantial incomes. He was a Thornton, after all, with pride of his own. His luck had obviously run out, but not his pride. Ian would leave in an hour, but he would leave endowed with all the wealth and estates that were his birthright.

Ian was standing at the windows when his grandfather returned. "It's done," Edward said, sitting back down in his chair. Some of the rigidity went out of Ian's shoulders; the loathsome matter was finished. He nodded, then refilled his glass and sat down across from his grandfather.

After another long moment of pregnant silence he remarked conversationally, "I understand felicitations are in order."

Ian started. His betrothal to Christina, which was about to be broken, was not yet common knowledge.

"Christina Taylor is a lovely young woman. I knew her grandfather and her uncles, and, of course, her father, the Earl of Melbourne. She'll make you a fine wife, Ian."

"Inasmuch as bigamy is a crime in this country, I find that unlikely."

Startled by the discovery that his information was apparently incorrect, Edward took another swallow of champagne and asked, "May I ask who the fortunate young woman is, then?"

Ian opened his mouth to tell him to go to hell, but there was something alarming about the way his grandfather was slowly putting his glass down. He watched as the older man began to rise. "I'm not supposed to drink spirits," the duke said apologetically. "I believe I'll have a rest. Ring for Ormsley, if you please," he said in a harsh voice. "He'll know what to do."

There was an urgency about the scene that hit Ian as he did as bidden. An instant later Ormsley was helping his grandfather upstairs and a physician was being summoned. He arrived within a half hour, rushing up the stairs with his bag of instruments, and Ian waited in the drawing room, trying to ignore the uneasy feeling that he'd arrived just in time for his grandfather's death.

When the physician came downstairs, however, he seemed relieved. "I've warned him repeatedly not to touch spirits," he said, looking harassed. "They affect his heart. He's resting now, however. You may go up after an hour or two."

Ian didn't want to care how ill he was. He told himself the old man who looked so much like him was nothing to him, and despite that he heard himself ask in a curt voice, "How long does he have?"

The physician lifted his hands, palms up. "Who's to say? A week, a month," he speculated, "a year, maybe more. His heart is weak, but his will is strong-more so now than ever," he continued, shrugging into the light cape Ormsley was putting over his shoulders.

"What do you mean, ?more now than ever'?" The physician smiled in surprise. "Why, I meant that your coming here has meant a great deal to him, my lord. It's had an amazing effect on him-well, not amazing, really. I should say a miraculous effect. Normally he. rails at me when he's ill. Today he almost hugged me in his eagerness to tell me you were here, and why. Actually, I was ordered to ?have a look at you'," he continued in the confiding tone of an old family friend, "although I wasn't supposed to tell you I was doing so, of course." Grinning, he added, "He thinks you are a ?handsome devil."

Tags: Judith McNaught Sequels Billionaire Romance
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