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Page 59

“I can’t have you,” she said. “I can’t . . . have . . . you.”

The room undulated under Violet’s feet, the window seat like a rock in a rushing tide. Her breath was coming too fast, but she could find no air. Violet heard the sobs in her throat and knew she was going to pieces, but she couldn’t stop it.

The scent of whiskey brushed her nose, and something cool and metallic touched her lips. Burning liquid poured into her mouth.

Violet gasped, started to cough, then swallowed hard. The whiskey slid down like a river of fire. The next gasp let in air, and Violet could breathe again.

Daniel sat down next to her on the window seat, his hard thigh against hers. He kept the flask at her mouth, waiting until she drank a little more before he took the flask away.

Violet coughed again, pressing her fingers to her wet lips. She had no idea where her handkerchief had got to.

Daniel’s strong arm wrapped around her shoulders, his warm hand rubbed her arm. “There now,” he said, voice low and soothing. “It’s all right.”

Jacobi used to hold her thus, when she was ten years old and scared. He’d given her comfort—and then he’d taken it all away. After that, Violet had never known comfort again.

Until now. Daniel was strength beside her, his warmth touching where she was so cold.

“Someone hurt you, didn’t they, love?” he said, his voice a soothing rumble. “I asked you that before. I’m thinking someone pushed you against a wall and forced you. They must have done.”

Violet nodded. She didn’t wonder how Daniel knew. He was good at reading people, almost as good as Violet was.

“You’re going to tell me all about it,” Daniel said. No question, no asking her.

“I can’t.” Shame, misery, and pure rage clogged Violet’s heart, stopping her words.

“I want to know, sweetheart,” he said. “I want to know what we’re fighting.”

What we’re fighting. As though she and Daniel were in this together.

She’d never told anyone except the Parisian courtesan Lady Amber, and the woman had guessed most of it. Violet had trained herself so well not to speak of it that she couldn’t think in words, only in images, sounds, impressions of pain.

Daniel caressed her shoulder. “Let me start. How old were you?”

“Sixteen.”

“Oh, love.” Daniel brushed his lips to her hair. “Just a child.”

“Girls marry at sixteen.”

“Don’t justify it. Tell me. Who was he?”

“Jacobi.” The word slipped out before she could stop it. She hadn’t meant to say it, because it wasn’t true, but then again, it was.

“Jacobi,” Daniel said, steel in his voice. “And who is he?”

“He didn’t . . .” Violet swallowed, tasting the whiskey bitter in her throat. “It wasn’t him. Jacobi taught me everything I know. I met him in Paris, when my mother was first starting to understand her clairvoyance. He recognized that I had a gift for figuring out what people wanted . . . what they needed. I was ten. He taught me all the tricks, how to give them a show, an experience they’d never forget. I wanted . . . I pretended . . . that he was my father.”

“And he took advantage of that?”

Violet chanced a glance up at him. Daniel’s eyes held a hardness she’d not seen in him before. His ancestors, she thought dimly, had been brutal barbarians, killing each other in bloodbaths for pieces of rocky land in the Scottish Highlands. Violet had done research on Daniel and the Mackenzies—they went back for centuries, to a man called Old Dan, who’d been granted the Scottish dukedom in the fourteenth century.

That Daniel had likely carried a heavy claymore and been given the dukedom based on how many other men he’d cut to bits. Violet looked into Daniel’s eyes and saw that Highland barbarian looking out at her.

“No,” Violet said. “That is . . .” The red-bearded man had been nothing like Jacobi. Jacobi had dark hair, brown eyes that could be kind, and pale white fingers that shook if he didn’t drink enough wine.

“Then who? Give me a name.”

“I never knew his name. Jacobi owed him money, a great deal of money, which he couldn’t pay. So when the man came to collect, and threatened Jacobi . . .” Violet swallowed, her throat tight.

“Jacobi gave him you instead.” Daniel’s words were flat.

Miserable, Violet nodded.

Daniel made no move, not even drawing a sharp breath. His eyes in the growing firelight were dark golden—hard, harsh, glittering. “Tell me what happened,” he said.

“I couldn’t believe what Jacobi had said. I thought it must be a mistake, that I misunderstood.” The words came now, loosened in the same way floodwaters loosened debris. “Jacobi left the room. He looked sad and angry, but he left.” The man with the red beard and eyes blue like faded sky had picked Violet up from the stool and shoved her against the wall. His breath had smelled like brandy. “He was strong, so strong. I tried to fight. I tried and tried. But he held me against the wall, and he . . . he . . . I was only a girl. It hurt so much.”

The hurried, wooden monotone that spoke the words didn’t match the horror Violet the sixteen-year-old had felt. It didn’t convey her screams, her pleas for mercy, the hot pain that ripped through her when her innocence had been wrenched away.

She’d limped home, torn and hurting, blood staining her skirt. Violet had locked herself in her bedchamber alone, claiming she had a fever. Violet’s mother, with her constant fear of illness, had stayed well away.

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