“Why did he not tell anyone?” Vivi asked, “He was so close to our fathers—they were like brothers to him. They could have helped.”

“Pride,” Will replied. “Desire to protect his family name. Perhaps even a misguided belief that he could protect his brother.”

“What about Sewell’s partners?” Ella asked.

“There is enough evidence to incriminate several wealthy En glishmen and a few Frenchmen who have clearly been meeting with Sewell to exchange money for information. We received word from the constable that Sewell has already given up the names of a half dozen of his partners in the hope that he will receive a less severe punishment.”

“No matter what he admits, he’s still a traitor and a murderer,” Vivi said, sounding very much like her father’s daughter. “It’s difficult to be lenient with such crimes.”

“Indeed,” Will said, relaxing into the large leather chair across from them. “Now, little sister,” he said, allowing a teasing tone to enter his voice, “would you care to explain what exactly has happened between you and Blackmoor in the last few weeks?”

Alex leveled him with a frank look. “Not particularly.”

“Come now! It’s obvious you are…enamored of each other.”

“Is it?” She attempted to appear bored, to little effect.

Will laughed. “You forget I have known you your entire life, Scamp. I can tell when there is something of import in that lovely head of yours.”

She stayed quiet, willing herself not to rise to her brother’s bait.

“You also forget,” he said in a deceptively casual tone, “that I spent the day with Blackmoor.”

Alex sat up straighter, causing Vivi to lose her headrest. She was unable to hide her eagerness. “Did he say something about me? What was it?”

Will laughed, enjoying the power he held over his little sister. “My, my. Is this the same sister who spent much of her time prior to this season expounding on both the irrelevance of men to her future and her marked lack of interest in marriage and the trappings of romance?”

“I didn’t say men were irrelevant to my future. That’s ridiculous. Nor did I show a lack of interest in romance.” She ignored the three sets of eyebrows that rose in a silent yet eloquent response to her statement. “What happened? Was Father difficult with him?”

“I thought you weren’t interested in discussing Blackmoor?”

“Oh, William, I do wish you would be quiet if you have nothing to say,” Alex growled in irritation, then sat back and said, “I’m not interested. I was merely being conversational.”

All three of her companions snorted with laughter. “You cannot honestly think that he’d actually believe that, can you?” Vivi asked before turning to Will. “Take pity on her, my lord. Have you never wondered what a girl thought of you?”

“Never.” He lied baldly, a broad smile on his face, then pressed on. “Well, I shall simply say that our father and he are currently having a serious conversation.”

“What?!” She leaned forward, squashing Ella’s head on her lap, causing her friend to cry out and sit up. Alex’s “I beg your pardon, Ella” was followed immediately with, “William! What are they talking about?”

“I haven’t any idea.” Will leaned back in his chair and stretched his long legs out in front of him. “It seems to me that it would likely have something to do with your inappropriate display this morning.”

Alex stood. “Oh, no! Do you think Father is angry? Do you think Gavin is being lectured? Do you think I should go to him?”

“In order: No, I don’t think Father is angry. Yes, I do think Gavin is being lectured—that’s what Father does, remember? And no, I definitely do not think you should go anywhere near the study while they are locked in there. I think you should sit down and attempt to relax,” Will said, finally sounding more like the brother she loved and less like the one she wanted to murder.

“You might try lowering your voice as well,” Vivi suggested. “You’ll wake everyone in the house if you keep on like that.”

She sat. And lowered her voice. “I’m sorry. I simply…well, I seem to be rather overly excited.”

“Really?” Ella said sarcastically, leaning back on the couch, one hand over her eyes, exhausted, but still managing to elicit a laugh from the others in the room.

“What is it that is amusing you all?” The voice came from the doorway of the library, drawing the attention of the entire group. Four heads turned toward Blackmoor, who entered with a tired, curious smile on his face.

Alex drank in the sight of him, thoroughly disheveled—somewhere he had lost his waistcoat and his cravat, his blond hair was unruly, falling into his face after hours of his running his fingers through it in concentration, and she could detect the hint of a beard on his face, which he had not shaved since that morning. He had never looked more handsome, more remarkable. She had never wanted to be near him so very much.

His grey gaze fell on her from across the room, and she could feel his inspection as he studied her. She longed for five minutes with a looking glass as she touched her hair nervously, knowing that he was seeing the stray auburn locks that had come loose from her topknot, her tired eyes, her wrinkled dress. Pushing a strand of hair behind her ear, she looked into his eyes and recognized the intensity there. It was the same emotion she’d seen that afternoon, and the night before. Her breath caught. He loved her.

She was shaken from her reverie by Vivi and Ella, who stood up in unison.

“I find myself exhausted,” Vivi said, making a show of a wide stretch.

“Indeed. It has been a long day for me as well,” replied Ella, who did not have to fabricate the yawn that followed her words.

They looked to each other with a nod, and then to Will, who was still seated comfortably in his chair. “And you, my lord?” Vivi said politely. “Are you not tired after your long day?”

“No. I find myself feeling rather energized.”

Ella and Vivi looked at each other, and Vivi tried again, with a slightly firmer tone, “Perhaps you would feel differently if you found your chamber, my lord.”

“I don’t think so.” The corner of Will’s mouth twitched, betraying his amusement.

“William, you would try the patience of a saint,” Vivi said with a smile. “Must I ask you to escort two young women frightened of the dark upstairs?”

He laughed aloud. “You two? Frightened of something? I find that very difficult to believe.”

Ella lost her patience with the entire conversation. “Will, just leave the room. Go wherever you’d like. But give Alex and Blackmoor some peace, please?”

Will winked broadly at her. “Now that’s a request to which I cannot help but respond.” He stood, waiting for Ella and Vivi to kiss Alex good night, then motioned them to precede him from the room.

When the trio had left, Gavin started across the room to Alex, who felt a sudden wave of nervousness. To cover it up, she said, “We seem to have a connection with libraries in the evening, don’t we?”

He paused, cocking his head, contemplating her statement. She loved that about him. He really did think about what she said. Even when it was inane. And about libraries. “Indeed, we do,” he replied finally, joining her on the chaise and taking her hands in his.

“It’s interesting, really, when you think that the library isn’t a room typically used in the evening, what with the difficulty of reading by candlelight and the high ceilings. They simply devour light usually. Not my parents’ libraries, of course, as you can see. They can also be rather drafty but, again, not these. These are—”

He kissed her, interrupting her rambling. Within moments, she had forgotten what she was saying.

“Alexandra,” he said, pulling away slightly and staring deep into her eyes. “My God, I love you.”

She dipped her head, made shy by the comment.

“I don’t know what I would have done without you today,” he said, his voice rich with emotion. “I don’t know how I would have handled my uncle and I can’t imagine how any of us would have found the information left by my father, but, most importantly, I don’t know how I would have survived the last few hours—poring over that information until I finally understood the reasons behind my father’s death—if I hadn’t known you were here, waiting for me.”

“I’m so sorry, Gavin. About everything. I’m sorry it happened to you.”

“I’m not,” he said, kissing the tip of her nose lightly.

“You aren’t?” she asked, surprised.

“I’m sorry my father was killed. I would do anything to get him back…and I imagine I shall feel that way forever. But the rest of the events…those I don’t regret. You see, they brought me to you.”

They embraced for a long moment, breathing each other in, savoring this end to such a harrowing, exhausting day. Minutes later, Blackmoor pulled back from her and asked, “Don’t you want to know what your father and I discussed?”

“No. I mean, not unless you want me to know. I understand that you might want to keep that conversation private.”

“Really? That’s very mature of you.” He leaned back on the chaise, closing his eyes, a hint of a smile playing across his lips.

“Thank you.” She folded her hands in her lap, not knowing what to say. She couldn’t ask. That wasn’t very ladylike. They sat in silence for what seemed like an eternity, until she was certain she would go mad with curiosity. “Fine! Yes! Of course, I want to know!”

Before the words had left her lips, he had started to laugh. “Nine seconds. That’s how long you could go without asking.”

She smiled. “Truly? It felt like much longer. A quarter of an hour at least.”

He laughed again, pulling her to him, letting her rest her head on his chest. She could hear his heartbeat beneath her ear, slow and steady. When he spoke, she felt the words as much as she heard them. “We talked about my being in love with you. And about my wanting to court you.”

Her heart began to pound. “And what did he say?”

“He launched into a remarkably detailed lecture regarding the proper order of events when making this kind of request. Specifically, he thought the father should be consulted before the daughter runs any risk whatsoever of being ruined.”

She winced, flushing with embarrassment at the idea that her father thought she might be ruined. She looked up at him and said, “What did you say?”

“You have beautiful eyes.”

“You told my father that he has beautiful eyes?”

He smiled. “No. You distracted me. I told your father that, while I was very grateful for the lesson, I doubted I would ever have need of it again—because I was planning to court only one woman in my lifetime.”

Her breath caught. “And what did he say?”

“Does it matter?”

“Not entirely, no.”

“You realize that if you allow me to court you, all your opposition to marriage is going to have to be reconsidered.”

She smiled, feigning innocence. “What opposition to marriage?”


“But I am thinking we should have a long courtship.”

“Why?” He looked surprised.

“Because I find I’ve developed a taste for adventure.”

“That sounds dangerous. Not at all in character for a delicate flower.”

She laughed. “We know I’ve never been good at being a delicate flower. Besides, it shan’t be too dangerous.”

“How can you be so sure?”

She smiled brilliantly at him, taking his breath away. “Because, on my next adventure, I’ll have you by my side.”

He pulled her across his lap and they kissed, the emotion of the day and the promise of the future making it soft and sweet and wonderful. She sighed as he lifted his lips off hers and offered her one of his wide, beautiful smiles. Overcome with happiness, she threw her arms around him and laughed, wondering just how it was that she had come to be so lucky.

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