Chapter 1 Hawthorne Mansion, Danbury, England. 1816.

George Ashton stared out her window into the pouring rain. She sighed, longing for the comfort of her horse, Thane. In her current mood, she would very well have gone out for a ride just to get away from that horrid crow that she was cursed to call Aunt. Having just returned from finishing school, of which she was most certainly finished, she was shocked - no horrified to find her home under the control of that tyrant, Aunt Eileen. Her father, whom she had always preferred at a distance, had let her aunt take over and despite George’s attempts to get him to force her aunt off the throne, he seemed content to let her rule and add his own two pence when necessary. George had never been particularly fond of her father and he had always returned the sentiment. He had wanted a boy and had never hid that fact from his daughter. At first George listened to her mother and tried to be the best daughter he could have in the hopes that he would realize that she was as fine as any male. But when her mother died, George, at the age of seven, stopped trying. It was futile and she took comfort in the fact that one day she would leave Hawthorne for good. Finishing school was merely a temporary escape route. She detested it but, with her only other choice being her home, it had been no choice at all. Someday she would get married and leave for wherever her husband’s home was. She wasn’t opposed to marriage, the right marriage; a marriage where both parties were in agreement and she would be regarded as a partner not an elevated servant. A sharp pain pulled her out of her reflections and caused her to look down in disgust at the needle work her aunt had ordered (and her father had agreed!) her to do in order to “improve herself”. A drop of blood formed where the needle had pricked her and in a moment of defiance she smeared it across a half completed swan. Standing up, she smiled grimly and placed her work on the seat; hopefully her aunt would discover it, since she seemed to find sneaking into other people’s rooms an amusing sport. When she looked out the window it was to discover that the rain had stopped. Every leaf glistened and beckoned her outside. Eager to acquiesce she picked up her riding crop which lay on her bed. She took in her clothing and shrugged; in her opinion she was ready for a ride in breeches, a white cotton shirt and sturdy black boots. She wore the breeches more to defy and scandalize her aunt than anything. She flicked a glance at a jacket she had thrown over a chair but rejected the idea and instead unpinned her hair and ran her fingers through the long black tresses with a silent apology to her maid, Ruth. After all in for a penny, in for a pound; if she was going to look like a hoyden then she might as well do it properly. Regarding herself in the mirror on her vanity, she grinned; she really looked a wild thing. She left her room, made her way down the hallway then crept towards the stairs where she stopped and listened. She didn’t fear a confrontation with her aunt but then again if she could avoid it, why bother. Hearing nothing she continued down the stairs and, taking the back entrance out, emerged in the dense forest that formed a semi-circle around the manor. She followed the path leading to the stables, enjoying the aromatic smell of wet trees. Leaving the cover of the green tunnel, she entered the stable and was surprised to

not see anyone there. She had expected at least one of the grooms and had been certain she would see little Nicolas, the chief groom’s son, who could not ordinarily be separated from the horses. Shrugging her wonder off George headed for Thane’s stall. The grooms called her ‘The Goddess’ and George agreed; the beautiful beast was snow white from mane to tail with a black flame on her forehead. At the moment Thane was nuzzling her pocket in which lay an apple which George had picked up on her way out. With a smile, George held the apple out, saying, “I knew you’d like that, smart girl.” The horse took the apple from her hand and crunched it contentedly. She ran her fingers through the horse’s mane then, opening the stall, entered and set about saddling her. After which she led Thane out of the stable, mounted and urged her into a slow trot towards the woods which acted as a boundary between Hawthorne and Chesterfield. Feeling Thane’s restlessness, she let the horse gather speed and go into a full blown gallop. Trees whizzed by and rabbits scampered in the underbrush as Thane flew over the ground at an amazing speed, winding through the woods. George was just imagining how wonderful it would be to continue at that pace forever with the wind tearing at her hair, tossing it wildly, when a loud bang came. Thane stopped so suddenly, George was nearly thrown over her head. The sound came again and George realized what it was; someone very close was using a gun. Dismounting, she looped Thane’s rein around a sturdy oak, waited a minute, whispering comforting words in her ear with the hope that she would stand quietly, and struck out towards Chesterfield where she suspected the sounds had come from. As she walked, a rage was building up in her; she hated being scared and she hated surprises and the idea that someone, who she would bet was trespassing, had managed to do both to her irked her and as she reached the clearing, fueled her into yelling out at the three men she saw. “What in the bloody hell do you think you’re doing!?” They all turned in her direction obviously startled. Two of them were on horses and held rifles while the other was operating some sort of catapult. The one on the roan was one to turn heads, with auburn hair and sparkling blue eyes, the other on a magnificent black stallion, was…she couldn’t call him merely handsome - although she grudgingly allowed him that - it seemed such a small description. On his horse he sat tall and proud, lean and superbly fit. His jaw was firm and well carved, his nose straight. The breeze lightly ruffled his hair which was blue-black and beneath equally dark brows, surprising gray eyes observed her with thinly veiled annoyance. George was momentarily distracted but the aggressive virility and uncompromising authority that he seemed to exude brought her anger back into boil. How dare the man sit there looking so arrogant when he and his friends were obviously prowlers of some sort!? She tossed her locks over her head, prepared to brow beat them into contrition when Gray-eyes asked in a voice laced with condescension. “Who are you?”

She bristled at his tone and assumed a haughty look which would have sent a lesser man scurrying. Gray-eyes met her stare with a supercilious eyebrow raised and almost forced her to look away as she snapped. “Miss Georgina Ashton.” She had put in enough arrogance and impatience into her words to distinguish herself as their better but they didn’t seemed impressed and instead rode forward and circled her like wolves would a rabbit. Auburn hair seemed to find the whole thing exceedingly funny, much to George’s disgust, and asked in laughter tinged voice. “Would it be too much to ask why you’re here Miss Ashton?” George heard the patronizing tone and felt her hackles rise; she itched to wipe the grin off his face; perhaps a bloodied nose would do the trick. “I am here, sirs, because you seem to be under the impression that this land is open to everyone. Now if you and your companion,” she nodded towards the third man who she couldn’t distinguish but who seemed to be avidly watching the by-play, “value your freedom then I suggest you leave the premises. Now.” The men exchanged looks and then Gray-eyes said, “You seem to be under some misconception, Lady Georgina. You see, this land belongs to me and if you are extremely lucky I will refrain from pressing charges against you for trespassing.” His eyes had raked over her contemptuously when he’d said the word ‘lady’ implying that he didn’t think her one and George felt her face heat up as she said more to herself than to either of them. “This land is your land.” The realization of what she had just done hit her in the stomach and she valiantly prayed for the earth to open up and swallow her. Chapter 2 George looked up; one of them had spoken. It was Auburn hair and he said, “Perhaps you are lost, dear lady and I could take you home.” Then he stopped with a smile that George was sure could stop hearts, not hers of course. “I forget my manners. Roger Haverford at your service.” He gave a bow in the saddle then as though as an after thought. “Earl of Wynding.” It was on the tip of her tongue to say it was a pleasure to make his acquaintance when the ridiculousness of it hit her and stilled her tongue. Instead she impaled Roger Haverford with a look to freeze the Thames. He was not daunted and continued with. “I would hate myself thoroughly if I were to allow a damsel in distress to wander unattended. At this point even Gray-eyes rolled his fascinating orbs at the sky and the hilarity of it had George struggling to hold back her laughter as she informed Roger that there would be no need at all to escort her home for she lived just beyond the woods. This elicited another look between them and had George wondering, irritated, if they were in some way telepathic. “On the contrary, Miss Ashton, there is every need to do so since you seem to not have a mount, I feel honor bound to take you back on mine.”

“Roger…My lord.” “No please call me Roger.” “My Lord,” she insisted, “I have no doubt that you have the most honorable intentions behind your offer but I am sure I can find my way home. On my own. I do have a mount and she is capable of taking me back the same way we came without your…much appreciated help.” She saw the laughter flit across Gray-eye’s face and once again had to struggle to keep her own composure; Roger Haverford was obviously a proficient flirt and juxtaposed with her current situation his actions seemed wholly out of place. So much so that she had to look away from them both in order to regain her serenity. When Gray-eyes spoke she knew that he too had been struggling not to laugh. “Roger it’s obvious Miss Ashton is immune to your charms and since we have dispensed with her reason for barging in here, I think letting her return home would be the most expedient thing to do.” Roger grunted a reply, gave a final bow to George and rode off towards their stables leaving herself and Gray-eyes alone. George resisted the urge to chew at her lower lip; a habit of hers which would surely reveal to him how nervous she was. Why she was nervous was beyond her but the question did little to bolster her courage. Perhaps it was his being on the horse and her having to look up at him. He remedied this soon enough and George took an involuntary step backward as she took in his height. He must have been about six feet and three inches. He raised one supercilious eyebrow and George realized she had been staring. She felt the blush rise up her neck and silently berated herself for her brief weakness. She took one more step backward so she would not have to look right up to him and said, “I suppose I must apologize for my behavior.” “I should think so.” As he said this George saw that his eyes seemed to be laughing at her…or with her. She finally let go and burst into hysterical laughter which he soon joined in. When she stopped laughing she looked at him, shook her head and said, “I truly do apologize for walking in here. I was under the impression this place was empty and that you were…” her voice trailed of as he raised a hand to silence her. “Thank you for that and I suppose I must apologize for my behavior; I am not accustomed to being accused of trespassing.” “I suppose I should be getting home; I wouldn’t want to trouble you any more than I already have.” She said this with as much equanimity as possible; the man had an effect on her which she was not prepared to explore. “You said you had a horse so I assume you can ride and won’t need my assistance.” George bit back the sarcastic rejoinder on the tip of her tongue. His arrogant assumption, obvious from his raised eyebrow, that she would be unable to get back home without his assistance had her between boiling animosity and shocked incredulity; for one moment

she had actually been enjoying his company then he had to show that supercilious chauvinism of his. As though a minute had not just passed in silence, she said, “I can find my way and if I somehow loose my ability to ride, you can be sure I won’t come begging for your help.” With that she turned and marched back into the woods, incensed because she could hear suspicious laughter behind her. She found Thane just as she had left her, perhaps slightly calmer. Untying the mount, she heaved herself unto the saddle and set of in a brisk trot towards Hawthorne. As the stable grew clearer she could hear voices. One of them was the unmistakable Scottish brogue of the chief groom, Thomas McKinley and the other undoubtedly belonged to Anthony Hovers, her riding instructor and one of the few friends she had left in Hawthorne. Not surprisingly their voices were raised in argument and although George was unwilling to eavesdrop, she was loath to sit atop her horse, waiting for them to either finish their discussion or for one of them to leave the stables and discover her presence. So she dismounted, and led the beast towards the stable; it was better for her to barge in on them, at least they would no she had no intention on listening in on them. “Are ye sure about what yer saying, man?” “Yes I’m sure! I’ve been telling you that since I started talking. Honestly one would think you Scottish were hard of hearing.” “Now look’ ere I’m jes askin’ ‘cause da lass has a special place in me heart an A wouldna be wantin’ nothin’ bad happennin’ to her.” “Yes, I know you have Lady Georgina’s interests at heart,” Anthony sighed wearily. “We all do but you must see the other side of this, if that woman has her way, there won’t be much reason for her to be here anyway.” George stopped as a cold feeling washed over her; she had planned on interrupting an argument on the best way to saddle a horse or something of that sort; they were always at loggerheads over the horses. The fact that they were discussing her, combined with the implication of what they were saying had her wanting to run far away, perhaps back to the safe enclosure of Madame Eleanor’s Finishing School. Her predicament left her tying the horse to a post by the stable – someone would undoubtedly see her – and running full speed towards the house. She practically knocked Hamilton, the butler, over in her haste to get to her fathers study. She didn’t care how much he wanted a boy; he was not going to let that evil tyrant force her out of her home. Chapter 3 George burst into her father’s study, startling his secretary but apparently not significantly bothering her father. Biting her tongue to keep from apologizing to the man,

she stared Henry, her father’s personal secretary, out of the room; he seemed grateful to be able to leave. She waited till Henry had closed the door behind him and had possibly gotten to the end of the hall, all the while glaring at her father who had an impassive expression on his face, no doubt waiting for her explosion so he could kick her out. But George wasn’t going to brushed away today; not today and never again. “I overheard a conversation today.” She began. “One would think that at that finishing you would be thought not to eavesdrop.” “It was really quite funny actually.” She went on with a sardonic smile as though he had not spoken. “Can you guess what I heard?” “No, but I’m sure you’re going to tell me soon enough.” “I heard that if that woman has her way there won’t be much reason for me to stay here.” She put enough scorn into the word ‘woman’ as to make it an epitaph. “Why is that father?” She spat out the word as it left a bad taste in her mouth. “How should I know? And more importantly why should I explain what ever gossip you might have heard from the servants?” “It’s funny you of all people should say that; especially when the servants’ word usually counts for more than yours.” “I will not be spoken to as such by a mere child.” Her father ground out. “Then how would you have this ‘mere child’ speak to you? I find it hard to stop myself from speaking to you like the lying hypocrite that you are.” Her father got up from his chair so fast; it fell back with a thud. “You are my daughter and I will not allow you to insult me thus!” He yelled at her. “You consider the truth an insult? You gave me your word as a gentleman on the day I returned from finishing school that that woman would not make any decisions concerning my life. You gave your word to the daughter you’ve suddenly remembered I am and like all promises you’ve ever mad to me you broke it.” The slap snapped her head to the side and brought furious tears to her eyes. “How dare you come in here and insult me…” “How dare I,” she bit out turning murderous eyes to face him. “You horrible, evil monster. I never understood what mother saw in you or what could have possessed her to wed such a demon but even for her sake I will never forgive you; for this and for

everything you have ever done to me.” With that she spun around and slammed her way out of the room. She burst into her room and threw herself on the bed, letting furious tears pour out of her. Jordan Harthorn, Duke of Langford, Earl of Collingwood, Fourth Viscount Hargrove, Viscount Trotwood and Baron of Ellintonwood sat in plush armchair in his study with a glass of whiskey in his hand. He swirled the remnants in the glass, staring at it without really looking, his mind filled with thoughts of flashing green eyes and long ebony hair. He remembered the way she’d yelled at him, boldly charging him with a crime he had not committed and he remembered as well his reason for coming to the country; it was unlikely that he would find any peace or quiet with her around. A small voice told him she was the perfect person to get his mind of London; she could no doubt match him in conversation. He should get to know her; she was probably a lovely person. He must be drunk. Why hadn’t he told her who he was? Because she might have turned into a simpering idiot? He doubted that but he really must get to know her. Or not. Roger seemed smitten with her already. How many times had they gone after the same girl? How many times had he let him win when it became too easy? Georgina Ashton wouldn’t be too easy. He must be very drunk. He smiled with relish as he thought of what a competition for her might be like. He would enjoy it and he could always pull away and let Roger have her if he wanted. It would be so perfect. He must be very, very drunk. The door opened and Roger walked in. No two Rogers walked in. “This really is too bad of you. If you’re going to get yourself drunk, you should wait till we’re playing cards.” Why had he brought Roger along anyway? George lay slumped in her bed, hating herself, her father and her aunt. The latter had had the audacity to come into her room and had attempted to give her a lecture on the proper behavior of a young lady. The operative word was ‘attempted’; George had not let her finish before politely but firmly asking her to leave. She had reigned in the more colorful phrases on the tip of her tongue; why resort to childish name-calling when it would only give her aunt more reason to remain in her room. Besides that she felt exhausted. Too much had happened today. It was hard to believe that only this morning she had gone out for a quiet ride. Now the sun was setting and had lit up the sky in purple and orange hues and she was in her room looking forward to nothing but a house filled with cold frigidity. She felt sick because she knew it was partly her fault and no matter how her father had done, there was no justification for her temper tantrum. She ‘d thought it was gone but hearing other people talking about her and talking about …She’d interpreted the conversation to mean her aunt doing something to make her life even worse but perhaps she had been wrong. Perhaps it was just a rumor that had spread and was probably garbled and was more than likely not true. She had never felt any strong affection for her father but had never hated him; she didn’t see him long enough to. Now she hated herself, her guilt and the cold feeling of loneliness which was chilling her to the bone.

Chapter 4 Golden rays filtered through the windows in George’s room, throwing life and light into every nook and cranny and waking the raven-haired beauty who had, only a few hours since, forced herself into a fitful sleep. She knew Rose had opened the window and knew also that she was probably waiting for her mistress to arise with her usual cheery greeting. This knowledge did little to encourage her open her eyes and instead forced her to remember that she had to see other people that day. “Wake up Georgina; this isn’t London and we must all keep country hours.” Her aunt’s voice hit her like mallet; what was she doing here? Refusing to open her eyes to the world – particularly to her aunt – she feigned a deep sleep in the hopes that Eileen would leave. Why did she always have to find a way to exacerbate issues? And why, for heavens sake, did she constantly refer to London? It seemed she was constantly trying to remind everyone that she had once lived there, had once been a debutante acclaimed by all and “knew its ways like the back of her hand”(this George learnt on the day she first met her mother’s sister, for the woman could hardly keep her mouth shut). Now though, George knew her aunt was divorced but had never thought to inquire as to why; no doubt this was because she would have been put down with some supercilious rebuff for being impertinent. But even so the concept of a divorce, so rare in England’s best families, had seemed almost normal to her when associated with someone like her aunt Eileen; someone who, from the moment George had actually conversed with her, had seemed unbelievably vapid and shallow…She felt something cold on her cheek and was compelled to open her eyes to find the source of the nuisance. Instead of her aunt she found a giant crow leaning over her bed with something red dripping of its wings onto her face. She screamed, she must have but then a clap of thunder jerked her awake. “What a perfectly horrendous dream to have.” She said, rubbing her upper arms that wee covered with goose bumps. Looking out the window she saw not golden rays but a solid gray sky within which lightening bolts could be seen. How very apropos; the weather was proving itself capable of matching her moods. She decided not to wait for Rose and swung herself out of her bed in a very unladylike way and went to seat at her desk upon which was a letter she had received just last week from her friend, Eloise Carstairs. It read: Dear George, I must say it is most odd to have to communicate with you like this. Letters! How very mundane; I almost feel like Andrew as I write this. By the way he, as well as all the rest of my family, is very well. I however am feeling despondent; it is extremely lonely here without you to cheer me up. But I have a plan to end my period of loneliness. I know you are probably thinking ‘oh dear, what is she up to now’. Yes I can just see that long suffering expression on your face right now. Be that as it may, this time my plan is most definitely full-proof. I cannot tell you what it is now in case this letter is intercepted but I

will send you everything soon. Be sure to check for my letter in ‘you-know-where’ next fortnight and do try to reply speedily for only then can my plan be set in motion. P.S I won’t address the letter to you of course because it will probably be delivered to your home notwithstanding the address so you will recognize it as the one without any name on it…of course since it will probably be the only letter being sent there, it should be quite easy. Is not my plan perfect? You must admit it, no matter how grudgingly. Yours truly, Eloise Soon to be Duchess of Somewhere. George smiled to herself at her friends closing title; Eloise had always wanted to be a duchess, ever since they were younger she had been playing at being a duchess or a princess or some other woman of lofty title. She was about to get up when something odd about the letter drew her back and she scanned it anxiously. What absurd forces were working against her? She thought in half hilarity. She had not looked at the letter since Eloise had sent it but now that she did she realized that the empty house she had subtly referred to in the letter was not empty at all. If she had to retrieve the letter, she would have to somehow get herself in there or perhaps it had not even arrived, it was supposed to come today…but if she were to intercept the mail. Oh blast and damn! Why did she have to deal with this problem as well as everything else? At that moment of quandary, Rose walked in expecting to see her mistress in bed. “Good Morning, Lady Ashton. Would you like your tea now?” “Good Morning, Rose.” George said, distracted. “Yes…yes just put it beside the window and I’ll get to it.” Rose acquiesced reluctantly as she wondered what could be bothering her usually highspirited mistress. She left the room after placing the tray on the table by the window and George leaned back into her chair. I sometimes wonder, she thought, what I did to deserve this. xx “Would you like some more tea, my lord?” “No, no more, Hartford. Is there any mail?” “Expecting something, Jordan?” Roger asked, half busy with a plate of sausages. “Nothing really important.” Was his brief reply. “I plan to go into town this afternoon if you’d care to accompany me.”

“Oh no thank you. I have plans for this afternoon. And don’t raise that eyebrow at me; our agreement only involved my ending my rakehell ways. We never discussed actually courting…” “Surely you can’t be serious, Roger.” The duke retained an impassive expression knowing Roger would only try to infuriate him into some ridiculous argument if he even showed a mild interest in his affairs. “Of course I’m serious. You said yourself that I should settle down…well you didn’t use those words but I got the general message. What better way to do that than with a beautiful thing like that.” “I didn’t get the impression she found your advances appealing.” “She’ll come around. All this situation needs is a little encouragement. A ball! That’s what we need.” “I’m not throwing a ball, Roger. I came here for some quiet.” He was about to get up when Hartford returned with a single package and an odd expression on his face. “The mail, my lord.” “Is something wrong, Hartford.” “No, of course not, my lord. Will…er…that be all?” “Yes, that will be all.” “Hartford, old man, be so good as to tell the cook tat this meal was exquisite.” “Of course, Lord Haverford.” He turned to leave but Jordan stopped him. “Is your mother well, Hartford?” “Yes, my lord and she thanks you for your kindness over the winter.” “Tell her I was glad to be of service.” “Very good, my lord.” He left the room with a distinctly renewed pride and glared a dawdling maid out of the hallway. He took pride in his ability to keep his lordships household running smoothly and more than that, he took pride in the close relationship he had with the duke. “Capital man.” Roger intoned, as he pushed away his now empty plate.

“Yes, quite irreplaceable.” Jordan was only paying his friend marginal attention as he scanned the contents of a letter within the package. “You look as though you’ve just seen a ghost. Anyone I know?” “No, fortunately not.” “What the devil do you mean by that? Are you hiding something Jordan, old man? Some coquettish young mistress? Is that where you’re going this afternoon?” “Do you enjoy being irritating? Even if that were true, why in heavens name would I tell you? If you recall I did ask if you would like to accompany me.” Jordan said, still distracted. “You wound me. Your greatest…well one of your greatest friends.” “I only know that you would find some way to engender a competition, which I am in no mood for.” “So there is a mistress.” “I never said that.” He refolded the letter and smiled, knowing he would infuriate the young lord. “But you implied…” “I did no such thing.” He turned to leave. “I must finish some things before I leave this afternoon so I’m sorry but I can’t be very entertaining.” “No offense, Jordan, but I think you don’t try very hard. Either way I’ll be too busy bringing a lovely lady around to miss your boring conversation.” “Of course. Don’t try to hard though, she might see right through you.” He left the dining room with a faint smile on his face. The Ashton girl would not be at home to be called on. She would be too busy herself. A/N: Heavens! That was a long while. I suddenly remembered why I loved Jordan. I’m sorry for the inconvenience – if there was one – but I kind of lost track of my stories and kept starting new ones. To think I started this last year! Nehoot. Cheers! Starox. Chapter 5 Chesterfield, England. 1816

George regarded the mansion with sundry feelings. The all that was left of the rain was gone since noon and the sun shone hot and bright upon the grass covered plains of Danbury and upon the lone rider. She sat ramrod straight upon her stead and ignored the skittish movements of the horse, still deep in thought. A few moments later she dismounted; she didn’t want to be overly conspicuous when she approached the house. The manor was as quiet as it had been before its re-occupancy and for a few seconds Georgiana wondered if she’d been right to assume the worst about those men. She dismissed the thought though when she espied someone at the doorway. Reverend Whitney Davis came out fully, blinking in the sunlight. He addressed some words to the person at the doorway then left, walking briskly up the garden path and then out the gate. The residence was most definitely occupied but the problem still remained about how to get herself in it. She had no intention of breaking in as the ruckus that would be involved were she caught did not appeal to her. And yet approaching the house as a passing caller did not appeal to her either. She would have to see that arrogant man again and worse still, would have to somehow explain her friend’s usage of his current address. Or perhaps not. She could always come up with something close enough to the truth to be believed and could leave as soon as possible. After all, he’d only just moved there and had no real reason to be curious. After tying the reins of her horse to a nearby tree, she strode purposefully towards the main doors, reducing her stride as she went. She had donned a riding dress in attempt at some ladylike appearance. Perhaps Mr. Harthorn’s chauvinistic ego would be appeased and he would be more willing to part with the letter…or was it a package? The dress was a leaf green that accentuated her eyes and although she had not picked it with the idea of beguiling Harthorn, the stunning lady that she looked would indeed have done just that, had she met him. Having reached the doors and having decided to confront Harthorn, she rang the bell, and waited for someone to come and attend to her. The door opened soon enough to reveal a portly man of over forty who she assumed to be the butler and to whom she made a ghost of a curtsy before stating her business. “I would very much appreciate it if you would tell him that a friend of his wishes to see him.” Why tell him Mr. Harthorn had only just met her yesterday and in a very mortifying way? “My apologies, my lady, but His Grace isn’t in at the moment.” He answered her as though he’d expected her call all morning. His grace? “But he did leave a message as he expected your call.” “I see. And what did his grace say, may I ask?”

“He told me to inform you that he would be dining at the Rapier and he hoped that you could join him sometime before two o’clock.” “Join him?” She asked, incredulous at the man's gall. “Yes, my lady, he wishes that you not distress yourself as there will be ample chaperones present. He says he would have come by your residence himself but he had matters of import to attend to.” “His Grace doesn’t do things by halves does he?” she asked, a sarcastic edge to her voice. “No, my lady, he does not.” There was a hint of pride in the man’s voice - he was obviously oblivious to her insincerity - as he said this and when she said good bye and turned to leave, she couldn’t help wondering if the package was within the house; it seemed silly to imagine that she should have been allowed in but the closed door behind her left her with the urge to search the place herself. Another thought, slightly less important than the first flashed across her mind. His Grace indeed! He would hope she could join him. Well he could cool his heels waiting. She had no intention of arriving at the Rapier anytime before three o’clock! xx The Rapier. A quarter after three o’clock. His Grace, the Duke of Langford, Earl of Collingwood, Fourth Viscount Hargrove, Viscount Trotwood and Baron of Ellintonwood allowed his gaze to rest on Miss Fortesque as her mother continued her monologue on the excitements that one might enjoy in the country, despite popular opinion. He was almost sure that that had been the topic she’d begun with but after only thirty minutes of her gratingly loud speech he was contemplating some means of shutting her up. A cutting set down came to mind but while that would accomplish the task of keeping her away from him, he had no intention of estranging himself from the crop in Chesterfield. If the rest of these people turned out this way however, he might be forced to do just that. He almost pitied the daughter as she’d tried twice to gain her mother’s attention, the second time nudging his foot instead. She’d turned a bright red and muttered something incomprehensible. Her mother hadn’t noticed this and had continued gaily adding, at opportune moments, little snippets on “darling Maria’s” accomplishments. And she didn’t even know of his titles, he thought, somewhat amused by her conspicuous efforts to marry her daughter off. He smiled lazily at Maria who had only just raised her head having spent the better part of twenty minutes bent over something in her lap. She blushed once more and resumed her inspection of her skirt. “An annoying spot, Miss Fortesque?”

She looked up at his voice and he saw laughter in her eyes. She looked about to reply when Mrs. Fortesque asked, confusion apparent in her voice. “Of what do you speak, Mr. Harthorn?” “I was merely remarking on Miss Fortesque’s continued quiet. One is usually hard pressed to find a woman who is appreciative of silence.” He bit his tongue the moment he let the words slip from his mouth; he was not usually rude. “What I meant was that I am often given to long bouts of reflection and have yet to come across many who enjoyed this pastime.” That was hardly better but Mrs. Fortesque's smile hadn’t wavered, it even bordered on a predatory nature. “Yes, many have remarked on Maria darling’s becoming silence. She is indeed a rare flower.” Miss Fortesque who had looked affronted at Jordan’s words now looked incredulously at her mother who seemed to be intently examining the duke. She looked, to Jordan, torn between amusement and outrage. “I think, mother, that we’d best leave if we are to meet Mrs. Darborough for tea.” She said quickly hoping to draw her mother from her supposed prey. “Of course, my dear.” She smiled dotingly on her daughter. “Oh. Mr. Harthorn, perhaps you could be induced to join us country folk this evening. I happen to be hosting this year’s Opening Harvest ball. It will doubtless be a small affair compared to what you’re used to in London but I do pride myself on my balls; they’re said to be quite lovely. And later you might enjoy Maria dear’s music. She is quite accomplished in that area, you see.” Jordan held his smile in check at the apologetic look Miss Fortesque cast him at her mother’s proposal. “Of course. I should be delighted. A friend of mine will enjoy the merriment also I’m sure. If he will be welcome.” “Oh, surely.” She replied, her smile widening at what Jordan could only suppose was the news that two males were to be added to her party. “If you could both come at eight to the Terlberry House. You really cannot miss it. It’s right beside the parsonage.” “We’ll be there promptly.” He affirmed quietly, watching them rise and rising also. They both exchanged genuflections and Mrs. Fortesque led her daughter out of the restaurant. Jordan reseated himself and, taking a golden watch from his pocket, leaned forward on his elbows and stared at the time. Gideon, his hostler’s apprentice, had come to the Rapier over two hours ago with the news that Miss Ashton had indeed arrived at his

home and had been given his message. When he’d noticed the carriage outside the restaurant he’d thought she’d arrived but that vehicle had only brought Mrs. and Miss Fortesque. Now it was a quarter to three and still the chit hadn’t come. Maidenly outrage at his suggestion seemed unlikely unless he’d misjudged her. And it was doubtful that he had. That female Bonaparte was probably making him wait with the misguided notion that she could bring him to heel. Annoyance and amusement battled within him as he pondered over whether he should allow Miss Ashton that pleasure. The impudent miss needed a lesson in manners. Just what to do however was the question. The door opened, he looked up and was oddly disappointed when it was merely a gentleman in an overcoat who entered. His horse, tethered outside, was strangely familiar and he was still considering this when a shadow darkened the table and the gentleman who’d arrived moments before seated himself in the seat previously occupied by Mrs. Fortesque. Jordan looked quizzically at the man and puzzlement turned to shock as the man threw of her cloak and revealed a woman with a decidedly smug expression on her face. She wore a plain white shirt that dipped at the neck to reveal an alluring vee of creamy white skin. The shirt stretched across her ample chest when she raised her hand to untie her hair letting the wild locks run down her back. “You look stunned, sir, or should I say Your Grace. I must say it is a most fitting expression.” “You little heathen.” He said slowly. “Who could have possibly let you ride out like this?” “Like what, your Grace?” “You can stop reminding me of my title, Miss Ashton. It was my intention that you become aware of it as I hardly consider it a secret. And to answer your question, like a shameless…” “Would you and the lady like something to drink?” The boy addressed Jordan but his gaze rested on the soft mounds pushing at Georgina’s shirt. Glaring pointedly at him, Jordan stood abruptly and, walking around the table, pulled Georgina’s chair out. “No.” He bit out. “The lady and I are leaving.” The lad scurried away not willing to annoy the tall gentleman anymore than he had. He’d only looked at her, he thought indignantly as he bumped into a table earning a frown from his employer. “Get up, Miss Ashton.” Jordan said in a clipped tone from behind her.

“I have no wish to leave, Your Grace.” She said in a bored tone. “I do wonder why you frightened that boy away. You shouldn’t have told him we didn’t want anything either. That was badly done of you especially since I am quite famished.” She continued looking around as though searching for someone else to take her order. “If you would be so kind as to hand me my package, you can leave and I can enjoy…Ow! What on earth do you think you are doing?” She asked pulling away from the biting grip on her upper arm that had pulled her up from her seat. “As I said, we are leaving.” He threw that over his shoulder as her pulled her towards the door. She grabbed her coat which she’d worn to ride through the town and which this odious duke might not give her the chance to put on. “I am not going anywhere with you." She snapped."And will you let go of my arm, you’re drawing attention to us.” “You do not need my help in that area, Miss.” He snapped, pushing the door open when they reached it. He pulled her towards an unmarked carriage with four black purebreds reined to its front and practically pushed her in. She started to get out when his voiced lashed out. “Don’t you dare.” Sending a fulminating glare his way she sat back in the squabs and crossed her arms. “Don’t forget my horse, sir.” She called out to him. She watched him untie Thane and lead her to the back of his carriage. She almost expected him to enter but he walked by and, taking the front seat, clicked the four into a brisk trot. They drove for a considerable while before George glanced out the window. She almost leaned back before she realized that she didn’t recognize the scenery. “Where are you taking me?” She asked, angry at how frantic her voice sounded. He didn’t answer. A/N: I’m truly sorry for not updating for what has it been. Months? Surely not years. Nehoot. I made it nice and long to make it up. I rather like this story. Do you? Let me know what you think. More reviews will egg me on you know. Thanks a lot Kate for your review. I’m sorry I didn’t update after AP’s but the Regents came right after and I really didn’t get much time. My exams were all great though so I’m happy enough to actually look at my stories. I’ve been doing a lot of research reading so I might actually get better. One can only hope. Cheers! Starox. Chapter 6 George stuck her head out the window hoping he just hadn’t heard her. “What the devil do you think you’re doing?” She called to him trying, as she did, to remember the forest they had entered. While she was certain she had ridden through it on at least one occasion – her infrequent visits home from Madame Eleanor’s had provided little more

entertainment – there were many such woodland areas in Danbury each one almost identical to the other. She looked up at the duke and considered throwing her pocket watch at his head; it wasn’t a very valuable piece and if it struck true would be worth the effort. The conceited oaf was either quite deaf or was simply ignoring her. From what she knew of him, she was certain it was the latter. “I wouldn’t be too surprised to learn that you’re quite enjoying yourself in this sadistic fashion, my lord duke, but if it is your intention to frighten me with your silence then let me assure you that you are failing miserably. In fact your silence is much appreciated; having never been treated to such unwarranted arrogance before, I might react quite violently if you were to speak now. Yes, your silence is…Ow!” She jerked back into the carriage and rubbed the side of her head where a protruding branch had struck. She fairly boiled when she heard what was unmistakably the duke’s laughter. The bounder. Well she would maintain a dignified silence from now. If he wanted to get lost he was welcome to doing so. The second he stopped, she was leaving; she would jump out if she had to and be gone before he even realized it. Let him find his way out the dense forest, she would find some landmark and leave through a shortcut. Danbury was as famous for them as it was for its forests. She didn’t bother looking out the carriage again but leaned into the plush squabs calculating how long it would take her to get back home. Getting Thane, she thought, might be a risk but she couldn’t risk leaving her mare with this man. She wasn’t even aware that they’d stopped until the door was pulled open and Harthorn looked to be about to enter. She blinked then threw herself at the opposite door only to be jerked back by an arm around her waist. An odd almost nauseating feeling went through her and she extricated herself from his grip only to fall back unto his lap. And his cursed arm was now firmly around her. “Would you let me up, sir?” She said through gritted teeth, the last word coming out like an epithet. “I find I rather like you in this position.” He drawled, his voice close to her ear. His warm breath at her cheek was disconcerting and she squirmed in an effort to loosen his grip. “Don’t.” He sounded strained and squeezed her middle until she stopped her movement. “Will you let me up then?” she asked, becoming more and more conscious of their close proximity and not keen to find out just how intense the feeling below her abdomen could get. “How about you promise not to try one more daring escape.” His voice, at its normal timbre, was affecting her in ways she was loathe to understand so her answer was an almost high pitched ‘no’. He sighed resignedly then said, “I didn’t think you would…however I think I can manage you if you do try some escape…unless you now care to stay.” Her face flamed and she

practically jumped from him to the seat opposite. She hadn’t realized he’d let her go and had sat there longer than she should have. Like some ninny! She cursed under her breath at that weakness and refused to look at him. Manage her indeed! The conceited chauvinist! She kept flicking at an invisible speck of dirt on her coat until she realized he wasn’t talking. Surely he doesn’t expect me to say something. She finally looked up, blue eyes glinting. She had to work to keep the blush from creeping up her cheeks. He was so relaxed, his left elbow resting on the seat’s arm, his chin resting on fingers which he bent towards him. But his eyes. They looked so…heated. So alive, they spoke to her and spoke such words she was hard pressed to keep from leaping out the window. “Do you intend to turn back anytime today, your grace?” She snapped, angrier with herself than with him. “I see we’re back to that.” He sighed once more. “But yes I do intend to return. What to do with you though...” He stroked his chin contemplatively. “Do with me?” She asked, slowly. “Do with me?” Her voice rose slightly. “Let me assure you sir that you need not do anything with me.” “Hmmm. Yes, I suppose you’re right. Very anti-climatic don’t you think?” His dry tone belied the lightness of the question. He pulled a watch from his pocket and flipped it open. A frown crossed his forehead and he replaced the timepiece before looking back at her. “Or perhaps not.” She couldn’t stop her eyebrows from rising slightly at that. “I’ll assume that you’re familiar with the area.” It wasn’t a question but she nodded slowly. “Then you will have no trouble finding your way home from here.” Yet another statement but to this she didn’t remain silent. “Find my way home?!” She began heatedly. “After it was your shortsighted decision to go on this escapade that brought me here? You really can't be serious. Not that I would have any trouble getting home but…” He’d raised a hand to silence her but her quiet was more flabbergasted than compliant. “I really hate to interrupt one of your more enlightening diatribes but I must say that this…escapade, as you called it, was hardly shortsighted yet was really never my decision. You quite took it out of my hands with your childish behavior…” “My what?! Me?! Childish?” “Which caused me,” He went on as though she hadn’t spoken. “To miss an appointment of a rather delicate nature.” “This. This despotic attempt to punish me is because I kept you waiting for a few minutes?” “Then you admit to that being your intent?”

“Of course I admit it! Why the devil wouldn’t I? After your arrogant assumption that I would meet you anywhere after one day’s acquaintance.” She couldn’t determine if his flush was in embarrassment or anger but it humanized him enough for her to say, “I know nothing of you Mr. Harthorn but I would rather not become one more appointment of a ‘rather delicate nature’.” If the implication of her words didn’t do it, her condescending, clipped tone as she added the rest was sure to send him over the edge. “You will take me home and will avoid any more contact with my person.” His eyes turned into a deadly tempest for the barest second then closed off into impassivity. “Get out.” She almost flinched at the biting chill in his tone but made no move towards the door. “Much as I would rather enjoy tossing you out, Miss Ashton, I draw the line at causing bodily harm to children.” It didn’t cross her mind to remain to see if he would follow through on that since he looked, no seemed ready to kill. It wasn’t written anywhere in his expression but the stiffness with which he held himself was quite obvious. Biting her tongue to keep from saying anything that might enrage him further, she stood as much as was possible and with careful dignity swung the door open and stepped out. Her feet had only just touched the ground when the door closed behind her. She glared with as much animosity as she could muster at the vehicle. It was disconcerting to find that she couldn’t muster as much as she would have liked. There had been something in his eyes then that made her now feel guilty about her slight. It was just barely but it still niggled at her as she started back the way she was sure they’d come. A/N: Oh wow. You guys are really awesome. Thank you all for the reviews. I loved every single one of them and I’m truly sorry for not posting this earlier but I kept being thwarted by school. Nehow, I hope you enjoyed that. It didn’t exactly go as planned but I saw some more that I could add to the whole story with this. I’d really appreciate your opinions so feel free to review. Hehe. Now that the formalities are over…Cheers! Luv y’all. The next one will be soon I promise. Chapter 7 Terlberry House “My uncle brought it back with him from London. It’s so very entertaining, I’m sure you’ll love it.” Maria said, as they both observed the dancing couples. Or, thought George with a wry smile, as Maria kept her company and avoided any gentleman who would have sought her hand. “Emma you said it was? Well I’m sure I’ll enjoy it if you think so.” The two stood some way into a low balcony that looked onto the ballroom of

the Terlberry house and had been there for sometime after Maria had managed to extricate herself from her mother’s side. “You know, your mother might try to intervene if she thought you weren’t hunting on my account.” “Hunting? Oh George, you really make it sound quite awful.” “And don’t say it is! I only couldn’t stand Dustan staring at me in that way any more.” She added as Georgina started to open her mouth. “So you’re starting to read my mind?” George asked, with a small smile. “No,” Maria observed slowly. “I’ve only known you long enough to know what route your mind is taking.” “You should just let me shoot him in the foot; he’s unlikely to ask you to dance if he can’t do it himself.” George said after that statement. She appeared deep in thought, seemingly contemplating her glass of punch. Maria glanced sharply at her. “You’re not serious, George.” “Are you?” She pressed when, her friend didn’t reply immediately. “I will tell my father if he does anything more.” “Of course you will, dear,” George said with a smile. “I was only teasing. Besides, with my aim, I might endanger the Dustan dynasty.” “George!” Maria had turned a bright red at Georgina’s boldness and now looked around to see if anyone had joined them on the circle. “Where do you hear such things?” Shaking her head at Georgina’s unrepentant grin, she stared resolutely at the descending balcony which the balcony faced. Her cheeks, just returning to their normal color, flamed as she turned back towards Georgina. “What is it?” George asked, concern over her friend’s discomfort written on her classic features. “Him…No don’t turn around!” She grabbed George’s arm as she started to turn towards whoever ‘Him’ was. “Alright…who is ‘Him’?” She asked. “I don’t know!” Maria snapped, her color blooming. “I only know he’s been staring at me for the past ten minutes and now I actually looked at him and he raised his glass to me and…Oh George, he’s gorgeous!” Georgina raised one amused brow and asked, in a laughter tinged voice, “If I’m very careful, can I see this ‘gorgeous’ gentleman?” “Well I suppose…but be very inconspicuous about it. I would hate for him to think we were talking about him.”

“Of course.” George said, mentally shaking her head at her friend’s sudden fretfulness over some man. She turned and allowed her eyes to run over the ballroom before glancing noncommittally at the staircase. She felt her heart lurch. “Maria,” She started slowly. “Please tell me he isn’t the man you’re talking about.” “Who?” Maria asked, surprised at Georgina’s sudden pallor. “The gentleman in the black evening dress.” She intoned in reply. “Oh not him.” Maria said, some relief entering her voice. “That would be Mr. Harthorn. Mother invited him. I meant the gentleman speaking to him in the tan.” “Harthorn is here?” George asked, slowly. “Are you acquainted with him? Mother and I met him earlier today in the Rapier and well…he was compelled to attend.” George seemed oblivious to her friend’s humor as the one person she would rather never had seen again seemed to be about to turn her way. She pulled Maria by the arm, deeper into the balcony, so that the shadow of the curtain might hide them. “George! Why ever did you do that?” “Let’s just say, Mr. Harthorn and I are not the best of friends.” Giving her a puzzled look, Maria asked, “What did you do, George?” “It seemed so serious a question to Georgina who was starting to see the humor in the situation that she promptly burst out laughing. “‘What did I do’? Heavens, Maria, what are you imagining I did?” Looking slightly sheepish, Maria said, “Well, I don’t know but it can’t be anything good if you’re hiding from him.” “I’m not hiding from him. I merely don’t wish to see him.” She earned a quizzical look for that vague statement. “Oh look, they’re going down. Do you think perhaps he would ask me to dance? I know it’s unlikely with all the…” “Oh bosh!” George said, knowing her friend was eager to somehow meet her ‘gorgeous’ gentleman. “Go on down, he’s probably hoping you will.” “If you think so…” Maria said, hesitantly.

“Go!” George said, allowing exasperation to enter her voice and watched her friend leave the balcony in haste to be beside her mother before He asked someone else for the dance. George edged towards the balcony edge after a time and was just in time to see Jordan Harthorn leave the ballroom for the gardens. So we don’t enjoy frivolities, do we my lord Duke. She thought and told herself that it was only a desire to inquire about her package that led her out into the gardens after him some moments later. It had nothing to do with the strange feeling in her stomach that had been bothering her since she’d left him that afternoon and had intensified when she’d seen him in the ballroom. She had to go deep into the maze-like garden before she heard the striking of a match as she neared the center where she knew there was a large pond. Some ducks floated across its surface and the duke stood at its bank, one gleaming booted foot resting upon a rock. He’d lit a cheroot and a soft trail of smoke traced the air. “Good evening.” Her voice sounded odd to her and she swallowed painfully as he turned towards her. He didn’t seem too surprised at her presence and only raised one significantly bored eyebrow and nodded a greeting in her direction. “I…perhaps we…I would like to apologize Mr…I mean, Your Grace.” Why did she have to sound so caustic? He said nothing for some moments before taking the cheroot in two fingers and letting a trail of smoke slip from his mouth. “Apology accepted.” She sighed; glad they were on some firm ground. “Though I do think you could work on your apologies. I can’t say, of course if it is your lack of propriety that allows you to turn an apology into an insult but…” She didn’t let him finish but turned in a furious huff out of the clearing and back into the maze. She had gone several steps before his laughter stopped her. He was laughing! He’d done that only to raise her hackles. As you probably did his. She shook the tempering thought away and turned back towards the pond, intent on giving the duke a word or two about his own manners. She stopped as she reached the clearing and revenge entered her mind. He had his back towards her and George knew it was this that brought the wicked and somewhat infantile thought into her head. She wasn’t sure she could do it but if she were extremely quiet, she could manage it. Raising her wide skirt that it would not brush against the grass and alert the duke to her presence, she moved towards him. She stood behind him a while later and allowed a slow breath to escape her before shoving him forward into the water. It would have gone quite splendidly had he not heard her, a hair’s breadth before she pushed, and grabbed her arm, shock written on his face. They both plunged into the knee deep water and rose spluttering.

“You little witch!” Jordan cursed as he wiped the water from his face with a soaked handkerchief. A duck swam by him and quacked in his face. George who was attempting to stand let a small chuckle get passed her lips. “Don’t you dare laugh! You ought to be horse whipped.” The duke glared in her direction just as the duck swam back and attempted to steal his handkerchief. It quacked angrily as he splashed it away. This time George didn’t try to hold back her laughter. She let it bubble forth and it wasn’t long before the duke joined in albeit somewhat reluctantly. They got out of the water and, sitting on the bank, laughed like two old friends who’d just shared some joke from their past. Jordan stopped first. “That was irresponsible. Very childish, if I do say so myself.” “Oh, don’t.” Georgina got out, still laughing. “I suppose I should apologize this time.” “This time?” He asked, incredulous. “Yes, I suppose you should.” He added in a dry tone. She giggled. A slight breeze blew and she shivered. He must have noticed because his next words were laced with concern. “Now you’ll doubtless catch a cold, silly brat. Let’s get inside.” He’d already begun to rise. “There must be some way to explain this.” He was muttering to himself and George shook her head vehemently. “No, no, we can’t go in. Mrs. Fortesque would have a fit and my aunt would have a fit and well let’s just say this would turn quite ugly.” He seemed to consider this before, pulling her to her feet none too gently. “Or perhaps you could take me home.” George wasn’t sure why she’d suggested it and a feeling of dread ran through her but was gone before she could examine it. He said nothing for some time, and then nodded. “Come on then. You’ve been exposed to this cold for too long as it is.” He led her by the hand, out of the garden not saying a word and George let herself be led just as silently, thinking up a story to explain her sudden leave taking to her aunt. They’d reached the front of the Terlberry house and were some feet from a plain black carriage she recognized from earlier in the day when she heard a shout. She turned, surprised to hear Maria when she saw her aunt, Mrs. Fortesque and Lady Branleigh, a woman of considerable girth at the top of the front steps. They bore down on the two of them and her aunt moved to her side, casting a furious glare at Harthorn. He frowned, turning from the glaring matron to his quarry. Then his face lost all expression and his eyes bored into hers with chilling fury. She shivered, puzzled at his reaction. He dropped her hand as though it were something filthy he’d been touching. “I trust we will discuss this tomorrow, sir.” Her aunt’s voice was perhaps even colder than was Harthorn’s look and George, frowning at the both of them turned to an ashen Maria.

“I’m sorry George; I thought…I was trying to…” “What the devil are you talking about?” Chapter 8 “Nothing too difficult for you to comprehend, Madam.” My lord’s voice was clipped and contempt seemed to drip from his words. George cast him a wondering look, and then shrank from the cold fury in his eyes. A sickening wave ran over her and she shook her head, her mouth opened in horror. She jerked out of her aunt’s grip and stepped back facing the two. She heard Maria’s sniff behind her and stiffened at the sound. “Will you stop being a goose, Maria; there surely is no need for this melodrama.” She met her aunt’s eyes and let that woman see that she would not be cowed by censure and then said, “Since you are here, Aunt, there will be no need for his...Mr. Harthorn to accompany me home.” “But surely...child, you must understand...” Lady Branleigh’s patronizing speech was cut short when George spun and turned a withering glare upon her person. “I did not think this detestable situation could be exacerbated so I must thank you for correcting me on that notion. I trust however that there are other more tantalizing gossips for you to entertain yourself with.” The lady blanched then turned a furious rouge before sweeping away with an offended sniff “Ghastly creature.” George hissed through clenched teeth. Mrs. Fortesque nodded and followed rather hastily. “George, dear, you mustn’t be so fierce. Now she is sure to turn this into classic for the mills.” Maria had come beside her and now placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Do not touch me!” She swung upon her friend, her eyes spitting fire and her person shaking with the effort to hold back the tumultuous emotion within her. She opened her mouth to say more when strong hands tightened around her shoulders. She stiffened but before she could protest, was whipped around and crashed into the duke’s solid frame. “Georgina control yourself. No, don’t fight me.” He added the latter as she began struggling in earnest. She raised a mutinous face and eyes that had just moments before glittered dangerously now brimmed with tears. Sending one final kick at his shin, she buried her face in his coat front. “Oh you horrid, detestable man, why did I ever set eyes on you?” She shook in his arms and he felt an odd tightening in his chest. Cracked sobs seemed to tear from her and he tightened his hold.

“Don’t cry, brat,” He intoned softly, his hand running slowly down her back. She stiffened and made to pull away from him but he allowed her only half a step back. “Not yet,” he said, drawing his handkerchief out. Georgina only barely suppressed a giggle as he wrung it out before handing it to her. She accepted the slightly dry cloth and blew into it, avoiding his eyes and staring at his ruined cravat. An irritated cough broke the silence and George, finding herself released, moved to Maria who looked a picture of hurt indignation. “Maria, dear, I am so dreadful at times, aren’t I?” She sighed, standing a step from her friend. “But that is no excuse.” She gave her a wavering smile and the other returned it, eager to be over with the business. She pulled George into a hug and murmured words of understanding into her ear. The broke apart and Maria said softly, “I shall come tomorrow, dear. Don’t let them bully you.” She didn’t have to say who ‘them’ was; George knew what she would have to bear from her aunt and her father. Maria squeezed her hand then nodding civilly to Harthorn and Lady Ashton, she started back to the house. Lady Ashton coughed again, and said, “Georgina, you will come home with me and we can inform your father of this happenstance. I am sure Mr. Harthorn must understand the extreme delicacy of this matter.” George cast a baleful look her way for those autocratic words and announced with much asperity that she was going to their carriage. Having made this shocking statement, the good lady started for the road. “Don’t be a fool, Georgina.” My lord’s voice cracked in the air. “You’re soaked to the bone.” His quarry halted for some seconds, after which, having obviously determined that Harthorn was no threat, she continued. She was after all really going to their carriage, waiting at the end of the estate. A worthy parting shot sprang into her mind and she spoke it, glad to be able to leave with some dignity. “I am quite capable of walking, sir, as you should know.” She had only taken three more steps before she felt herself leave the ground and found herself tossed over my lord’s shoulder. “You, my dear, are an insolent chit.” He turned to Lady Ashton whose horrified expression and choked expletives didn’t deter him. “Where is your vehicle that I may deposit this baggage.” Finding no suitable words to reply this calmly spoken request, Eileen pointed him towards the end of the drive. “I will not give you the satisfaction of struggling, sir, but I am perfectly capable—” “Yes, I know you can walk, brat,” He snapped. “I have no intention, however, of allowing you to die of pneumonia when there are far less idiotic ways of dealing with this predicament.”

“You—” “Shut up.” “I wasn’t—” “Georgina…” He began, the warning clear to her ears. She pursed her lips but fell silent. He let her down at the front of the carriage, allowed the liveried footman to open the door and watched her enter the vehicle. “I wasn’t going to walk,” She said stiffly. “I was coming here.” He gave her a cursory glance, his face inscrutable but said nothing. Her aunt reached the carriage, nodded to him and entered. He closed the door and stepped back as the driver flicked the horses into a brisk trot. xx The duke arrived early the next morning, his black coach drawing up in front of the house sometime before nine. Georgina watched his driver, in deep blue and gold livery, open the door and his grace walk briskly up the front path. His black jacket stretched over wide shoulders and opened to a snowy white shirt that tucked into form-fitting grey breeches. Appropriately somber, she thought, grimly. He stood at the door, slapping a pair of gloves in his hand. Go away. She thought weakly. Go before they come. The door must have been opened for he disappeared from view. She sighed and wondered when someone would come and open her door. She had been locked in her bedroom after her father had exhausted his tirade last night. She wasn’t sure what had kept her silent throughout the angry ten minute rant but she had been glad to sink into her bed when he was done. Her aunt had kept silent after divulging her version of events. Her father hadn’t wanted to hear hers. She had disgraced herself, would be the talk of the village. Was a wanton, willful child who would be the death of him. She was, he had said, a disgrace to her poor mother. That had, perhaps, hurt the most but she knew any words on her part would only incense him more and ten minutes would undoubtedly turn into twenty. She turned from her window as she heard her door being unlocked some thirty minutes later and steeled herself to face her aunt or her father. Eileen entered and shut the door behind her, meeting the unwavering stare of her niece with something akin to admiration. She’s just like her mother, the woman thought, a dull ache in her chest as she remembered her sister-in-law. The woman had had the same inborn strength. Strength that, interpreted by her brother as defiance, had been weakened by his overbearing nature. “Georgina,” She began. “I would speak to you before you go down.”

“I have nothing to say to you.” Green eyes glittered at her in open challenge and she bit back a smile at the hauteur in those eyes that was a forceful reminder of Jocelyn whenever she was piqued. “Well I have much to say to you,” She said briskly moving to the four poster bed in the center of the room. She seated her self then patted the space beside her. Georgina, instead, sat back on the window seat. Eileen sighed, knowing that if she moved, her niece would doubtless do the same. “Why will you not concede?” She asked. “I am your only friend in this debacle so you might as well trust me.” “Friend?!” George seemed to choke on the word and stared incredulously at her aunt. “If you are my only friend…” “Don’t be so quick to burn your bridges, you silly child.” She snapped. “Your father has as good as sold you to that man. It would only be in your interests to know what you’re going to face.” “Sold…?” She paled considerably and confusion played across her face. “The duke has agreed to marry you and has settled on us very generously.” The disgust in her aunt’s voice as she said the word was palpable and distracted George from the fact that she had called Harthorn ‘the duke.’ She gave her a puzzled look before speaking. “I don’t understand what you mean by sold, Aunt. I have no intention of marrying Harthorn, of course, but if he did discuss marital plans with father, a settlement would have come up…” “It wasn’t merely a settlement.” Eileen broke in grimly. “It was meant to keep this quiet. Once Harthorn told your father who he was, the issue became not whether he would marry you but how much he could pay to keep this imbroglio from reaching London or the courts. There was no need for that, of course; Harthorn had been ready to accept responsibility but your father threatened to drag his name through the mills. Harthorn knew why he did it which is why your father is now three hundred thousand pounds richer as we speak.” “Three…” George couldn’t voice the amount and stared, staggered as her aunt continued. “Your father—” “But I’m not marrying Harthorn! I just have to let them know…” “The cleric was just sent for.”

“Why do you look so grim? Can’t you see that this won’t happen? I can’t marry him! He doesn’t want to marry me! Nothing happened for goodness sake!” Her aunt’s now sympathetic gaze was more than she could bear and she jerked to her feet determined to go and end the farce that was being played out below stairs. She’d reached the door when her aunt caught her and stopped her from slamming out of the room. “You, neither of you, has any choice in the matter, Georgina.” “But I must have some…” “Don’t go down there and prove yourself a henwit!” Eileen said. “Harthorn is not backing out of this and neither are you. He has been treated to your father’s ingratiation and he has borne it admirably but you cannot go in there and embarrass him by suggesting he not act honorably.” “Honorably…” George said weakly. Eileen’s face softened at the defeat she saw in her niece’s eyes. “You cannot go out of here expecting to change anything. You must only face this with dignity. Harthorn is a good man…” She finished somewhat lamely. “Your father has acted…but never mind that. You will not accept blame for this debacle and you will not go in there looking like a little lamb. You were silent last night and I was proud of you and now you will do this with pride and that arrogance I saw in your eyes a few moments ago.” “Harthorn…” “Not Harthorn, you goose. Your father.” They stared at each other as understanding dawned in one and approval at the resolve that followed lit the other. A bond formed between the two and as Georgina left the room, it lifted her head and let her march down the hallway. A/N: Heavens, you don’t know how much I love you guys. Reviewing when I’ve been such a terrible poster. sigh Well I hope this is good. Cheers! Starox.

Chapter 9 There was silence as she entered her father’s book room but Georgina knew the two had been talking just moments before; she’d heard her father’s ingratiating voice from some distance away down the hallway and the look on Harthorn’s face upon seeing her was one of utter gratitude at having rescued him from what was undoubtedly a distasteful

task. She nearly smiled as conversation with her father invariably caused that reaction. Jordan rose and nodded a brief greeting – to which she returned a ghost of a curtsy – before he began. “There are matters in need of discussion, Miss Ashton which I believe – and your father agrees – require our immediate attention,” he said. “I trust there is a room in which we may find the necessary privacy.” Well that certainly makes my part much easier; I thought I should have to engender some excuse to get him alone. “Of course, Mr. Harthorn. If you will follow me.” She had ignored her father with what she felt was admirable equanimity and was glad he had made no effort to change that. If Harthorn found this odd, he gave no indication of it and followed her in silence. The room opposite – what was once her mother’s reading room – would be appropriate, she decided and, after shutting them both in that room, turned to my lord ready to begin a speech she had rehearsed to some extent on the way from her bedroom. “Mr. Harthorn,” she began. “Are you well?” The interruption distracted her and she paused giving him a quizzical look before saying, slowly, “Well? Why yes, I am well. But why should you…do you mean because of the water?” “No, not the water. Not that that did not cross my mind,” he said somewhat impatiently. “After talking with your father, besides wishing he were not so many years my senior, I got the impression you were blamed for all that transpired last evening and I could not help but worry. I cannot say that I like your father, Miss Ashton.” While mentally suppress the tiny leap of her heart at his concern for her, and a grin at his wish, she said, “Well don’t be so put out about it; I can’t claim much affection for him either. But he has not sunk so low. A fact for which I remain glad.” There was some bitterness in her voice which Jordan could not help but note and so he did not grin as he wanted to at her bluntly spoken words but asked, “Do you understand the circumstances which mow surround us, Miss Ashton?” She frowned, coloring slightly and looked away from him; her aunt’s words were still fresh in her mind. “Yes, perfectly, Mr. Harthorn. And you may rest assured they are as repugnant to me as they must be to you.” He looked, for a moment, shocked and almost embarrassed as though he’d been caught doing something he ought not before his features became, once more, inscrutable. All these Georgina missed but she did catch the ironic tone as he said, “Oh certainly, the feeling must be mutual.”

Glancing sharply at him, she said rather hurriedly, “I don’t mean you, of course. I know that you could not have wished for such an imbroglio as this. And then the…” She could not bring her self to mention that dreadful settlement; her frankness did not reach such heights and continued, still more hurried and with her hands fidgeting in an effort to explain. “Well it must be very inconvenient and I must say now that I don’t mean to hold you…I mean that you need not…” “I don’t intend to back out of this, Miss Ashton.” He said slowly but firmly. “I assumed you knew that marriage is now a necessity for us both but do not think I wished for privacy in order to excuse myself from my duty.” She felt as though she had just been slapped but, oddly, as though she had deserved it. She had forced him to bring the ugly but very real words ‘necessity’ and ‘duty’ into the matter. “I hadn’t – “It is irrelevant in any case as the matter is decided,” he continued. “I only wished to know how soon you are able to ready yourself, and an abigail if you wish, as we will be leaving for Hargrove within an hour of the ceremony. We will obtain a special license afterwards.” George had been reining in a growing anger at his words but was unable to keep her indignation from her voice when she spoke. “No the matter is not decided!” She had turned an endearing pink in the futile effort and her eyes flashed dangerously. The effect on my lord, however, was far from what had been intended and the slight smile which touched his mouth only incensed her further. Before she could let loose some well chosen words that would soon knock his grace from his pedestal, he stopped her with words which were equally well chosen to disconcert. “Do you know how very delectable you look just now when you are quite about to fly at me?” Her shade deepened and she swallowed trying to remember her set down. “Delectable… nonsense…you must be serious for I wish to be…” He wasn’t so far from her anymore and now closed the distance coming between her and the door. Taking her chin in his fingers, he said, “But I find I don’t want to be.” That feeling from the carriage had begun again in earnest and she drew away from him, under his arm, moving as far as the window were she felt…well it must be safe, she thought, angry at herself. And at him, she thought further, glaring at his broad back.

He sighed and turned to her, then smiled at the baleful eyes that pierced him. “You needn’t glare so, m’dear, I won’t attack again.” “I am not your dear, Mr. Harthorn,” she said, stiffening at his familiarity. “Ah, but you will be.” He returned with no loss of phlegm. “That is yet to be – “It is quite decided Georgina.” He reiterated firmly. “And I believe we may dispense with formalities at this point.” “There is no need for – “Can you be ready within the hour?” He asked, ignoring her words. “That is besides the point...” “No, it is precisely the point and the only point upon which there will be discussion.” She had moved a little from the window as she’d argued and now walked up to him, one finger raised. Poking him in the chest, she said, with emphasis on every word, “I refuse to marry you, Harthorn. For a moment I had hoped that we could come to some decision after, and only after discussing it but I see now that you have obviously never discussed anything with anyone because…” “What point would a discussion have been if we were to come to the same resolution as now?” “The point would have been that I would have consented, you odious man.” She replied, jabbing at him. He held her finger and played his thumb over it in a manner she found too distracting. “And you don’t consent?” His amusement was palpable. “No, I refuse to marry you.” Her eyes, unbeknownst to her, told a different story and Jordan was quite decided. “But, my dear, you have no choice.” xx And so it was that when my lord led her back into the book room, where the parson already stood waiting, she looked anything but the indignant young miss but was as flushed and nervous as any new bride and the reverend quite believed Lord Ashton’s explanation of the couple being too much in love to wait for a license. And so it was that

on that Wednesday morning with her father and her aunt as witnesses, Miss Georgina April Ashton became Lady Georgina April Harthorn, Duchess of Langford. They did leave some time in the hour following the union, much to Lady Ashton’s distress for she took it upon herself to pack numerous items which she felt were necessary for such a journey. Jordan was firmly against most of them and a quarrel nearly ensued when he refused to carry and she would not leave without a large collection of Mrs. Radcliffe’s works. In the end it was decided that some would be allowed in their carriage and the rest must come in with the duke’s parcels. With five bandboxes they left and it wasn’t long before they reached the highway. “How far is it to Hargrove?” Georgina asked sleepily. “Not too far, we shall be there sometime before nine.” He answered, his eyes watching the passing scenery. Glancing at her he saw that she was already nodding off, her bonnet in danger of being crushed as she leaned against the squabs. He moved to her side, and gently took the item off, to some protest on her part which he ignored. Drawing her closer with one arm around her, he let her use him as a pillow and it wasn’t two minutes before she succumbed to sleep. They reached the mansion sometime later than expected and Jordan led his wife inside to the welcome of only, Barns, his butler. It was almost lucky since the lady was still half asleep and could only murmur a greeting to the portly yet extremely dignified man before my lord half carried her up the stairs and into his bedroom. He did the undressing, much to his discomfort and she while she was asleep in mere seconds he paced the room several times before collapsing in a large chair by the crackling fireplace. A/N: Hello again. Yes I updated finally. Yay! And now I’m going to sleep. Please feel very free to review. Cheers! Starox.

Chapter 10 She looked like a child in his bed. He’d been awake for long now, since dawn’s light actually and had since readied himself for the days activity to his disgruntled valet’s satisfaction; Hans had appeared wounded when Jordan had refused his service on his sojourn in Danbury and had spent the better part of the morning muttering animadversions and attempting to correct the errors of those he grouped together as “Incompetents!” My lord had asked him politely but firmly to leave when he either hadn’t noticed the sleeping figure or had deemed her presence as secondary to imperfectly polished Hessians. Harthorn now stood at one of the three long

arched windows and stared unseeing at the horizon, mulling over the events that had bound the woman in his bedchamber to him. “And you may rest assured they are as repugnant to me as they must be to you.” Such sweet words, he thought with a wry smile. But they were confirmation of her feelings on the matter; he could not have expected more and now knew she had not expected less. And they had after all excused him from considering any injury to her affections once he left. He should be glad for that. Perhaps this night…or the next…or both? The thought warmed his blood. They would do well together, he and his passionate minx. He could well imagine the tutelage of her. Shaking himself from such thoughts even as he began to feel a distinct discomfort he reminded himself that there would be no time for that. He had no intention of remaining in Hargrove for too long…perhaps later. But he would decide on that when he was done in Danbury. She still slept; he noted as he turned from the window and walked into the adjoining reading room, having decided that a letter must be written. Seating himself at the escritoire, he began. Minutes later, the correspondence appeared: Dear Emily, I trust you and Mama are well. The season must be at its peak so she is doubtless very much in her element. I write with news that should please you both considering your determined efforts while I was in London: I am wed. The affair was conducted in Danbury and we traveled to Hargrove soon after. We will remain here for some time before coming to London. In spite of any curiosity you may have regarding this event or my bride, I hope that you resist the temptation to visit and that you will expend all efforts in convincing our mother of the wisdom of this course. He had thought to end there but after some thought added: Georgina is a delightful girl of amiable disposition (He could only hope), and numerous accomplishments and you will love her on sight. You may address your congratulations to Hargrove Manor and we will reply in due course. Give my love to Mama. Your loving brother, Jordan. He read the script over, judged it to contain enough information to receive a veritable tome in reply and, resigned to this, sanded, folded and addressed it then reached for the wax. He poured a circle over the fold – he had lit the candle before writing – and pressed his ivory handled seal into it, wondering how long it would take to reach his sister.

A noise from his bedchamber drew his attention and then he heard, “Oh dear! It wasn’t a dream.” So his bride had awakened, and with very little improvement in feeling. He smiled grimly as he rose and entered the room. “Good Morning, Georgina.” “Oh Lord! I had almost convinced myself that I was still asleep. But you are far and away too real.” She sat against the large and elaborately decorated headboard, her knees drawn up to her chest beneath layers of bedclothes and seemed to have been surveying the room in horror or something like it. He felt, strangely, rather angry at her reaction. It accounted for the dry tone of his next words. “I had thought you would feel better this morning.” “Oh no, certainly not. I have always believed that it is the most dreadful feeling to wake up and think for a moment that the worst of the past day was but a dream only to discover that it wasn’t and your night...” She stopped, placing a hand over her mouth, seemingly shocked by her own words. “…Nightmares are quite real?” He finished for her, the question at the end rhetorical. “No, no nothing like that. Oh dear, that came out terribly didn’t it.” She had turned a deep shade of pink and was now untangling herself from the bed. “Perhaps not.” He said more to himself. He found himself smiling despite himself at her efforts and only smoothed his features in time for her to rise. “What? No, of course not. I have the most disgraceful habit of saying things in the wrong way.” “I can’t now imagine a better way of putting though.” She narrowed her eyes and said slowly, “You aren’t teasing me, are you?” “I wouldn’t dream of it.” He replied promptly. But she had seen a glint of humor in his eyes and her eyes narrowed further. “Be careful, your eyes are almost crossing and what a pity that would be if the wrong wind were to blow. Imagine the Duchess of Harthorn with crossed eyes.” “Don’t be ridiculous.” She snapped but her expression cleared. Tossing his letter in the chair he’d slept in, he strode towards her.

“But I am never ridiculous when it comes to you, Georgina.” She didn’t move from the bedside and was clutching one of the posts so hard her hand was white. “So…so…I’m the Duchess of Harthorn now?” He had reached her and now pried her hand from the post with his right while holding her with his left. “And…and what does that mean?” Her eyes were staring into his in a disconcertingly alluring way. He leaned closer to her so their lips were almost touching before saying. “It means this.” He kissed her on the last word and felt her fall into him. His mouth rested on her lips and he breathed into her and felt her heated breaths running over his tongue before delving in and tasting her. He sucked gently on her tongue before drawing away, running over her lips before meeting her eyes. Their green was lit with so much passion, he all but groaned. He lifted her up and placed her in the middle of the bed, regarding her with eyes that burned. And then he sat at the edge of the bed, all the while watching her fascinated gaze. Placing a hand on her nearest ankle, he moved up her leg, up her bent knee, raising the nightgown as he went. He watched her swallow, her chest rising with faster breaths and told himself that his waiting would be well worth it. The gown fell as it went over her knee and she dropped her knee, closing her legs instinctively. He smiled. His hands moved further up her leg – exquisite and as smooth as ivory, he thought – met the gown and a knock made them both jump and turn to the door. Cursing whoever it was under his breath, he turned back to her. Her disappointment was palpable. “Tonight. I promise.” She swallowed but said nothing as she watched him rise and make for the door. He stopped to pick up his letter before saying, “You may want to see the grounds. Perhaps later I could show you Hargrove at its best.” He turned, smiling. She returned it. “I should like that very much, if I could borrow a horse.” “Why would you want to when yours would enjoy the gallop?” “Thane? She’s here?!” Her excitement was endearing. “I didn’t think you would want to leave her behind.” He said simply. “Thank you.” He nodded in acknowledgment before quitting the room. xx George stared at the door for several minutes before leaping out of it and running to the window. Acres and acres of green undulated before her and she already itched for the ride. And Thane was here. It seemed impossible that the duke had thought of her mare

and yet he had. It was so thoughtful and so unlike what she had thought him to be. But what had she really known of him. All he had done was…The Package! She had forgotten it until now and remembered that day she should have gotten it back. That day? It had been but two days ago! Did he still have it? She scratched her neck idly and the stopped wondering what seemed odd about that familiar action. The necklace! Blast! She’d know the clasp was loose but had kept telling her self she would get it fixed. Another thing she had forgotten. Where could it have dropped? Damn and blast! Well she would get no answers by standing at the window. Maybe it had fallen into her clothing. She hoped that was the case as she walked across the room. She found the reading room and booking an exploration at some other time, went through the opposite door. She entered, not an adjoining bedroom but a...dressing room? Leaving, she walked back into the bed chamber and examined its walls for a third door. There was none but the one the duke had left through. She’d thought he was leaving but perhaps the person who had knocked was in there. She reached for the knob and jerked back as the door was knocked once more. Stepping back, she invited the person in and was relieved when a uniformed girl came in with a tray laden with tea things. “Good morning, Your Grace.” She bobbed a curtsy as she went by and placed the object on he bedside table. George followed her to the bed and sat at the edge, waving her away as she seemed about to serve. “Good morning,” She began with a friendly smile. “And what is your name?” “Eloise, Your Grace. I’m to attend to you.” She attempted a half smile but kept her eyes firmly on the carpet. “Well Eloise, I’d like you to please look at me.” The girl looked up, clearly startled. She was probably only a few years younger than herself. “There, that wasn’t so hard. Now, could you tell me where we are?” “Where we are, Your Grace?” Her eyebrows were drawn together in confusion. “Yes, this place.” George made a gesture that was intended to encompass all of Hargrove. “Oh, the place? This is Hargrove Manor. His Grace’s hunting lodge.” AN: Yes, I know I have been very horrible about updating but I am truly sorry and crave your indulgence. The kiss! I love kisses, they’re such wonderful things. :-) It was very hard for me to cut that scene though but I didn’t think they were quite ready. Reviews are of course welcome. Your very faithful,

Starox. Chapter 11 Hargrove Manor. 1816 “It was a mere seven, if not less feet from the ground; I still maintain that I, and certainly Thane, could have taken that jump. Why, I have been used to such stunts since before I was out of the nursery!” Her Grace of Langford snapped in reply to what she felt were incredibly stupid words of caution from her new husband who, seemingly oblivious to her ire, looked maddeningly unperturbed. Thane too, far from maintaining a degree of dignity was displaying a disgusting affinity for her Lord’s steed. This brought her mind to a second injustice. “And I make very free to tell you, sir,” She continued heatedly, “that I particularly disliked your seizing my reins in such a condescending fashion. I could never countenance the commandeering of my horse by anyone; my reaction, I warn you, has always been violent and while I managed with considerable effort to restrain myself today, I cannot promise such control in future.” “Then it is to be hoped that there is no future occurrence.” He replied, simply. George glanced sideways at the duke, searching for more evidence of the amusement she detected in his voice. Finding it in a twinkle in his eye, she turned away to stare straight ahead, a picture of indignation. “You are laughing at me, I see.” “Hardly, my dear girl. I don’t doubt your equestrian skills, nor do I believe your mare so paltry a beast as to falter at a mere seven feet. The jump, however, was not designed to accommodate simply skill; the quick sand between both hedges is not meant to excite but to entrap. The rider is not supposed to cross that particular hurdle.” “If it was designed, it was meant to be crossed.” She insisted, to the obvious infuriation of his grace. “Be that as it may, Georgina, you will not attempt it.” “Do not speak to me as though I were a child.” She said, stiffly. “It seems necessary since you refuse to listen to reason. And do not, please, begin again,” He said, hastily, as Georgina looked prepared to continue. “I have no intention of quarrelling with you.” He added, in a softer tone. “No, only to dictate.” “If you would only use your common sense, you’ll realize that I am right.” He snapped.

“My common sense?! Do you know, I really believe, you really believe you’re the superior here? You treat me with the most hateful superciliousness; as though I were two and then when you realize commands are less effective on those of us witless females who have left the school room, you say I should be reasonable and listen to you! Well, you listen to this, I – “Enough Georgina!” “No! It’s not enough!” “Yes, it is. I apologize; I had not meant to sound so…patronizing. I really don’t want to argue…If you would just…” Her eyes narrowed. “Let me rephrase that,” He began again, schooling his features against any sign of mirth. “I think we should…discuss this later.” “When it is more convenient for you?” She asked with feigned amiability. He couldn’t repress his amusement at her sarcasm and she turned away with a huff. “Once again, I apologize.” She said nothing. “You look beautiful, Georgina.” She gave a snort and kicked Thane into a gallop. xx You look beautiful, Georgina. He couldn’t bring himself to take her seriously. It really had seemed an impossible feat for him. And then. Then! He had the audacity to request her presence for dinner. He called for her. Actually demanded that she join him. Never! In all here years! “The gold one is very pretty, Your Grace.” Eloise said, fingering the fine material of one of Georgina’s few ball gowns. “Yes, of course it is,” She replied with a dryness the younger girl missed. “But it’s hardly appropriate for a small dinner even if the idea was to impress the duke.” She glared at the gown, still in her riding habit, a somewhat scandalous affair she was surprised had elicited nothing but a raised eyebrow from his grace. Defiance was the natural course…or it would have been had it seemed worth the effort. Perhaps a little bending on her part wouldn’t be too bad an idea. She would maintain a dignified front in the face of his behavior. She would descend with equanimity, cold possibly…yes, most definitely. He

would probably attempt conversation and she would refuse to be drawn in. She would make him feel as insignificant as a footman. She would… “My lady?” Eloise interrupted, cautiously. Georgina frowned in confusion at the Abigail now standing at the door, trying to remember if she had spoken before. “Johns…I mean a footman has a message from His Grace.” She paused as though waiting for approval to continue. An inquiring and slightly impatient look from George had her blushing and -stammering over the apparent message. And her grace could feel her own cheeks warm as it was conveyed to her that His Grace expected her in the footman’s wake to join him for dinner. So he expected her, did he? Demanded, once again. Well then dignity be damned; there were few articles she possessed that could be worn in as much haste as his lordship required. And why bother changing her attire for that matter. Speed was the highest priority after all. “Thank you, Eloise. If you would fetch my boots again, I have decided on what to wear.” She was already pulling pins out of her hair and paid no heed to horrified look on the maid’s face. xx My lord was meanwhile occupied with a glass of red wine, debating the wisdom of having his wife ‘fetched.’ He already stood very low in her esteem so this newest blow to her pride would undoubtedly make her a very surly dinner partner. Perhaps she would ignore him while he attempted conversation. He almost smiled at the thought of bearing her scorn. Or perhaps she would cross swords with him again. She was an engaging, he thought, as he recalled the afternoon. He had been infuriated at first at her stubbornness but could not help appreciating her point. Of course, having realized this, he had done nothing but exasperate her further. He would remedy that tonight. He would try to engage her; she had a passion he was unused to and something else…something willful and mulish and damnably irresponsible. He didn’t rise but the temptation to do that in addition to blistering her ears and shaking that infuriating defiance out of her was strong. The temptation was strong as she walked, as regally as any queen, in to the dining room. As she sat without acknowledging his presence. In fact, had he not seen her in this state of dress, in breeches and that shirt! It would probably have been too strong. As it was, my lord remained seated, his face a mask of impassivity as his wife carefully laid a napkin over her lap. He dismissed the footman, whose look, of what seemed to be mortified engrossment, turned to dismay as he left the room. Addressing another, who looked pleased to have

been allowed to witness the pending spectacle, he said, “Inform Guerin that Her Grace finds herself without appetite tonight. I alone will be dining.” “Yes, Your Grace.” He left the room, almost bursting with his newly gained information. Jordan turned to his wife who was giving him a venomous glare and raised his glass in a toast. She said nothing and rose, tossing her napkin on the table. “Sit down, Georgina. You have seen nothing of what I am capable of doing when pushed.” He said softly. She stared at him for several moments, during which he held his breath, poised at the edge of his seat, before reseating herself and proceeding to examine her polished fingernails. He relaxed and waited for the first course to arrive. The footmen who arrived appeared to have been apprised of the situation in the dining room and made not so subtle efforts to observe the two combatants. His lordship made a mental note to re-staff his hunting lodge. He proceeded to eat with deliberate elaboration knowing she was watching him under hooded eyes. He savored each course spending some twenty minutes longer with each one than usual and was himself glad to see dessert arrive, weary of the game. He stood, picking up a plate of fine jumbals and moved towards her. He was at her side for some minutes before she turned a look of scorn on him. He winced inwardly but smiled before saying, “Would you care to join me in the parlour for dessert?” She raised an eyebrow before returning to her nails and saying with infinite boredom that she would not care to do any such thing. He sighed, replying, “I’m being very careful to phrase it as a request.” She stiffened but rose, ignoring his arm and walking before him out of the dining room. She was seated beside the fireplace when he joined her in the parlor and he closed the door behind him. “I have behaved deplorably, Georgina,” Jordan began. “Under severe provocation, I must remind you, but my conduct is inexcusable. I present these fine jumbals as a peace offering.” He moved before her and held out the plate. The look she gave him would have frozen a lesser man but he remained inscrutable. Her gaze dropped to the dish and she looked as though she would dearly love to knock it out of his hand. She took it instead and placed it on the table beside her then turned away to stare at the fire.

He sighed inwardly again; he had hoped to get her angry enough to argue with him but it appeared she wasn’t going to grant him that. He took the seat opposite her and observed her rigid profile until she said, “I assumed I would be watching you eat, Your Grace. Or perhaps you would have me serve you.” “Why did you come down dressed like this?” She said nothing but found her cheeks warming under his quizzical gaze. “Because, while I chose not to comment on it this afternoon, surely, you knew what you were doing when you came into the dining room. My servants aren’t given to gossip, usually, but I can hardly blame them when my wife joins me garbed like any…as you are now. You ask me not to treat you like a child but you take the first opportunity to behave as one.” He rose and walked behind her chair, putting a hand on her shoulder. “You make me do thoughtless things, Georgina.” He moved his hand up to her neck, raising her hair out of the way and leaned down to gently kiss her throat. She shook under his touch and he breathed her in, moving his hand down into her shirt, letting a silken globe fill his hand. She moved towards him and he sought her mouth. She bit his lower lip gently and he gave her an almost feral grin, letting his tongue slide into her, tasting her. Georgina felt an ache between her legs as his thumb played with her nipple. She felt it harden and he broke their kiss, coming around in front of her. He grinned before ripping her shirt open and taking the tormented breast in his mouth, sucking in the most delicious way. His left hand caressed her other breast and she writhed before him, arching towards his mouth, foreign sounds coming from her. When he raised his head, she couldn’t hide her disappointment. He grinned, closing her shirt, then picking her up and moving towards the door. He nuzzled his face in her neck, biting gently. “My God, George, you’re exquisite.”

A/N: Tehehe. Ok, so I’m going to leave it to your imagination…for now. You’ll get a nice lengthy love scene later on. Jordan was a bit of an ass…George was immature (nothing new there…) and I finally, after months, updated. Thank you EVERYONE who reviewed, EVERYONE who read and that very special fan who actually quoted me. I’m going to be updating faster now, though so hopefully you won’t have cause to be too angry with me. (We can only hope. Lol, I’m serious though. I’ve got a schedule and everything.) Read my profile update for more of my wonderful excuses (lol) and um… reviews are very welcome.

Btw, has anyone read Johanna Lindsey’s newest Malory book? Um…what else…I LOVE YOU GUYS!! Cheers, Starox.

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