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Page 25

“I never meant to hurt you.” The words softened as she repeated them. Violette lifted her hand as though to touch the still-closing wound on Daniel’s temple, but she stopped herself. “I swear to you.”

“It’s all right; ye only stunned me senseless. I’ve had ladies slap me before, but never with such vigor.”

Violette took a step back, letting out a heavy breath, some of the paralytic fear leaving her. “Well, you had no business kissing me like that. I’m not a doxy.”

“You’re right, lass. No business at all.” Daniel moved to her again. “But we were alone, it was night, and finding a woman who understood engineering excited me. It was your genius with the machines that did it. I tried to behave well, but once I’d seen your wind machine, I couldn’t resist stealing another kiss from you.”

The frozen terror eased further from her eyes at this speech, Daniel was glad to see, but the wariness remained. “You were after more than kisses, Mr. Mackenzie.”

“Aye, I don’t deny that.” Daniel ran his gaze over Violette’s body, not well hidden under the formfitting coat and cotton blouse. She still took his breath away.

Finding her, the triumph of it, beat through him. He wanted to catch her in his arms, push her back against the dirty bricks of the theatre, and find his relief with her.

“You are a beautiful woman,” he said, making himself stay in place. “Says so on your poster, doesn’t it? A beauty that drives sane men to madness, gentle men to duels. That’s brilliant, is that. I bet the punters come flocking.”

Violette gave him a sharp look. “You are mocking me, Mr. Mackenzie.”

“I am indeed.” Daniel stepped beside her and held out his arm in his tailored coat. “Let me escort you home, Mademoiselle Bastien, if that is your name. Even if it isn’t your name, I’m pleased to escort you anyway. There might be ruffians about.”

“This is a respectable part of town.” Violette’s chin came up. “The only ruffian in it is you.”

Daniel burst out laughing. “A shot to the heart, but accurate, lass. Dead accurate. Still, even respectable gentlemen might lose their minds when they come face-to-face with the stunning beauty of Princess Ivanova.”

Daniel kept his arm out, expecting her at any moment to turn and run, or at least look about for something else to hit him with before she went. Then he’d have to follow her, because damned if he’d let the woman he’d tracked halfway across the Continent slip from his grasp again. He’d found her, and he was keeping her.

Daniel hid his jolt of glee when she slid her fingers under the crook of his arm. “Very well. But only because it is darker out here than I thought.”

Got her, Daniel’s mind sang as they turned together out to the main street.

Ian’s direction of Marseille had brought Daniel here, and almost immediately he’d seen the advertisement that the clairvoyant Countess Melikova and her assistant, Princess Ivanova, the deadly beauty, would speak to an audience at a concert hall.

Walking in late to the performance, Daniel had beheld on the stage a middle-aged woman in black with a gold brocade turban, and the upright form of Violette, wearing a long black veil that concealed her face and hair. But he’d known she was Violette. He’d recognize that enticing body and sensual voice anywhere, didn’t matter how much she hid her face or what accent she put on.

“The bit of hair you let us glimpse behind the veil was blond.” Daniel touched a dark curl that fell over Violet’s cheek. “Clever. If smitten gentlemen waited for you at the back door, they’d strain their eyes for a woman with flaxen hair. Only I was on the lookout for the real Violette Bastien.” He winked at her. “Except that Mademoiselle Bastien doesn’t exist either, does she? Is the Violette real? Or were you christened with another name?”

“It’s Violet,” she said in a firm voice.

“No surname?”

“It was a long time ago.”

“Hmm.” Daniel drew her a little closer. They walked slowly down the street like any courting couple, avoiding carriages with clopping horses and the little steaming piles that the clopping horses left behind.

Plenty of people strolled about—friends arm in arm, couples, businessmen walking from clubs back home to their families. None paid any attention to Daniel and Violet, except for a glance at Daniel’s Mackenzie plaid kilt. Daniel was the exotic creature on the street at the moment, not Violet.

“I commend you and your mother on your performance,” he said. “Well done. The phosphor-luminescent balls were a nice touch.”

Violet shrugged. “People expect to see tangible evidence of the ether.”

“No machines tonight?”

“My mother doesn’t need them as much as I do. I don’t have her gift.”

“Gift,” Daniel repeated, remembering the performance. “Aye, she has quite a good one. She’s masterful at telling people what they wish to hear.”

“Do not be so quick to dismiss her, please. She is always spot-on, and not only using what I tell her. What about what your own mother said to you through her? My mother was right, wasn’t she? And I told her nothing. I didn’t know you would be here—I thought you were . . .” Violet faltered, her fingers tightening on his arm.

“Deceased?” Daniel supplied. “Departed? Shuffled off this mortal coil?”

“Yes.”

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