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Page 56

The troubled look turned to one of pain, and shame. “A handcart. I dressed like a peasant and hid you under a few sacks of coal.”

Daniel whooped. He tossed down his cigar, dragged Violet against him, and whirled her around. And around.

“Vi, I think I love you. A cart? Sacks of coal? Oh, that is priceless.”

“No, it isn’t. It’s horrible.”

Around again. Wind tugged at Violet’s scarf, her body warm against Daniel in the cold. “No other woman in the world would think about carrying my body through the streets under sacks of coal and dumping it—and then leaving a great thick roll of banknotes for a street person to steal. Or maybe the constable took them. They don’t earn much, poor lads.”

Violet braced herself on his arms as she gazed at him. “You can’t tell me you’re glad I did what I did.”

“Mightily impressed. Even the most resilient women of my acquaintance would be fainting on the floor, or running about on the street screaming for help. You could have gone for a policeman and told him I’d tried to ravish you.”

“But you hadn’t.” The desperation in her eyes hadn’t lessened. “You hadn’t done anything. And would a policeman have believed me? You’re a wealthy man, and I’m . . . who I am.”

“Probably they wouldn’t. You did the right thing, running away before you were arrested. Your bad luck I’m related to the most obsessive man in the universe. Uncle Ian thought tracking down a woman with no name and no address, who disappeared into the night, an entertaining problem. Only Ian Mackenzie could have figured it out.” Daniel stopped spinning, lowering Violet in his arms. “My good luck.”

“And then you took me ballooning.”

“Aye, and it was grand.” Daniel touched the curve of her cheek.

Violet’s lips still curved a little with the laughter they’d been sharing. Daniel leaned to her and kissed the half smile.

Lips warmed where the air was cold. Daniel slid his hand under her scarf, finding the heavy softness of her hair.

His heartbeat quickened as he opened her lips, taking the kiss to a deeper place. Violet’s breath touched his cheek, and her hands flattened to his chest. Daniel pressed his thumb to the corner of her mouth, licking behind her lip.

The wind pushed at them, air from the sea and the land mixing to become a cold flow. Daniel wrapped his arms all the way around her, turning with her into the shadows. The terrace’s stone balustrade touched his legs, cold through wool.

He ran his hands up Violet’s back, feeling her body bend into his. Her lips parted, her eyes soft and half closing. Her cheeks showed pink beneath the dark powder, which rubbed off on his glove.

Violet’s kiss was smooth—gentle warmth. Daniel darted his tongue inside her mouth and tasted a bite of tea laced with honey. He licked again, wanting more.

“Vi.”

Violet’s hands curled on his chest as she looked up at him. Daniel read desire in the depths of her eyes, and uncertainty. His own heart was beating faster, pumping plenty of blood through his body.

“We need to get away from here,” Daniel said. Somewhere, anywhere they could be alone.

Hope left her face. “I can’t. We need the money. I can’t leave the post.”

“Don’t worry, lass. I’ll retrieve your tips, and I’ll square it with the comtesse. She’s a friend of my stepmum’s. She’ll pay your fee.”

“I already have the tips.” Violet patted a pocket of her skirt, which jingled. “I never leave the bowl unattended. Habit.”

“Smart lady. If you have the goods, then let us be off, my lovely.”

She didn’t move. “Your mother and father will grow angry with you. With me.”

Daniel shrugged. “They’re used to me. I’m five-and-twenty, and not dependent on them for my living. I come and go as I please. Always have.” He leaned to her again. “Come away with me, Violet.”

“Come away where?” she sounded desperate.

“All the way to Marseille.”

Not to his hotel, though. Gavina was no doubt curled up in Daniel’s bed, waiting for her brother to come home and tell her all about the ball. She’d been most put out she’d had to stay behind with her nanny tonight.

Not Violet’s boardinghouse. Daniel would not get her turned out for having a dalliance there. Not Richard’s rooms—Richard would either be entertaining ladies again, or resting. Hopefully resting.

That left Daniel’s other retreat. Not in the nicest part of town, but it had the benefit of peace and quiet.

Daniel took her hand. “Come on, then.”

He started walking her toward the end of the terrace, but she pulled him to a stop. “Where are you going? The doors are behind us.”

“I’m not escorting you back through the house and out, for all the world to see. Besides, love, we’re adventurers. We don’t need anything as common as doors.”

He was glad to see Violet smile again, her breath steaming. “You’re an eccentric, Mr. Mackenzie.”

Daniel took off his greatcoat, which he’d donned to come outside, and wrapped it around her. “Over we go.”

He placed his backside on the stone balustrade—chilly through his kilt—grabbed Violet around the waist, and slid over with her to the ground a few feet below. The house was built on a slope, the terrace and ballroom nearly level with the ground in the back. Daniel had scouted this when he’d come out to the terrace to plan his escape.

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