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Page 86

“What is Berkshire like?” she asked.

“It’s a fine place, as far as England goes. Scotland is, of course, much better. But in Berkshire there’s enough flat to train the horses, plus it’s not far to take them to Newmarket and Ascot when it’s time. And there are miles of roads, which I need for my motorcar. Spring is beautiful there—little flowers poking up in the green, lambs in the fields, the aristos rushing to London for the Season, leaving the countryside blissfully quiet. Perfect.”

Violet had lived so much in cities, with cobblestones beneath her boots, that she’d never experienced a country spring. In the cities, spring happened only in gardens. If those gardens were open to the public, Violet saw the spring. If not, she kept to gray streets and gray skies. “I look forward to seeing it.”

Daniel pressed his cheek to hers. “I’m looking forward to showing it to you. London first, though. For a few days.”

Violet jerked. “London? I thought we were only changing trains there and going on.”

“Ainsley said at breakfast that we needed to stop, and she’s right. If we go racing through without pausing to pass the time of day with my Aunt Isabella, our life won’t be worth living. She’s queen of the London Season, she is. Uncle Mac takes it all in his stride, jollies her along. He’s good at turning people up sweet, Isabella likes to say.”

“I thought that was you.” Violet strove not to smile.

“Cheeky lass. I learned it from a master. We’ll have to pay a call, which means Isabella will snare us into attending one of her soirees, which means you’ll be wanting to shop for a frock. I know ladies.”

“I can’t stay in London, Daniel. And I can’t go to a soiree. We ran off owing Mortimer back rent. We’ll be arrested as soon as we’re seen.”

“You’re afraid of Mortimer? Don’t be daft. I took care of Mortimer—ye owe him nothing. I bought the house, as a matter of fact. You’re welcome to stay in it if you like. It has all the hidey-holes already for your gadgets. Madame and Mademoiselle Bastien can be back in business.”

Violet turned around fully to stare at him. “What do you mean, you took care of Mortimer? And you bought the house?”

Daniel shrugged. “Property is a good investment, so they say, and I wanted Mortimer to leave you the devil alone. He’s a bloody hypocrite, you know. He owed half the bookmakers and moneylenders in London, not to mention me. Probably still does. No one should gamble who doesn’t have a head for it.”

Violet’s mouth went dry. Daniel was telling her that instead of going to the police after Violet had assaulted him, he’d decided to buy a house from Mortimer, pay her debts, and look for Violet himself. “You’re a madman.”

“Not really. Mortimer’s an ass, and you’re a beautiful woman with more bravery and spirit than he ever will have. He wanted to use you to pay off his debt, and I’m sick to death of people doing that. Never again.”

Daniel’s determination was palpable, as though he were erecting a wall of it between Violet and the world. Comforting, and a little terrifying. Violet didn’t know how to respond. No one had ever tried to protect her before.

“I was surprised you didn’t want to stop in Paris,” she said. “To find Jacobi.”

“To run up and down the streets of a huge city looking for one man? By myself? Not likely. I have agents to do that for me while I sit comfortably in Berkshire. Or maybe not comfortably. Dad expects me to work, not lounge about, and I have plenty to do.”

Violet wondered what she would do, and what Daniel would expect her to do. And did that frighten her? Or excite her?

Daniel closed his arms all the way around her, pulling her into warmth. His lips touched her cheek, then her ear, her hair. Though her thick coat and his kept them apart, Violet felt the beating of his heart, the heat of his body, Daniel’s strength. In the swirling vortex of her life, Daniel was becoming the only solid pillar.

In London, Violet’s uncertainty began to return. She’d supposed she and her mother would arrange some kind of rent with Daniel and move into Mortimer’s former house—although with all that had happened there, Violet would prefer to find a boardinghouse.

Ainsley, on the other hand, assumed they’d stay with the Duke of Kilmorgan.

Violet wanted to jump out of the coach carrying them to the heart of Mayfair and run back to the train station. Ainsley continued explaining as the carriage rolled along, seeing nothing amiss. The duke had a very large house on Grosvenor Square, which had room for everyone for a few days. Of course the guests would stay there.

Celine thought it a fine idea. “A duke,” she said, her eyes alight. “Just imagine, Violet, how very grand. And how kind. I’ll do a reading for him, and the duchess. Gratis, of course.”

“Mama, you will do nothing of the sort,” Violet said hastily.

“Nonsense. Even dukes like to know the news from the other side. And a duke’s house on Grosvenor Square sounds ever so comfortable.”

Violet sent Daniel an appealing look. He had taken the seat next to Ainsley, across from Violet and Celine. Cameron and Gavina had taken a second conveyance, Lord Cameron declaring they’d be fools to all try to fit into one coach. Mary had been given a seat next to the coachman on the first carriage, Cameron and Ainsley’s servants piling onto the second.

Daniel seemed to understand Violet’s dismay. “Ainsley,” he said. “You know Uncle Hart is a frightening thing to spring upon a guest, especially after a long journey. Ian and Beth’s home is very comfortable and much less intimidating. Better for Violet. Mac and Isabella are always full up, and they’re not exactly restful either. If Dad would keep a regular house in London, life would be more convenient, but there it is.”

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