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Page 11

He reached a hand down to help her up. Violet studied the sinewy strength of the gloveless hand, virile, tight, powerful, stretching down to her. Daniel expected her to take the offer of help without reluctance, to let him steady and guide her.

Fortunately Violet had learned a long time ago what a lie such an offer could be. But she was not so terrified of him that she would not at least let him help her to her feet. Any metaphor beyond that was useless.

Violet put her hand into his. Mr. Mackenzie’s strong fingers closed around hers, the warmth in them palpable.

Daniel didn’t guide her upward—he pulled hard, lifting Violet nearly off her feet. Her heels tapped the board floor as they came down. Daniel’s hand went to her elbow to steady her, and she found herself pulled against the length of his tall body.

The twinkle in Daniel’s dark amber eyes made her shake. “Naturally deceptive also looks like me,” he said, his voice low. “From where do you think my wee baby sister learned it?”

He wouldn’t let go of her. Daniel had a solid grip on Violet’s arm, strong enough that she couldn’t tug away and scorn him with a freezing glance. Freezing glances would bounce from him in any case, or else be caught and thawed by him. There wasn’t a bit of chill anywhere in Mr. Mackenzie.

He was all heat. And Violet was so cold.

She smelled the smoke on him, whiskey from earlier tonight, and dust from her floor. Daniel held the cigarette loosely, and the smoke curled around Violet as though trying to pull her into an embrace with him.

Daniel’s face was hard, but not as hard as that of his father, or at least what Violet had seen of his father in the newspapers. Daniel’s dark hair had been cut short, but he’d managed to rumple it so one part of it stuck out in a different direction than the rest. The lamplight burned red highlights in his hair, subtle ones that would show only in strong light and only to someone standing close to him.

Daniel lifted the cigarette. Without releasing Violet, he took another pull then offered the cigarette to her.

Violet eyed the dark stick and its faint glow at the end. She knew that some scandalous women smoked alongside their lovers, but Violet had never formed a taste for it. She found she preferred the warm, herbal scent of pipe smoke in any case, although cigar smoke was what clung to most gentlemen these days.

She imagined Mr. Mackenzie’s fancy ladies wouldn’t reject an offer to share his smoke. The young debutantes he’d be courting, on the other hand, to put an heir in his nursery, would be shocked and turn up their noses. Or they might giggle at Daniel’s audacity.

The thought of those giggling, perfect young debs with their soft fingers and no worries in their spoiled little heads made Violet almost snatch the cigarette from him.

She closed her lips around it. Violet had learned when she practiced on cigars—ghostly smoke appearing in a room while her mother was in her trance never hurt—that if she closed up her throat and didn’t let the smoke into her lungs, she could tolerate it.

Daniel watched her, standing so close that she could smell the shaving soap he’d used before he’d ventured out tonight. She also caught the scents of cigar smoke mixed with that of the cigarette, plenty of whiskey, and a woman’s heavy perfume. Her heart burned.

Violet exhaled the smoke little by little, while Daniel fixed his gaze on her. As the last of the smoke trickled out, Daniel leaned down and fitted his lips over hers.

The pressure was barely a kiss at all, only a resting of his lips against hers, allowing her to feel his smooth mouth, the bite of warmth, the strength of him.

No hesitant kiss of a man who knew he was being more forward than he ought. Likewise, it wasn’t a commanding kiss—it gave more than it demanded.

Daniel eased back, a smile spreading across his face. “Ah, lass, I knew ye’d taste fine.”

She could only stare at him. Time for a biting quip, the wit Violet had learned that put a forward gentleman into his place. Time for the half-amused, half-scornful look the Parisian courtesan called Lady Amber had taught her—it stopped men before they got above themselves, Lady Amber had assured her.

But Violet’s heart pounded, and she couldn’t move. Flashes of white light slapped her eyes, and the flickering lamp across the room didn’t help.

“Ye all right, love?” Daniel asked, stooping to look into her face.

The quiet question almost killed her. Violet wanted to wrap her arms around him, to hang on to him until everything, absolutely everything was all right again.

But that way lay danger, and terror so great it immobilized her. Lady Amber had tried to help Violet become right again, but Violet had long ago faced the sad fact that she never could be.

“Yes. Fine.” She made herself sound brisk. “The hour is late.”

Daniel touched fingers to Violet’s chin, the caress so gentle her knees threatened to buckle. Violet thought he’d kiss her again—hoped—but Daniel only took a step back, ground out the cigarette on the bottom of his boot, and said, “Now, show me this wind machine.”

Without waiting for her to escort him, Daniel left the room.

Violet had to hurry after him, her heels clicking on the bare floor. He moved fast, his long stride carrying him down the stairs before Violet could catch him.

By the time she reached the ground floor, Daniel was already in the dining room, all the candles lit, he standing in the middle of the room, turning a slow circle. “Your bobbing ghost lights issued from that register,” he said, pointing upward. “The icy breeze of death from . . . ah.”

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