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Page 74

“I climbed aboard a dhow and sailed away to Smyrna, Acre, Jaffa,” he said. “If it had an exotic name, I went. I found the Tigris and Babylon and the heart of the Persian Empire. I learned that such places are much more romantic when read about as a small boy under the covers than when picking scorpions out of my boots, but it didn’t stop me.”

How wonderful to have the money and leisure to simply go where you wanted. No fetching hot water bottles and soothing away worries, no standing in front of people who had terrible hope in their eyes, waiting to talk with those they could not let go. No chilly boardinghouses and worrying about the rent, no keeping an eye on theatre managers so they didn’t cheat you.

But one needed money for freedom. If Violet had the money Daniel did, she’d make sure her mother had a host of servants to look after her, then Violet would run away and see the world. She knew the journey would be that much better if Daniel took it with her.

When they finished the champagne, Daniel took Violet to see a play, a comedy that was ridiculous and a bit risqué. Violet laughed as hard as the rest of the audience as the hero bounced onto the stage holding a golf club so that it appeared to stick out of his trousers. The heroine made requisite quips about his rigid club, both hero and heroine oblivious to the innuendo. Silliness, but the audience, well lubricated with wine, champagne, and brandy, found it hilarious.

Next, a cabaret. Violet watched the dancers in fascination—she loved dancing of any kind—while Daniel sat back in their little private booth, his feet up, a black cigarette dangling from his fingers. The show had more than dancing ladies—there were acrobats, men and women dancing together, and two men who told jokes, very funny indeed. Violet laughed and clapped and drank more champagne. During the last act, which was more dancing, Violet leaned back next to Daniel and shared a cigarette with him.

Daniel watched her take a pull, then he removed the cigarette from her mouth, leaned to her, and bit her lower lip. Violet tried to complete the kiss, but he sat back again, a half smile on his face, and resumed the cigarette.

Violet shivered, her body as hot as it had ever been.

So this was wickedness. Everyone who’d seen that exchange must suppose Violet was Daniel’s mistress, or his courtesan for the night. Violet supposed she was. And she could feel no shame.

Or fear. Daniel was making it no secret he wanted to be her lover. The dressing up, the restaurant, the conversation, the cabaret acts, and the champagne were all to relax her. Daniel leaning to take her lip between his teeth had been the most natural thing in the world. Violet felt no panic, only a frisson of pleasure.

She closed her hand around Daniel’s. He sent her a sideways look, eyes warm. He lifted her gloved hand to his lips and kissed it. His gaze was all for her, not the nearly naked women on the stage.

The final curtain went down. “Time to go,” Daniel said.

He led her out ahead of the crowd, signaled to his hired coachman, and handed her into their conveyance.

“Where to now?” Violet leaned against the cushions and closed her eyes, her sleepless night and the laughter tonight making her pliant and warm.


She opened her eyes in surprise. “With your father, stepmother, and sister?” Not that she wouldn’t mind meeting them all. She liked Daniel’s stepmother, whom Violet thought she could be friends with. Perhaps. She’d never had a woman friend before, so she wasn’t sure how one went about it. “Isn’t it a bit late for a visit?”

“Not that hotel. This afternoon I took rooms in another. I’d rather take you there than back to my dusty flat, with my work strewn about. I’m sorry about that, but last night I didn’t have another choice.”

“I liked seeing your work.” Violet found his ideas fascinating. “How many rooms did you hire in this city?”

“A few. I often do that. Never know when I might feel like sleeping somewhere different. Or lying low for a few days.”

Violet reflected again how wealth allowed a man to do anything he wanted.

The hotel was small but elegant, and what Violet supposed was meant by discreet. The doorman and footmen didn’t blink when Daniel handed out Violet and led her inside.

Daniel had a suite, of course, on the first floor, up a long flight of carpeted stairs. A parlor paneled in light polished wood with periwinkle blue and cream upholstery fronted a bedroom, entered through double doors.

Violet looked into the bedroom as Daniel closed the door to the suite. The bed was wide, a carved four-poster bedstead hung with velvet curtains. It looked comfortable, a nest for the rich. Perhaps she’d find out how comfortable it was tonight.

The thought made her throat close, the dratted panic welling up just when she wanted it to go away forever. That was the trouble—the panic could rise at unexpected times, catching Violet unguarded. Her fear of the fear was almost as bad as the panic itself.

She found Daniel’s hands on her waist, he turning her away from the doorway. “We’ll stay out here, if you like.” His look said he’d seen Violet stiffen, seen the relaxation start to drain away. “But someday, I’ll show you that a bed is a fine place, and not just for sleeping.”

Her stiffness started to ease with Daniel’s arms around her. Violet thought of the kiss in the hall at the theatre, which had been intense but brought no panic.

She nodded, and Daniel kissed the tip of her nose. “Good,” he said.

Daniel left the bedroom doors open but led her back to the sofas in the sitting room. These weren’t the stiff horsehair sofas found in so many boardinghouses Violet had inhabited. They were long and elegant, with plush cushions, made for comfort. A tea table stood between them, waiting to serve.

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