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Page 61

“I shouldn’t make you talk about it,” Violet said. But she wanted to know. She couldn’t lie to herself about that.

“Yes, you should. I don’t blame Dad anymore. He was buried in his own troubles. My mum hurt him something awful, believe me. But knowing that the one person who is supposed to cherish you—your mother—hated you so much she wanted to kill you is a blow to a boy.”

“Your father cares for you,” Violet said. “So does your stepmother. I saw that in them tonight.”

“Oh, aye, they’re caring folk, they are. But it took me a long time to decide to give my trust to anyone, and maybe I haven’t done that yet. My dad did his best raising me, but he was busy chasing women, you see. Beautiful, expensive courtesans or beautiful, expensive married women—ladies he never had to let fully into his life.” His gaze went remote. “Most of them didn’t want to have anything to do with me—why should they? But some of them liked children, were hungry for kids of their own, poor lasses. They brought me little presents and played games with me, put up with my little-boy chatter. I’d start hoping my dad would marry one of the nice ones, so I’d have a mum like the other chaps at school. But as soon as I’d start thinking she’d stay, the lady would disappear. Dismissed by my dad, never to be seen again. When I was very small, I figured that meant the lady decided she hated me after all. Like my own mother had. As I grew older, I realized that my father simply didn’t want the woman around anymore. I got angry at him. Whenever I started to care for one of his women, he’d take her away from me. I said so to my dad, and that I’d never forgive him for it. He wasn’t impressed. Finally, I ceased bothering to care.”

Daniel was a grown man now, hard-muscled, tall, formidable, with that hint of Old Dan Mackenzie in him. But Violet saw, behind that, a flash of the angry and confused little boy who’d learned to hide his hurt behind anger.

“Your father married again, though,” Violet said.

“Oh, aye. By the time he met Ainsley, I was old enough to understand that here was a woman who could make the poor old sod happy.” Daniel chuckled, the hurt little boy falling away. “To push Dad at her, I pretended I was in love with Ainsley myself. I told him I wanted to take her as my mistress. Trying to make him jealous, and me all of sixteen.” He laughed again, this time in true mirth. “Dad saw right through me, the wise old man. He finally let Ainsley land him, thank God. Took a weight off me mind, that did.”

Violet smiled in spite of the tightness in her chest. “A happy ending.”

“Aye, some people get them.”

What about us? Will you have a happy ending, Daniel Mackenzie? Will I?

He looked at her with eyes that held heat. Violet wanted him—yes, she did—but she felt open and naked, quivering and exposed.

She clasped her hands together. “What do we do now?”

“I don’t know, love. You’ve had a world of hurting, haven’t you? And so have I, and there’s no easy way for either of us to trust another person.”

He had a way of putting things plainly. Violet wanted to trust, but the old darkness reached out and swatted any threat of softening away. Every single person in Violet’s life had betrayed her, except Mary and her mother. And Celine was so wrapped up in herself, her health, and the spirit world, that some days she barely noticed she had a daughter at all.

Daniel turned abruptly and made for the door. Violet’s heart beat swiftly as he slid a bolt across the top of it and turned again to face her.

“Well, there’s a couple of things we could do. We could go our separate ways, make a clean break, and get the hurting over with right away. Let it bleed, let it heal, never see each other again. Easy enough to do.”

Violet’s heart squeezed with an ache and an emptiness she’d never felt before. “We could,” she said hollowly.

“But you don’t want to, do you?” Daniel came to stand in front of her again, feet planted apart, arms folded over his open shirt. “I see it in your face. You want to try, to fight, and find out what happens.”

“But I don’t know how.” Violet tightened her fingers. “I don’t know how to fight, not like this. It isn’t lifting tables, or releasing ectoplasm . . .”

“It isn’t fooling people, no.” Daniel’s eyes were still. “It’s truth. It’s life.”

“I don’t know anything about life. I only know how to run.”

Daniel reached his tanned and callused hands out to her. “Then grab hold of me and hang on. We’re both scared about where this will end up, and when the hurting will come. If the hurting comes, it will be bad, I already know that. But hang on to me, and we’ll find out together, all right?”

Chapter 17

Daniel kept his hands out. He waited for Violet to rise and push past him, to run from him back to her boardinghouse, or all the way out of Marseille.

His chest hurt with pain for her. If Jacobi was still alive, he wouldn’t be for long. He’d taken Violet, an amazing and precious woman, and destroyed her, not only in the eyes of the world, but inside herself. It was as though Jacobi had snatched up an exquisite and priceless marble by Michelangelo and smashed it to powder—worse, because Violet was a living, breathing woman. Alive, and in pain.

Daniel would find not only Jacobi but the man who’d touched her and make him pay for every moment Violet had hurt. For every pain, every tear, every breath of panic.

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