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Page 63

Violet shook her head. “This is very real. But I want it to be real.” She looked up at him, hope and fear mixed in her eyes. “Can it ever be?”

“It can. Oh yes. Come here a minute.” Daniel snaked his arm around her and very gently pulled her to him, until her head was resting on his shoulder. “Let’s just sit here, shall we? And take what comes?”

This was definitely going to kill him. Never, ever had Daniel contented himself with merely sitting still with a woman, however beautiful. But his ladies, usually older than he—he couldn’t bring himself to be with courtesans who were barely more than girls—rarely wanted to sit still. They wanted Daniel and didn’t hide it.

Violet was like an untamed colt, one that had been mistreated, who looked out at the world in frightened uncertainty. Daniel didn’t want to break her, as trainers sometimes did with the young horses. He needed to gentle her, to earn her trust.

Her head was warm on his shoulder, and Daniel felt Violet start to relax. If he had to spend another night snuggled down in a cozy nest with her, only sleeping, so be it. Daniel might have to lock himself in his private bath when he returned to his hotel, but he would accept that.

“I don’t understand desire,” Violet said softly.

Daniel leaned to catch the words, unsure he’d heard correctly. “What’s to understand? Desire comes naturally. The most natural thing in the world.”

“Is it?” Violet settled herself more comfortably on his shoulder, her hand stealing to his bare chest. “I watch others seek passion—so many girls want me, as a fortune-teller, to promise them true love; men ask me if their true loves will have them. It can lead to much pain too—women ask me to tell them whether their husbands are betraying them, and they’re so hurt inside. It’s awful. I wonder that anyone wants to seek another’s bed at all.”

“Mmm. That’s right cynical of you, sweetheart.”

“It’s just that I’ve seen so much pain. All because of what people call desire.”

Daniel knew that some cock-brained men had no interest in what their ladies felt—either physically or emotionally. They believed a woman was for a man’s use, nothing more. Courtesans told Daniel they liked him because he talked to them. To them, as people, not as bodies paid to behave the way he wanted.

Violet wasn’t only a body, though Jacobi and this other man had forced her to be just that. They’d taught her that desire meant pain and fear. Her own needs had to have grown as she blossomed from girl to woman, but those needs would have been mixed with terror and shame. Daniel had met other women who’d been forced. They either grew cynical and decided that being used by men was their lot, or they shattered completely.

Violet had done neither, but her struggle to go on had been a hard one. Still was, if Daniel was any judge.

He caressed Violet’s shoulder, trying to choose words that wouldn’t upset her. “I know a few reasons why we give in to passion, my sweet. First, it’s scientific. If you’ve read Mr. Darwin, he claimed we all live to make as many copies of ourselves as we can, knowing we’ll have to leave this earth someday. If we didn’t make those copies, there soon wouldn’t be many of us left, would there?”

Violet smiled a little, in spite of her anxiousness. “He was talking about animals. Not people.”

“Many people I know act like animals—you’d be amazed.” Daniel brought up his other arm to enclose her in a circle of warmth, but he didn’t hold her tightly. No trapping her. “I’ll tell you that we seek passion because it can be a wonderful thing. The intimacy of it. You’ll never be as close to another human being in any other way.” He kissed the top of her head, liking that she didn’t fight being surrounded by his arms. “Besides, it just feels good.”

“To men, perhaps,” Violet said, perfectly serious. “Women don’t feel what men do.”

Daniel blinked in surprise. He turned his head and looked down at her. Violet looked back at him serenely, entirely believing every word she’d said.

“My sweet Violet, I’ll lay you ten to one odds you’re wrong about that.”

The answering sparkle in Violet’s eyes made Daniel’s body go incandescent. Her assurance was returning, the dark terror she’d been reliving starting to ease.

“Oh?” Violet said. “How much would you be willing to put up?”

“Let’s say a shilling. I wouldn’t want to beggar you.”

“Done.” Violet held out her hand. Daniel took it, his smile turning wicked. Violet looked away again, confident she could never lose this bet. Poor woman.

“Anyway, how would you prove it?” she asked. “You only have a woman’s word for it, and I must tell you, Mr. Mackenzie, that women can be notorious liars, especially when they want something.”

“Telling me pretty tales so I’ll give them money? Aye, you’re not wrong about that. But I’m going to prove it. Here and now.”

Violet glanced up in alarm. “What do you mean here and now? You said . . . I thought . . .”

“I said I wouldn’t rush you. And I won’t.” Daniel touched her cheek. “But I never promised I wouldn’t make you feel astonishingly good.”

Her eyes flickered with fear again. “Daniel, I don’t . . . I’m not ready.”

Daniel’s need to erase her fear surged. He drew her into a hug, touching his lips to her temple. “I won’t enter you, love. Not tonight, if you don’t want it. I promise.” Daniel always kept his promises, no matter how difficult they might be.

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