Elizabeth looked at him as if he'd taken leave of his senses; then his warning about looking meek hit home, and she began to understand what he wanted her to do. That added to the comic image of Ian's tall, masculine frame in those absurd pink pantaloons enabled her to manage a weak smile. "I have greatly admired those pantaloons myself," she said. "Will you also order a yellow satin coat to complement the look?"
He smiled. "I thought-puce."
"An unusual combination," she averred softly, "but one that I am sure will make you the envy of all who behold you."
Pride swelled in him at how valiantly she was rallying. To stop himself from saying things he wanted to say to her tomorrow, in private, Ian looked around for another topic to keep her talking. He mentioned the first one he saw. "Am I to assume the Valerie I was introduced to earlier was the Valerie of our greenhouse notes." He realized his mistake the instant her eyes clouded over and she glanced in the direction he'd looked.
"Yes." "Shall I ask Willington to clear his ballroom so you have the requisite twenty paces? Naturally, I'll stand as your second."
Elizabeth drew a shaky breath, and a smile curved her lips. "Is she wearing a bow?"
Ian looked and shook his head. "I'm afraid not." "Does she have an earring?"
He glanced again and frowned. "I think that's a wart." Her smile finally reached her eyes. "Its not a large target, but I suppose-"
"Allow me," he gravely replied, and she laughed.
The last strains of their waltz were dying away, and as they left the dance floor Ian watched Mondevale making his way toward the Townsendes, who'd returned to the ballroom.
"Now that you're a marquess," Elizabeth asked, "will you live in Scotland or in England?"
"I only accepted the title, not the money or the lands," he replied absently, watching Mondevale. "I'll explain everything to you tomorrow morning at your house. Mondevale is going to ask you to dance as soon as we reach the Townsendes, so listen closely-I'm going to ask you to dance again later. Turn me down."
She sent him a puzzled look, but she nodded. "Is there anything else?" she asked when he was about to relinquish her to her friends.
"There's a great deal else, but it will have to wait until tomorrow."
Mystified, Elizabeth turned her attention to Viscount Mondevale.
Alex watched the byplay between Elizabeth and Ian but her mind was elsewhere. While the couple danced, Alex had told her husband exactly what she thought of Ian Thornton who'd first ruined Elizabeth's reputation and now deceived her into thinking he was still a man of very modest means. Instead of agreeing that Thornton was completely without principles, Jordan had calmly insisted that Ian intended to set matters aright in the morning, and then he'd made her, and his grandmother ,promise not to tell Elizabeth anything until Ian had been given the opportunity to do so himself. Dragging her thoughts back to the ballroom, Alex hoped more than anything that Ian Thornton would do nothing more to hurt her good friend.
By the end of the evening a majority of the guests at the Willington ball had drawn several conclusions: first, that Ian Thornton was definitely the natural grandson of the Duke of Stanhope (which everyone claimed to have always believed); second, that Elizabeth Cameron had very probably rebuffed his scandalous advances two years ago (which everyone claimed to have always believed); third, that since she had rejected his second request for a dance tonight, she might actually prefer her former suitor Viscount Mondevale (which hardly anyone could really believe).
Bentner carried a covered platter of scones into the morning room and placed it before Elizabeth and Alex, who were seated at the table discussing last night's ball. Lucinda, who rarely ate breakfast, was sitting upon a narrow window cushion, calmly applying herself to her needlework while she listened to their conversation.
The morning room, like all the other rooms in the spacious house on Promenade Street. was furnished in what Julius Cameron called "serviceable colors"-browns and grays. This morning, however, there was a bright rainbow of color in the center of it where the girls were seated at a table covered with a maize linen cloth, Alex in a dusty-pink day dress, Elizabeth in a mint-green morning gown.
Normally, Bentner would have beamed approvingly at the pretty portrait the girls made, but this morning, as he put out butter and jam, he had grim news to impart and a confession to make. As he swept the cover off the scones he gave his news and made his confession.
"We had a guest last night," he told Elizabeth. "I slammed the door on him."
"Who was it?" "A Mr. Ian Thornton."
Elizabeth stifled a horrified chuckle at the image that called to mind, but before she could comment Bentner said fiercely, "I regretted my actions afterward! I should have invited him inside, offered him refreshment, and slipped some of that purgative powder into his drink. He'd have had a bellyache that lasted a month."
"Bentner," Alex sputtered. "you are a treasure!" "Do not encourage him in these fantasies," Elizabeth warned wryly. "Bentner is so addicted to mystery novels that he occasionally forgets that what one does in a novel cannot always be done in real life. He actually did a similar
thing to my uncle last year."
"Yes, and he didn't return for six months," Bentner told Alex proudly.
"And when he does come," Elizabeth reminded him with a frown to sound severe, " he refuses to eat or drink anything."
"Which is why he never stays long," Bentner countered, undaunted. As was his habit whenever his mistress's future was being discussed, as it was now, Bentner hung about to make suggestions as they occurred to him. Since Elizabeth had always seemed to appreciate his advice and assistance, he found nothing odd about a butler sitting down at the table and contributing to the conversation when the only guest was someone he'd known since she was a girl.
"It's that odious Belhaven we have to rid you of first," Alexandra said, returning to their earlier conversation. "He hung about last night, glowering at anyone who might have approached you." She shuddered. "And the way he ogles you. It's revolting. It's worse than that; he's almost frightening."
Bentner heard that, and his elderly eyes grew thoughtful as he recalled something he'd read about in one of his novels. "As a solution it is a trifle extreme," he said. "but as a last resort it could work."
Two pairs of eyes turned to him with interest, and he continued, "I read it in The Nefarious Gentleman. We would have Aaron abduct this Belhaven in our carriage and bring him straightaway to the docks, where we'll sell him to the press gangs."