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Page 69

“Where’s Gavina?” Daniel asked warily.

“At the hotel, sleeping—in theory. More likely, she is ruthlessly questioning Cameron about the evening and everything we did at the comtesse’s. I knew Gavina would want to tear into your work here if I brought her. Not to mention ask repeatedly why you are here alone with Miss Violet, and why Violet’s hair is down and her shoes off.”

Violet self-consciously pulled her bare feet under her skirts. “You say Mary is looking for me?”

“Yes, quite desperately. I wouldn’t have interrupted for the world, but she seemed terribly worried. Which is how I guessed you weren’t a courtesan, in spite of Daniel spiriting you away for an assignation. A courtesan’s maid would discreetly stay away, no matter what the situation. I hope I don’t offend you, my dear.”

“Stepmama . . .” Daniel began.

“Never mind, Danny. Dress yourself, Violet, and I’ll take you to the coach. I’ll wait for you in here if you don’t mind. It’s much warmer.”

Ainsley, wife of a duke’s brother and former lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria, plopped herself on the window seat and took an absorbing interest in one of Daniel’s drawings.

Daniel fetched Violet’s stockings and shoes from under the sofa, then sat down next to her, warming her as she pulled on stockings and garters. Daniel had to help relace her boots—Violet’s fingers were shaking so much she couldn’t do them up herself.

Most of Daniel’s shirt buttons had gone flying when Violet had torn into him, so he had to make do with securely buttoning his waistcoat and arranging his frock coat to cover himself. Ainsley stood up when they were ready, setting aside the line drawing she’d been studying.

Violet glanced at the drawing as Lady Cameron put it down. Neat lines showed a cross section of some machine, with labels, letters, and numbers. Violet was pretty sure part of the machine had wings.

“What are you building here?” Violet asked in curiosity.

“Just jotting down ideas.” Daniel fetched his greatcoat and wrapped it around Violet.

Ainsley smiled. “Our Danny’s a bit of a genius, but I’m afraid no one but Ian really understands what he comes up with.”

“I’ve told you, it’s all perfectly simple, Stepmama.”

“If you’re an engineer. Which I am not. Shall we go?”

Daniel slid his arm around Violet as they walked back down the stairs and moved swiftly through the wind and passages to the main street. Daniel betrayed no shame that he’d been caught by his stepmother dallying with Violet. He walked along without comment and handed both ladies into the coach as though he’d been escorting them to a respectable night out at the opera.

Mary waited inside the carriage, her eyes round. She wouldn’t say why she’d been chasing after Violet—in fact she said nothing at all.

Daniel took the seat next to his stepmother, and the two of them began a lively conversation as the coach turned for the main streets. Daniel talked with Lady Cameron in a relaxed manner, teasing her as much as she teased him.

Violet thought of the story he’d told her of the lonely little boy who’d hoped that one of the women his father brought home might stay and be his mother. Daniel might not have found a mother, but he’d discovered a comrade in Ainsley, a lady he obviously respected and admired. And loved. Lady Cameron had filled the space in Daniel that had been empty. The pair had a warm, strong relationship that Violet envied.

The coach stopped at Violet’s boardinghouse all too soon. Daniel jumped down and handed out first Mary, then Violet. Mary thanked Daniel politely then ran ahead into the house, opened the door, and waited for Violet.

Violet’s time with Daniel was over. She unwrapped the greatcoat he’d lent her and handed it to him, feeling herself lose part of him as she did so.

Daniel gave her a smile that spoke of the sensuality of the evening and touched her cheek. Violet clutched the warmth of it to herself like a cloak.

“Don’t kiss her in front of her respectable boardinghouse, for heaven’s sake,” Lady Cameron said from the coach. “You’ll ruin the girl.”

Daniel’s eyes filled with laughter. He stuck out his hand, shook Violet’s, and executed a bow. “Until tomorrow, my lady.”

Violet didn’t want to let him go. Daniel had opened a new world for her tonight, and she wasn’t ready to leave it.

Daniel released her hand, and she realized she’d been clinging to it. “Go on, now,” he said in a gentle voice.

Violet swallowed, managed a “Good night,” and turned to follow Mary into the house.

She tried to linger in the doorway so she could watch Daniel swing into the coach and roll off into the night, but Mary closed the door behind Violet, cutting off her view.

“I never knew he was so rich,” Mary said. She started up the stairs, and Violet ascended slowly behind her. “Looks like he’s taken with you, miss. If you keep him on a string, you’ll be the making of us all.”

Keep him on a string. After the beautiful night Violet had just lived, the phrase sounded vulgar and coarse.

“There’s no question of me keeping him on a string.” Violet had to let Mary unlock and open the door to their rooms, because she knew she’d never manage keys tonight. “When we leave Marseille, I’ll likely never see him again.” And that would leave a large hole in her heart.

“Then best you get as much money and as many jewels as you can from him now,” Mary said, ever practical. “And don’t trust the jewels to a bank. A gentleman can always make a bank give them back to him.”

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