With one big heave, he yanked the book out from under her, sending her sprawling.

"Nooooooooooo!" she yelled, sounding as if the very fate of the world rested in her ability to retrieve her book.

James raced across the room, triumphantly holding the book high in the air. Elizabeth was a full foot shorter than he was; she'd never be able to reach.

"James, please," she begged.

He shook his head, wishing he didn't feel like quite so much of a cad; the expression on her face was rather heart wrenching. But he'd been wondering about her book for days, and he'd come this far, so he twisted his head up, turned over the book, and read the title.

How To MARRY A MARQUIS

He blinked. Surely she didn't know... no, she couldn't possibly know his true identity.

"Why did you do that?" she said in a choked voice. "Why did you have to do that?"

He tilted his head toward her. "What's this?"

"What does it look like?" she snapped.

"I... ah ... I don't know." Still holding the book aloft, he opened it up and flipped through a few pages. "It looks rather like a guidebook, actually."

"Then that's what it is," she shot back. "Now please give it back. I have to return this to Lady Danbury."

"This belongs to my—to Lady Danbury?" he asked in disbelief.

"Yes! Now give it back."

James shook his head, looking back up at the book, then returning his gaze to Elizabeth. “But why would she need a book like this?''

"I don't know," she nearly wailed. "It's old. Maybe she purchased it before she married Lord Danbury. But please, let me just put it back on the shelf before she comes back from breakfast."

"In a moment." He turned another page and read:

YOU MUST NEVER SEPARATE YOUR LIPS WHEN YOU SMILE. A CLOSE-LIPPED SMILE IS INFINITELY MORE MYSTERIOUS, AND YOUR JOB IS TO FASCINATE YOUR MARQUIS.

"Is that why they always do that?" he murmured. He glanced over at Elizabeth. "Edict Number Twelve explains a lot."

"The book," she growled, holding out her hand.

"Just in case you're interested," he said with an expansive wave of his hand, “I myself prefer a woman who knows how to smile. This"—he stretched his lips out in a tight mockery of a smile—"is really quite unbecoming."

"I don't think Mrs. Seeton meant for you to do this." She returned his strained expression with one of her own. "I think you're supposed to do this." This time she curved her lips into a delicate half-smile, one that sent a shiver down his spine right to his—

"Yes," he said with a cough, "that's considerably more effective."

"I cannot believe I'm discussing this with you," she said, more to herself than to him. “Can we please just put the book back?''

"We've at least ten more minutes before Lady Danbury finishes her breakfast. Don't worry." He returned his attention to the little red book. "I'm finding this fascinating."

"I'm not," she ground out.

James turned his attention back to Elizabeth. She was standing as stiff as a board, her hands fisted at her side. Her cheeks were stained with two angry splotches of red. "You're angry with me," he said.

"Your perceptiveness is astounding."

"But I was only poking fun at you. You must know it was never meant to be insulting."

Her eyes grew a little harder. "Do you see me laughing?"

"Elizabeth," he said placatingly, "it was all in good fun. Surely you don't take this book seriously."

She didn't answer. The silence in the room grew thick, and James saw a flash of pain in those sapphire eyes of hers. The corners of her lips quivered, then tightened, and then she looked away. "Oh, God," he breathed, little knives of guilt stabbing at his midsection. "I'm so sorry."

She lifted her chin, but he could see her face working with suppressed emotion as she said, "Can we stop this now?"

Silently, he lowered his arms and handed her the book. She didn't thank him, just took it back and held it close to her chest.

"I didn't realize you were looking for a husband," he said softly.

"You don't know anything about me."

He gestured awkwardly at the book. “Has it been helpful?"

"No."

The flatness in her voice was a punch to his gut. Somehow, James suddenly realized, he was going to have to make this better. He had to take away the dead expression in her eyes, return the lilt to her voice. He had to hear her laugh, to hear himself laugh at some little joke of hers.

He didn't know why. He just knew it was something he had to do.

He cleared his throat and asked, "Is there any way I might be of assistance?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"Can I help you in any way?"

She looked at him suspiciously. "What do you mean?"

James's lips parted slightly as he tried to figure out how the devil to reply. “Just that... well, I happen to know a thing or two about finding a husband—or rather, in my case, a wife."

Her eyes bugged out. "You're married?!"

"No!" he said, surprising even himself with the force of his reply.

She relaxed visibly. "Oh, thank goodness. Because you ... you ..."

"Because I kissed you?"

"Yes," she muttered, her cheeks turning pink around the already present red splotches.

He reached out and tucked his fingers under her chin, forcing her to look up at him. "If I were married, Elizabeth, you can be certain I would not dally with another female."

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