As she ran down the hall, Morgan stepped out of the study and watched her—a devil-may-care smile upon his lips—until Colin's curt reminder called him back into the study.
All married women were unhappy creatures. The bitches all felt neglected by their husbands. They whined and complained, and nothing ever pleased them. Oh, he'd watched, he'd observed. The husbands usually ignored their wives, too, but he didn't fault them. Everyone knew mistresses were reserved for affection and attention; wives were simply necessary leeches to be used for the reproduction of heirs. One put up with a wife when one had to, rutted with her as often as necessary until she was carrying one's child, and then forgot about her.
He had deliberately ignored married women because he believed the hunt wouldn't amount to much. There wouldn't be any satisfaction gained in chasing a dog who wouldn't run. Still, this one intrigued him. She looked so miserable. He'd watched her for over an hour now. She was clinging to her husband's arm, and trying every now and then to say or do something to draw his attention. It was wasted effort. The gallant husband was thoroughly occupied talking to his friends from the clubs. He wasn't giving his pretty little wife any attention.
The poor little chit. It was obvious to anyone watching she loved the man. She was pitifully unhappy. He was about to change all that. He smiled then, his mind made up. The hunt was on again. Soon, very soon, he would put his new pet out of her misery.
Colin stayed in conference with Sir Richards and Morgan for several hours. Alesandra ate her supper alone in the dining room. She stayed downstairs as long as she could manage without falling asleep, hoping Colin would join her. She wanted to thank him for showing such an interest in her future and ask him a few questions about the Earl of Oakmount.
She gave up the wait around midnight and went up to bed. Valena knocked on her door fifteen minutes later.
"You are requested to be ready to go out tomorrow morning, Princess. You must be ready to leave at ten o'clock."
Alesandra got into her bed and pulled the covers up. "Did Colin explain where we're going?"
The lady's maid nodded. "To Sir Richards's home," she answered. "On Bowers Street at number twelve."
Alesandra smiled. "He gave you the address?"
"Yes, Princess. He was very thorough in his instructions to me. He wanted me to tell you he doesn't wish to be kept waiting," she said with a frown. "There was something more he wanted me to… oh, yes, now I remember. The meeting scheduled for the afternoon with the Duke and Duchess of Williamshire has been canceled."
"Did Colin tell you why it was canceled?"
"No, Princess, he didn't."
Valena let out a dramatic yawn and immediately begged her mistress's pardon. "I'm very weary tonight," she whispered.
"Of course you're weary," Alesandra said. "It's quite late and you've put in a full day's work, Valena. Go to bed now. Sleep well," she called out when the maid went hurrying out the doorway.
Alesandra fell asleep a few minutes later. She was so exhausted from the long week of taking care of Colin, she slept the night through. She awakened a little after eight the next morning and hurried to get ready. She wore a pale pink walking dress. Colin would approve of the garment for the square-cut neckline was very prim and proper.
Alesandra was downstairs a good twenty minutes before they were scheduled to leave. Colin didn't join her until a few minutes after ten. As soon as she spotted him coming down the stairs, she called out to him. "We're already late, Colin. Do hurry."
"There's been a change in plans, Alesandra," Colin explained. He winked at her when he passed her on his way into the dining room.
She chased after him. "What change in plans?"
"The meeting's been canceled."
"The meeting with Sir Richards or the meeting this afternoon? Valena said…"
Colin pulled the chair out and motioned for her to sit down at the dining room table. "Both meetings were canceled," he said.
"Would you care for chocolate or hot tea, Princess?" Flannaghan called out from the entrance.
"Tea, thank you. Colin, how did you find out the meeting was canceled? I've been waiting in the foyer and no messenger came to the door."
Colin didn't answer her. He sat down, picked up the newspaper, and started reading. Flannaghan appeared at his side with a basket of biscuits, which he placed in front of him.
Alesandra was both irritated and confused. "Exactly why did Sir Richards want a meeting? We both spoke to him last evening."
"Eat your breakfast, Alesandra."
"You aren't going to explain, are you?"
"Colin, it's impolite to be rude first thing in the morning."
He lowered the paper to grin at her. She realized then her statement had been foolish. "I mean to say, it's always impolite to be rude."
He disappeared behind his paper again. She drummed her fingertips on the tabletop. Raymond walked into the dining room then. Alesandra immediately motioned him to her side. "Did a messenger…"
Colin interrupted her. "Alesandra, are you challenging my word?"
"No," she answered. "I'm just trying to understand. Will you quit hiding behind that paper?"
"Are you always in such a foul mood in the morning?"
Alesandra gave up trying to have a decent conversation with the man. She ate half a biscuit and then excused herself from the table. Raymond gave her a sympathetic look when she walked past him.
Alesandra went back upstairs and worked on her correspondence the rest of the morning. She wrote a long letter to the mother superior, telling her all about her journey to England. She described her guardian and his family, and spent three full pages explaining how she had ended up living with Colin.
She was sealing the envelope closed when Stefan knocked on the door. "You're wanted downstairs, Princess Alesandra."
"Do we have company, Stefan?"
The guard shook his head, "We're going out. You'll need your cloak. The wind's up today."
"Where are we going?"
"To a meeting, Princess."
"On again, off again, on again," she remarked.
"Begging your pardon, Princess?"
Alesandra closed the lid to the inkwell, straightened the desk, and then stood up. "I was just complaining to myself," she admitted with a smile. "Is this meeting with Colin's father or with Sir Richards?"
"I'm not certain," Stefan admitted. "But Colin's waiting in the foyer and he seems impatient to get going."
Alesandra promised the guard she would be right down. Stefan bowed to her and then left the room. She hurried to brush her hair, then went to the wardrobe to fetch her cloak. She was walking out the doorway when she remembered her list. If they were going to the Duke of Williamshire's town house, she would certainly need the notecard, she decided, so that she could go over the names with her guardian and his wife. She hurried back over to the desk to get the list and tucked it into the pocket of her cloak.
Colin was waiting in the foyer. She paused at the landing to put her cloak over her arm.
"Colin? Are we going to see your father or Sir Richards?"
He didn't answer her. She hurried down the steps and then repeated her question.
"We're going to see Sir Richards," he explained.
"Why does he want to see us again so soon? He was just here last evening," she reminded him.
"He has his reasons."
Valena was standing with Stefan and Raymond near the entrance to the salon. She hurried forward to assist her mistress with her cloak.
Colin beat her to the task. He put the cloak around Alesandra's shoulders, took hold of her hand, and then walked outside, dragging her behind him. She had to run to keep up with his long-legged stride.
Raymond and Stefan followed behind. The two guards climbed up the rack to sit with the driver. Colin and Alesandra sat across from each other inside the carriage.
He locked the doors, then leaned back against the cushions and smiled at her.
"Why are you frowning?" he asked.
"Why are you acting so peculiar?"
"I don't like surprises."
"Do you see? That was a peculiar answer."
Colin stretched out his long legs. She adjusted her skirts and moved closer to the corner to give him more room.
"Do you know what Sir Richards wants to talk to us about?" she asked.
"We aren't going to see him," Colin explained.
"But you said…"
Her gasp made him smile. "You lied to me?"
She looked incredulous. He slowly nodded. "Yes, I lied to you."
Her outrage made him want to laugh. She was such a delight when she was riled. And, Lord, she was certainly riled now. Her cheeks were flushed with a blush, and if her shoulders got any straighter, he thought, her spine might snap.
"I'll explain later," he told her. "Quit your frown, brat. It's too fine a day to get upset."
She finally noticed how cheerful he was. "Why are you so happy?"
He shrugged his answer. She let out a sigh. The man was deliberately trying to confuse her, she decided. "Exactly where are we going, Colin?"
"To a meeting with the family to decide what to do…"
She finished his explanation for him. "With me?"
He nodded. Alesandra lowered her gaze to her lap, but not before Colin saw her expression. She looked crushed. Her feelings had been hurt, he knew, but he didn't know what he'd said to cause that reaction.
His voice was gruff when he said, "Now what's the matter with you?"
"Nothing's the matter."
"Don't lie to me."
"You lied to me."
"I said I'd explain later," he countered. He tried to keep the irritation out of his voice when he added, "Now explain why you're looking ready to weep."
"I'll explain later."
Colin leaned forward. He grabbed hold of her chin and forced her to look at him. "Don't turn my words back on me," he ordered.
She pushed his hand away. "Very well," she announced. "I was a little upset when I realized why you're so happy."
"Make sense, damn it."
The carriage came to a stop in front of the Duke of Williamshire's town house. Colin unlatched the door but kept his gaze on her. "Well?" he demanded.
She adjusted her cloak around her shoulders. "It makes perfect sense to me," she told him with a nod.
Raymond opened the door and held his hand out to assist her. She immediately stepped outside, then turned to frown at Colin. "You're happy because you're finally getting rid of me."
He opened his mouth to argue with her. She raised her hand in an unspoken command to keep silent. "You needn't worry, sir. I'm over my upset. Shall we go inside now?"
She was trying to be dignified. Colin wouldn't let her. He started laughing. She turned and hurried up the steps. Raymond and Stefan flanked her sides.
"You still look upset, brat."
The door was opened by the butler just as she whirled around to tell Colin what she thought of that rude remark. "If you call me a brat again, I swear I'll do something most undignified. I am not upset," she added in a voice that mocked that lie. "I just thought you and I had become friends. Yes, I did. You were becoming like a cousin to me and I…"
Colin leaned down until he was just an inch or so from her face. "I'm not your cousin," he snapped.
Colin's brother, Caine, took over the butler's duty and stood in the doorway, waiting for someone to notice him. He could only see the back of Princess Alesandra. She was a little thing and, he judged, quite courageous. Colin was towering over her, giving her his best glare, but she wasn't cowering away. She didn't seem to be at all intimidated.
"Everyone believes we're cousins," she snapped.
"I don't give a damn what everyone else thinks."
She took a deep breath. "This conversation is ridiculous. If you don't wish to be related to me, that's just fine."
"I'm not related to you."
"You don't have to shout, Colin."
"You're making me crazed, Alesandra."
Caine fairly bellowed his greeting so he'd be heard. Alesandra was so startled by the interruption, she grabbed hold of Colin.
She was quick to recover. She pushed herself out of his arms and turned around. She tried to force a serene, dignified expression. The incredibly handsome man standing in the doorway had to be Colin's brother. Their smiles were almost identical. Caine's hair was a bit lighter in shade, however, and his eyes were an altogether different color. They were gray, and in her estimation not nearly as attractive as Colin's more-green-than-hazel color.
Alesandra tried to curtsy. Colin wouldn't let her. He grabbed hold of her arm and nudged her through the opening.
She pinched him to make him let go of her. A tug of war resulted when Colin tried to take her cloak. She kept slapping his hand away so she could retrieve her notecard from the pocket of the garment.
Caine stood behind his brother. His hands were clasped behind his back and he was desperately trying not to laugh. He hadn't seen his brother this rattled in a good long while.
Alesandra finally pulled the notecard free. "Now you may take my cloak, thank you."
Colin rolled his eyes heavenward. He tossed her cloak in Caine's direction. His brother caught the garment in midair just as Colin spotted the notecard clutched in Alesandra's hand. "Why in God's name did you bring that thing along?"
"I'm going to need it," she explained. "I simply don't understand your aversion to this list, Colin. Your hostility is most unreasonable."
She turned her attention to his brother. "You'll have to excuse your brother's rudeness. He's been ill."
Caine smiled. Colin shook his head. "You don't have to make excuses for me," he stated. "Caine, this is the woman you've been referring to as The Plague. Alesandra, meet my brother."
She again tried to curtsy and Colin again ruined it. She was just leaning forward to catch hold of her gown when Colin grabbed hold of her hand and started dragging her into the salon.