"What if I am? What if you and everyone else was wrong about me? What if--"
"There is no chance in hell that Vivien Duvall could be a virgin," he said, staring at her as if he had never seen her before. "It's impossible. Physically you're an exact match...but you're not Vivien."
"But how could I could resemble her exactly unless she and I were somehow related...perhaps even..." She fell silent as another thought occurred to her.
"A twin?" he finished for her, his face grim. "Given your physical appearance, that's entirely likely. Though no one even hinted at the possibility that Vivien had a sister, much less an identical twin."
"Are you certain I'm not Vivien?" she asked in a stricken whisper. "The things you said about me...the men I slept with...the things in that diary...That wasn't me?"
"That wasn't you," he said quietly.
She shocked him by bursting into tears, her hands jerking up to her face, glittering rivulets leaking out from between her fingers. Grant hauled her into his arms, crushing her against his bare chest. The feel of her tears on his skin caused him to ache with painful remorse. He cursed and did his best to comfort her.
"I'm sorry for this damned mess," he muttered. "I can't give you back your innocence. I've hurt you unforgivably."
"No, no," she sobbed against his shoulder. "I-I'm not c-crying about that. I'm just s-so relieved that I'm not Vivien, and yet..." She tried to hold back another sob, but it broke free with renewed force. "I thought I knew who I was, a-and there was some comfort in that, even if I couldn't remember anything. And now..." She sniffled and choked on a fresh onslaught of tears. "Who am I? I can't stand not knowing any longer. I feel so..." Her sobs made further speech impossible.
Grant held her as she cried, feeling guiltier and more remorseful with each second that passed. "I'll find out," he said gruffly. "I swear I will. Dammit...don't cry anymore. Please."
Stroking the wild mass of her hair, he wondered who the hell she was, and how she had come to be in Vivien's place. And why had no one been searching for her? Somewhere there must be a family, friends, someone who was worried by her absence. It was even possible she had been betrothed. Someone with her youth and beauty would not be unspoken-for. The thought rattled him even more.
She had an entire life that neither of them knew a damned thing about.
And where in the hell was the real Vivien? Had her would-be murderer already found her and accomplished the job he had set out to do?
Confounded by the turn of events, Grant waited until Vivien--he could think of her by no other name--had calmed somewhat, and he laid her gently on the bed. Procuring a striped burgundy dressing robe, he tied the belt around his waist and strode to the bellpull. He rang for Kellow, who appeared in less than five minutes. The valet had dressed hastily, his hair mussed and his eyes sleep-heavy. Grant met him at the door, keeping it partially closed to prevent him from seeing Vivien. "A ewer of hot water and some washcloths," Grant said curtly.
"Yes, sir." The valet vanished, and Grant turned back to the bed. Vivien had not moved. At first he thought she might have fallen asleep, but as he came to her, he saw that her eyes were open. Her gaze was turned inward, her mind dwelling on thoughts she couldn't or didn't want to share with him.
"I'm going to make up to you for what I've done," he said quietly.
She stirred then, turning her head to regard him with a tremulous smile. "You don't have to," she whispered, her eyes sparkling with tears. "It wasn't your fault that you mistook me for Vivien...Everyone did. No one questioned my identity. I can't blame you for accepting what seemed to be the obvious." She released a shaky sigh. "And as far asthis is concerned..." She made a quick, embarrassed gesture to the rumpled bedclothes, and her gaze lowered. "I was more than willing," she said in a bashful whisper. "And you couldn't have known I was a virgin."
"That makes me no less responsible." Half sitting beside her on the bed, he took a lock of her hair in his hand, rubbing the silken strands between his fingers. "Vivien--" he said, and stopped as soon as the name left his lips. "Damn. What should I call you now?"
Her lips curved in the faintest of smiles. "You may as well continue to call me Vivien. I'm accustomed to it by now, and besides...I don't want to choose yet another wrong name. I just want to find my own." "I'm glad you're not really Vivien," he murmured, still toying with the lock of hair as he stared at her. "I'm glad that no man has made love to you except me."
She hesitated before replying, her blue eyes questioning as she gazed up at him. "So am I."
They stared at each other for an endless moment, lost in unspoken thoughts of what had just occurred between them, and how it had changed everything.
Reflecting on how he had treated her, Grant was deeply troubled. He was in an impossible position. He, of all men, had managed his own life so efficiently, so carefully. Now he had fallen in love against his will, only to discover that she wasn't the woman he had thought her to be, and then he had unintentionally taken her virginity. He faced a devil of a reckoning on the morrow. His only choice was to tell her the truth and expose his own lies, and hope to hell that she might be able to forgive and trust him again. And even if she did, there was still every chance he would lose her when she regained her memory and returned to her former life.
Grant had never expected to feel such responsibility for a woman, such an emotional and physical connection to her. The act of sex seemed almost new, as if in taking her innocence he had somehow gained back a little of his own. He wanted to make love to her again, teach and explore and share with her. Although he had reluctantly acknowledged his growing love for her before tonight, the feelings were suddenly infused with promise and wonder, and every fragment of bitterness was gone. He felt humbled, almost clumsy, a great moonstruck creature whose every hope of happiness was absurdly precarious.
Impatiently Grant wondered where Kellow was, and why he was taking so long to fulfill a simple request. Opening the door, he stared at the darkened hall. His foot touched the edge of an object on the floor. Glancing down, he saw a tray loaded with hot water, washcloths--and brandy and a glass. Kellow had tactfully left the tray just outside the door.
Grant picked up the tray and closed the door with his foot. Returning to the beside, he set the tray on the night table. "Here," he said, handing a linen cloth to Vivien. She wiped her streaming eyes and blew her nose with a childlike vigor that almost made him smile. He filled a creamware bowl with steaming water, and soaked and wrang out another cloth. Self-consciously Vivien averted her pink and puffy face as he began to wipe it. The warm cloth passed over her fragile skin, erasing the salty tear tracks beneath her eyes and on her cheeks.
Quietly he bid her to lie back against the pillows, and she obeyed. He dampened the cloth again and began to wash her as if she were a child. He bathed beneath her arms, over the chest, stomach, legs. His dispassionate demeanor seemed to soothe her, and gradually she relaxed, not resisting even when he washed between her thighs. Using another clean, warm cloth, he bathed away every trace of blood and semen. He was as gentle as possible, but even so, she winced as he performed the intimate service.
When the task was done, he covered her with the bedclothes and undressed and washed himself. He blew out the lamp, shrouding the room in darkness, and got into bed beside her. Exhausted but still awake, Vivien went still as his weight depressed the mattress. "What are you doing?" she whispered.
"Holding you." He kissed her temple, the curve of her ear, the side of her neck, taking his time, his mouth moving over her in light, warm brushes. Vivien blinked and gasped, and pushed at his chest. "Not again," she said unsteadily. "I'm very tired." He sensed rather than saw her blush as she added, "And sore." "I won't hurt you. I promise." He opened his mouth over the tip of her breast, stroking with his tongue until he felt it gather in a sensitive bud. Cupping both br**sts in his hands, he lingered first on one, then the other, until Vivien let out a shivering sigh and put her hands to his head. At first he thought she intended to push him away, but her fingers curved to his scalp and urged him closer. He clasped her h*ps in his hands and kissed a trail down to her navel. Making his tongue into a point, he jabbed it softly into the small hollow, again and again. As his mouth began a hot downward slide toward the triangle of cinnamon curls between her thighs, she gasped and covered it with a protective hand. "Wait," she said, a pleading note entering her voice.
"Take away your hand," he urged.
"I can't." She gasped as he kissed around the barrier of her hand, searching between the crevices of her fingers. His mouth settled over the back of her hand, and he drew small wet circles with the point of his tongue, until her entire body tingled with shocked excitement.
"Take away your hand," he said huskily, pulling gently at her wrist. She continued to cover herself, and he licked each of her taut fingers from base to tip. His tongue was agile, restless, playing over her wrist and hand and fingers until she moaned that she could not bear it any longer.
"Then let me do as I want, dammit," he whispered tenderly. "Take away your hand, darling."
She obeyed, revealing the place she had shielded, and Grant growled in satisfaction. He nuzzled into the soft wealth of red curls, using his fingers to spread her open. One surging lick into the tantalizing salty cove, and he felt her entire body shake. Another lick, and he lingered in hungry exploration, teasing, tasting, his senses spiraling in pleasure.
Grant felt her pushing at his head, but he ignored the feeble gesture and concentrated on the delicate flesh beneath his tongue. Her fingers trembled on his head, and her h*ps tilted in helpless offering. She was unable to hold back her response now, her body yearning and tensing in an unmistakable rhythm. He knew he could do anything he wanted with her now, and for a moment he was tempted to raise upward and thrust himself inside her throbbing warmth. But equally compelling was the desire to feel her cl**ax against his mouth, and so he stayed where he was, his tongue moving in rapid flicks until she bit back a scream and gave a long, sweet shudder of release.
"Oh..." she whispered between uneven breaths. "I didn't know...I never thought..." Her body trembled violently as he rose upward and folded her against the shelter of his chest.
Grant crushed his mouth into her hair, kissing her damp scalp. "That's just the beginning," he promised. "That's the very least of what you're going to feel with me."
She had thrown herself willingly into the fire. She had only herself to blame if she had gotten burned. That was the first thought that entered Vivien's mind as she awakened by herself, her body spread diagonally across the huge bed. A spark of hope flared inside her, that perhaps she had dreamed an unusually vivid dream. But the pillow beneath her head carried a faint masculine scent, and she was na*ed beneath the sheet and coverlet. Her bleary eyes cracked open. As she pushed aside the covers, she saw the hints of bruises on her pale legs and hips, as if someone had held her too tightly.
She was sore in places she had never been sore before. There was a sting of discomfort right between her thighs, and strained muscles all down the insides of her legs to her knees. Her shoulders and neck also ached. Just as she thought longingly of a hot bath, someone entered the room.
Instantly Vivien jerked the covers under her chin as Grant approached the bed. He had already bathed and dressed. His face was shaven and his hair damp and neatly combed. It seemed he had taken special pains with his appearance this morning, his black silk cravat tied with crisp precision, his shirt starched and snowy in contrast to his immaculate gray coat and charcoal waistcoat. Pearl-colored trousers had been neatly strapped over black boots polished to a blinding gleam.
As she stared into his alert green eyes, Vivien was filled with conflicting feelings. She could not, would not, blame him for taking her virginity. She had offered herself to him willingly. They had shared the most intimate experience a man and woman could have, and part of her actually gloried in the fact. However, she would not admit her love for him aloud. There were even more pressing matters to deal with...as well as a few suspicions that lurked in the back of her mind.
Grant came to her at once, cupping her face in his hands, possessing her mouth with a long, fervent kiss. "Good morning," he murmured with a slight smile. The way he looked at her, his gaze warm with intimate knowledge, made her flush.
"Sh-shouldn't you be at Bow Street?" she asked, her voice sleep-thickened. Judging from the strength of the light pouring into the room, it was a late hour of the morning. Grant was usually gone before the sun had finished its daily ascent.
"I'm not going to Bow Street this morning," he replied, leaning his hip beside her, his weight causing one side of the mattress to depress.
She considered the statement, her small hand twisting in the sheet. "Because of last night?" she asked.
"We're going to pay a visit to Linley."
"I have no need of a doctor," she said, leaning closer to inhale his spicy masculine scent. "Most women survive their first time without requiring medical attention afterward."
"Perhaps I'm the one who needs it," he said sardonically, rubbing his cheek against the silken tangles of her hair. "The Devil knows that last night was as much of a shock to me as it was to you." Drawing back, he stared into her troubled face and added gently, "You may as well be there while I talk to Linley, sweet pea. The good doctor owes us both the answers to a few questions."
He reached across the bed to a pool of burgundy silk and shook it out, holding it up for her. Realizing it was his robe, Vivien attempted to slide her arms in the sleeves without revealing her breasts.
"I've seen a thousand signs of your innocence," he remarked, carefully pulling the mass of her hair free and letting it flow down the back of the robe. His voice was shadowed with regret, and dark color crept across the high edges of his cheeks and the bridge of his nose. "Until last night I thought every one of them was false. I couldn't fathom that you could be anyone other than Vivien Duvall." Taking one of her hands, he brought it to his face and pressed the tender inside of her palm to his cheek. His mouth touched the delicate crease of her wrist. "Forgive me," he muttered, with a visible effort that betrayed how difficult the words were.
"There is nothing to forgive," Vivien said, her hand tingling from the warmth of his smooth-shaven cheek. "You've done no harm to me. You've harbored and protected me, and...I will continue to rely on you. However..." She paused, searching for the appropriate words and not finding them. Grant lowered her hand and looked at her warily. "However?" he asked, a frown working between his dark brows.