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Page 75

“I can order up another feast,” Daniel said. “Or more champagne.”

Violet put her hand to her belly, the beads cool on her fingers. “Goodness, I think I’ve eaten my fill. And if I drink more champagne, I might fall asleep. Or become very silly.”

“Champagne is supposed to make you silly. It’s a silly drink. Whiskey has much more body. You’ll like the Mackenzie malt. Rich, deep, a nice mouthful.” Daniel traced her cheek. “Tell you what, love, I’ll order up pudding—or as they call it here, dessert. More strawberries.” Again his eyes held both a mischievous gleam and watchfulness.

Violet nodded. “I think I’d like that.”

Daniel winked, turned away, rang for a footman, and walked outside the room to meet him and give the order.

In a short time, another footman wheeled in a cart with a carafe of clear water and goblets, a bowl of cut strawberries, and another silver bowl kept warm over a tiny flame. Daniel handed the man a tip—Violet caught a glimpse of a large wad of banknotes—and the footman withdrew.

“I hope that isn’t cream,” Violet said, sitting down to dish out the strawberries. “Over a flame like that, it will be curdled.”

“Better.” Daniel sat down next to her. “Something the French excel at, leaving us poor Scots in the dust. The entire British Isles, in fact.” He lifted the silver dish’s cover. “Chocolate.”

Chapter 21

Daniel enjoyed watching Violet’s apprehensive look dissolve. He watched her become the real Violet—not the persona on the stage, or the harried drudge to her mother, or the woman broken by her past. She was simply Violet, who was interested in his machines, laughed at inane farces, and was unfolding in her first experience of desire.

The elegant dress brought out the blue of her eyes and the rich darkness of her hair. Violet should always be dressed in beautiful frocks and have nothing more to worry about than what opera she’d watch or how many kisses she’d let her lover steal. Her beauty should have been the stuff of legend, not hidden away in hired houses or behind costumes.

Daniel poured out the water. He took a sip as did Violet, enjoying the clean taste after the overly sweet champagne.

“Like this.” Daniel speared a cut strawberry with one of the tiny forks on the tray, dipped the strawberry into the bowl of glistening, warm chocolate, and lifted the result to Violet’s lips.

Violet leaned forward and tentatively bit down on the berry, then she closed her eyes in rapture. “Oh,” she said after she’d swallowed. “Oh my.”

“I don’t know how the French and the Swiss can make chocolate that’s smooth as silk and tasty enough to drown in, but I won’t worry,” Daniel said. “I’ll just eat it and be happy.”

Violet licked a drop of chocolate from her lower lip. “I’ve never been able to afford chocolate like this. It’s heavenly.”

“Aye, who wants a heaven with streets paved in gold? I’d rather have rivers of chocolate. And whiskey. An even better combination. Coupled with the taste of a good cigar.”

“You’re decadent.”

“I’ve taught myself about the finer things. Uncle Mac taught me plenty too. He’s quite the hedonist.”

Violet looked interested, as she always did when Daniel talked about his family. “Are your other uncles hedonists too?”

“Not so much hedonists as intensely focused. Dad’s focus is horses. Ian—mathematics, Beth, and his children—not in that order. With Hart it’s—well, making the world jump to do whatever he wants it to. Uncle Hart was very much the sensualist, though, in his younger days. Had his own private house with women to cater to his every pleasure. I do mean every pleasure. Now that he’s with Eleanor, he’s given up the house, but he hasn’t stopped being a sensualist. At least, in deep privacy, with Eleanor—which he thinks is so secret. The way she blushes, though, I know their time together becomes plenty interesting.”

Violet looked surprised. “But he’s a duke.”

Daniel laughed. “And they should all be stuffed shirts? Uncle Hart is a master of pleasure. He could be the ultimate hedonist if he chose. I tried to get him to tell me some of his secrets, but he sent me off, so I had to learn them myself.”

He speared another strawberry, dipped it in chocolate, and let the chocolate run in a ribbon back into the bowl.

Violet’s gaze went to the dripping chocolate, her lips parting as Daniel lifted the fork to her. The room was already warm, and Violet leaning forward in pursuit of the strawberry made Daniel break into a sweat. God help me.

Violet closed her mouth around the strawberry, her eyes drifting shut. She finished the strawberry, a drop of chocolate falling to her chin. “I’ll get chocolate all over this frock if I continue.”

She reached for a napkin, but Daniel leaned forward and licked her chin clean. “I can think of a way to remedy that.” He let his smile grow as hedonistic as Mac’s ever did. “Take off the gown.”

Violet started. Her gloved hand went to the décolletage, over which her plump bosom swelled.

For a moment, Daniel thought she would refuse—and well she should—then she breathed a laugh. “Perhaps I had too much champagne, but I think it a good idea.”

Daniel hid his relief. “I think so too. For me as much as for you.”

Without giving her time to change her mind, Daniel shrugged off his frock coat, then his waistcoat. With the room so heated by the large coal stove, it was a relief to take off the outer layers.

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