"Who?" Alex said absently, trying to think of the best means to persuade him to do what she needed done.

"The new Marquess of Kensington, once known as Mr. Ian Thornton, persona non grata. Amazing, is it not, what wealth and title will do?" he continued, studying Alex's tense face as he continued, "Two years ago we wouldn't have let him past the front door. Six months ago word got out that he's worth a fortune, and we started inviting him to our parties. Tonight he's the heir to a dukedom, and we'll be coveting invitations to his parties. We are"-Roddy grinned-"when you consider matters from this point of view, a rather sickening and fickle lot."

In spite of herself, Alexandra laughed. "Oh, Roddy," she said, pressing a kiss on his cheek. "You always make me laugh, even when I'm in the most dreadful coil, which I am now. You could make things so very much better-if you would."

Roddy helped himself to a pinch of snuff, lifted his arrogant brows, and waited, his look both suspicious and intrigued. "I am, of course, your most obedient servant," he drawled with a little mocking bow.

Despite that claim, Alexandra knew better. While other men might be feared for their tempers or their skill with rapier and pistol, Roddy Carstairs was feared for his cutting barbs and razor tongue. And, while one could not carry a rapier or a pistol into a ball, Roddy could do his damage there unimpeded. Even sophisticated matrons lived in fear of being on the wrong side of him. Alex knew exactly how deadly he could be-and how helpful, for he had made her life a living hell when she came to London the first time. Later he had done a complete turnabout, and it had been Roddy who had forced the ton to accept her. He had done it not out of friendship or guilt; he had done it because he'd decided it would be amusing to test his power by building a reputation for a change, instead of shredding it.

"There is a young woman whose name I'll reveal in a moment," Alex began cautiously, "to whom you could be of great service. You could, in fact, rescue her as you did me long ago, Roddy, if only you would."

"Once was enough," he mocked. "I could hardly hold my head up for shame when I thought of my unprecedented gallantry."

"She's incredibly beautiful," Alex said. A mild spark of interest showed in Roddy's eyes, but nothing stronger. While other men might be affected by feminine beauty, Roddy generally took pleasure in pointing out one's faults for the glee of it. He enjoyed flustering women and never hesitated to do it. But when he decided to be kind he was the most loyal of friends. "She was the victim of some very malicious gossip two years ago and left London in disgrace. She is also a very particular friend of mine from long ago."

She searched Roddy's bland features and couldn't tell whether she was getting his support or not. "All of us-the dowager duchess, Tony, and Jordan-intend to stand with her at the Willingtons' tonight. But if you could just pay her some small attention-or better yet, escort her yourself-it would be ever so helpful, and I would be grateful forever."

"Alex, if you were married to anyone but Jordan Townsende, I might consider asking you how you'd be willing to express your gratitude. However, since I haven't any real wish to see my life brought to a premature end, I shall refrain from doing so and say instead that your smile is gratitude enough."

"Don't joke, Roddy, I'm quite desperately in need of your help, and I would be eternally grateful for it."

"You are making me quake with trepidation, my sweet. Whoever she is, she must be in a deal of trouble if you need me."

"She's lovely and spirited, and you will admire her tremendously."

"In that case, I shall deem it an embarrassing honor to lend my support to her. Who-" His gaze flicked to a sudden movement in the doorway and riveted there, his eternally bland expression giving way to reverent admiration. "My God," he whispered.

Standing in the doorway like a vision from heaven was an I unknown young woman clad in a shimmering silver-blue gown with a low, square neckline that offered a tantalizing view of smooth, voluptuous flesh, and a diagonally wrapped bodice that emphasized a tiny waist. Her glossy golden hair, was swept back off her forehead and held in place with a sapphire clip, then left to fall artlessly about her shoulders I and midway down her back. where it ended in luxurious waves and curls that gleamed brightly in the dancing candlelight. Beneath gracefully winged brows and long curly lashes her glowing green eyes were neither jade nor emerald, but a startling color somewhere in between.

In that moment of stunned silence Roddy observed her with the impartiality of a true connoisseur, looking for flaws that others would miss and finding only perfection in the delicately sculpted cheekbones, slender white throat, and soft mouth.

The vision in the doorway moved imperceptibly. "Excuse me," she said to Alexandra with a melting smile, her voice like wind chimes, "I didn't realize you weren't alone."

In a graceful swirl of silvery blue skirts she turned and vanished. and still Roddy stared at the empty doorway while Alexandra's hopes soared. Never had she seen Roddy display the slightest genuine fascination for a feminine face and figure. His words sent her spirits even higher. "My God," he said again in a reverent whisper. "Was she real?"

"Very real," Alex eagerly assured him, "and very desperately in need of your help, though she mustn't know what I've asked of you. You will help, won't you?"

Dragging his gaze from the doorway, he shook his head as if to clear it. "Help?" he uttered dryly. "I'm tempted to offer her my very desirable hand in marriage! First I ought to know her name, though I'll tell you she suddenly seems damned familiar." "You will help?" "Didn't I just say so? Who is that delectable creature?" "Elizabeth Cameron. She made her debut last-" Alex stopped as Roddy's smile turned harsh and sardonic.

"Little Elizabeth Cameron," he mused half to himself. "I should have guessed, of course. The chit set the city on its ear just after you left on your honeymoon trip, but she's changed. Who would have guessed," he continued in a more normal voice, "that fate would have seen fit to endow her with more looks than she had then."

"Roddy!" Alex said, sensing that his attitude toward helping was undergoing a change. "You already said you'd help."

"You don't need help, Alex," he snickered. "You need a miracle."

"But-"

"Sorry. I've changed my mind." "Is it the-the gossip about that old scandal that bothers you?"


Tags: Judith McNaught Sequels Billionaire Romance
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