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Page 42

Daniel steered Violet firmly downstairs to the cart and helped her onto the back of it, taking his place beside her. He said nothing about Violet’s assumption he’d leave her to find her own way back to town, and Violet offered no explanation.

The drive would be long—twenty miles they’d flown in the balloon from point to point, but traveling back on the road would take much time. They had to go a long way south, Dupuis said, before finding a bridge that crossed the gorge.

Daniel loved how comfortable he felt with Violet. They held hands and dangled their feet off the back of the cart, the large basket cushioning their backs, as Simon drove them onward. Violet pointed out things she’d seen from the air, marveling on how fine it had been to have the same view as birds.

“Next time, the flight will be a little more controlled,” Daniel said. “Yesterday’s experiment gave me more ideas for a steering mechanism. I’ll take you up in Scotland, at Kilmorgan estate—there’s no place so beautiful as northern Scotland. In the summer, I mean. I wasn’t joking about the snowstorms.”

Violet gave him a startled look, again surprised at any indication he’d want to be with her in the future.

Daniel started to grow angry. Violet wasn’t afraid of him anymore, but she still didn’t trust him either. Daniel had the feeling that winning Violet’s trust would be one of the most difficult things he ever did.

To calm himself, Daniel switched the conversation to the motorcar he was building, one he determined would break land-speed records for years to come. He liked how Violet’s eyes lighted with interest when he talked about mass-to-speed ratios and pumps to cool the powerful engine. Another point in her favor—the debutantes currently pursuing Daniel with matrimonial intent would stare at him with unconcealed boredom whenever he mentioned the words crankshaft or straight four. Violet not only understood what he meant, but asked questions that sparked more ideas.

They reached Dupuis’ farm by late afternoon. Violet and even Simon looked tired, but to Daniel the drive ended far too soon. Dupuis offered them a bed for the night, but Violet was adamant she return to Marseille and her mother. Daniel thanked Dupuis, accepted the basket of dinner Dupuis’ housekeeper fixed for them, and drove Violet and Simon back to the train station.

Simon joined Violet and Daniel in the first-class train compartment, all three eating hungrily of the crusty bread, cheese, meat, and wine Dupuis had given them. Then Violet, worn out from their adventures, fell asleep against Daniel’s shoulder.

Simon snored on the seat opposite, but Daniel was wide awake. He looked down at Violet’s dark hair snaking across his coat, her flushed cheek, her dusky red lips parted in sleep. Her hand, limp, rested on the seat, very near Daniel’s thigh.

Yes, she could stay with him as long as she wanted. He’d take care of her. Daniel didn’t like casual, brief affairs, having seen his father carry out too many of those. Lord Cameron had taken a string of mistresses in rapid succession throughout Daniel’s childhood—his women would come into Daniel’s life and then vanish, often before Daniel had time to learn their names.

Daniel came to understand, as he grew older, that Cameron had been vastly lonely. He’d used the affairs to try to fill the hollow place Daniel’s mother had brutally carved into him. Cameron hadn’t trusted women, so he’d pushed them away before he could form any sort of attachment to them.

What Daniel had learned from his father’s actions was that short affairs led to emptiness and impermanence. He’d made a vow long ago not to let that be his life. What he had with Violet he wanted to last a long, long time.

For now, having the soft weight of Violet’s head on his shoulder was fine. She was giving him the tiniest touch of trust, lying here with him, surrendering to sleep.

Daniel hated to wake her as the train slid into Marseille, but Violet blinked as they came to a halt. She looked a bit embarrassed to have fallen asleep on him, but otherwise made no fuss.

They disembarked, and Daniel hired a cab to take them the short way to Violet’s boardinghouse.

He told Simon and the cab to wait while he walked Violet to her door, the box with her machine under his arm. Night had fallen, and with it came cold. Lights warmed the windows of the boardinghouse, but the street was dark.

It seemed wrong to say good-bye to her at the front door of the prim house and leave her. Daniel should be taking Violet to his hotel, moving them to a sumptuous suite, keeping her there with him. He wanted again to stretch his body alongside hers and slide his hand into her nightdress as he’d done this morning. He remembered the satin-silk of her skin, the warm weight of her breast, the firm point of her nipple rising against the brush of his fingers. Daniel would ease her with his touch then teach her what other magic they could find together.

But slowly. Violet was skittish. He had to woo her.

“Good night, then,” Daniel said to her. He took Violet’s hand in a friendly handshake then remained holding it, not letting go. “I’d say that was a fine day out.”

Violet made no move to withdraw her hand. “One day changed to two. My mother will scold.”

“Tell her you were with a reckless man, but he took care of you just fine.” And I’ll take care of you longer, if you’ll let me.

“She won’t believe me. Or you. Good night, Mr. Mackenzie.” Violet leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek.

A friendly kiss, or it should have been. Her lips lingered on his skin, and Daniel turned his head in the dark to lightly kiss her mouth.

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