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Page 16

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“They’ve only just left,” Aline said. “Good morning, Mr. Shaw.”

With his sunstruck hair, lightly tanned complexion and sapphire eyes, Gideon Shaw was dazzling. He possessed an elegant insouciance that could only have come from being born to limitless wealth. The faint lines that cynicism had carved around his eyes and mouth only enhanced his looks, weathering his golden handsomeness agreeably. He was a tall and wellformed man, though his proportions did not approach McKenna’s warriorlike build.

“If you descend the stairs on the left and follow the path to the forest, you will catch up to them,” Aline told him.

Shaw’s smile was like a ray of sunshine piercing a cloud bank. “Thank you, my lady. It is my particular torment to enjoy sports that can only take place early in the morning.”

“I assume you also like to fish, then?”

“Oh yes.”

“Some morning you must go with my brother to our trout stream.”

“Perhaps I will—although I may not be up to the challenge. English trout are far more wily than American ones.”

“Can the same be said for English businessmen?” Aline asked, her eyes twinkling.

“Much to my relief, no.” Shaw made a slight bow in preparation to leave, then paused as a thought occurred to him. “My lady, I have a question…”

Somehow Aline knew exactly what he was going to ask. It took considerable acting ability to maintain an ingenuous expression. “Yes, Mr. Shaw?”

“Last night, as I took a stroll through the back gardens, I happened to make the acquaintance of a young woman…” He paused, obviously considering how much of the encounter he should describe.

“She did not give you her name?” Aline asked innocently.

“No.”

“Was she one of the guests? No? Well, then, she was probably a servant.”

“I don’t believe so.” His brow was hemmed with a slight frown of concentration as he continued. “She has light brown hair and green eyes…at least, I think they are green…and she is small of stature, perhaps only an inch taller than you.”

Aline shrugged apologetically. Although she would have liked to oblige him by giving him her sister’s name, she wasn’t certain that Livia wanted him to know her identity yet. “At the moment, Mr. Shaw, I can think of no one on the estate who matches that description. Are you certain that she wasn’t a figment of your imagination?”

He shook his head, his dark lashes lowering over rich blue eyes as he seemed to contemplate a problem of great magnitude. “She was real. And I need—that is, I would very much like—to find her.”

“This woman seems to have made quite an impression on you.”

A self-mocking smile deepened the corners of Shaw’s lips, and he dragged a hand through the gleaming layers of his hair, carelessly disheveling the amber-shaded locks. “Meeting her was like taking a deep breath for the first time in years,” he replied, not quite meeting her gaze.

“Yes, I understand.”

The unmistakable sincerity in her voice seemed to snare his attention. He smiled suddenly, and murmured, “I see that you do.”

Feeling a rush of liking for the man, Aline gestured in the direction of the departing sportsmen. “You can still catch the shooting party if you run.”

Shaw laughed briefly. “My lady, there is nothing in this life I want badly enough to chase after it.”

“Good,” she said, pleased. “Then you may take an early breakfast with me instead. I’ll have it served out here.”

With her companion seeming more than agreeable at the prospect, Aline directed a servant to set out breakfast for two at the table. A steaming basket of scones and sweetened buns was brought to them quickly, along with plates of broiled eggs, baked mushrooms, and thin slices of roast partridge. Although Shaw seemed to enjoy the breakfast offering, he seemed far more interested in a carafe of strongly brewed coffee, drinking it as if it were the antidote to some recently ingested poison.

Settling back in her chair, Aline popped a morsel of buttered scone into her mouth, and slid him a glance of flirtatious inquiry—the look that never failed to elicit the information that she wanted from a man. “Mr. Shaw,” she asked, following the scone with a sip of well-sugared tea, “how many years have you known McKenna?”

The question did not seem to surprise Shaw. After having downed two cups of coffee with barely a pause for breath, he now applied himself to drinking a third at a more leisurely pace. “About eight,” he replied.

“McKenna told me that the two of you met while he was still a ferryman—that you were a passenger on his boat.”

Apeculiar smile curved his lips. “Is that what he told you?”

She tilted her head to the side as she regarded him closely. “Is it not the truth?”

“McKenna tends to shade certain details in the interest of shielding my reputation. In fact, he’s far more concerned about my reputation than I am.”

Carefully Aline stirred more sugar in her tea. “Why did you strike up a partnership with a mere ferryman?” she asked in a deliberately relaxed tone.

Gideon Shaw took a long time to answer. He set down his half-empty cup and stared at her steadily. “McKenna saved my life, to start with.”

Aline did not move or speak as he continued.

“I was wandering along the waterfront, blind drunk. Even now I can’t remember how I got there, or why. On occasion I have some memory loss while drinking, and I can’t account for hours or even days.” His bleak smile chilled her to the marrow. “I stumbled and fell into the water, far enough along the docks that no one saw me, especially as the weather was inclement. But McKenna happened to be ferrying back from Staten Island, and he jumped into that damned freezing ocean—in the midst of a brewing storm, no less—and fished me out.”

“How fortunate for you.” Aline’s throat tightened at the thought of the risk that McKenna had taken for a complete stranger.

“Since McKenna had no means of identifying me,” Shaw continued, “and I was out cold, he took me to the tenement room he rented. A day and a half later I found myself in a rat hole of a room, being slapped awake by a giant, irate ferryman.” A reminiscent smile touched his lips. “As you can imagine, I was much the worse for wear. My head felt like it had been split open. After McKenna brought me some food and drink, I was lucid enough to tell him my name. As we talked, I became aware that despite his rough appearance, my rescuer was surprisingly well informed. He’d learned a great deal from all the passengers he’d ferried back and forth, much of it concerning Manhattan real estate. He even knew about a parcel of land that my family had bought on a long-term lease, and had never developed, and then he had the b—pardon me, the audacity…to propose a deal.”

Aline smiled at that. “What was the deal, Mr. Shaw?”

“He wanted to subdivide the land into a series of lots and sell them as short-term leases. And of course he wanted ten percent of whatever he could get for them.” Leaning back, Shaw rested his interlaced fingers on his midriff. “And I thought, Why not? No one in my family had bothered doing anything with the land—we third-generation Shaws are accurately known as a bunch of idle pleasure-seeking good-for-naughts. And here was this stranger, reeking of ambition and primal intensity, obviously willing to do anything to make a profit. So I gave him all the cash in my wallet—about fifty dollars—and told him to buy himself a new suit of clothes, cut his hair and shave his beard, and come to my offices the following day.”

“And McKenna did well for you,” Aline said rather than asked.

Shaw nodded. “Within six months he had leased every square inch of that land. Then, without asking permission, he used the profits to buy up acres of submerged shoreline property from the city, in the area below Canal Street. That made me rather nervous, especially when I began to hear the jokes circulating about the Shaw and McKenna ‘underwater lots’ for sale…” A gentle reminiscent laugh escaped his lips. “Naturally I questioned his sanity. But at that point, there was nothing I could do but stand aside as McKenna arranged for the submerged acreage to be filled in with rocks and soil. Then he built tenements and a string of warehouses, transforming it into valuable commercial property. Eventually McKenna turned an investment of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars into a development that yields approximately a million dollars annually.”

The numbers, so casually spoken, stunned Aline.

Seeing her wide eyes, Shaw laughed softly. “Not surprisingly, McKenna has become a sought-after guest in New York, not to mention one of the city’s most eligible bachelors.”

“I suppose his attentions are encouraged by many women,” Aline said, trying to keep her tone offhand.

“He has to beat them off,” Shaw replied with a sly grin. “I would not claim, however, that McKenna is known as a ladies’ man. There have been women—but to my knowledge, none that he has ever taken a serious interest in. Most of his energies have been directed toward his work.”

“What about you, Mr. Shaw?” she asked. “Are your affections engaged by someone back home?”

He shook his head at once. “I’m afraid that I share McKenna’s rather skeptical view of the benefits of marriage.”

“I think you will fall in love someday.”

“Doubtful. I’m afraid that particular emotion is unknown to me…” Suddenly his voice faded into silence. He set his cup down as he stared off into the distance with sudden alertness.

“Mr. Shaw?” As Aline followed his gaze, she realized what he had seen—Livia, wearing a pastel flower-printed walking dress as she headed to one of the forest trails leading away from the manner. A straw bonnet adorned with a sprig of fresh daisies swung from her fingers as she held it by the ribbons.

Gideon Shaw stood so quickly that his chair threatened to topple backward. “Pardon,” he said to Aline, tossing his napkin to the table. “That figment of my imagination has reappeared—and I’m going to catch her.”

“Of course,” Aline said, struggling not to laugh. “Good luck, Mr. Shaw.”

“Thanks.” He was gone in a flash, descending one side of the U-shaped stone staircase with the ease of a cat. Once he reached the terraced gardens, he cut across the lawn with long, ground-eating strides, just short of breaking into a run.

Standing to better her view of his progress, Aline couldn’t suppress a mocking grin. “Why, Mr. Shaw…I thought there was nothing in life you wanted badly enough to chase after it.”

Ten

Every evening since Amberley had died, Livia had gone to sleep with images of him filtering through her mind. Until last night.

It felt strange to be preoccupied with some man other than Amberley, especially when he was so very different. Remembering Gideon Shaw’s lean face and golden-blond hair, and the gentle expertise of his touch, Livia felt guilty and intrigued and unsettled. Yes, quite different from Amberley.

Her fiancé had not been a complicated man. There were no layers of darkness in him, nothing to prevent him from giving and accepting love with ease. He came from a family of pleasant people, who were well-off but never arrogant, and scrupulously mindful of their duty to those in less fortunate circumstances. Amberley had been exceedingly attractive, with dark brown eyes and shiny brown hair, and a becoming cowlick that made the locks fall in a tempting sweep across his brow. He had been slim and fit, loving sports and games and long walks.

It was hardly remarkable that they had fallen in love, for it was obvious to everyone how well suited they were. Amberley brought out a side of Livia’s nature that she had never been fully aware of. In his arms, she had become uninhibited. She had reveled in his lovemaking, and she had been willing to do anything, anywhere, with passionate abandon.

Now that Amberley was gone, Livia had been without a man for a long time. Her mother had lectured that she should apply herself to catching a husband as soon as possible, before the last vestiges of youth had left her. Livia did not disagree. She was lonely, and she missed the comfort and pleasure to be found in a man’s arms. But somehow she could not make herself take an interest in the prospect…she could only wait for someone, something, to free her from the invisible chains that bound her.

She wandered through the oak and hazel forest, which was unusually dark for morning time, as the sky was still covered with a silver-gray haze. Coming to a bridle path, she followed it to a sunken lane, and paused every once in a while to kick a stone with the toe of her leather walking shoe. A breeze stirred the air, drawing a distant rustling from the forest and causing a lone nuthatch to chirp indignantly.

Livia wasn’t aware that someone else was following the sunken lane until she heard a series of footfalls coming up hard behind her. Turning, she saw the tall figure of a man approaching. He walked with a fluid ease that made his sportsman’s clothes seem as elegant as formal wear. Livia drew in a quick breath as she realized that Gideon Shaw had found her.

As spectacular as he had been in the moonlight, Shaw was even more breathtaking in the daytime, his close-cropped hair glowing like antique gold, his face beautiful but completely masculine, the nose narrow and long, the cheekbones high, the eyes astonishingly blue.

For some reason Shaw stopped as their gazes met, as if he had run into an invisible wall. They stared at each other across a distance of perhaps five yards, while Lydia became aware of a low, warm ache inside. There was a peculiar expression on his face…interest struggling through disillusionment…the reluctant fascination of a man who was trying very hard not to want her.

“Good morning, sir.”

The sound of her voice seemed to draw him forward. He approached slowly, as if he feared that a sudden move might startle her into fleeing. “I dreamed about you last night,” he said.

As a conversational gambit, the statement was somewhat alarming, but Livia smiled nonetheless. “What was the dream about?” she asked, tilting her head as she stared at him. “Or is that a dangerous question?”

The wind teased a lock of hair that had fallen on his forehead. “Most definitely a dangerous question.”

Livia realized that she was flirting with him, but she couldn’t seem to help it. “Have you come to walk with me, Mr. Shaw?”

“If you have no objection to my company.”

“The only thing I would object to is your absence,” she told him, enjoying the sight of his sudden easy grin. Motioning for him to join her, she turned and continued along the sunken lane, toward the gatehouse garden in the distance.

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