Pulling on a pelisse to cover her nightgown, Vivien hastily tied the garment closed. She went to the washstand and poured some cold water into a bowl, industriously splashing her pink cheeks. Grant watched her intently, noting her rigid spine and the determined haste of her movements. She patted her face dry with a cloth, squared her shoulders...and turned toward him with the expression of someone facing an unpleasant task.
"Do you want me to return to bed?" she asked, staring at the carpeted floor.
The question surprised Grant. As a matter of fact, he did...but first he needed to know why she had made the offer. When he asked, she continued to avoid his gaze.
"I owe it to you," she said tonelessly. "You saved my life, offered me your hospitality and protection...and on top of all that, there is our prior relationship to consider. It's not as if we haven't done...this...before. All things considered, it's hypocritical of me to withhold myself. So if you would like, I am willing to return to bed."
She was as resolved as a martyr, her stiff posture and averted face cooling his passion more effectively than a bucket of freezing water.
"No, I would not 'like,'" he muttered, frustrated and surly. "I'll be damned if you'll come to my bed like it's some damn sacrifice." He left the bed and jerked the front of his disheveled robe together, sneering as he saw her blush deepen at the startling flash of nakedness. "The virginal blush doesn't become you, Vivien. You forget, I knew you before you lost your memory."
"What do you want from me? I've offered you the use of my body. If I understand correctly, your complaint is that I don't display a sufficient amount of enthusiasm."
He gave her a speaking glance. "Sufficiententhusiasm?" he repeated acidly. "Try all the enthusiasm of Joan of Arc going to the stake." The room was charged with an intense silence. All at once Vivien's beautiful face looked penitent, and her eyes sparkled with amusement. She turned away swiftly, but not before Grant saw her lips quiver with suppressed laughter.
"I'm sorry," she said in a muffled voice. "That was hardly flattering, was it?"
"No, it wasn't," he growled. He would laugh, too, if he weren't hampered by a painful erection. Getting back into bed, he rolled to his stomach, buried his face in a pillow, and willed his fierce arousal to subside. Sensing that Vivien was approaching him, he lifted his head and gave her a warning stare. "Stay away from me--or I may decide to bed you anyway."
"Yes, sir." She sounded suspiciously meek. "Perhaps I'll just gather my clothes and dress in the adjoining room."
"Do that." He dropped his head back to the pillow with an explosive sigh.
Vivien dressed in a rich blue gown of velvet and Italian corded silk, with long sleeves that were puffed at the top but close-fitting from the elbow to wrist. The ends of the sleeves were finished by a spill of crisp white Brussels lace, as was the high scooped neckline. Twisting awkwardly, Vivien fastened as many of the buttons in the back of the gown as she could reach, and resolved to ask Mary to help with the task later.
She unplaited her hair, combed her fingers through the rippling, braid-crimped locks, and moved to regard her reflection in an oval looking glass affixed to the damask-covered wall. The gown was becoming, enhancing the blue of her eyes and the unruly color that still flooded her cheeks.
As she thought of Grant in the next room, she expelled an unsteady breath. Her body was hot, her hands were cold, and she was glowing all over with a bewildering mixture of agitation and delight. Even now she wanted to go back to him, ask him to touch her again...let him take her beneath him.
She understood the mechanics of the act, but she had no memories of performing it and no real idea of what to do. All the unknowns made her distinctly nervous. Just now he had been so incredibly gentle, and she had very nearly surrendered herself to his experienced hands. No one, least of all she, could deny that Grant Morgan had appeal. But she did not love him. And some deep-seated instinct warned that the intimacy of lovemaking must be reserved for a man she loved very much. That feeling was entirely contrary to the way she had lived her life up until her accident.
Frustrated, Vivien pressed her hands to her head and groaned. She couldn't blame Grant for suspecting that she was playing some kind of game. How else could her puzzling behavior be explained? She was a prostitute, and no one could change her nature overnight.
"Oh, why can't I remember?" she said aloud, clenching her fists against her temples, pressing her knuckles hard against the throbbing of her pulse.
Grant dressed and left for Bow Street without eating or reading theTimes , without saying one word to Vivien. It was obvious that the housemaid had told the other servants about the scene in his bedroom that morning. Every one of them, including Mrs. Buttons, had treated him with a careful politeness that made him want to bite someone's head off.
Entering number 4 Bow Street, he gave his coat to Mrs. Dobson. The atmosphere at headquarters was busy and quiet this morning, as Sir Ross Cannon was finishing the latest edition ofThe Hue and Cry . The weekly report was circulated to magistrates from one end of England to the other, containing details of unapprehended criminals and their foul deeds.
As Grant reached Cannon's office, the magistrate appeared at the doorway and thrust a sheaf of paper and a pencil at him. "Good, you're here," Cannon said briskly. "Have a look at this. It's going to the printers in ten minutes."
Grant wedged his shoulder against the doorframe and rapidly scanned the document, scribbling a minor correction here and there. When the chore was finished, he ventured into Cannon's office and found Keyes leafing through a procedural book. Dandified as usual, Keyes was dressed in moss-green trousers, an embroided cream brocade waistcoat, and a tailored brown coat. His throat was swathed in an intricate waterfall necktie that kept his chin propped high.
"Good morning," Grant said, placingThe Hue and Cry on Cannon's mahogany desk.
Keyes grunted noncommittally, having found the passage he sought. He read half a page, closed the book, and reinserted it among the others on the shelf.
In the meantime, Grant sat in the chair next to Cannon's desk. Reaching into his coat pocket, he extracted the small leather-bound book he had found at Vivien's town house and regarded it morosely. He had scanned every page repeatedly, searching for information. By now the lurid details should have lost their ability to shock, but the acts conveyed by the lines of delicate feminine script still gave him an uncomfortable crawling sensation. Every inflammatory word was stuck in his memory as if it had been nailed there.
"What are you reading?" Keyes inquired.
Grant responded with a brief, humorless laugh. "It's not suitable for one of your tender years, Keyes."
"I'll be the judge of that." The older man plucked the book from Grant's hand. As he opened the volume and read a page or two, his bushy eyebrows climbed his forehead like a pair of ascending spiders. "Filthy stuff," he remarked, handing back the volume. "May I ask the identity of the author?"
Grant smiled grimly. "You don't want to meet her, Keyes. She's a tormenting witch. One smile from her can twist your insides like a rag mop."
Although Keyes's manner was deliberately causal, his hazel eyes were keen with interest. "This has to do with the bloat from the river, doesn't it? She's still alive--and you're harboring her in your own home. I've heard the rumors."
Grant leaned back in his chair, slanting an impassive stare at the Runner. "You should know better than to listen to rumors, Keyes."
"Who is she?" the other man persisted. "Has she named her assailant?"
"Why such a fascination with my case?" Grant countered. "I merely wish to offer my assistance if it's needed," Keyes said. "You've helped me a time or two, after all. You seem a touch defensive, lad...A simple question or two, and you scowl at me like a baited bear."
"If I need your help, I'll ask for it."
"See that you do," Keyes replied with a neutral smile, and left the office.
Grant sat brooding in silence. Keyes was right--hewas defensive and ill tempered, as any other man in his position would be. When he was with Vivien, it was easy to forget who she really was and what she was capable of. Only when he was away from her did he see the situation in its true light. She was a courtesan, a woman who had proven herself incapable of love or fidelity. Someone had tried to kill her, most likely one of her legion of past lovers. His job was to find out who had assaulted her, and catch him. And then remove Vivien Duvall from his home and his life for good...before she ripped his heart out.
Sir Ross reappeared in the office and headed for the earthenware jug of coffee. At the same time, his cat Chopper leisurely walked through the doorway, jumped up to the unoccupied corner of the oak desk, and reclined on her side, surveying Grant solemnly.
"Good morning, Chopper," Grant murmured, reaching over to pet the broad, furry head. Chopper shrank back disdainfully, her eyes narrowing to slits. She endured the gentle pat with a flinch, and lowered her head to her paws. Grant couldn't help smiling at the long-suffering feline. "Just like a woman," he murmured. "You only give a fellow affection when you want something."
Cannon poured a cup from the meager amount left in the bottom of the vessel. He made a face as he tasted the brew, which was tepid and filled with grounds. "Mrs. Dobson," he called, leaning his dark head outside the door, "my jug is empty."
There was a protesting response from down the hall, containing the admonition "...your nerves, sir..."
"My nerves are fine," he replied, a thread of annoyance working through his tone. "I have a great deal of work, Mrs. Dobson. I require another jug to see me through the morning." Cannon went to his chair and smiled briefly as he seated himself. The flash of amusement temporarily lightened the dark cast of his face. "May God spare us from women who think they know better."
"Amen," Grant muttered in brief affirmation of the prayer.
Cannon leaned back in his chair, his wintry gray eyes narrowing as he surveyed Grant. "You look like hell. Are you ill?"
Such an unusual question from Cannon would be enough to send any of the Runners into a state of alarm. Cannon never took an interest in the personal lives of his men, as long as their jobs were being done. Grant frowned at the magistrate, resenting the personal inquiry.
"I haven't been sleeping," he said curtly.
"Trouble with Miss Duvall?"
"Nothing of significance," he muttered. "How is her health?" Cannon inquired.
"I believe she's almost fully recovered. But there's been no progress on recovering her memory."
Cannon nodded, reaching out for the book that Grant extended to him. "What's this?"
"It's a diary and appointment book. I found it in Miss Duvall's town house. I believe it might contain the name of whoever tried to kill her."
As Grant watched him leaf through the small volume, he wondered what Cannon, who had taken what amounted to a vow of celibacy, would think of such sexually explicit material. It would be only natural for the magistrate to exhibit some sign of emotion but there was no telltale color, no tension, no mist of sweat. The man had astonishing mastery over himself.
"Miss Duvall appears to have led a colorful life," the magistrate remarked blandly. "Why do you assume her assailant is listed in the journal?"
"The attempted murder was a crime of passion," Grant said matter-of-factly. "Miss Duvall has no history of criminal dealings with anyone, no nefarious associates, no significant debts--she has always been well cared for. Only a long list of lovers, most of whom she was unfaithful to. She kept scrupulous track of them, however...and their particular tastes. It was a business to her, and as you can see, she was damned organized about it. Whenever a better opportunity presented itself, she left her current lover without a backward glance."
"And you believe one of them became so incensed by her desertion that he tried to kill her?"
Cannon handed the journal back to him. "You'd best narrow down this list quickly, Morgan. In matters of this sort, one can't allow a suspect too much time to collect himself or the case is lost."
Staring at the small book in his hands, Grant passed his thumbs over the smooth leather binding. "What I'd like to do," he said slowly, "is find a way of letting the public know that Vivien is still alive. Then whoever tried to kill her would know that he had failed."
"And come after her again," Cannon murmured. "That would be putting Miss Duvall at great risk."
"No," Grant said immediately. "She's under my protection now--and I'll be waiting for the bastard when he tries again."
"Very well. Let's reveal Miss Duvall to London, then. Have you already decided on a place and time?"
"Then allow me to make a suggestion. I have a friend, Lady Lichfield, who is giving a ball this very Saturday evening. Invitations to any event she hosts are greatly sought after, and a detailed account is always published in theTimes afterward. I'll prevail on her to send you an invitation, and include anyone you choose in her guest list."
Grant grinned suddenly. "Bring Vivien to Lady Lichfield's estate?" "Why not?"
"Vivien isn't readily accepted by so-called decent society. At least not the female half. She's slept with quite a few of their husbands."
"So much the better, if any of her former lovers are attending," Cannon replied.
Their conversation was interrupted as Mrs. Dobson appeared with a tray bearing a steaming jug of coffee and clean mugs. "You drink far too much of this brew," she said disapprovingly. "Both of you."
"It stimulates the senses and promotes clear thinking," Cannon informed her, while she poured a large does of the black liquid for him. Eagerly he accepted the mug and wrapped his long hands around it.
"And keeps you awake half the night," Mrs. Dobson scolded, shaking her head until her silver curls danced. She turned toward Grant as if he were an ally in her cause. "Sir Ross never sleeps more than four hours a night, never has time for a hot meal...and what for? The more work he does, the more it piles up around him."
Ross gave her a swift scowl. "If Mrs. Dobson had her way," he remarked to Grant, "I'd soon become as fat and lazy as Chopper."
The maligned cat resettled her stocky body on the corner of the desk and sent her master an insolent glance.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com