"This gives me hope," she remarked, picking up the volume at the top of the pile and holding it in her lap. "I know it's a small thing, to remember reading some of these books...but if this little bit of my memory has come back, then perhaps other things will follow."
"You said you remembered reading with someone." Grant drank from his own glass, his gaze remaining on her lovely firelit face. "You referred to that person as a 'he.' Any impression of him? Any detail of his appearance or the sound of his voice? Or a place you might have been with him?"
"No." The soft curves of her mouth became enticingly wistful. "But trying to remember makes me feel..." She paused and stared into the ruby depths of the wine. "Lonely," she continued with visible effort. "As if I've lost something, or someone, that was very dear."
A lost love, Grant speculated, and experienced a sudden wash of jealousy. Concealing the unwelcome emotion, he stared hard into his own glass.
"Here," Vivien murmured, handing him the book of Keats. "Won't you tell me which is your favorite passage?"
Vivien watched Morgan's bent head as he thumbed through the worn pages. The firelight flickered over his dark hair, making it gleam like ebony. The thick locks were cropped too short, but even so, they contained a hint of curl and wave that intrigued her. He should let them grow longer, she thought, to add a touch of softness around the uncompromising angles of his face.
Her gaze moved to the volume that was nearly engulfed by his long-fingered hand. No sculptor would ever desire to capture the shape of those brutally strong hands in marble...and that was a pity. Vivien thought them a hundred times more attractive than the slender, fine hands of a gentleman. Besides, it wouldn't seem right for a man built on his impressive scale to have delicate little hands. The thought brought a smile to her face.
Glancing upward, Morgan caught sight of her expression and arched his brow quizzically. "What's so amusing?"
She pushed herself out of the chair and knelt beside him, her skirts billowing briefly and settling in velvety wine-colored puddles on the floor. For answer, she took one of his hands and measured her own against it, flattening their palms together. His fingers extended well beyond her own meager reach.
"I don't remember the other gentlemen of my acquaintance," she said, "but I have no doubt you must be the largest man I have ever met." Heat collected between their clasped palms, and Vivien snatched her hand away, blotting a faint sheen of moisture on the skirt of her gown. "What is it like to be so tall?" she asked.
"It's a constant headache," Morgan answered dryly, setting the book aside. "My head is well acquainted with the top of every doorframe in London."
Vivien's smile turned sympathetic. "You must have been a long-legged, gangly child."
"Like a monkey on stilts," he agreed, making her laugh.
"Poor Mr. Morgan. Did the other boys tease you?"
"Endlessly. And when I wasn't trading insults, I was busy fighting. They each wanted to be the one to thrash the largest boy at Lady of Pity."
"Lady of Pity," Vivien repeated, the name unfamiliar to her. "Is that a school?"
"Orphanage." Morgan seemed to regret the revelation as soon as it left his lips. At Vivien's silence, he threw her an unfathomable glance. For one electric moment, she saw a flash of defiance--or perhaps it was bitterness--smoldering in the depths of smoky green. "I wasn't always an orphan," he muttered. "My father was a bookseller, a good man, though damned poor at making business decisions. A few bad loans to friends followed by a year of poor sales landed the entire family in debtor's prison. And of course, once you go in, you never come out. There is no way for a man to make money to pay his debts once he's in prison."
"How old were you?" Vivien asked.
"Nine...ten, perhaps. I don't remember exactly."
"Disease went through the prison. My parents and two sisters died. My younger brother and I lived through it, and were sent to Lady of Pity. After a year I was thrown out to the streets for 'disrupting internal order.'"
The recitation was matter-of-fact, emotionless, but Vivien sensed the pain and hostility banked beneath his calm facade. "Why?" she murmured. "My brother, Jack, was small for his age, and somewhat sensitive by nature. The other boys were apt to bully him."
"And you fought to defend him," she said.
He nodded briefly. "After a particularly nasty fight, the director of the orphanage reviewed my record, which was filled with words like 'violent' and 'incorrigible.' It was decided that I posed a hazard to the other children. I found myself outside the orphanage walls with no food or possessions save the clothes on my back. I stayed by the gate for two days and nights, shouting to get back in. I knew what was going to happen to Jack if I weren't there to protect him. Finally one of the teachers came out and promised me that he would do what was in his power to look after my brother. He advised me to leave and try to make some kind of life for myself. And so I did."
Vivien tried to imagine him as a boy, young and frightened, torn away from the last living link with his family...forced to make his own way in the world. It would have been so terribly easy for him to turn to crime and violence as a way of life. Instead he had come to serve the society that had victimized him. He made no effort to pose as a hero, however. In fact, he had deliberately painted himself as a self-serving scoundrel who upheld the law only for the profits he made from it. What kind of man would commit himself to helping others while at the same time disclaiming his own good motives?
"Why this?" she asked. "Why become a Bow Street Runner?"
Morgan shrugged, and his mouth twisted cynically. "It comes naturally to me. Who better to understand the criminal element than someone who comes from the streets? I'm a mere step away from being one of them."
"That's not true," she said earnestly.
"It is," he muttered. "I'm just the other side of the same bad coin."
In the ensuing silence, Vivien made a project of straightening a stack of books on the floor. She pondered his bleak words, the stillness of his large body, the tension that shredded the air. He seemed as unfeeling and immovable as a block of granite. However, she suspected that his invulnerability was an illusion. He had known so little softness in his life, so little comfort. A powerful urge took hold of her, to reach out and hug him, and pull his dark head to her shoulder. Common sense prevailed, however. He would not want or welcome comfort from her, and she would probably earn a humiliating jeer for her pains. If she was wise, she would let the subject drop for now.
But another question slipped out before she could prevent it. "Where is your brother now?"
Morgan seemed not to hear.
"Where is Jack?" she asked again, kneeling before him, staring into his averted face.
The green eyes shifted, his gaze meeting hers with searing impact.
"Please," she said softly. "You know the worst about me. Surely you can trust me this far. Tell me."
Dark color crept over his face. It seemed as if some terrible secret were leaking poison inside him. Just as she thought he would not answer, he spoke in a rusted, halting ramble, so softly that she could not hear some of the words. "I went back for Jack when I was able...had secured a promise of work for him at a fishmonger's stall where I cleaned and wrapped fish. I knew they would let him leave the orphanage if...some relative were to speak for him. I was nearly fourteen, a man by most standards, ready to take care of him. But when I went to Lady of Pity and asked for Jack...they told me he was gone."
"Gone?" Vivien repeated. "Had he run away?"
"Smallpox. Half the children in the orphanage had it. Jack died without me there...without anyone who loved him."
Words failed her. She regarded him sorrowfully, pressing her hand hard against her thigh to keep from touching him.
"And I knew," he said quietly, "that if I had come sooner...I could have saved him."
"No," Vivien replied, shocked. "You mustn't think of it that way."
"It's a fact. There's no other way to think of it."
"You're not being fair to yourself."
"I failed him," he said flatly. "That's all that matters." He stood in one fluid movement and turned to the fire, staring into the sputtering coals. Snatching up a poker, he jabbed at a log until it erupted into fiery life.
Vivien stood as well, her hands clenched into fists as she stared at his broad, hard back, his dark head silhouetted in fire-glow. Her compassion for him overrode any concerns about her own problems. Morgan had devoted his life to saving others because he hadn't been able to save his brother. Yet no matter how many times he rescued and helped and served others, he would never be able to absolve himself of his one great failure. He would be haunted by guilt for the rest of his life. Her entire being was filled with one aching wish...that she could find some way to help him. But there was nothing she could do.
Her hand touched his shoulder, lingered, then slid to the hot nape of his neck. His entire body seemed to stiffen at her touch, and she felt the ripple of nerves in his neck. He jerked away with a muffled curse, looking as if she had stabbed him. "No," he said savagely. "I don't need pity from a--" He stopped, choking off the rest of the sentence.
The unspoken word floated in the air between them.
Vivien knew perfectly well what he had been about to say, and the hurt of it jolted through her. But why hadn't he completed the sentence? Why had he reined in his temper in a last-second attempt to spare her feelings? She stared at him curiously, while a feeling of artificial calmness descended on her. "Thank you," she said with only a slight tremor in her voice. "Thank you for not saying it."
"Vivien," he said gruffly, "I--"
"I shouldn't have asked such personal questions," she said, clinging to her meager supply of dignity as she began to retreat from the room. "I am very tired, Mr. Morgan. Perhaps I'll go upstairs and rest." She heard him begin to say something else, but she fled the library as quickly as possible, leaving him to his brooding contemplation of the fire.
Morgan left the town house well before supper, while Vivien dined in solitude. She wondered what companions he would seek tonight, if he would lounge in a coffeehouse and take part in some political discussion, or visit his club and play cards while a saucy wench perched on his knee. There would be no shortage of available women for such a man. Morgan had the appearance of a gentleman, but he possessed a hint of street swagger, a combination irresistible to any female. No doubt he had inspired countless fantasies among the women of London, both high and low.
A cold heaviness settled in her chest, making it difficult to eat more than a few bites of supper. Taking several books with her, Vivien retired to bed and read until midnight. However, the books failed to work their magic. She couldn't lose herself in the written word when an array of problems seemed to hover over the bed like malevolent spirits.
Someone had tried to murder her, and would possibly try again when it was discovered that she was alive. Although she had faith in Morgan's ability to protect her and uncover the identity of her assailant, she also knew that he was not infallible. And instead of being a help to him and supplying the information that would solve everything, she sat here like a dunce, all relevant facts locked away in some impenetrable vault in her mind. It was maddening.
Setting the book aside, Vivien rolled to her stomach and contemplated the shadows cast by the bedside lamp. What would become of her? She had ruined herself by choosing a path that no decent woman would venture along. There were few options left, other than to return to prostitution, to find some man who might condescend to marry her, or to try her hand at some kind of respectable work that might yield enough to support her. Only the third choice held any appeal. But who would employ her when she had a publicly ruined character?
Morosely Vivien stared at a lock of her own flamboyant red hair as it curled across the mattress. Without vanity, she understood that her looks were sufficient to attract men, whether or not she desired their attentions. And she would never be able to hide the fact that she had once been a prostitute. The truth would always come out. No matter what position she held, there would be men, insulting and propositioning, offering sexual bargains if she wished to retain her job.
Vivien wrestled with the increasingly unpleasant thoughts before falling into an uneasy sleep. More nightmares awaited her, dreams of water and drowning and choking. She twisted against the sheets, kicked and struggled until the bed was a shambles. Finally she awakened with a low cry and sat bolt upright, breathing hard, eyes staring blankly in the darkness.
The quiet voice made her quiver in startled reaction. "What--"
"I heard you cry out. I came to see if you were all right."
Morgan, she thought, but his familiar presence did not make her relax. For a split second she feared that he had come to demand that she take him into her bed. Or his bed, as the case was. "It was only a nightmare," she said shakily. "I'm all right now. I'm sorry if I bothered you." Vivien saw Morgan's outline in the darkness, a huge shadowy figure that approached the side of the bed. Her heartbeat fluttered and faltered in alarm. Shrinking to the center of the mattress, she went rigid as he reached for the covers. In a few quick, deft motions he straightened the linens and folded the top of the sheet over the edge of the blankets. "Would you like a glass of water?" he asked matter-of-factly.
The question was reassuringly innocuous. Although Vivien didn't remember any of her previous knowledge about men and sexual matters, it didn't seem likely that a seducer would offer a woman a glass of water before ravishing her. "No, thank you," she murmured, reshaping a pillow behind her. A shaky laugh escaped her. "Perhaps you could light the lamp? The nightmares are so vivid, I'm afraid to fall asleep again. Silly, isn't it? I'm no better than a child afraid of the dark."
"No, it's not silly." His voice changed, becoming very gentle. "Let me stay with you tonight, Vivien. It's only a few hours until morning."
She was silent with confusion.
"I'll hold you as a friend," he said quietly. "As a brother. All I want is to keep the nightmares away." He paused, and a subtle trace of laughter wound its way through his next words. "Well, that's notall I want...but the rest will keep for later. Shall I stay, or would you prefer me to light the lamp?"
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com