Slowly Ian opened the drawer and shoved the papers into it, then he left the study, closing the door behind him. He was on his way to the drawing room when Ormsley found him to say the duke wished to visit with him now.

His grandfather was sitting in a chair near the fireplace, garbed in a dressing robe, when Ian walked in, and he looked surprisingly strong. "You look"-Ian hesitated, irritated with the relief he felt-"recovered," he finished curtly.

"I've rarely felt better in my life," the duke averred, and whether he meant it or was only exerting the will his doctor admired, Ian wasn't certain. "The papers are ready," he continued. "I've already signed them. I-er-took the liberty of ordering a meal sent up here, in hopes you'd share it with me before you leave. You'll have to eat somewhere, you know."

Ian hesitated, then nodded, and the tension seemed to leave the duke's body.

"Excellent!" He beamed and handed Ian the papers and a quill. He watched with inner satisfaction as Ian signed them without bothering to read them-and in so doing unwittingly accepted not only his father's title but all the wealth that went with it. "Now, where were we when our conversation had to be abandoned downstairs?" he said when Ian handed the papers back to him.

Ian's thoughts were still in the study, where a desk was filled with his likenesses and carefully maintained reports of every facet of his life, and for a moment he looked blankly at the older man.

"Ah, yes," the duke prodded as Ian sat down across from him, "we were discussing your future wife. Who is the fortunate young woman?"

Propping his ankle atop the opposite knee, Ian leaned back in his chair and regarded him in casual, speculative silence, one dark brow lifted in amused mockery. "Don't you know?" he asked dryly. "I've known for five days. Or is Mr. Norwich behind in his correspondence again?"

His grandfather stiffened and then seemed to age in his chair. "Charity," he said quietly. With a ragged sigh he lifted his eyes to Ian's, his gaze proud and beseeching at the same time. "Are you angry?"

"I don't know."

He nodded. "Do you have any idea how difficult it is to say ?I'm sorry'?"

"Don't say it," Ian said curtly.

His grandfather drew a long breath and nodded again, accepting Ian's answer. "Well, then, can we talk? For just a little while?"

"What do you want to talk about?"

"Your future wife, for one thing," he said warmly. "Who is she?"

"Elizabeth Cameron."

The duke gave a start. "Really? I thought you had done with that messy affair two years ago."

Ian suppressed a grim smile at his phrasing and his gall. "I shall send her my congratulations at once," his grandfather announced.

"They'd be extremely premature," Ian said flatly. Yet over the next hour, soothed by brandy and lulled by exhaustion and his grandfather's perceptive, ceaseless questions, he reluctantly related the situation with Elizabeth's uncle. To his grim surprise, he did not need to explain about the ugly gossip that surrounded Elizabeth, or the fact that her reputation was in tatters. Even his grandfather was aware of it, as was, apparently, the entire ton, exactly as Lucinda Throckmorton-Jones had claimed.

"If you think," the duke warned him, "that society will forgive and forget and accept her merely because you're now prepared to marry her, Ian, you're quite wrong, I assure you. They'll ignore your part in the nasty affair, as they already have, because you are a man-and a rich one, not to mention that you're now the Marquess of Kensington. When you make Lady Cameron your marchioness, however, they'll tolerate her because they have no choice, but they'll cut her dead whenever the opportunity arises. It's going to take a show of force from some persons of great consequence to make society realize they must accept her. Otherwise they'll treat her like a pariah."

For himself Ian would have calmly and unhesitatingly told society to go to hell, but they'd already put Elizabeth through hell, and he wanted somehow to make it right for her again. He was idly considering how to go about it when his grandfather said firmly, "I shall go to London and be there when your betrothal is announced."

"No," Ian said, his jaw tightening in anger. It was one thing to relinquish his hatred for the man, but it was another entirely to allow him to insinuate himself into Ian's life as an ally or to accept help from him.

"I realize," his grandfather said calmly, "why you were so quick to reject my offer. However, I did not make it for my gratification alone. There are two other sound reasons: It will benefit Lady Elizabeth tremendously if society sees that I am fully willing to accept her as my granddaughter-in-law. I am the only one who has a prayer of swaying them. Second," the duke continued, pressing his advantage while he had one to press, "until society sees you and me together and in complete accord at least once, the gossip about your questionable parentage and our relationship will continue. In other words, you can call yourself my heir, but until they see that I regard you as such, they won't entirely believe what you say or what the newspapers print. Now then, if you want Lady Elizabeth treated with the respect due the Marchioness of Kensington, the ton will first have to accept you as Marquess of Kensington. The two things are tied together. It must be done slowly," he emphasized, "one step at a time. Handled in that way, no one will dare to oppose me or to defy you, and they will then have to accept Lady Elizabeth and let the gossip be laid to rest."

Ian hesitated, a thousand emotions warring in his heart and mind. "I'll think about it," he agreed curtly.

"I understand," the duke said quietly. "In the event you decide to call upon my support, I will leave for London in the morn and stay at my town house."

Ian got up to leave, and his grandfather also arose. Awkwardly, the older man held out his hand, and hesitantly, Ian took it. His grandfather's grip was surprisingly strong, and it lasted a long time. "Ian," he said suddenly and desperately, "if I could undo what I did thirty-two years ago, I would do it. I swear to you."

"I'm sure you would," Ian said in a noncommittal tone. "Do you think," he continued in a ragged voice, "that someday you might forgive me completely?"

Ian answered him honestly. "I don't know."

He nodded and took his hand away. "I shall be in London within the week. When do you plan to be there?"

"That depends on how long it takes to deal with Christina's father and Elizabeth's uncle and to explain things to Elizabeth. All things considered, I ought to be in London by the fifteenth."


Tags: Judith McNaught Sequels Billionaire Romance
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