Drawing one knee up against his chest, Jordan draped his arm across it and said flatly, "Now that we've finished, suppose you tell me what this is all about."
Alexandra tore her gaze from the water and looked at him. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, why did you want to spend the morning like this?"
She'd expected him to wonder, she had not expected him to flatly demand an answer, and she wasn't at all prepared with one. With a shrug, she said uneasily, "I thought I'd show you the sort of life I truly like to lead."
Cynicism twisted his lips. "And now that you've shown me that you're not completely the refined, elegant young woman you've appeared to be, I'm supposed to develop a disgust for you and let you go back to Morsham, is that it?"
That was so far from the truth that Alexandra burst out laughing. "I'd never have conceived such a convoluted plan in a hundred years," she said, looking nonetheless impressed at the ingenuity of it. "I'm afraid I'm not quite that inventive." For a split second, Alexandra could have sworn she saw relief flicker in his hooded grey eyes, and she was suddenly determined to recover the companionable, easy mood they'd enjoyed while fishing together. "You don't believe me, do you?"
"I'm not certain."
"Have I ever done anything to make you think I'm devious?"
"Your sex is not noted for being either forthright or frank," he replied dryly.
"The fault for that must be laid at the door of men," she teased, flopping down on her back and resting her head on her arm as she stared up at the fluffy white clouds drifting across the powder-blue sky. "Men couldn't endure it if we were forthright and frank."
"Is that right?" he retorted, stretching out beside her, propped up on his elbow.
Nodding, she turned her head and looked at him. "If women were forthright and blunt, we wouldn't have been able to convince men that they are smarter, wiser, and braver than we are, when in truth you are superior to us only in the brute strength occasionally required to lift extremely heavy objects."
"Alexandra," he whispered, as his lips slowly descended to hers, "beware of shattering a man's ego. It forces him to show his supremacy in the time-honored way."
The huskiness of his voice, combined with the seductive languor in his grey eyes, was already making Alexandra's heart hammer. Longing to put her arms around his broad shoulders and bring him down to her, she asked shakily, "Have I shattered your ego?"
"Be-because I said women are smarter, wiser, and braver than men?"
"No," he whispered, his smiling lips almost touching hers now, "because you caught a bigger fish than I did."
Her startled giggle was abruptly smothered by his lips.
Feeling utterly languid and thoroughly content, Jordan decided to forestall their lovemaking for a few minutes, and after allowing himself a long, hungry kiss, he lay back beside her.
She looked a little surprised and a little disappointed that he hadn't continued.
"Later," he promised with a lazy grin that made her blush and smile and then hastily avert her gaze. After a minute she seemed to become fascinated with something in the sky.
"What are you looking at?" Jordan demanded finally, watching her.
"A dragon." When he looked bewildered she lifted her arm and pointed to the sky in the southeast. "Right there—that cloud—what do you see when you look at it?"
"A fat cloud."
Alexandra rolled her eyes at him. "What else do you see?"
He was quiet for a moment studying the sky. "Five more fat clouds and three thin ones." To Jordan's surprised pleasure, she burst out laughing, rolled onto her side, and kissed him full on the mouth, but when he tried to hold her tighter and begin to make love to her, Alexandra drew back and insisted on resuming her study of the sky.
"Have you no imagination at all?" she chided softly. "Look at those clouds—surely you must see one that reminds you of something. It can be something whimsical or real."
Goaded by her insinuation that he possessed no imagination, Jordan narrowed his eyes and stared hard—and then he finally discerned a shape he recognized. Off in the sky, on the right, there was a cloud that looked remarkably like, exactly like—breasts! No sooner did he recognize the shape than Alexandra excitedly asked, "What do you see?" and Jordan's whole body shook with silent laughter.
"I'm thinking," he said quickly. In his haste to come up with some acceptable shape to tell her, he suddenly found one. "A swan," he said, and then almost in awe, "I see a swan."
The study of cloud formations, Jordan soon realized, was an unexpectedly pleasurable pastime—particularly with Alexandra's hand clasped in his, and her body pressed against his side. A few minutes later, however, the combined distraction of her nearness and the scent of her delicate perfume became too potent to ignore. Leaning upon his forearm, Jordan braced his other arm on the opposite side of her, then he slowly lowered his mouth to hers. Her response to his first kiss was so warm and eager that Jordan felt as if his heart was melting. Pulling his lips from hers, he gazed down at her lovely face, feeling humbled by her gentleness and warmth. "Have I ever told you," he whispered solemnly, "how sweet I think you are?"
Before she could answer, he kissed her with all the hungry urgency he felt.
It was midafternoon when they rode back to the stables. Unaware of the surreptitious glances of Smarth and the two dozen stablekeeps and grooms, who were all avidly curious about the outcome of the morning's jaunt, Alexandra put her hands on Jordan's broad shoulders, smiling into his eyes as he reached up to lift her down from her sidesaddle.
"Thank you for a lovely day," she said as he slowly lowered her to the ground.
"You're welcome," he replied, his hands lingering unnecessarily at her waist, keeping her body only inches from his.
"Would you like to do it again?" she offered, thinking of their fishing.
Jordan's chuckle was rich and deep. "Again," he promised huskily, thinking of their lovemaking. "And again… and again…"
Alexandra's smooth cheeks turned as pink as roses, but an answering sparkle lit her eyes. "I meant would you like to go fishing again?"
"Will you let me catch the biggest fish next time?"
"Certainly not," she said, her face glowing with merriment, "but I suppose I'd be willing to vouch for you if you want to tell everyone about the whale you caught that got away."