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Page 93

Before Violet could argue, beg, or resign herself to being her mother’s drudge again, she learned exactly how determined the Mackenzie family could be.

Violet was going with Daniel and the family to Berkshire, and that was that. If Celine wanted to stay in London, she could remain at the duke’s house as long as she pleased. Eleanor and Hart were staying in London for a time, as were Isabella and Mac, the two couples having social obligations they couldn’t yet leave. Ainsley and Cameron, Beth and Ian, the children of all four families, and Daniel and Violet, on the other hand, were going to Berkshire, come what may.

When this was explained to Violet’s mother, firmly, by Eleanor, Celine turned surprisingly obedient. Of course Violet should have time with her friends in the country, Celine said. Mary, who also had a horror of the country, would remain with her to look after things. And Celine could cultivate the duchess’s friends as new clients. She’d again become the most sought-after medium in fashionable London.

Violet had her misgivings about that, but Eleanor, the duchess, with her lovely blue eyes and wide smile, took over.

“Indeed, my friends will love her,” Eleanor said. “Madame Celine is quite a wonderful medium. She’s called forth my great-great-grandmother Finella, and we even reached the legendary Malcolm Mackenzie, the only member of the Mackenzie family to survive the Forty-Five—that was the Scottish uprising under Bonnie Prince Charlie, Violet. His Highland Scots was so thick that the little spirit guide—what’s her name—Adelaide—could barely understand him. Hart says it’s all nonsense, but he had quite an interesting chat with old Malcolm, asked him for advice about the estate and the distillery and other things. Malcolm said he was flattered we’d named our youngest son after him. We all had a lovely time.”

Eleanor related this with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, and Violet felt better. If anyone could keep Celine in check, it would be the Duchess of Kilmorgan.

Violet enjoyed the short train journey to Berkshire, in which she was again surrounded by children.

Gavina had long since decided that Violet was one of the family. Danny would marry her, and they would have babies, and Gavina could help look after them.

“Only until I grow up,” Gavina said confidently to Violet as she sat next to her in the train compartment. “Then I’m going to be a jockey.”

“Girls can’t be jockeys,” Jamie said in his resigned, I’m-older-than-you-and-know-better manner.

Jamie, as the oldest Mackenzie son, had the awe of the others. Never mind that five-year-old Lord Hart Alec Mackenzie was the actual heir to the dukedom. Alec didn’t seem at all conscious that he was the social superior of his cousins. Jamie, Ian’s son, had the rule of them. From what Violet observed while staying with Ian and Beth, Jamie had inherited his father’s intelligence as well as his mother’s spirit.

“Dad says I can be the best rider he’s ever trained,” Gavina returned hotly. “Angelo says so too, and Dad’s jockeys aren’t too proud to give me advice. You see if I’m not a jockey, Jamie Mackenzie.”

“All right, Gavina,” Ainsley said. “You have made your declaration. Now be polite. We have a guest.”

“Violet isn’t a guest, Mummy,” Gavina scoffed. “She’s going to marry Danny.”

Fortunately, Daniel was in a different compartment with Ian and Cameron and couldn’t see Violet blush.

“The Mackenzie men can rather bowl you over,” Beth said gently to Violet as Ainsley continued to quiet the argument. “Daniel is no different from his uncles. You believe your life is plodding along, and suddenly you are places you never thought you’d be.”

“Gracious, yes,” Ainsley said, turning back to the adult conversation. “But make certain it’s your choice, Violet, and make sure Danny knows it. The Mackenzies can be very . . . persuasive.”

Violet was aware that the children had stopped arguing and were listening as hard as they could.

“They can be,” Violet said. “And you are right about finding myself in places I never thought I’d go. For instance, I’ve never been to Berkshire.”

Ainsley and Beth, and what children were in the compartment with them, laughed, and the moment eased.

The journey to the middle of Berkshire itself wasn’t long, but sorting themselves into coaches and carts to reach the house once they arrived at the Hungerford train station took much time. All the children wanted to go with Violet, but there wasn’t room, and compromises had to be made.

Finally Cameron dictated who would go where, in a manner that brooked no argument. Violet went off with Beth and Ian, their children, and their two dogs to a house that was old, huge, and rambling.

In spite of its size, the house had a homey feel, much like Beth and Ian’s London house did. Each family had its own suite in upstairs rooms—Ian walked straight up to theirs, barely giving a nod to the staff who came out to greet them.

Violet found she’d been given two rooms to herself, a little sitting room and a bedroom next to it with a wide, canopied bed. The windows of both overlooked a slope of ground down to the canal at the base of a meadow. The air was soft, the hills gentle, trees lining fields tinged with green. All was beauty, quiet, peace.

Violet wanted to embrace that peace to her and never let it go. To this point, her life had stretched before her, bleak and predictable, a straight road, gray and empty. Now the path was obscured with uncertainty. Violet knew that when she broke through this obscuring thicket, she might find the road straight and empty again. And the thought terrified her.

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