Ian refused to react to that astonishing information with any emotion whatsoever.

"Good day, my lord," the doctor said. Turning to the duke's sisters, who'd been hovering worriedly in the hall, he tipped his hat. "Ladies," he said, and he departed.

"I'll just go up and look in on him," Hortense announced. Turning to Charity, she said sternly, "Do not bore Ian with too much chatter," she admonished, already climbing the stairs. In an odd, dire voice, she added,"  And do not meddle."

For the next hour Ian paced the floor, with Charity watching him with great interest. The one thing he did not have was time, and time was what he was losing. At this rate Elizabeth would be giving birth to her first child before he got back to London. And before he could go to her uncle with his suit he had to deal with the unpleasant task of breaking off nuptial negotiations with Christina's father.

"You aren't really going to leave today, are you, dear boy?" Charity piped up suddenly.

Stifling a sigh of impatience, Ian bowed. "I'm afraid I must, ma'am."

"He'll be heartbroken."  Suppressing the urge to inform the elderly lady that Ian doubted the duke had a heart to break, he said curtly, "He'd survive."

She watched him so intently after that that Ian began to wonder if she was addled or trying to read his mind. Addled. he decided when she suddenly stood up and insisted he ought to see a drawing of some peacocks his father had made as a boy. "Another time, perhaps," he declined. "I really think," she said, tipping her head to the side in her funny birdlike way, "it ought to be now."

Silently wishing her to perdition, Ian started to decline and then changed his mind and relented. It might help the time to pass more quickly. She took him down a hall and into a room that appeared to be his grandfather's private study. Once inside she put her finger to her lips, thinking. "Now where was that drawing?" she wondered aloud, looking innocent and confused. "Oh, yes," she brightened, "I remember." Tripping over to the desk, she searched under the drawer for some sort of concealed lock. "You will adore it, I'm sure. Now where can that lock be?" she continued in the same vague, chatty manner of a confused elderly lady. "Here it is!" she cried, and the left-hand drawer slid open.

"You'll find it right in there," she said, pointing to the large open drawer. "Just rummage through those papers and you'll see it, I'm sure."

Ian refused to invade another man's desk, but Charity had no such compunction. Reaching her arms in to the elbows, she brought up a large stack of thick paper and dumped it on the desk. "Now which one am I looking for?" she mused aloud as she separated them. "My eyes are not what they once were. Do you see a bird among these, dear Ian?"

Ian dragged his impatient gaze from the clock to the littered desktop and then froze. Looking back at him in a hundred poses were sketches of himself. There were detailed sketches of Ian standing at the helm of the first ship of his fleet. . . Ian walking past the village church in Scotland with one of the village girls laughing up at him. . . Ian as a solemn six-year-old. riding his pony. . . Ian at seven and eight and nine and ten . . . In addition to the sketches, there were dozens of lengthy, written reports about Ian, some current, others dating all the way back to his youth.

"Is there a bird among them, dear boy?" Charity asked innocently, peering not at the things on the desk, but at his face, noting the muscle beginning to twitch at Ian's tense jaw.

"No." "Then they must be in the schoolroom! Of course," she said cheerfully, "that's it. How like me, Hortense would say, to have made such a silly mistake."

Ian dragged his eyes from the proof that his grandfather had been keeping track of him almost from the day of his birth-certainly from the day when he was able to leave the cottage on his own two legs-to her face and said mockingly, "Hortense isn't very perceptive. I would say you are as wily as a fox."

She gave him a little knowing smile and pressed her finger to her lips. "Don't tell her, will you? She does so enjoy thinking she is the clever one."

"How did he manage to have these drawn?" Ian asked, stopping her as she turned away.

" A woman in the village near your home drew many of them. Later he hired an artist when he knew you were going to be somewhere at a specific time. I'll just leave you here where it's nice and quiet." She was leaving him, Ian knew, to look through the items on the desk. For a long moment he hesitated, and then he slowly sat down in the chair, looking over the confidential reports on himself. They were all written by one Mr. Edgar Norwich, and as Ian began scanning the thick stack of pages, his anger at his grandfather for this outrageous invasion of his privacy slowly became amusement. For one thing. nearly every letter from the investigator began with phrases that made it clear the duke had chastised him for not reporting in enough detail. The top letter began,

I apologize, Your Grace, for my unintentional laxness in failing to mention that indeed Mr. Thornton enjoys an occasional cheroot. . . .

The next one opened with,

I did not realize, Your Grace, that you would wish to know how fast his horse ran in the race-in addition to knowing that he won.

From the creases and folds in the hundreds of reports it was obvious to Ian that they'd been handled and read repeatedly, and it was equally obvious from some of the investigator's casual comments that his grandfather had apparently expressed his personal pride to him:

You will be pleased to know, Your Grace, that young Ian is a fine whip, just as you expected. . . .

I quite agree with you, as do many others, that Mr. Thornton is undoubtedly a genius. . . .

I assure you, Your Grace, that your concern over that duel is unfounded. It was a flesh wound in the arm, nothing more.

Ian flipped through them at random, unaware that the barricade he'd erected against his grandfather was beginning to crack very slightly.

"Your Grace," the investigator had written in a rare fit of exasperation when Ian was eleven, "the suggestion that I should be able to find a physician who might secretly look at young Ian's sore throat is beyond all bounds of reason. Even if I could find one who was willing to pretend to be a lost traveler, I really cannot see how he could contrive to have a peek at the boy's throat without causing suspicion!"

The minutes became an hour, and Ian's disbelief increased as he scanned the entire history of his life, from his achievements to his peccadilloes. His gambling gains and losses appeared regularly; each ship he added to his fleet had been described, and sketches forwarded separately; his financial progress had been reported in minute and glowing detail.


Tags: Judith McNaught Sequels Billionaire Romance
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