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Home > Dancing at Midnight (The Splendid Trilogy #2)(7)

Dancing at Midnight (The Splendid Trilogy #2)(7)
Author: Julia Quinn

"Second door on your left, my lord."

John made his way down the hall and opened the door. Just as he thought, there wasn't a single piece of blue furniture in the room. Alex stood by the window, looking out over the fields which bordered his own property.

"Trying to figure out how you can convince me that the apple orchard is on your side of the border?" John joked.

Alex turned around. "Blackwood. It's damned good to see you. And the apple orchard is on my side of the border."

John quirked a brow. "Maybe I've been trying to figure out how to fleece you out of it."

Alex smiled. "How have you been? And why haven't you stopped by to say hello? I didn't even know you'd bought this place until Belle told me yesterday afternoon."

So they called her Belle. It suited her. And she'd been talking about him. John felt absurdly pleased about that even though he rather doubted she'd had anything nice to say. "You seem to forget that one is not supposed to call upon a duke unless the duke has done so first."

"Really, Blackwood, I would think we'd be beyond the trivialities of etiquette at this point. Any man who has saved my life is welcome to call upon me any time he likes."

John flushed slightly, remembering the time he had shot a man who had a knife poised to plunge into Alex's back. "Anyone would have done the same," he said softly.

One corner of Alex's mouth tilted up as he remembered the men who had lunged at John as he took his aim. John had taken a knife wound in his arm for his bravery. "No," Alex said finally. "I don't think that anyone would have done the same." He straightened. "But enough talk of war. I prefer not to dwell upon it myself. How have you been?"

John motioned to a chair, and Alex sat down. "The same as anyone else, I suppose. Would you like a drink?"

Alex nodded, and John brought him a glass of whiskey. "Obviously not quite the same, Lord Blackwood."

"Oh, that. Got made a baron. Baron Blackwood." John shot Alex a jaunty grin. "Has a nice ring to it, don't you think?"

"A very nice ring."

"And how has your life changed in the last four years?"

"Hadn't changed much at all, I suppose, until the last six months."

"Really?"

"I went and got myself married," Alex said with a sheepish smile.

"Did you now?" John raised his glass of whiskey in a silent toast.

"Her name is Emma. She's Belle's cousin."

John wondered if Alex's wife looked anything like her cousin. If so, he could easily see how she would have caught the duke's attention. "I don't suppose she has also read the entire works of Shakespeare?"

Alex let out a short laugh. "Actually she started to, but I've been keeping her busy lately."

John raised his eyebrows over the double meaning of that comment.

Alex caught his expression immediately. "I've got her managing my estates. She has quite a head for figures, actually. She can add and subtract much faster than I can."

"Brains run in the family, I see."

Alex wondered how John had learned so much about Belle in such a short time but didn't say anything. "Yes, well, that may be the only thing the two of them have in common, besides their uncanny ability to get exactly what they want without your even realizing it."

"Oh?"

"Emma's quite headstrong," Alex said with a sigh. But it was a comfortable, happy sigh.

"And her cousin isn't?" John asked. "She struck me as quite formidable."

"No, no, Belle has quite a strong will, don't get me wrong. But it's not quite the same as Emma. My wife is so stubborn she'll often plunge herself into situations without quite thinking about it first. Belle isn't like that. She's very practical. Very pragmatic. She's got this insatiable curiosity. It's damned difficult to keep a secret around her, but I must say, I quite like her. After seeing some of the hellish situations of my friends, I consider myself quite fortunate in my in-laws."

Alex realized that he was speaking far more openly than he normally would with a friend whom he hadn't seen in years, but he supposed that there was something about war that forges an indestructible bond between men, and it was probably for that reason that he was talking with John as if the last four years had never passed.

Or it also could have been that John was a very good listener. He always had been, Alex remembered. "But enough about my new family," he said suddenly. "You'll meet them soon enough. How are you? You managed to avoid my questions rather neatly."

John chuckled. "Same as ever, I suppose, except now I've got a title."

"And a home."

"And a home. I bought this place by investing and reinvesting the price of my commission."

Alex let out a low whistle. "You must have quite the golden touch in financial matters. We should talk about it someday. I could probably learn a thing or two from you."

"The secret to financial success is not difficult, actually."

"Really? Pray tell, what is it?"

"Common sense."

Alex let out a laugh. "Something I fear I've been lacking these last few months, but I'm afraid that's what love does to a man. Listen, why don't you come over to dine soon? I told my wife about you, and she's very eager to meet you. And of course you already know Belle."

"I'd like that," John said. And in a rare show of emotion, he added, "I think it will be very nice to have some friends in the district. Thank you for stopping by."

Alex looked at his old friend intently, and in a flash he saw just how lonely John really was. But a second later, John shuttered his gaze, and his expression adopted its usual inscrutability. "Very well, then," Alex said courteously. "How about in two days' time? We don't keep town hours out here, so we'll probably dine around seven."

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