"Is that what you want to do?" she asked gravely. He nodded and pressed his mouth to her forehead. "Be my wife, Victoria."
Victoria could not reply as she stared into his steady green eyes. She loved him more than she had ever suspected it was possible to love. But there was something inside her, some uneasiness that must be addressed. She tried to uproot the feeling, lay it before her and examine it to find the answers she needed. However, she couldn't do that now. She needed privacy and time to think.
"Let me have a few days," she begged. "I can't make such a decision quickly. I want to go home, to see my sister, and...to find myself again."
Grant frowned and shook his head slightly. "Find yourself? You said you had completely recovered your memory."
"Yes, but I don't feel as if I'm back to my ordinary self just yet. And I'm not ready to start making changes in my life before I've spent a few days of peace and privacy in my own home."
"It's a simple question, Victoria," he said tersely. "Do you love me or not?"
"Yes, I love you." She touched the side of his face gently, her eyes suddenly misting with emotion. "I do love you," she said again, her voice low and fervent.
"Then accept my proposal."
"Not yet," she said, matching his stubbornness with her own.
A frustrated laugh broke from him, and he looked as though he longed to shake her. "Dammit, why won't you just say yes? You're postponing the inevitable."
"I'll give you my answer when I'm able," she said. "But it's too soon. If you'll just be patient..."
"I can't be patient. I want you too badly." Grant's mouth covered hers, and he kissed her in a way that blotted out everything but pure sensation. His tongue played and stroked inside her mouth, and the allure of that small penetration caused her to strain against him hungrily. There was still a bit of linen sheeting caught between them...She struggled to push it away, suddenly needing to feel all his skin against hers. He obliged at once, matching her small body against the greater length of his, rubbing her against a hard plane of muscle and sinew, his sex pulsing and insistent between her thighs. She opened to him, a keening, welcoming sound coming from her throat, and he smiled at her eagerness.
"Victoria," Grant muttered, reaching down between their bodies to the crest of red curls, his clever fingers circling and teasing. "You know you belong to me, don't you?" He spread a touch of moisture across the swollen softness, preparing her for his possession. His mouth pressed against her throat, and he paused to inhale the faint remnant of vanilla fragrance she had applied after her bath the previous evening. The hot silken head of his arousal fitted against her, and she felt him thrust inside her with maddening gentleness.
"More," she said with a gasp, wanting him to press deeper, harder, but he was exquisitely controlled, moving at a leisurely pace that made her writhe desperately.
Grant whispered for her to be patient, to relax beneath him, but she was too much a novice to govern her own responses. Trembling, sweating, she arched upward repeatedly, pulling and clutching at him until he finally relented with a breathless laugh. Obeying her silent demand, he fused their h*ps together in a tight, deeply satisfying grinding motion that shot pleasure through her like a bolt of lightning. She folded herself around him and purred as sweet release streaked and spread through her, until every inch of her glowed with delight.
"Well," Grant said a few minutes later, his voice muffled between her soft breasts, "that should give you something to think about."
Unable to repress a smile, Victoria circled her arms around his head and pressed a kiss amid the thick black locks. "Hurry," she murmured. "You're going to be late to work...and I should hate for you to have to explain why."
"They won't have to ask," he returned, not moving. "I have the most beautiful woman in England in my bed...Something would be wrong if Iweren't late."
As it happened, Grant arrived at Cannon's office only a few minutes later than usual. He took care to conceal the signs of his good mood as he saw the surly gleam in Cannon's gray eyes. As always, the magistrate's expression was composed, but Grant sensed the welter of thoughts and worries that seethed beneath his facade. No doubt Bow Street was under siege from the press, the public, and the government.
Grant knew that he himself would look nearly as careworn as Cannon had it not been for the night of pleasure in Victoria's arms. It was on the tip of his tongue to suggest that the magistrate find a woman for himself. However, Grant wasn't about to stick his nose in someone else's business...especially of a man who was notoriously protective of his privacy.
After asking after Victoria's welfare, Cannon informed Grant that Keyes was in custody at the strong room, and had given a full confession in the presence of Cannon and a clerk. Grant was not surprised by the news, knowing that Cannon could wring a confession from a hearthstone. Keyes would be charged and tried, and all that Cannon would require of Victoria Devane was that she appear in his chambers before the second session that day and have a clerk take down her deposition. The matter was going to be handled as efficiently and quietly as possible, in an attempt not to excite the public any further.
"Victoria won't have to face Keyes in court, then," Grant said, having arrived this morning with an argument already prepared. He would go to hell and back before allowing Victoria to be in the same room with Keyes.
"No, there is no need to put Miss Devane through yet another ordeal," Cannon replied. "Her testimony in chambers, as well as Keyes's own confession, will be sufficient to have him indicted and bound for trial before the King's Bench."
"What of Lord Lane?" Grant asked. "Is he to be arrested this morning? If so, I'll gladly volunteer for the task."
The magistrate paused in the act of lifting a coffee mug to his lips and stared at him with a flicker of surprise. "You haven't heard, then. Lord Lane is dead."
Grant shook his head slightly, not certain he had heard correctly. "What did you say?"
"It seems he suffered an attack of apoplexy last evening, just after your departure from Boodle's."
Grant stroked his shaven chin for a moment, struggling with a mixture of emotions. On one hand, he was glad that the old bastard had finally gone to meet his Maker. On the other hand, he was distinctly sorry that Lord Lane had managed to escape the discomfort and humiliation of being indicted, tried, and punished. "Good," he finally said grimly. "I only wish I'd been able to stay at Boodles long enough to enjoy the show."
The magistrate frowned at the callous comment. "The sentiment is beneath you, Morgan, though I understand its source."
Grant did not respond to the quiet rebuke. He was not sorry in the least for what he had said. In his opinion, Lord Lane's death had been far too merciful, much better than he had deserved. However, something else troubled him, and it would have to be addressed before any plans for his own future could be discussed. "I don't have your dispassionate nature, sir...though God knows I wish I did."
"Well, dispassionate or not, I have an offer for you. One I hope you'll consider carefully."
"What kind of offer?"
"Well...it pertains to the fact that I've just accepted commissions to serve as justice for Essex, Kent, Herfordshire, and Surrey, in addition to the ones I already hold."
Grant threw him a glance of surprise and let out a low, appreciative whistle. The new appointments would extend Cannon's reach considerably. He had been doing the work of two men so far. Now he would be doing the work of six. So far as Grant knew, no police magistrate had ever been granted such authority.
"The public uproar is only just beginning," Cannon continued dryly. "The general consensus will be that I'm power-mad and reaching far beyond my rightful jurisdiction. And perhaps I am. It's only that I can't see another way to deal with crime, other than to regard it as a war that must be waged insideand outside London."
"Then your critics can go hang themselves," Grant commented.
"If only they would," Cannon agreed ruefully.
Smiling, Grant reached out and shook the magistrate's hand. "Congratulations," he said cheerfully. "You've a hell of a job before you. I wouldn't want to be in your shoes, but I've no doubt you'll find some way to manage."
"Thank you," Cannon murmured, expressionless save for a sudden gleam of amusement in his wolfish eyes. "Actually, that leads to the question I have for you. I want to submit you as my choice for assistant police magistrate, to serve alongside me."
Grant stared at him in open amazement. The idea instantly took root inside him. Serving as a police magistrate would allow him to stay close to the work that fascinated him, but at the same time it would remove him from the danger of the streets. He would have to learn a great deal about the law--a welcome challenge--and he would still be required to investigate difficult cases. However, he couldn't help reflecting on what he knew of the magistrate's celibate, orderly, industrious life, and comparing it with his own. A doubtful, self-mocking smile touched his lips.
"The position automatically confers honorary knighthood," Cannon remarked, "if that appeals to you."
"Sir Grant," he said with a short laugh, and shook his head at the odd sound of it. "Hell. I should jump at the chance, but...I don't think I'm suitable." Cannon regarded him intently. "Why not?"
Grant hesitated and glanced down at his hands. The skin of his knuckles and palms was scraped and battered after his experiences of the previous day. "You saw what I did to Keyes," he muttered.
"Yes," Cannon said after a moment. "You did him considerable violence. However, you had provocation."
"I almost killed him. I had my knife out, and...I would have killed him, except that Victoria was watching."
"In the heat of battle--"
"No, there was no heat," Grant interrupted swiftly, laying his soul bare. "For a moment my thoughts were cold and damned clear. I became judge, jury, and executioner. I gave myself the power to end his life, and I would have done it happily. Except that I didn't wanther to see me do it, and always carry that memory in the back of her mind." He threw a grim smile in Cannon's direction. "Now do you still want me to serve as a magistrate, knowing that I'm capable of such a lapse?"
The magistrate regarded him thoughtfully, considering his reply. "See here, Morgan...I'm not dispassionate by nature, no matter what appearances may lead you to believe. Had I seen the woman I loved being attacked in such a manner, I may have done the same thing, or worse. We all have regrettable lapses. As I told you, I'm not a perfect man. And I would hardly expect more of you than I would of myself."
Grant grinned suddenly, relieved that the magistrate did not consider his actions to be unforgivable. "All right, then. I accept the position. I could use a bit of respectability. I'm getting damned tired of spending my days pursuing thieves and cutthroats on foot. Besides, with any luck, I'll soon have a wife and family to think about."
"Ah. You wish to marry Miss Devane, then."
Picturing Victoria waiting at home for him, Grant felt a smile...a warm, uncynical smile...tugging at the corner of his mouth. "All these years I thought of marriage as a noose around my neck," he said. "I swore it would never happen to me. And now it doesn't sound half bad." The flippant words concealed a sudden ache of longing inside. He needed Victoria...His life would not be complete without her. He experienced a sudden urgency to return to her and set about persuading her to accept his proposal.
He could have sworn that Cannon almost smiled at the comment. "It's not half bad," the magistrate assured him. "And with the right woman, it can be..." Cannon paused in search of a word, and then appeared to drift into a sweet, long-forgotten memory. He collected himself after a few seconds of silence. The gray eyes were warmer than Grant had ever seen them. "Good luck, Morgan," he said.
Victoria spent most of the morning in the town house's private garden. It was a cool, humid day, the sky liberally laced with clouds, the air stirring with mild breezes. She sat at the stone table and read for a while, then wandered along graveled paths bordered with boxes of lilac, jessamine, and Russian honeysuckle. The carefully tended garden was bordered by poplar hedges and ivy-covered walls. Well-stocked beds of flowering and fruitbearing plants lined the walking paths and filled the air with perfume. In this small, secluded world, it seemed as if the city were a hundred miles away. It was difficult not to be contented in such beautiful surroundings.
But she was aware of a growing need to return to White Rose Cottage. She needed to see her sister and be assured of Vivien's well-being. Moreover, Victoria felt a strong urge to return to familiar surroundings and rediscover herself in the comfort of her own home. Although her memory had returned, she knew that she wouldn't feel settled in her mind and heart until she had spent a few days at White Rose Cottage. Sitting at the stone garden table, she rested her head on her folded arms.
"What are you doing out here?"
A masculine voice penetrated the swirl of her thoughts. Lifting her head, Victoria smiled as she saw Grant standing there. He sat in a nearby chair, facing her, and took her hand in his. With the other hand he caressed the cool skin of her cheek, his thumb lightly brushing one of the shadows beneath her eyes. "You should take a nap," he murmured. "I'm going to take you back to Bow Street for a deposition this afternoon--I want you to be well rested."
Victoria leaned the side of her face into his hand. "I can't sleep. I can't stop thinking."
"About what, my love?"
"I want to see my sister. I want to go to Forest Crest and sleep in my own bed."
Grant removed his coat and placed it over her shoulders, enfolding her in the thick silk-lined broadcloth. The garment held the warmth and scent of his body, and she held it closely around herself. His voice was like a stroke of velvet as he spoke above her head. "I'll take you there after the deposition. We'll stay for as long as you like."
"Thank you, but...it's best that I go alone. I want to think clearly, and I can't do it with you there."
Grant was silent, and she knew he was struggling with a burst of impatience. When he spoke again, his voice was quiet and cool. "What exactly do you plan to think about?"
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