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Page 57

Violet let out a cry but stifled it as they landed in a rose garden, the roses pruned back for January. Mud squished under Daniel’s boots as he caught Violet and set her on her feet. He took her hand again, and they ran together to the cluster of carriages that waited near the house.

Daniel found the coachman who’d driven him here with his father and Ainsley. The man looked up from keeping warm with a flask and conversation with his fellow coachmen.

“Twice your fee tonight if you take me and my lady back to town,” Daniel said. “And return for my dad and stepmum without a word.”

The coachman didn’t need to ponder. He slapped the stopper onto his whiskey flask and went to the coach, opening the door for them. Daniel handed Violet in, the coachman climbed to his perch, started the horses, maneuvered them out of the crush.

Violet brushed the velvet of the padded seat to hide that her fingers were shaking. The cushions were soft, and the interior of the coach had been kept warm with tin boxes of glowing coal.

How wonderful it must be to ride about in vehicles like this all the time. Daniel didn’t even seem to notice the luxury around him.

Daniel sat right next to her, giving her his smile as he covered her hand with his. The heat inside his coat warmed her magnificently.

He knew as well as she did what they’d do this night. Everything that had gone before—the walk home from the theatre, the day out in the balloon, the innocent night at the inn, the teasing over her fortune-telling—had been leading to this. Violet, in Daniel’s bed, tonight.

She couldn’t stop shaking. Violet wanted it to happen, obviously, or she would have come up with any excuse to go back into the house and continue telling her inane fortunes to insipid debs. Instead, she’d let him talk her into running away with him.

Daniel looked as calm as a sleeping cat, but then, he took ladies back to his hotel with him all the time. Last night it had been ladies with diamonds in their hair and rouge on their cheeks. Violet had dark face powder on her cheeks and her necklace was made of fake coins. She started to laugh, and the laugh was a bit hysterical.

Daniel’s smile broadened. He leaned to her and kissed her lips.

The kiss was warm, brief. Daniel tugged the red scarf from Violet’s head and ran his fingers over her loose braid.

His touch was sure, knowing. He knew how to love a lady, and tonight, he would love Violet.

And after?

Violet refused to think about after. Getting through tonight would be enough. Desire wound through her, heating her even in the cold winter night. But she was terrified.

The coach ride was not long, the comtesse’s house lying only a few miles from Marseille itself. When they reached the edge of town, Daniel tapped on the roof and gave directions to the coachman.

When the coach stopped a short time after that, Violet looked around in surprise. The street on which they’d halted was blowing with litter and smelled of horse dung. A wine house, lit and full of noise, overflowed with patrons, and streetwalkers, female and male, strolled along, looking for marks.

A man like Daniel should stay in the best hotel in the heart of the fashionable area. Surely his glittering ladies would insist upon it. Even Violet’s boardinghouse was in a far more respectable neighborhood than this.

Daniel climbed up to give the coachman his promised fee, then he took Violet’s elbow and steered her down the street toward the corner.

“Where the devil are we?” she asked.

“The dregs,” Daniel said cheerfully. “I’ve set up a hideaway here, where I can be undisturbed. You wouldn’t believe the distractions one has in the fancy hotels. Needy friends, little sisters . . .”

This was an older part of town, with narrow streets, plaster crumbling from bricks, and arched passages connecting lanes with even smaller lanes. Daniel took her through one of these arched passages, the wind cutting in the small tunnel.

They emerged into a courtyard. Shuttered windows broke the walls around them. A rickety wooden staircase ran up to a narrow gallery with doors and windows in it, all sheltered by a tiled roof.

Daniel pulled her up the stairs to the gallery and led her to a door at the end. He produced a thick key from his pocket, unlocked the door, and let Violet inside.

To cold and clutter. Daniel touched a match to an oil lamp, then another, lighting the small room with a warm glow.

As the light increased, Violet saw that the furniture in the room was fine, whole, and new. The clutter came from boxes, machine parts, papers, and books. Every available surface was covered with sketches of machines, list of equations, and open notebooks filled with scrawled writing. Books lay everywhere, some stacks put together to be resting places for the bits of machinery.

A narrow bed stood in the corner. It had a solid wooden bedstead, but the mattress was covered with more books, sketches, and maps.

A wide, cushioned window seat was the only place in the room not covered with things. The window’s shutters had been closed against the night, making the window seat a cozy nook.

Violet picked up a sketch from the table. “What is all this for?”

“A motorcar,” Daniel said.

Violet studied the drawing. A low-slung vehicle, looking a bit like a phaeton, had been rendered in great detail. Four wheels hugged the ground, coach lights hung alongside the doors, and the seats looked as luxurious as that of the coach they’d just ridden in. Variations on this vehicle occupied other drawings.

“That’s only the chassis,” Daniel said. “What I’m trying to do is build a more efficient engine, not just a more powerful one. Daimler’s are very good, of course, but he’s more interested in industrial machinery—motorcars are more of a sideline for him. His engines will propel his horseless carriages at about fifteen or twenty miles per hour on a flat surface—provided there’s no mud. I want to make my engine ten times as powerful, and design the carriage to be able to run even on bad roads. I want more gears to give power on hills or hard terrain, and wheels better than carriage wheels with a strip of rubber on them. I’m trying pneumatic tires—with air between the wheel and the rubber.” He moved another sheet. “I’m working on a motorbike as well, something more innovative than just putting a motor on a bicycle. Kind of like a cross between a bicycle and a car.”

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