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Page 92

Daniel watched Violet’s face soften as she listened to the clamor, lifting Ian’s daughter Megan onto her other knee. She looked around at them all, amazingly making sense of the mixed-up stories.

At one point, she asked into the chaos, “Where is Aimee?”

“Still in the park,” Eileen, Mac’s other daughter, announced. “She was playing with her hoop and didn’t want to leave. Not even for tea.” Her tone said, Can you imagine?

Violet stilled, her face draining of color. “You left her out there alone?”

She set the two small girls on their feet, rose swiftly, and made for the parlor door. Without stopping to ask for her coat, she rushed through the hall and the foyer, opening the heavy front door herself.

“Vi,” Daniel was after her. “Where are you going?”

Violet turned as she stopped at the edge of the busy street, too many carriages preventing an easy crossing to the park. “Aimee can’t be left alone. She’s only twelve, Daniel. She can’t be alone.” Violet’s breath came too quickly, the panic in her eyes sharp.

Mac had come out after them, Eileen holding his hand. Eileen looked worriedly up at Violet. “It’s all right, Violet. We’re in a safe place. The park is only for the people who live here. And their guests.”

Violet shook her head, her words tumbling out. “Predators are everywhere. A young girl isn’t safe. We have to find her.”

Daniel grabbed Violet as she was about to dart into the path of a large landau. “We will, love. Don’t you worry.”

“She’s not wrong.” Mac, who was usually the most ready of the Mackenzies with a smile and a joke, looked grim. “She shouldn’t have stayed behind. But Aimee’s fearless.”

Mac stepped out into the same traffic, but he held up his hands, and people stopped. Daniel sent a protesting Eileen back into the house, caught Violet’s hand, and led her across after Mac.

Violet’s pupils were wide, her breathing hoarse as they made it to the inner part of the square and the park there. The gate was open, two nannies with their unruly charges having walked out and let it swing behind them.

Mac strode into the park, scanning the flat green and its walkways for Aimee.

A red-haired girl ran toward them, her blue skirts flapping, strong legs in high-laced boots moving rapidly. She pushed a hoop ahead of her with a stick, her face set in determined focus. Several boys about Aimee’s age, also pushing hoops, ran madly to keep up with her.

Aimee crossed a path and nearly ran into her father. She pulled up short, eyes shining, smile wide. Her hoop rolled on without her and fell flat into the grass. The other boys stopped, expressions disgruntled, their hoops rolling away.

“I won!” Aimee flung her arms around Mac. “Did you see me, Papa? I’m faster than any of them.”

“I did see, sweetheart.” Mac hugged her back and ruffled her hair. “You’re astonishing.”

Aimee danced happily out of her father’s embrace. “Did you see, Violet?” She stopped. “Violet, what’s wrong?”

Violet leaned on Daniel’s side, her hand to her chest. Daniel led her to the nearest bench and sat her on it. Aimee, concerned, came to sit beside her.

“It’s all right, Violet.” Aimee patted her hand. “You’ll feel better in a moment.”

“She was worried about you, pet,” Daniel said. “And she’s right. You shouldn’t have stayed out here alone.”

Aimee looked at him in confusion, and at Mac, who clearly agreed.

Innocence. Aimee had no idea what could happen to a twelve-year-old girl in this giant city—anywhere, in fact. Aimee had never known the horror of what Violet had experienced, and Daniel and all the Mackenzies would make certain she never did.

Aimee, still confused, patted Violet’s hand again. Violet looked at Daniel, tears in her eyes, but her breathing had slowed.

“Come on, love,” Mac said, holding his hand out to Aimee. “Let’s go home and make ourselves sick on too many cakes for tea.”

Aimee stood up readily. She ran and fetched her hoop then returned to Mac, took his hand, and walked out of the park beside her adoptive father, a spring in her step again.

Daniel took Aimee’s place on the bench and folded his hands around Violet’s. “All right now, lass?”

“I’m sorry.” Violet drew a long breath. “I grow angry at my mother for her hysterics, and here I am, having them myself.”

“For good reason. I don’t want Aimee to ever feel anything but safe, which means we should have been more diligent watching her. And Mac will be, you can be certain.”

Violet shook her head. “I’m never going to be free of this, am I?”

“The panicking? You are. Because you’re with me now, and I’m going to keep you absolutely safe.”

Violet looked skeptical, not because she thought Daniel was lying, he understood, but because no one had ever protected her before.

But none of that mattered. Daniel would protect her, he vowed, from this day to forever. Whether Violet believed him or not.

Celine, at the last possible minute, refused to go to Berkshire. The country frightened her. It was too big, too wet, too terrifying. She liked cities with modern houses, parlor stoves, and good plumbing. In short, Violet thought in irritation, she’d found a cushy billet with the duke and didn’t want to leave it. But Celine also expected Violet to stay with her. She couldn’t do without her Violet.

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