Linley shook his head. "That is not like him," he said thoughtfully.
"Now he intends to make amends, of course," Vivien said. "I believe he is even trying to convince himself that he loves me."
"After what has happened, I would say you deserve whatever compensation Morgan can offer."
"No," she murmured. "I don't want compensation--I just want to know who I am."
"Of course." The doctor regarded her with frank sympathy. "I'm afraid there is not much I can do to help you. However, I would at least like to assure you that the discomfort you undoubtedly experienced is a temporary thing. It all becomes easier on subsequent occasions."
Rather than tell him that there would be no subsequent occasions, Vivien nodded briefly. "I understand," she said quickly. "No more need be said, Dr. Linley."
He gave her a comforting smile. "Bear with me for one moment longer. I merely wish you to understand that in this act between a man and a woman, there should be honesty, affection, and trust. Don't give yourself to a man unless you believe those things are shared between you. And then it is a wondrous experience, and something not to be missed."
Vivien thought of the man pacing around the house as they spoke, and her insides ached with yearning. She wondered if she could somehow summon the courage to trust him again, or if he was even worthy of such trust.
"Morgan is a good fellow," Linley assured her, seeming to read her thoughts. "Arrogant, stubborn...but also compassionate and courageous. I hope you won't give up on him too easily, my dear. Especially considering the way he feels about you."
"About me?" Vivien asked, startled. "I don't know what you mean."
The doctor smiled wryly. "In the five years that I've known Grant Morgan, I've never seen him in such a state over a woman. Guilt is the least of the emotions that are working on him."
"If you're trying to imply that he's in love with me..." Vivien began warily.
"It doesn't matter what I imply. The fact is, heis in love with you." Linley stood and went to the door. Before opening it, he added prosaically, "What comes of that is up to you." Linley found Grant in the billiards room, seated on a chair at the baize-covered table with his arm and chin resting on the edge. One by one, he rolled a succession of ivory balls in varying patterns across the table, sending them to a corner pocket where a green braided silk bag waited to catch them. He surveyed the clicking orbs as he spoke. "How is she?"
"Considering the whole of what she has been through since the night she was rescued from the river...very well indeed. She is a resilent girl."
Grant felt an easing in his throat. He trusted Linley. And in the course of treating the varied physical and emotional complaints of the women of London, the man should be an expert. Grant gripped the last ivory ball, engulfing it completely, then sent it rolling gently to the corner pocket. "I have an issue to take up with you, Linley," he muttered. "Your silence on the matter of the real Vivien's pregnancy--"
"I was obliged to keep silent," Linley said matter-of-factly. "Miss Duvall made it clear on the day of the visit that the babe's future, perhaps even its life, depended on secrecy. And although she seemed to be given to dramatics, I was inclined to believe her. She was none too happy about my confirmation of the pregnancy, and she left with suspicious haste. As if she were afraid of something...or someone."
"You should have told me before!" Grant stood and scrubbed his fingers distractedly through his short hair. "For God's sake, someone is trying to kill her. The fact of her pregnancy could be one of the most important clues about what happened to her and why."
"Morgan," the doctor said calmly, "do you know what would happen to my practice if it became known that I divulged private information without a woman's consent? Do you know how many of my patients are obliged to keep the circumstances of their pregnancies secret for one reason or another?"
"I can only guess," Grant said sardonically. The respectable ladies of London's first society often escaped their loveless arranged marriages by taking lovers. Sometimes they foisted their illegitimate children off as their husbands'. No doubt the popular Dr. Linley was the keeper of many secrets.
"I understand the concept of confidentiality," Grant continued tersely. "However, the real Vivien is probably alive and in hiding somewhere. She is most likely pregnant and definitely in danger...and the girl you've seen today is in danger as well. So if there is anything you can remember about what Vivien said to you that day, you'd do well to tell me."
"All right. But before we return to the library to examine my files, I'd like to offer a word of advice. It concerns Vivien...that is, the young woman who is awaiting us. She was understandably disinclined to discuss her recent, er...experience with you, but she seems a sensible enough creature, and I don't believe she suffered unduly."
"You thought sleeping with me might be enough to frighten her into fits?" Grant inquired acidly.
A humorless smile pulled at Linley's mouth. "You would be surprised at what a physician discovers about women, Morgan. I've attended some who are so refined that they can't say words like 'stomach' or 'breast' aloud. There are women who can't bring themselves to tell me what ails them, and so I keep a stuffed doll in a drawer of my desk, and let them point to the body part that is giving them pain. Fully grown, married women, mind you. At times I'm certain it's mostly a pretense of delicacy, but there are unquestionably those who are acutely uncomfortable with all things pertaining to sex and physicality."
"Vivien's not that rarefied, thank God." "You're right," the doctor said equably, "but even so, she may have a few private fears and concerns that only you--or her next lover--can assuage."
"There isn't going to be a 'next lover,'" Grant said automatically, outraged by the idea. "I'm the only man she's going to have."
"Well, for most women the second sexual experience is even more important than the first. It either confirms or disproves their worst fears. In my professional opinion, most of the women I see who claim to be inherently cold-natured have in reality been mishandled by husbands or lovers."
Grant sent him a simmering glare. "I know how to please a woman, Linley. Or are you preparing to expound on your own vast experience with females?"
The doctor laughed suddenly. "No, I'll leave the matter in your capable hands."
They returned to the library, discovering Vivien beside a bookcase loaded with ham-sized medical and scientific tomes. Her gaze left the rows of ponderous volumes with Latin and Greek titles, and flew to Grant's face. They exchanged a wary stare, while Vivien wondered what had been said between Grant and Linley. Grant wore a disgruntled expression, his black brows lowered over his eyes.
Busily Dr. Linley hunted through cabinets and drawers until he produced a thin sheaf of documents tied with string. "Ah, here it is," he remarked, spreading a few papers across the library table. Grant was at his side immediately. "You see?" Linley continued, tracing one finger along a page of notes. "Nothing untoward, except..." He fumbled a bit with the pages, and suddenly a small square of paper slipped out and fluttered to the floor. Vivien went to retrieve it quickly. It was a letter, sealed with brown wax and addressed to "V. Devane, White Rose Cottage, Forest Crest in Surrey."
"What is that?" Grant asked.
Vivien was silent, staring at the face of the letter. Something about the way the words were formed, the phrase "White Rose Cottage," seemed to reach into her sleeping memories and jostle them. Her lips parted, and she read the address soundlessly, again and again.
"Well, Linley?" Grant demanded, interrupting Vivien's concentration.
The doctor shrugged, actually seeming a touch sheepish. "Good God. I had forgotten about that."
"Where did it come from?" Grant asked impatiently.
"Miss Duvall left it here on the day I confirmed her pregnancy. As I told you, she was quite distressed. In her haste to leave, she dropped her reticule. The contents spilled out, and she scooped them back inside. After she left my house, I discovered that she had overlooked this letter, which obviously she had intended to send to someone. I had intended to return it to her on her next visit. I placed it in the file for safekeeping."
"Didn't it cross your mind that the letter might be important?"
"I'm a busy man, Morgan," the doctor said defensively, folding his lanky arms across his chest. "I have more important things to do than oversee my patients' correspondence. Now, you can continue to berate me for a small oversight, or you can open the blasted thing and read it." Vivien had already broken the seal. Unfolding the neatly creased paper, she discovered a few lines written in flowery script. Some of the words had been dashed off hastily, a few letters left unfinished.
No, you must not come to town. There is trouble brewing here, but nothing I can't manage. I'm off to settle a few minor matters, and then I'll come to Surrey. Together soon, dear--
Barely aware of Grant reading over her shoulder, Vivien continued to stare at the letter. "Did she mean to send this to a lover?" she murmured.
"Do you think she could be there now? At this White Rose Cottage?"
"We'll find out. I'm going there today," Grant said. "Right after I report to Cannon at Bow Street."
"I want to go with you."
"We don't know who will be there, or what to expect. You'll be safer here."
"But that's not fair!" Vivien exclaimed. "If the real Vivien is in Surrey, I want to see her too. She might be able to explain how I came to be in her place. She might even know who I am. I must go with you!"
"No," Grant said. "You're staying in London in the protection of my own home. I'll have one of the Runners assigned to watch you this evening, in the event that I need to stay away longer than expected." Seeing her unhappy expression, he slid an arm around her waist and bent his head to speak softly. "I won't risk a precious hair on your head. I don't know what I might find in Surrey--and I'd prefer you to stay here and be safe and comfortable. Let me take care of this alone."
Vivien nodded, feeling comforted by his concern for her. "You'll hurry back as soon as possible?" she asked.
His lips pressed against her forehead, and she felt him smile against her skin. "Believe me...the only place in the world I want to be is wherever you are."
Staring at the letter in her lap during the short ride home, Vivien traced the feminine script with the tip of her finger. V. Devane...The name bothered her, tugged at her. Like so many other things, it seemed familiar but evoked no actual memories. V. Devane...
"Do you remember the little painting in Vivien's bedroom, by her dressing table?" she asked. "A cottage covered in white roses...and it had been signed by Devane. This man must mean a great deal to her, if she keeps his painting in her bedroom and runs to him when she is in trouble." She fidgeted with the letter until Grant finally held his hand out for it.
"Give me that thing before you rip it to shreds," he said. Vivien surrendered the letter without protest. "Do you really believe that Vivien is still alive?" she asked softly.
His hand slid over her knee, and he squeezed it reassuringly. "I believe she's landed on her feet like a cat."
She was relieved by his answer. "I feel so protective of her. I wonder if I truly am related to her. Do you think she and I might be sisters?"
"You look too much alike not to be."
Closing her eyes, she let out a tense sigh. "I want to know about my family...friends...I want to know why no one seems to be looking for me. A person can't disappear withoutsomeone noticing...Isn't there anyone who misses me?" Her voice faded to a near whisper. "Anyone who loves me?"
Startled, Vivien looked up into his purposeful face, while her heart pounded hard. He must be referring to himself, she thought in wonder.
"If I find Vivien today," Grant said, his green eyes filled with warmth, "it will change nothing between you and me. And when you recover your memory, I don't give a damn about what or whom you remember. I had no part of your past...but I intend to be your future."
"I-if you're talking about somehow making reparations f-for last night," she stammered, "I've already told you it's not necessary--"
"No, I'm not referring to that. I'm talking about my feelings for you."
His words caused equal parts of delight and dismay. Vivien could imagine no greater joy than being loved by a man like Grant Morgan. However, she feared that he still harbored guilt for having taken her virginity, and she did not want him to propose merely because she had been "ruined." Above all else, she must not be an obligation that had been thrust upon him. And she had not forgotten what he had once said on the subject of marriage. He had no use for a wife, he had told her. He hadn't wanted to stay faithful to one woman for a lifetime. Had he sounded less certain, less cynical...but he had left no room for doubt. And therefore, if he were saddled with a bride he had never really wanted, he might eventually come to resent her.
"Don't make promises to me," she begged, silencing him with her fingers as he began to say something. "Not yet."
Catching her hand, he kissed her fingers and palm and the fragile veins of her wrist. "We'll talk when I come back."
The carriage stopped, and Vivien realized they were home. "Have a safe journey," she said, her fingers closing tightly around his.
"Don't worry," he said. "I intend to find Vivien Duvall and solve this infernal mess. And after that..." He paused and grimaced. "I'll apologize to her, dammit."
"You will?" She stared at him with patent surprise, her lips parting softly. "Even if it kills me." A self-mocking grin twisted his lips. "It just may," he added with a short laugh, leaning forward to steal a kiss before helping her from the carriage.
The small village of Forest Crest was located in the heathland of Surrey. Unspoiled and half hidden by surrounding slopes of gorse and heather, Forest Crest possessed two main streets, a church, and a green planted with acacia trees. It seemed that the dragonfly was something of a village symbol, carved into a few shop signs and the front of the village inn. Indeed, there were many dragonflies buzzing in the air around the green. Stopping his curricle on the side of the central street, Grant went into the village bakery. The air was hot and sweet, and he inhaled appreciatively as he ventured further into the shop.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com