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Page 109

“He is blackmailing you?” she asked in imperious tones.

“Could you expect otherwise?” Daniel asked her.

“He married you under false pretenses, my dear,” Jacobi said. “Our marriage is still legal. I am not dead, as you can see, nor did I seek an annulment. You are still Madame Jacobi Ferrand; therefore, you can’t be Madame Daniel Mackenzie. I am, however, willing to keep quiet about our marriage for a reasonable fee from Mr. Mackenzie.”

Daniel shot him an amused look. “Or, you can cooperate with my solicitor and annul the marriage, and I’ll leave you in peace.”

Jacobi looked Daniel up and down one more time, again trying to assess him and again failing. The failing bothered him.

“Violet belongs to me,” Jacobi said.

“I belong to no one,” Violet said, outrage in her voice. “Least of all to you.”

Jacobi turned from Daniel and gave his full attention to Violet. “You are my wife. There are laws. I did bad things in the past to you, I know that, and believe me, I am sorry. I have always been sorry. But I was young and stupid, my little Violet. I owed money to a very bad man, lost it to him in his own gambling den. I was afraid, so afraid. And now—God has given me the chance to earn your forgiveness.”

He was good, Daniel decided. Jacobi spoke with true remorse, a catch in his voice, shame in his eyes. He’d mastered the technique.

“Is my forgiveness that important to you?” Violet asked him.

Jacobi lowered his eyes. “All these years, Violet, I’ve been haunted by my failure to you. I’ve wanted to make it up to you for so long. Of course your forgiveness is important. The most important thing in the world.”

Tears glistened on Violet’s lashes, but she held herself rigid. “Then I’ll never give it to you.”

Jacobi looked up, confused. “But . . .” He drew a breath. “Dear God, my Violet, when did you become so hard?” He flicked a glance at Daniel. “Did he teach you?”

“No, you did.” Violet moved to Jacobi, one slow step at a time. “You taught me everything I know. How to read people. How to manipulate them. How to know when the game is blown and it’s time to run. You taught me all that. And then you betrayed me. But it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise to me. Looking back, I see that you kept me beside you all those years as collateral, knowing that if you couldn’t pay your debts one day, you’d still have me, a young and unstained girl, as a bargaining chip. I didn’t understand this at the time, but some gentlemen will pay a fortune for a girl like that. You befriending me, teaching me—it was the same as someone investing in stocks and bonds.” Violet reached Jacobi and stopped. “So, look me in the eye and tell me you didn’t think of that the day you first saw me amazing children in the park with my card tricks.”

Jacobi looked straight at her. “I didn’t.”

“You’re a liar,” Violet said clearly. “You taught me how to do that too.”

Jacobi lost his hurt look. “And you were so very good at it. Did you lie to him too? He’s a very rich man from a very rich family. You must be fleecing him for all he’s worth.”

Daniel said nothing. He folded his arms across his chest and let Violet speak. “I told him all about you,” she said. “Everything you did. Everything I did.”

Jacobi nodded. “I taught you that too. Honesty is often the best way to take in a mark.”

“I told him what happened because I respect him,” Violet said. “I had no way of knowing whether he’d turn away from me in disgust, but he deserved to know.”

“I’m glad you did,” Jacobi said. “It made him look for me, which brought you back to me. Where you belong.” His voice softened to real affection, and he reached up to touch Violet’s cheek. “My little flower.”

Violet slapped him, the sound of the blow ringing. Jacobi’s eyes widened, and he pressed his hand to his face.

“Good for you, love,” Daniel said.

Violet leaned to Jacobi, her eyes hot, voice sharp. “I do not belong to you. I never did. I was afraid to come here tonight, because I was afraid I’d panic when I saw you. I was even afraid I might forgive you, because you’d tell me your remorse, and I’d feel horrible if I didn’t relent. I didn’t want either of those things to happen, so I didn’t want to see you. But he made me come.” Violet didn’t look at Daniel, didn’t point at him. “Because Daniel knew I needed to see you. I needed to see that you’re a pathetic, weak, friendless soul. That you’re base enough to lock a sixteen-year-old girl into a room with a man and walk away, knowing that man was going to rape her. Oh, you don’t like the word?” Violet leaned closer to Jacobi, who cringed away.

“He raped me, Jacobi. Yanked up my skirts, tore down my drawers, and entered me. It hurt—it hurt like nothing had ever hurt me before or has ever since. I vomited when it was over, and I dragged myself home, limping and bleeding. I couldn’t sleep for days, couldn’t eat, panicked at every noise in the night, and at the sound of every man’s voice. And you had the gall to apologize, to make me forgive you, to offer to marry me, because you couldn’t stand feeling remorseful. It would have been easier if you’d thrown me out and had done. But no, you kept me near, not letting me forget, making me believe I would be a bad person if I didn’t understand. You were still manipulating me, still playing me.” Violet stopped, her hands clenched, her eyes sparkling with rage. Daniel watched her force herself to stay calm. “Well, I never will forgive you. Never. You will have to live with your remorse and without me. I want the annulment or divorce, whatever it has to be.”

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