A faint, preoccupied smile played about his lips as he contemplated his strategy.

Jordan was not smiling at nine o'clock the following morning, however, when a footman returned with the information that Alexandra had most assuredly not gone to his grandmother's house; nor was he smiling a half hour later when the dowager duchess herself marched into his study to tell him that he was entirely to blame for Alex's flight, and to deliver a stinging diatribe on Jordan's lack of sensitivity, his high-handedness, and his lack of good sense.

Clad in her gown from the night before, Alexandra combed her fingers through her tousled hair, peeked into the upper hall, and then walked swiftly along the corridor and down the staircase to her own rooms.

If Jordan followed the same morning schedule as the previous two days, he would be locked away in his study with the men who came to discuss business with him in the mornings. Carefully considering ways to get herself, Filbert, and Penrose out of the house without being noticed, she walked over to the wardrobe and opened the door. The wardrobe was empty, save for a single traveling costume. Turning, Alexandra surveyed the room and noticed that all her perfumes had been cleared from the dressing table. The queer sensation that she was in the wrong room made her turn slowly round just as the door opened and a maid let out a stifled scream.

Before Alexandra could stop her, the servant turned on her heel and fled along the balcony. "Her grace is back!" she called over the balcony to Higgins.

So much for escaping without first encountering Jordan, Alexandra thought with a tremor of fear. She had not completely expected to avoid a confrontation with her husband—but she had rather hoped to do it. "Marie," she called after the maid who was already rushing down the staircase to spread the glad tidings. "Where is the duke? I'll announce my presence to him myself."

"In the study, your grace."

Raking his hands through his dark hair, Jordan paced the length of his huge, book-lined study like a caged tiger, waiting for Alexandra to appear from wherever she had spent the night, refusing to consider that she had come to harm, and unable to banish the gnawing fear that she had.

Anticipating that Hawk was going to unleash his wrath on her the moment he clapped eyes on her, Alexandra stepped quietly into the study and carefully closed the door behind her before she said, "You want to see me, I gather?"

Jordan jerked around, his emotions veering crazily from joy to relief to fury as he beheld her standing before him, her face fresh from a night's sleep that he hadn't had.

"Where in the hell have you been?" he demanded, striding to her. "Remind me never to take your 'word' again," he added with blazing sarcasm.

Alexandra restrained the cowardly impulse to back away. "I kept my word, my lord. I came directly home and went to bed."

A muscle jerked ominously in his taut cheek. "Don't lie to me."

"I slept in the governess' room," she clarified politely. "You did not, after all, order me to go to my own room."

The desire to murder exploded in Jordan's brain, followed instantaneously by the opposing urge to wrap his arms around her and shout with laughter at her incredibly ingenious defiance. She had been upstairs, blissfully asleep, the entire time he'd been prowling and drinking down here in an agony of uncertainty. "Tell me something," he said irritably, "have you always been like this?"

"Like what?" Alexandra said warily, not certain of his mood.

"A blight on peace."

"Wh-what do you mean?"

"I'll tell you what I mean," he drawled, and as he advanced upon her, Alexandra began cautiously retreating step for step. "In the last twelve hours, I have rudely walked out on my friends at White's. I've been involved in a public quarrel on a dance floor, and I've been chastised by a footman, who incidentally can drink me under the table. I've had to listen to a lecture from my grandmother, who for the first time in her life so forgot herself as to raise her voice to what can only be described as a shout! Do you know," he finished darkly while Alexandra fought to hide a wayward grin, "that I used to lead a reasonably well-ordered life before I laid eyes on you? But from that moment on, every time I turn around, something else—"

He broke off his diatribe as Higgins raced into the study, without stopping to knock, his coattails flapping behind him. "Your grace!" he panted, "there's a constable here who insists on seeing you, or her grace, personally."

With a quelling glance at Alexandra that warned her to remain where she was until he returned to finish with her, Jordan strode swiftly from the study. Two minutes later he returned, an indescribable expression of amusement and annoyance on his tanned face.

"Is—is something wrong?" she dared to venture when he seemed not to know what to say.

"Not much," he drawled dryly. "I'd say it's just another ordinary little event in what seems to be a typical day with you."

"What event?" Alexandra persisted, aware that he seemed to be holding her accountable for whatever had just happened.

"Your faithful old butler has just appeared on my doorstep in the custody of a constable."

"Penrose?" Alexandra gasped.

"The very same."

"But—what did he do?"

"Do, my dear? He went to Bond Street and was caught red-handed yesterday trying to sell my watch." So saying, Jordan lifted his hand, from which hung Alexandra's grandfather's gold watch and chain.

"Attempted bigamy, larceny, and gambling," Jordan summarized with a twitch of ironic humor at his lips. "Do you have any plans for the immediate future? Extortion, perhaps?"

"It isn't your watch." Alexandra's eyes were riveted on the watch, her only hope for purchasing her freedom. "Please give it to me. It belongs to me."

Jordan's brows drew together in surprise, but he slowly held his hand out. "I was under the impression you had given it to me as a gift."

"You accepted it under false pretenses," Alexandra insisted with angry obstinacy, reaching for the watch. "My grandfather was a man of… of noble virtue… a warm, caring, gentle man. His watch ought to go to a man like him, not like you."

"I see," Jordan replied quietly, his face suddenly wiped clean of expression as he put the watch into her outstretched palm.

"Thank you," Alexandra said, feeling somehow as if she had actually hurt him by taking the watch back. Since he had no heart, perhaps she had hurt his ego, she decided. "Where is Penrose? I must go to the authorities and explain."

Tags: Judith McNaught Sequels Billionaire Romance
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