"Of course not. Your devotion to her is obvious. But the fact remains that you are not experienced in such matters, and—"

"And I suppose you are?" she asked, her sarcasm evident but not obnoxious.

"Elizabeth, I have spent most of the last decade of my life working for the War Office."

"The gun," she whispered. "The way you attacked Fellport. I knew something was not right."

James swore under his breath. "My altercation with Fellport had nothing to do with my experience in the War Office. For God's sake, Elizabeth, the man had attacked you."

"Yes," she replied, "but you seemed far too familiar with violence. It was too easy for you. The way you drew your gun ... You'd had far too much experience with it."

He leaned forward, his eyes burning into hers. "What I felt in that moment was far from familiar. It was rage, Elizabeth, pure and primitive, and quite unlike anything that's ever before coursed through my veins."

"You've—you've never felt rage before?"

He shook his head slowly. "Not like that. Fellport dared to attack what was mine. He's lucky I let him live."

"I'm not yours," she whispered. But her voice lacked confidence.

"Aren't you?"

From across the room, Caroline sighed.

"James," Elizabeth said. "I can't forgive you. I just can't."

"What the hell can't you forgive me for?" he snapped. “For not telling you I had a bloody title? I thought you said you didn't want a damned marquis."

She pulled back from his anger, whispering, “What do you mean?"

"Don't you remember? It was in this very room. You were holding the book, and—"

"Don't mention that book," she said, her voice low and furious. "Don't you ever mention it."

"Why not?" he taunted, his anger and pain making him mean. "Because you don't want to be reminded of how desperate you'd become? Of how grasping and greedy?''

"James!" Caroline exclaimed. "Stop it."

But he was too hurt, too far gone. "You're no better than me, Elizabeth Hotchkiss. You preach about honesty, but you were going to trap some poor, unsuspecting fool into marriage."

"I was not! I would never have married someone without making sure he knew my situation first. You know that."

"Do I? I don't recall your mentioning such noble principles. In fact, all I recall is your practicing your wiles upon me."

"You asked me to!"

"James Siddons, estate manager, was good enough to be teased," he sneered, "but not good enough to marry. Was that it?"

"I loved James Siddons!" she burst out. And then,

horrified by what she'd said, she jumped to her feet and raced for the door.

But James was too quick. He blocked her path, whispering. "You loved me?"

"I loved him," she cried out. "I don't know who you are."

"I am the same man."

"No, you're not. The man I knew was a lie. He wouldn't have taunted a woman the way you did me. And yet—" Her voice broke, and a horrified laugh escaped her lips. "And yet, he did. Didn't he?"

"For God's sake, Elizabeth, what the hell did I do that was so evil and base?''

She stared at him in disbelief. "You don't even know, do you? You disgust me."

The muscles in his throat twitched with rage, and it took every ounce of his restraint not to grab her shoulders and shake her until she saw sense. His anger and pain were so raw, so close to the surface that he feared one tiny show of emotion would unleash the whole, horrifying flood of fury. Finally, exerting a self-control he could barely believe he possessed, he managed to bite off two clipped words: "Explain yourself."

She stood utterly still for a moment, and then, with a stamp of her foot, she stalked across the room and yanked out the copy of HOW TO MARRY A MARQUIS that had been resting on the shelf. "Do you remember this?" she yelled, shaking the little red book in the air. “Do you?''

"I believe you asked me not to mention that book in front of the Ravenscrofts."

"It doesn't matter. You've humiliated me so thoroughly in front of them, anyway. I might as well finish off the job."

Caroline laid a comforting hand on Elizabeth's arm. "I think you're quite brave," she said softly. "Please don't think you've been shamed in any way."

"Oh, you don't think so?" Elizabeth lashed out, choking on every word. "Well, then, look at this\" She thrust the book into Caroline's hands.

The book was face-down, so Caroline murmured her incomprehension until she turned it over and read the title. A small cry of alarm escaped her lips.

"What is it, dear?" Blake asked.

Silently, she handed him the book. He regarded it, flipping it over in his hands a few times. Then they both looked up at James.

"I'm not certain what happened," Caroline said carefully, “but my imagination is devising all sorts of disasters."

"He found me with that," Elizabeth said. "I know it's a ridiculous book, but I had to marry and I didn't have anyone to whom to turn for advice. And then he found me with it, and I was afraid he'd mock me. But he didn't." She paused for breath, then hastily wiped away a tear.

"He was so kind. And then he—and then he offered to tutor me. He agreed that I could never hope to marry a marquis—"

"I never said that!" James said hotly. "You said that. Not I."

“He offered to help me interpret the book so that—''

“I offered to burn the book, if you recall. I told you it was utter nonsense." He glared at her, and when that didn't cause her to quake in her shoes, he glared at Blake and Caroline. That also seemed to have no effect, so he turned back to Elizabeth and yelled, "For the love of God, woman, there's only one rule in that bloody book worth following."


***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com