To her amazement, and that of everyone else who knew Grant, he took to married life as if he never known any other kind of existence. He inhabited the role of husband with ease and enjoyment, displaying the kind of devotion that most wives only dreamed of. Instead of carousing at the London taverns with friends, Grant preferred to spend his nights at home with Victoria sharing books and bottles of wine, drinking and debating and making love well into the night.

Grant took her everywhere, to balls, dinners, and musical evenings, as well as prizefights, races, and even gambling hells. He protected but did not shelter her, allowing her to see the seaminess of London as well as its beauty. He treated Victoria as a partner, a beloved companion, a lover, and because of him her life was infused with a vigor and vividness that she had never dreamed of in Forest Crest.

On the evenings they stayed at home, Victoria helped Grant to study and analyze mountains of books on law and theory, loaned to them by Sir Ross. Grant had found that the work of a police magistrate was demanding but fascinating, and offered more of a challenge than serving merely as a Runner. He relished his increased power in settling legal disputes and conducting inquiries, and had begun to accumulate a measure of political influence. That and his honorary knighthood had given him a social stature that far exceeded his previous celebrity.

Victoria, for her part, did her best to find her own place in London society, carefully selecting and accepting invitations from the piles that arrived each week. She consulted with architects and designers concerning the mansion Grant was planning to build in Mayfair, and solicited advice from newfound friends she had made in London. Before long she had also joined ladies' committees in support of charities benefiting reformed prostitutes and disadvantaged children, though it seemed that the efforts of these committees were puny in comparison to the size of the problems they sought to address.

"The numbers of women and children who need help are so overwhelming," Victoria told Grant one evening, feeling discouraged rather than hopeful about a planned charity event. "Even if the committee's efforts are successful, we'll have benefited only a fraction of those who need it. It makes me wonder why we should even try."

Holding her in his arms, Grant stroked back a stray lock of her hair and kissed her forehead. "It's always better to try," he murmured, smiling into her worried face. "I've felt the same way in the past, wondering why I risked my neck to catch one thieving bastard when there were thousands more remaining out there." "Then why did you keep at it?"

He shrugged slightly. "I thought that by taking one criminal off the streets, I might be saving someone in the future. And saving even one person is worth all the effort, isn't it?"

Victoria smiled and hugged him, feeling a great rush of love. "I knew it," she said, her voice muffled against his shoulder. "At heart you're an idealist."

She felt him grin against her ear. "I'll teach you to call me names, milady." Drawing his head back, he kissed her until she had no breath left.

Absorbed in pages of notes on an inquiry he was conducting, Grant barely noticed the knock on the door of his office at Bow Street. "Yes," he said gruffly, resenting the disruption to his concentration.

The door opened a crack, revealing Mrs. Dobson's face. "Sir Grant, you have a visitor."

He scowled in response. "I told you I won't receive visitors until sessions are concluded this afternoon--"

"Yes, sir, but...it's Lady Morgan."

Immediately the scowl left his face. Victoria seldom ventured to the Bow Street office, which was a good thing, considering that it was frequently populated by scoundrels and criminals. However, any chance to see her in the middle of the day was greatly welcome. "For God's sake, don't keep her waiting," he said. "Bring her in at once."

The housekeeper smiled and opened the door wider, and Victoria entered. She was a lovely sight, especially against the drab backdrop of the office, her trim figure clad in a gown of pale pink muslin, its high collar and long sleeves trimmed with rose ribbons. The bodice of the gown was plaited and laced with silk cords that tied snugly over the tantalizing curves of her breasts. Rising from his chair, Grant waited until Mrs. Dobson had closed the door, and then he swept his wife in his arms and captured her smiling mouth in an ardent kiss.

"Just what I needed," he murmured when their lips parted. "A pretty wench to relieve my tedium."

"I hope I haven't interrupted some important work," she said apologetically.

"No work is as important as you." He toyed with the ribbon that trimmed her collar, and nuzzled the soft, perfumed space behind her earlobe. "Tell me what brings you to Bow Street, milady. Do you have a complaint to lodge or a crime to report?"

She laughed breathlessly. "Not exactly."

"Some testimony or information to offer?"

"In a way."

He sat in his chair and drew her down to his lap, his green eyes gleaming roguishly. "I want a full confession, milady." "Grant, no," she scolded with a discomfited laugh, wriggling on his knee and glancing uneasily at the door. "Someone might come in--what would they think?"

His hand slid beneath her skirts and wandered boldly up her knee. "That I'm a newly married man with an itch for his wife."

"Grant," she pleaded, her cheeks turning red, and he laughed, taking pity on her.

"Just when I thought I had rid you of all modesty," he said, squeezing her knee. "All right, then...I'll try to restrain myself. Tell me why you're here."

Victoria linked her arms around his neck, her expression turning serious. "I wouldn't have disturbed you, but...I sent for Dr. Linley today."

"Linley," Grant repeated warily.

Victoria nodded. "You see, I haven't been feeling quite myself lately, and rather than worry you unnecessarily, I kept it to myself until--" She broke off with a wince as his hand gripped her leg with unconscious force. "Grant!" she exclaimed, staring at him with bewildered dismay.

His heart pounded with sudden painful jerks. He found it difficult to speak through a flood of instinctive dread. "Victoria," he said scratchily, "are you ill?"

"Oh, dear, no...no, I'm only..." Victoria paused, hurriedly searching for a proper euphemism, but in her own anxiety, she couldn't think of a single one. "I'm pregnant," she said, her gloved hands rubbing his chest as if to soothe him. "There's nothing to worry about. We're going to have a baby."

Relief began to penetrate the sudden whirl of panic. He pulled her close, burying his face in the soft mounds of her breasts, and tried to slow his breathing. "God, Victoria," he said. He heard her laugh shakily, and she clasped his head.

"How do you feel about enlarging our family?" she asked.

"Just that it's a miracle." Grant turned to press his ear against her heart, listening to the fast steady beat, thinking that everything in the world that mattered was right here in his arms.

"A rather commonplace miracle," she pointed out with a smile in her voice. "It happens to families every day."

"Not to mine, it doesn't." Easing her backward, Grant stared at her slim body, imagining her belly swollen with his child. "How do you feel?" he asked in concern.

Victoria caressed his face. "Impatient," she replied. "I can hardly wait for the day when I hold a baby in my arms."

As it turned out, a baby was delivered to the Morgan household far sooner than expected. Almost a month after the revelation of Victoria's pregnancy, she and Grant were enjoying a private supper at home when Mrs. Buttons interrupted them. The housekeeper wore a strange, almost comical expression, as if something had startled her and she still hadn't recovered from the shock.

"Lady Morgan," the housekeeper said uncomfortably, "a...a parcel has arrived for you...from Italy."

"At this time of the evening?" Victoria exchanged a perplexed frown with her husband. "It might be a gift from my sister," she said. "How wonderful. It's been months since I've received word from her. Is there a letter attached, Mrs. Buttons?"

"Yes, but--"

"Please bring the letter to me now, and have the parcel placed in the family parlor. We'll open it after supper."

Before the housekeeper could reply, a strange sound caused Victoria to freeze. It was a high, mewling wail, similar to that of a cat...or a crying baby.

Grant stood from the table, wiping his mouth with a napkin. "I don't think this particular parcel wants to be left in the parlor," he muttered, brushing by the housekeeper as he strode from the room.

"A baby?" Victoria said, dazed, her gaze meeting Mrs. Buttons's.

The housekeeper nodded in confirmation. "Yes, milady. Sent from Italy with a wet nurse who doesn't speak a word of English."

"Oh, Lord." Victoria hurried after her husband, following the sound to the entrance hall.

Several servants had gathered in the hall to stare in amazement at the anxious, dark-haired young woman dressed in peasant clothes overlaid with a rough gray apron. The wet nurse clutched a wailing bundle in her arms, and seemed ready to burst into tears herself. "Signora," she said as soon as Victoria appeared, and a chattering stream of foreign syllables erupted.

Victoria placed a calming hand on the young woman's shoulder. "It's all right," she said, hoping the girl would understand her tone if not the actual words. "Thank you for bringing the baby here safely. You must be tired, and hungry." She glanced at Mrs. Buttons, who instantly directed one of the housemaids to have a room prepared for the girl. Victoria gestured toward the screaming baby and gave the girl a gentle smile. "May I?" she asked.

The girl handed her the bundle at once, seeming relieved. Receiving the baby awkwardly, Victoria stared into the infant's tiny, purple face surmounted with a tuft of orange-red hair tied with a bow. No one could mistake it for anyone else's child but Vivien's. "Oh, darling creature," she murmured, torn between joyous laughter and tears. "Precious, sweet girl--"

"Here, give it to me," Grant said brusquely, standing right behind her. "The head's dangling."

Surrendering the child, Victoria took the letter the wet nurse handed to her. It was addressed to her, and the handwriting was unmistakably Vivien's. Frowning, Victoria broke the seal and read the letter aloud. "Dearest Victoria, as I promised, I have sent the baby to you, as I am too busy to look after her at present. If you wish, arrange for someone to take care of Isabella and I will reimburse you for the expenses whenever I return to England. My love as always...Vivien."

Turning toward her husband, Victoria realized that the baby had quieted and was staring up into Grant's dark face with round, unblinking eyes. A miniature hand was clasped around his finger, the tiny fingers turning white at the tips from the pressure she exerted. The baby looked impossibly small against Grant's broad chest, seeming to enjoy the security of his firm clasp.

"I didn't know you had experience with babies," Victoria remarked, watching the pair with a wondering smile.

Bouncing the child in a soothing, even rhythm, Grant spoke quietly. "I don't. I just have a way with redheaded females."

"I'll vouch for that." Smiling slightly, a frown still pulling at her forehead, Victoria stroked the tuft of fiery hair atop the infant's head. "Poor little Isabella," she murmured.

"Will Vivien come for the child someday?" Grant asked without taking his gaze from the baby.

"It's impossible to say for certain, but..." Victoria paused and stared at her husband, finding it impossible to color the truth. "No," she said quietly. "She won't want a child around to remind her of the passing years...and she's never desired to be a mother. I don't believe she'll come for the baby, ever."

"Then what's to be done with her?"

"Would you have objections to enlarging our family a bit early?" Victoria asked hesitantly.

For a moment Grant found it difficult to believe he was considering becoming the de facto father of Vivien Duvall's bastard. He had no liking for Vivien, and never would. But as he stared at the small face cradled against his shoulder, he somehow didn't see any of Vivien in her. He saw only the vulnerability and innocence of a child, and he felt an elemental instinct to protect her. "I suppose no one else would take care of her as we would," he murmured, more to himself than to Victoria.

His wife moved closer to him, sliding one arm around his waist. "I suppose not," she agreed with a smile. "Oh, Grant...I knew you wouldn't refuse." She stood on her toes to kiss him. "You never disappoint me, you know."

More than a few sardonic comments came to mind, but as he looked into his wife's sparkling blue eyes, he was too suffused with love to voice any of them.

"Never," Victoria repeated, holding his gaze. "I wouldn't change a single thing about you."

"Well, milady," he replied softly, "that's why I married you."

END

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