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Page 52

They’d almost lost Gavina once. Daniel recalled the cold winter night when hope had been dust in his mouth, when he’d thought he’d have to watch his parents be broken by the loss of their beloved baby daughter. Tragedy had been averted, but the fear had left its mark.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” Daniel said, patting his father’s shoulder. “You’re only human. And don’t worry, I won’t let Gavina become too much of a brat.” He drew a breath and let Cameron go. “Now, I’d better get a move on and dress for this ball, or Ainsley will never let us hear the last of it.”

The rambling manor house of Comtesse de Chenault, which reposed on a hill overlooking the lights of Marseille, was overheated and overfull. Violet had been sitting at her table in a corner of the drawing room for an hour now, telling fortunes to the comtesse’s eager guests.

She’d dressed in a voluminous skirt, loose blouse, and tightly laced black bodice, with a scarf over her head and a long necklace of coins clinking on her bosom. A worn pack of cards lay next to her on the scarf-draped table, and a crystal sphere she’d found in a junk shop in Liverpool sat upright on a stand. She was the very picture of a Romany from the stage and penny novels, which was the point. Everyone would see what they expected to see.

Violet had held up well so far, pulling on her persona like a well-worn pair of gloves, handing out fortunes with smooth aplomb. But then she looked up to see Daniel walk by in the hall, and misery crashed down on her.

Violet couldn’t look away from him. As unhappy as she was, she needed the sight of him, to hear the sound of his voice.

Daniel paused outside the drawing room door. He was speaking to, and laughing with, a blond woman in a gray satin ball gown and a giant of a man who wore a kilt of the same plaid as Daniel’s. The man’s casual stance echoed Daniel’s, and when they both turned to greet someone new, their movements were identical.

Father and son. Violet’s heart squeezed with a strange yearning. She wanted to know his father, to talk with him and his stepmother, to learn the way they saw Daniel.

“Tell our fortune, miss?”

Three young ladies arrived to block her view of Daniel. She’d watched these three, in their blue, green, and yellow silk gowns, move around the rooms with haughty aplomb. Clearly they were the leaders of their set—or at least they considered themselves to be.

Two were English and one French—the French girl being the comtesse’s daughter. All three wore ball gowns with bits of puffy sleeves, tiny waists, and narrow but flowing skirts. Hair was dressed in loose curls on the tops of their heads, glittering gems tastefully interwoven into the coiffures. The French miss and one of her English friends were dark, the second young English lady, Lady Victoria Garfield, daughter of a marquis, the lightest blond.

The dark-haired English girl sat down. “Me first.”

She dropped a coin into the bowl on the table, then tugged off her glove and laid her hand flat, palm up. She’d done this before.

Violet kept her movements elegant, her voice dusky with a hint of accent. She’d let Mary brush her face and hands with dark theatrical powder to stain her complexion, and the faintest touch of kohl under her eyes made her irises look darker.

Violet lifted the girl’s hand in her own and brushed a finger across the lines on her palms. She didn’t have to make up things to please people—every line on the palm meant something, as did the number of lines, the way they crossed and where, and where they were broken. She’d learned reading from a Romany woman, who had the uncanny knack of being right about everything. Violet could only imitate—whether her fortunes came true or not, she never knew.

After studying the young woman’s hand for a time, tracing the lines this way and that, Violet said, “You will be well loved. Your path might take you far from home, but your love will endure.”

“Oh.” The girl’s cheeks grew pink. “I’ve never been told that before. But you might be right about my path taking me far from home. My beau is an officer.”

“This line is long,” Violet said, gliding her finger along it. “It means that your love will not be broken, no matter what, no matter how wide your travels.”

The young woman smiled happily and shot a glance across the room, where a man in uniform was engaged in loud conversation with a knot of men. Violet, while quietly setting up her table earlier, had heard him confess to a friend that he was madly in love with the dark-haired young woman but worried she wouldn’t follow him into army life.

Looking into the young woman’s eyes now, coupled with what Violet had overheard her telling her friends, Violet knew the girl would follow her soldier to the ends of the earth.

“You should tell him your choice,” Violet said, keeping the mysterious note in her voice. “He needs to know.”

“I will. Yes, I will.” The young woman’s eyes glowed. “Thank you.”

“Now me.” Lady Victoria slid herself into the seat, forcing her pleased friend out of it. “I want to know if I have a handsome husband in my future too.” Her look turned sly. “Someone Scottish, perhaps?”

The French girl giggled. “She wishes you to tell her she will marry the Scottish man Daniel Mackenzie. She is, as the English say, gone on him.”

Violet’s mouth went dry. Lady Victoria smiled a knowing smile, waiting for Violet to tell her what she wanted to hear. Violet had only to touch the girl’s palm and say that yes, her husband would be tall, handsome, and Scottish. Lady Victoria would go away feeling smug and leave Violet alone.

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