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Page 107

Violet’s protests went unheeded. Isabella, Beth, and Eleanor joined in to persuade Violet to accept the clothes, and she had to give in gracefully. As much as Violet had to work to swallow her pride, she admitted that the ladies truly had been kind. She’d someday find a way to give them kindness in return.

The result of the Mackenzie ladies’ planning was stunning. When Violet walked down the staircase of the Grande Hotel that evening, heads turned, gentlemen and ladies alike staring at her in admiration.

The gown she’d chosen was close-fitting, hugging her br**sts and waist, the neckline lower than any she’d ever worn. Violet’s shoulders were bare—the gown had no sleeves at all—and only thin, diamond-studded straps held the bodice in place.

The fabric was silk, in a deep, iridescent blue that changed hue as Violet moved. Long satin gloves covered her arms up over her elbows, and small diamonds, Daniel’s latest gift, glinted in her hair.

A maid came after Violet with a fur wrap that would protect her from the cold, but the ensemble was meant to bare as much of Violet as tastefully possible. She was a graceful statue, come to life.

Daniel met her at the bottom of the stairs. He was resplendent in black coat and pristine white dress shirt, but he wore the formal kilt of the Mackenzies. For evening, instead of boots he wore leg-hugging socks and low shoes. Though his kilt drew stares from all, Violet noticed the ladies appreciating his muscular legs as well.

Daniel held out his arm, and Violet slipped her hand through its crook. The maid draped the furs over Violet, and Daniel led her out.

They’d done this for three nights running, the staff of the hotel always scurrying to serve them. Daniel Mackenzie was a wealthy Scotsman, from a prominent family. The lady? She was an enigma, but it didn’t matter because she was Daniel Mackenzie’s wife.

Daniel led Violet along the carpet stretching from hotel doorway to the low-slung carriage that waited for Monsieur and Madame to step inside.

The coach was the most luxurious money could hire. The inside was polished wood trimmed with the curving floral designs of the new art styles. Kerosene lights lit the inside, velvet curtains shut out the night and the hoi polloi, and coal boxes warmed their feet.

Daniel sat next to Violet on the cushioned seat, no false preservation of propriety. He slid his arm across the back of the seat, behind her, enclosing Violet in his warmth.

“How long?” Violet asked nervously.

“I imagine he’ll emerge soon,” Daniel said. “And then you’ll be free.” He patted her silk-clad knee. “You’re good at playing roles. This one is no different.”

“It is different. This is real.”

“I won’t argue with you.” Daniel stretched out his long legs, which brushed hers through her thin skirt. “But you’re doing brilliantly.”

He leaned back and proceeded to enjoy the ride. Daniel enjoyed everything he did, from grubbing over his car in tattered clothes, to smoking with the foundry workers where he’d taken the car to be repaired, to rubbing elbows with Paris’s elite.

They went to Restaurant Drouant first. Daniel took a table in the most visible part of the restaurant and was as relaxed here as he was when they ate privately in their hotel parlor. He spoke in a friendly way with the waiters, who were happy to bring him the best from the kitchen and the wine cellar.

Violet watched Daniel as he flashed his smile, as warmth lit his eyes, none of it false. He was a generous man, and that generosity came from his heart. Daniel truly didn’t give a damn what others thought of him. He gave because he liked people, and not to gain praise or prestige.

I love him for it. I love him for everything he is.

At the moment Violet lived in a bubble of astonishing happiness. What would come after Paris, after finding Jacobi, she didn’t know. The future stretched out, unknown and frightening.

After dining, Daniel took her to the Moulin Rouge, to be seen, and then to secret casinos—he seemed to know many of those. In the carriage before they arrived at the first casino, Daniel took a velvet pouch from his pocket, removed an eye-widening diamond bracelet, and clasped it around Violet’s wrist.

Her jaw sagged. “Daniel . . . You can’t . . .”

Daniel tipped her face to his and gave her a rough kiss on her lips. “No, my sweet. You’re supposed to gush and coo and tell me how wonderful I am. That’s why gentlemen give baubles to beautiful ladies.”

Violet had to laugh. “No, it isn’t.”

“Aye, you’re right. We do it so they’ll rush to bed with us in hopes of getting more diamonds.”

“I’m sorry you’ve known so many mercenary women.” Violet touched the bracelet, marveling that this amazing man wanted to be with her. “They don’t deserve you.”

He shrugged. “I learned young not to engage my heart.”

“So did I.”

They regarded each other without speaking for a moment. The lonely boy Daniel had been shone out briefly, hidden again when he leaned to give her another kiss, this one slower, savoring.

The carriage pulled to a halt, much to Violet’s disappointment. “More excitement,” Daniel said, moving to the door. “The night is young . . . No, wait—it’s mostly over. But no matter.”

“You exhaust me,” Violet said.

“You’re loving every second of it.”

Violet smiled, his energy contagious. “I am.”

It was heady to be so carefree and unworried, to do whatever she wished. Daniel didn’t insist on dictating where they’d go or what they’d do. He knew everyplace and everyone in town, so he presented Violet with a variety of choices, and they both chose what they thought they’d like best.

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