Jordan nodded. "Penrose taught you." He had taught her well, Jordan thought with an inward smile, for true to her boast, she'd reached into the basket of worms the servants had brought out to the stream and had deftly put a worm on the end of her hook.

Evidently their thoughts were running in the same direction, because a moment later she smiled down at him from her high perch and remarked, "I'm happy to see you aren't truly squeamish about worms."

"I was never squeamish," he protested with an expression of earnest gravity on his upturned face. "It's only that I hate to hear the sound worms make when you stick them the first time. Normally we kill things before we use them for bait. That's more humane, don't you agree?"

"There is no sound!" Alexandra denied heatedly, but he looked so certain that her own conviction wavered a bit

"Only people with extraordinary hearing can detect it, but it's there," Jordan argued, straightfaced.

"Penrose told me it doesn't hurt them," she said uneasily.

"Penrose is deaf as a post. He can't hear them scream."

An indescribable expression of queasy apprehension crossed Alexandra's face as she looked at the pole in her hand. Swiftly turning his face away to hide his laughter, Jordan gazed off to his right, but he couldn't stop his shoulders from shaking with mirth, and Alexandra finally spotted the telltale movement. A moment later, a fistful of twigs and leaves hit him on the left shoulder. "Beast!" she said cheerfully from above.

"My dear, foolish wife," he replied, grinning impenitently as he reached up and calmly brushed leaves and twigs off his sleeve, "were I perched precariously over the water on the limb of a tree, as you are, I'd take great care to treat me with more respect." To illustrate, he reached up with his free hand and gently nudged the stout limb she was perched upon.

His disrespectful wife lifted her graceful brows. "My dear, foolish husband," she softly replied, sending a momentary shaft of unexpected pleasure through Jordan, "if you unseat me, you'll be making a terrible mistake and setting yourself up for a wetting in the process."

"Me?" he said, enjoying their banter. "Why?"

"Because," she quietly and earnestly replied, "I can't swim."

Jordan paled and surged to his feet. "Don't, for God's sake," he ordered sharply, "move one inch. I don't know how deep the water is below you, but it's deep enough to drown in and it's murky enough to prevent me from seeing you below the surface. Stay where you are until I get there."

With the lithe agility of an athlete, he bounded onto the tree trunk and began walking toward her, moving out along the branch until she was within arm's reach. "Alexandra," he said, speaking in a calm, reassuring voice, "if I come any closer, my weight may break this branch or bend it enough to throw you into the water."

He edged another few inches closer to her and bent at the waist, extending his hand toward her. "Don't be afraid. Just reach out and clasp my hand."

For once she didn't argue, Jordan noted with relief. Instead she reached up with her left hand and tightly grasped the limb above her head for balance, then she extended her right hand to his, catching his wrist in a strong grasp, at the same time Jordan's fingers closed tightly around her wrist. "Now get your legs beneath you and stand up. Use my wrist for leverage."

"I'd rather not," she replied. His amazed gaze narrowed sharply on her laughing face, while she tightened her grasp on his wrist and threateningly said, "I'd rather swim, wouldn't you?"

"Don't try it," Jordan warned darkly, unable to free his wrist. In his awkward position, bent at the waist and his arm imprisoned, he was completely at the mercy of her whim and they both knew it.

"If you can't swim, I'll rescue you," she sweetly volunteered.

"Alexandra," he threatened in a soft, ominous tone, "if you toss me into that freezing water, you'd better swim for your life in the opposite direction."

He meant it and she knew it. "Yes, my lord," she meekly replied and obediently released his wrist.

Jordan straightened slowly and stood looking down at her with an expression of exasperation and amusement. "You are the most outrageous—" He broke off, unable to control his grin.

"Thank you," she replied brightly. "Predictability is so very dull, don't you agree?" she called after him as he turned and walked along the branch, then jumped down to the grass.

"How would I know?" he replied with grim amusement as he stretched out on the grassy bank and picked up his pole. "I haven't had a predictable hour since I set eyes on you."

The next three hours passed as if they were but a few minutes, and by the end of it, Jordan had confirmed she was not only an excellent fisherman, but a thoroughly delightful, witty, and intelligent companion as well.

"Look!" she called suddenly and unnecessarily as Jordan's pole bent nearly in half, almost jerking him to his feet as he fought to hold it. "You have a bite—!"

After five minutes of the most deft maneuvering and skillful fighting on Jordan's part, his line abruptly went slack. His disrespectful young wife, standing upon her tree limb, from whence she had observed his unsuccessful struggle for supremacy while calling out advice and encouragement, groaned and threw up her hands in disgust. "You lost the fish!"

"That was not a fish," Jordan retorted, looking up at her. "That was a whale with large teeth."

"Only because it got away," she retorted, laughing.

Her laughter was as infectious as her enthusiasm, and Jordan couldn't stop himself from grinning even though he tried to sound stern. "Kindly stop belittling my whale and let's open those baskets. I'm starved."

Standing back, he watched in admiration as she scampered down from the fallen limb. When she tried to hand him her pole and climb down herself, he caught her by the waist and lowered her to the ground, but she stiffened when her body brushed against his, and he abruptly let her go.

The pleasure he had taken in their morning faded somewhat at her reaction to his touch. Sitting down across from her on the blanket, he leaned his back against a tree and studied her in impassive silence, watching her unpack the baskets of food while he tried to guess her motive for instigating this outing. Obviously, she'd not wanted it to be a "romantic interlude."

"It's been a lovely morning," Alexandra said, pausing to watch the sunlight dance on the water's surface in front of them.

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