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Page 50

She met his gaze, something hopeful in her gray eyes. Though Ainsley didn’t condone Eleanor and Isabella coercing Daniel to every soiree, ball, supper party, and boating party rife with eligible young misses, Daniel knew she shared his aunts’ wishes to see him wed. She wanted Daniel to have a happy marriage and children of his own. To begin right, to erase the fact that Daniel’s growing up had been hard on him.

This was important to her, and Ainsley was important to Daniel. She’d made their broken family whole again.

“Aye, very well,” Daniel said, resigned. “I’ll go.”

“Thank you.” Ainsley pulled Daniel into another hug, her arms still full of Gavina, who at last was starting to look a little weary. “Good night, Danny. We’ll see you at breakfast.”

She and Gavina departed, both looking happy, and Daniel closed the door behind them.

He sighed as he stripped off his coat and cravat. He’d told Simon not to wait up for him, so he had the rooms to himself now, as long as Gavina didn’t sneak back in. No saying she wouldn’t pretend to fall asleep in bed and then be right back down here.

Daniel poured himself a large measure of whiskey and wandered into his bedroom, his thoughts mixed.

He’d go to the bloody grand ball and be civil. He wouldn’t marry any of the girls the comtesse shoved at him, but he could be polite.

Daniel knew the ball would not introduce him to a wife, because when he thought about breezing into a home filled with his inventions, dogs, and small children, it was Violet Daniel saw, with startling clarity, lifting her head to give Daniel a welcoming and loving smile.

“Miss,” Mary said, coming into Violet’s darkened room where she lay in bed. “Ain’t ye going to get up, miss?”

“Why?” Violet asked, listless.

She’d been here dozing on and off throughout the afternoon. Her terror at the hands of Lanier, followed by the emotional jolt of seeing Daniel with a lover, had given her another sleepless night. This morning Violet had lapsed into a stupor that was not quite sleep, leaving her groggy and unwilling to rise.

“Your mum’s worried about you,” Mary said. “And we have another job tonight.”

Violet sank further into the pillows, giving in to lethargy. “Why?” she repeated.

“Monsieur Lanier stiffed us most of the fee, didn’t he? Your mum is so tired after last night, and we need coin, you know we do.”

Violet lay still, while sorrow and exhaustion spilled over her. “What job?”

“Fortune-teller for a fashionable party.”

Violet let out a long sigh. That meant Violet dressing up as a Romany and sitting at a table for hours, telling giggling young women they’d marry tall, handsome men and have many prosperous children. Violet had a knack for palm reading, so any call for a traditional fortune-teller was down to her.

Celine didn’t believe in fortune-telling, in any case. She considered palm reading, card reading, or crystal gazing the height of nonsense. The spirits communicate directly through me—when they wish to, she’d say. I can’t call them with cards or by looking at the lines on someone’s hand. They scoff at that.

However, Celine was not averse to Violet earning some coin by her skill. As attached to the spirit world as she was, Celine did have a practical side.

“I can’t,” Violet said, barely able to utter the words. “Mary, I just can’t. I’m so tired.”

“But we need the money, miss.”

“I think we should leave here,” Violet murmured wearily. “Go somewhere we’ve never been before.” Somewhere Daniel and his fashionable friends were not likely to follow. “Canada, perhaps. I’ve heard Montreal is a fine city. We can speak French there.”

Mary shook her head. “You know Madame will never travel that far over the sea.” She came to the bed, straightening and smoothing Violet’s covers. “And our contract at the theatre is until the end of the month. We have to live here at least until then.” Mary, dark haired, plain faced, kind, and practical, always said what needed to be said.

“I know, blast it.”

Violet closed her eyes. She saw again the French countryside unrolling before her under the balloon, heard the sound of wind in the ropes and the hiss of Daniel’s machine, smelled the scent of the sky, and felt the warmth of Daniel beside her.

Life and its petty troubles flowed away behind her. Aloft over the world, she could be Violet, not the fake Princess Ivanova, or Mademoiselle Bastien, or any of the other personas she’d invented in her life.

Up in the balloon, Violet had been no one but herself, someone she hadn’t been in a long, long time. Whatever else he’d done, Daniel had given that to her.

“When we’re finished with the contract, we can go,” Mary was saying. She patted Violet’s knee through the blanket. “Someplace nice. Maybe a spa town in Germany. Those are always pretty.”

Violet opened her eyes, the sanctuary of her vision fleeing. “Thank you for trying to comfort me, Mary. Tell Mama I’ll do the job.”

If Violet could rise from her bed. The images of the balloon flight vanished, and she again felt the horror of Monsieur Lanier’s hands on her, the sting of his slap on her cheek. Then the kick to the gut when she’d seen Daniel climb into the coach with the courtesan, he smiling at her the same way he’d smiled at Violet.

No other man in her life had made Violet feel completely valued for herself alone. She’d sworn that Daniel had seen through her, all the way to the shivering pieces of her soul. And he hadn’t turned away in disgust, hadn’t treated her like the whore Monsieur Lanier assumed her to be.

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