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Page 16

Then a blow had landed on the back of his neck, followed by Violette looking at Daniel in absolute terror. No mistaking the blind panic—Daniel had frightened her half to death. Hence the blow with the vase.

But why? In the upstairs room he’d read desire in her. Downstairs, fear. What change had one flight of stairs wrought?

He wanted to know, and now she was gone.

“Find them, damn you!” The cry rang down the stairs, echoing Daniel’s sentiment, but with much more fury. He recognized the voice and left the dining room to confront its owner.

“Your bird has flown, has she, Mortimer?” Daniel asked.

Fenton Mortimer swung around, greatcoat billowing, from where he’d been haranguing a young constable and a man in a business suit and bowler hat on the stairs.

“What are you doing here, Mackenzie?” Mortimer demanded. “If you have anything to do with this, I’ll . . .”

He trailed off, his focus moving to the bruise and cut on Daniel’s temple. He decided not to complete the threat. Wise man.

“I’m looking for Mademoiselle Bastien, same as you,” Daniel said. “Frighten her off, did you?”

“Madame Bastien and her daughter owe my family two months’ rent. Of course they fled. I don’t care how fine a show they gave us last night—they’re tricksters and thieves, and I will prove it.”

“What, you don’t believe in the spirit world?” Daniel asked. “And you dragged me here so eagerly.”

“Because I thought you’d like the girl and forgive my debt if you had a night with her. What did you do to make them flee?”

“Not a damn thing.” But then, Daniel thought again of the fear in Violette’s eyes. She’d struck him to the ground, and now she was gone.

She’d apparently dragged him down a few streets to lie alone until someone found him. Lucky for Daniel he hadn’t been quietly knifed to death, though he’d noticed that the wad of cash he’d won last night had vanished. Had a thief rolled him, or had Violette helped herself from his inert body?

Perhaps everything between him and Violette had been false—the spark of passion, the beginnings of surrender, the fear. All contrived so she could smash wealthy, gullible Daniel over the head, steal his money, and slip away to a softer life in another place.

Violette Bastien had admitted to him that she put on a show for the customer, using her fancy devices. He’d felt sorry for her at the same time he’d admired her ingenuity.

But perhaps she was a confidence trickster all the way down, playing upon Daniel’s protectiveness to get what she wanted. And Daniel had walked into it with his eyes open. He was as much of an idiot as Mortimer.

“Let her go,” Daniel said. “She’ll be miles away by now.”

“Let her go?” Mortimer’s eyes were red with rage. “She owes me. The bitch is going to pay every penny of my debt to you as well. I’ll find her, I’ll have her in prison, and I’ll squeeze her dry.”

Mortimer was a bully, plain and simple. Daniel remembered Simon saying that Mortimer owed money to a very bad man. Mortimer was the kind of person who would turn around and take out his fear and anger on those he thought weaker than he. Violette Bastien might have played Daniel for a fool, but he wished her out of Mortimer’s grasp forever.

“How much did she owe you?” Daniel asked.

“Forty pounds. And I want the two thousand I owe you out of her too.”

The businessman cleared his throat. He alone of the three men pretended he didn’t notice the bruises and abrasions on Daniel’s face, although the constable studied them with interest.

“That would be unwise,” the suited man said to Mortimer. “The law will help you gain your rent money, but nothing you incurred with another party.”

Daniel grinned. “And stating you brought me here last night so I’d forgive your debt in exchange for her body makes you a procurer, Mortimer. Not the best thing to say in front of a constable and a solicitor.”

Mortimer’s weasel-like face became even more red. “That is not what I meant . . .”

But he had meant that—Mortimer simply couldn’t control his tongue. Daniel knew as well that Mortimer had come here this morning for more than the rent. A debt of forty pounds to his family wouldn’t have him that hot under the collar, not when he owed someone who would employ a bone-breaker five thousand. Mortimer had come to badger Violette, likely to demand she pay him in another way. He’d no doubt summoned the constable and solicitor only after he’d found Violette gone.

Daniel clenched his fists behind his back so he wouldn’t haul off and punch Mortimer in the face. “Tell you what,” he said, running his gaze along the staircase, to the ceiling, and back to Mortimer. “How much do you think this house is worth?”

Mortimer’s eyes narrowed. “Why?”

“I’ll buy it from you—or whoever in your family actually owns it. That way Madame Bastien’s rent is owed to me, not you. Knock off two thousand from the price, and I’ll consider the amount you owe me paid. Knock off another five, and I’ll buy your note back from Mr. . . . Who are you in up to your neck with?”

Mortimer flashed an uncomfortable glance at the constable and magistrate. “Sutton,” he said, barely audible.

Daniel’s day brightened. “You mean Edward Sutton? Are you a fool? Or just fond of pain?”

“It’s none of your business,” Mortimer said angrily. “It has to do with America, and is between Mr. Sutton and myself.”

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