"No charade," she replied with veiled contempt. How dare this soft-waisted, indolent creature insult Morgan's lack of blue blood? Oh, Morgan had his faults, to be sure...but he was a hundred times more of a man than Gerard could ever hope to be. "He's an attractive man."

"An oversized ape," Gerard scoffed.

"He amuses me. And he can afford my tastes. That is enough for now."

"You're much better suited to me," Gerard remarked quietly. "And we both know it." His obsidian gaze swept over her with ill-concealed greed. "Now that the problem that separated us is apparently resolved, I don't see why we can't resume our former relationship."

Problem? What problem? Vivien stifled a leap of curiosity behind a delicate yawn. "You talked to Morgan about me," she said idly.

Apology colored his tone. "I thought you were dead, otherwise I wouldn't have said one word to the bastard."

"Did you confide in him about our 'problem'?"

"Of course not. I wouldn't tell a soul about it, and besides...in light of your disappearance, I feared it would cast me in a rather suspicious light." He paused and asked almost sheepishly, "How did it end, by the by?"

"How did what end?"

"Don't be obtuse, darling. The pregnancy, of course. Obviously you've miscarried, or perhaps deliberately..." He stopped uncomfortably. "After much reflection, I admit I was wrong to refuse to acknowledge the babe, but you know the relationship between my wife and me. Her health is delicate, and the knowledge of your pregnancy would have distressed her too greatly. And there is no proof that the child was mine."

Vivien turned away, her mind on fire.Pregnancy . She had been carrying a child. Slowly her hand crept to her flat abdomen, and trembled as it pressed there. It couldn't be true, she thought frantically. Oh, dear Lord, if she had been pregnant, what had become of the child? A series of hot and cold shivers rippled through her as she mulled the possibilities. It must have resulted in miscarriage, because the alternative was not something she cared to contemplate.

She closed her eyes, squeezed them tight in horror. She wouldn't have aborted the babe...would she? The hows and whys of the question flew around her like attacking birds, pecking and shredding until she flinched.

"I see," Gerard said, reading her obvious discomfort and deducing that she had indeed deliberately terminated the pregnancy. "Well, no need to blame yourself, darling. You're hardly the mothering kind. Your talents lie elsewhere."

Her lips parted, but she couldn't produce a sound. In her guilt and pain, she could only focus on one overwhelming fact. Grant must not find out. If he knew what she had likely done, his contempt for her would know no bounds. He would despise her for eternity...but no more than she would despise herself.

"Vivien." Gerard's voice penetrated the desperate whirl of her thoughts. He approached her from behind and grasped her gloved arms, his hands sliding in a downward caress. "Vivien, leave Morgan and come back to me. Tonight. He's only flash gentry. He can't do for you what I can. You know that."

Poisonous, angry words flooded her mouth, but somehow she held them back. It would be best not to make an enemy of him...He might eventually be of further use to her. She turned a tremulous smile on him. "I'll consider it," she said. "However, don't expect me tonight. Now...we'll go back to the drawing room separately. I won't embarrass Morgan by appearing there with you."

"One kiss before we go," Gerard demanded.

Her smile lingered teasingly. "But I couldn't stop at one, darling. Just leave, please."

He caught her hand and squeezed, pressing a kiss to the back of her glove. As soon as he walked away, Vivien's smile disappeared. She passed the backs of her fingers over her cold, sweaty brow and fought the urge to cry. Taking a separate path from Gerard's, she wandered back to the manor house.

Consumed by regret and bitter fear, Vivien paused by a thick hedge bordering a massive stone statue of Father Time. A welcome breeze fanned over her. She felt feverish, dazed, and she knew she had to compose herself before entering the drawing room. She did not want to face the crowd inside, and she especially did not want to face Grant.

"Harlot." A man's hate-thickened voice darted through the silence, causing her to start. "I won't rest until you're dead."

Stunned, Vivien whirled in a circle, searching for the source of the voice. Shadows danced around her. Her heart thudded with sickening speed. The sound of footsteps caused her to bolt like a frightened rabbit. Grabbing handfuls of her skirts, she let out a muffled sob and raced up the stone steps, stumbling, scrambling toward the lights from the manor. Her foot slipped on a patch of moisture, or perhaps a stray leaf, and she fell heavily, banging the front of her shin on the edge of a step. Crying out in pain, she gathered herself to run again, but it was too late--a pair of arms had already begun to close around her.

"No," she whimpered, flailing out in selfdefense, but she was firmly restrained in an iron grip.

A harsh voice rumbled in her ear, and it took several seconds for her to recognize the familiar sound. "Vivien, be still. It's me. Look at me, dammit."

Blinking, she stared at him until the panic cleared from her vision. "Grant," she said between hard spurts of breath. He must have seen her from the house, and started for her the instant she panicked. Sitting on the stone steps, he held her, his dark face only inches from her own. The moonlight shimmered over the long plane of his nose and threw shadows from his thick lashes down his cheeks. Vivien clutched at him in shivering relief, her arms wrapped tightly around his neck. "Oh, thank God--"

"What happened?" he demanded curtly. "Why did you run?" She licked her dry lips and struggled to speak coherently. "Someone spoke to me from behind the statue."

"Was it Gerard?"

"No, I don't th-think so--it didn't sound like him, but I don't--Oh, look!" She pointed as a dark shape moved past the statue and disappeared around the hedges.

"That's Flagstad," Grant muttered. "One of the Runners. If there's a man in the area, he'll find him."

"Shouldn't you be chasing after him, too?"

Grant toyed with one of the pinned curls atop her head that had come loose, and tucked it gently back in place. Suddenly a caressing smile touched his lips. "Are you suggesting I leave you alone?"

"No," she said immediately, her arms tightening around his neck. "Not after what he said to me."

His smile vanished at once. "What did he say, Vivien?"

She hesitated, sharply aware of her own need for caution. Nothing about the pregnancy must be mentioned...at least not until she discovered more about it. Settling deeper into his arms, relishing the solid muscularity of his body, she replied cautiously. "That he won't rest until I am dead."

"Did the voice sound familiar?"

"No, not at all."

Gently Grant pulled one of her sagging gloves back in place, his thumb coming to rest against the intimate softness of the hollow beneath her arm. Though his own hand was gloved, the touch was solid and reassuring. "Are you injured?" he asked,

"My leg...I hit the front of it, but I think it's only a bruise--" She squeaked in protest as he began to hike the front of her skirt upward. "No, not here!Wait --"

"The skin doesn't appear to be broken." Grant inspected the swelling bruise intently, ignoring her determined wriggling. "Hold still."

"I will not hold still while you expose my--Oh, do let go!" Mortified, she realized that someone else had joined them on the steps. Grant pulled her skirt back down, concealing the injured leg, but not before Sir Ross Cannon had reached them. Vivien pressed her crimson face against the front of Grant's coat and peered up at Cannon.

"Flagstad couldn't make out the man's face in the darkness," Cannon said without expression. "However, he did say our fellow is tall, gray-haired, and lean of build. And by an interesting coincidence, a carriage belonging to Lord Lane, who matches that description, is departing the estate as we speak."

"Lane," Grant repeated with a quizzical frown. "He's not on the list of suspects."

"Was he mentioned in Miss Duvall's book?"

"No," Grant and Vivien said in unison. Tentatively Vivien tugged at the front of Grant's coat. "There was an elderly man staring at me in the drawing room...He looked as if he hated me. He had a nose like a hawk's beak. Could that have been Lord Lane?"

"It could have been," Grant replied thoughtfully. "But I'll be damned if I can figure out what connection he has to you. No one has mentioned him before."

"Allow me to investigate what relevance he might have to Miss Duvall's case," Cannon said. Although the words were phrased as a question, he was clearly not asking for permission. "Lane happens to have led the opposition to my bill on the expansion of my night-watch patrols." He smiled grimly. "I would like to repay the favor."

"By all means," Grant replied. He moved Vivien from his lap and helped her to stand. She was grateful for the partial concealment of darkness around them, acutely aware of her disheveled condition and the way Grant's hands lingered on the rise of her hips.

"May I go home now?" she asked softly, and Sir Ross answered.

"I don't see why not. You did well tonight, Miss Duvall. In my opinion, it shouldn't be long before the case is concluded. Soon you'll be free to return to your old life."

"Thank you," Vivien said in a hollow voice. Perhaps she was being ungrateful, but the prospect of returning to her former life was hardly something she looked forward to. And what of her lost memory? How and when would it come back? Or would it come back at all? What if she had to flounder through the rest of her days without a past, without any of the secrets and memories that made a person complete? Even if Cannon and Grant solved the mystery of her would-be killer and made her safe from further assault, she would face her own future with dread. She didn't know who she was, who she should be. What a strange punishment, to be robbed of the first half of her life.

Perhaps sensing her inner despair, Grant took her arm in a gentle grip. He guided her toward a path that led around the manor to the row of carriages parked along the circular drive.

"What will Lady Lichfield and the others think if we disappear without saying good-bye?" Vivien asked.

"They'll assume that we left early so I could take you home and bed you."

She blinked at his flat statement, while prickles of heat and cold chased over every inch of her skin. Wondering at his mood, she was tempted to ask if that was indeed what he planned to do. But the words clashed together and clumped in one huge, choking ball...because it occurred to her that she wished him to do exactly that. It had something to do with recklessness, and hopelessness, and the simple need for a few moments of pleasurable closeness. Whom would it harm if she gave herself to him? They had already done it before. She just couldn't remember it. Why shouldn't she let it happen again? It wasn't as if she had a reputation to protect. She felt empty, lonely and afraid...She wanted to please him...and herself.

She should have recoiled from the direction her thoughts were taking. Instead she felt wild and unpleasantly giddy, as if she had already committed herself to a course from which it was too late to retreat.

The footman saw them approach the carriage and hastened to fetch the movable step for Vivien. He was too well trained to show surprise at their early departure, nor did he ask questions, other than making a brief inquiry about their destination. "Home," Grant said gruffly, handing Vivien into the carriage himself and gesturing for the footman to tell the driver.

Vivien reached beneath her skirts to touch the throbbing bruise on her shin, wincing slightly.

"Are you in pain?" A scowl crept over Grant's face.

"Not really, but..." She glanced at the fitted compartment that contained various crystal decanters. "Might I have a drink of brandy? I still feel a bit unsteady after what happened."

Wordlessly Grant poured a minute amount of brandy into a small glass and offered it to her. Vivien accepted the glass, raised it to her lips, and downed it in one swallow. The velvety fire spread down her throat and into her chest, bringing a sheen of moisture to her eyes. She suppressed a cough and held out the glass. "More, please," she said hoarsely.

One brow arched as he regarded her intently, and he filled her glass again. The second brandy went down more smoothly than the first, and the satisfying warmth drifted through her body. Sighing a little, Vivien surrendered the glass and snuggled in the corner of her seat. "Oh, that's better," she murmured.

"There's no reason to feel afraid, Vivien," Grant said, evidently deciding that was the reason she'd asked for the brandy. "I won't allow Lane or anyone else to hurt you."

"Yes, I know." She gave him a trusting smile, which he promptly dispelled with his next words.

"What did you and Gerard talk about in the lower garden?"

"Nothing of significance," she said.

"Tell me what was said. I'll decide if it is significant or not."

Since there was nothing on earth that would induce her to confide her secret pregnancy to him, she sought for something to tell him. "Well...Lord Gerard asked why I was with you, and he said that you were only flash gentry."

The comment elicited a smile of sardonic amusement. Vivien deduced that Grant had been the target of similar barbs many times in the past. "I'd say he's a fair judge of character," Grant commented dryly. "Go on."

"Then he asked me to leave you and return to him."

"How did you reply?"

"I didn't say yes or no, I only said I would consider it."

"A wise maneuver," he said coolly. "In your position, it's best to keep all options open."

"I'm not going to become his mistress again," she said, insulted that he assumed she might.

"Who knows?" It seemed he was deliberately trying to antagonize her. "When this is all over..."

"Is that what you want me to do?" she asked in annoyance. "Go back to Lord Gerard? Or find some other man to keep me?"

"No. That's not what I want."

"Then whatdo you--" She gasped as he reached for her, swift as a striking tiger, snatching her onto his lap. One large hand tangled in her coiffure, ruining the arrangement of curls and scattering a few stray pins to the carriage floor.


***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com