"A hot bath?"

"Oh, yes." The throb of anticipation in her voice made him smile.

"That can be arranged. But you'll have to move carefully, and let the servants help you. Or me, if you'd rather."

Vivien stared at him, openmouthed at the suggestion. "I-I wouldn't care to put you to such trouble--" she stammered.

"No trouble at all," he said mildly. Only the glint in his green eyes betrayed the fact that he was teasing her.

Before she could suppress it, an image appeared in her mind, of herself soaking in a steaming tub while he bathed her na*ed body.

"What a blush," Grant observed with a sudden smile. "If that doesn't warm you up, nothing will." He drew his fingertip over the velvety anisescented salve and brought it to her mouth. "Hold still."

Vivien obeyed, her gaze locked on his face as he gently applied the salve to her lips. The sore, dry surface absorbed the preparation at once, and Grant dipped his finger into the jar again. The room was utterly quiet except for the sound of Vivien's deep, trembling breath.

There was a tugging sensation in Grant's chest that bothered him profoundly. He wanted to kiss her, hold her, comfort her as if she were a lost child. He would never have guessed that Vivien Duvall could be so endearing and vulnerable. Damn her, if this was somehow an act on her part, he would probably end up throttling her.

Obviously she had already driven some other poor bastard to it already.

Grant paused at that thought, and grimly warned himself not to be affected by her. Enjoy her, take what he wanted...but not for a minute would he allow himself to care for her. That much trouble, he didn't need. He rubbed more of the salve between his fingers, until the cool scent of anise spiced the air. With the lightest possible touch, he spread the salve over her bruised, swollen throat. Vivien was very still beneath his hand, her gaze focused on his hard face.

"We knew each other before last night, didn't we?" she whispered.

His lashes lowered, and he took his time about replying. "You could say that."

Another soft pass of his fingertips over her skin, rubbing the salve deeper into her bruises.

Mired in confusion, she tried to analyze the sensation of his touch, the surprising sense of familiarity and comfort she found in his presence. Nothing in the world was familiar to her, not even her own face...but somehow he made her feel safe and reassured. She wouldn't feel this way in the company of a stranger, would she? "H-how well did we know each other?" Vivien asked unsteadily.

"We'll discuss it later." Exactly what he was going to say to her, and how he would present the situation, would take some consideration. In the meantime she would rest and heal, and remain under his protection. Although Vivien seemed none too pleased with his evasiveness, she refrained from pursuing the matter, and he guessed she was still too exhausted to debate. Reaching into the pocket of his waistcoat, he extracted his watch. The lateness of the hour made him frown. "I have to leave for Bow Street," he said. "I'll visit your town house today and fetch some clothes for you."

She made an effort to smile, but her blue eyes were pleading. "Do I have family or friends to send for?"

"I don't know about your family," Grant admitted. "I'll find out what I can. And yes, you have friends...but now isn't the time for visiting. You need to rest." Unable to resist the temptation, he reached out and traced one of the worry lines on her downy forehead. "Don't worry, sweet pea," he murmured.

Vivien settled back against the pillows, her eyelids heavy with exhaustion. "So many questions," she sighed.

"You'll soon have all the answers you desire." He paused, and some of the vibrant tenderness left his voice as he added, "Although you may not like some of them."

She stared at him solemnly, her hand creeping to her throat. "What happened to me last night?"

"I intend to find out," he replied in a grim tone that left no room for doubt.

The street shaped like a bow had been built in the mid sixteen hundreds. There had been a few famous residents of Bow Street in the last century. But after the turn of the century, there was only one name associated with Bow Street that truly mattered...Sir Ross Cannon.

It seemed at times that the attention of the entire world was focused on the narrow, four-story building and its famous inhabitant. Cannon directed his half dozen Runners and eighty other assorted officers like a master conductor. The Runners had gained worldwide fame as they suppressed riots, solved crimes, and protected the royal family.

At the death of one of Fieldings's successors five years ago, many important men had been discussed as candidates for the new chief magistrate. However, a relative unknown was finally appointed to the position...Ross Cannon, who had previously served as a magistrate in the Great Marlboro Street office. Cannon had assumed the duties of chief magistrate as if he had been born to it. In no time at all he had left his own distinctive stamp on the Bow Street office, treating detective work as if it were a science, inventing methodology, testing theories, guiding and encouraging his officers with an infectious zeal. He was demanding and driven, and any one of his men would have gladly died for him. Including Grant.

Grant ascended the three front steps and gave a vigorous knock at the door. It was answered by Cannon's housekeeper, Mrs. Dobson, a fat, motherly woman with a head of bobbing silver curls. Her pudgy face glowed with a smile as she welcomed Grant inside. "You without a hat again, Mr. Morgan...You'll catch your death one of these days, with the wind blowing from the north like this."

"I can't wear a hat, Mrs. Dobson," Grant replied, shedding his heavy black greatcoat and giving it to her. She was nearly smothered by the huge mound of wool. "I'm tall enough as it is." The high-crowned hats that were currently fashionable made him look ridiculous, adding needless inches to his towering height until passersby stared openly.

"Well,not wearing a hat hardly fools anyone into thinking you're short," she pointed out.

Grant grinned and pinched her cheek, causing the housekeeper to gasp and scold him. Her reprimands, however, contained little heat--they both knew that of all the Runners, he was her favorite. "Where is Cannon?" Grant asked, his green eyes sparkling, and Mrs. Dobson indicated the magistrate's office.

The property at number 4 Bow Street contained a house, a tiny yard, offices, a court, and a strong room to hold prisoners.

Having been born to a family of means, Cannon could have lived an indolent life in a far more luxurious place than this...but that was not his nature. He had a passion for justice, and with all that needed to be done, there was no time for laziness or frivolity.

To Cannon, life was serious business, and he lived it accordingly. Rumor had it that his young wife on her deathbed had made him promise never to remarry, and Cannon had been faithful to his word. His tremendous energy was expended on his work. Even the closest and dearest of his friends would readily swear that nothing could break the iron control Cannon held over his own secretive heart.

Striding down the narrow hallway that led to Cannon's private office, Grant nearly collided with two Runners who were leaving...Flagstad and Keyes, the two oldest Runners, both of them fast approaching forty. "Off to guard the royal hind-quarters again," Keyes remarked cheerfully, while Flagstad revealed that he had been given the more lucrative assignment of attending the Bank of England, as quarterly dividends were being paid.

"And what are you about this morning?" Flagstad asked Grant. His weathered face creased with good humor. "No, don't tell me...another bank robbery, or a burglary on the west side that you'll charge a fortune to solve."

Grant responded with an answering grin, having endured much ribbing from his colleagues on his hefty commissions. He forbore to point out that in the last year he had literally caught more thieves than the other five Runners put together. "I only take what they're willing to pay," he said mildly.

"The only reason the nobs demand your services is because you're a bloody swell," Keyes said with a chuckle. "Just the other day a lady said to me, 'Of all the Runners, only Mr. Morgan looks the way one ought to look.'" He snorted at the statement. "As if a man's appearance has a damned thing to do with how he does the job!"

"I'ma swell?" Grant asked incredulously, glancing at his own conservative attire, and then at Keyes's dandified appearance...the carefully arranged "windswept" style of his hair, the gold pin in his elaborate cravat, the tiny silk flowers and fleurs-de-lis embroidered over his waistcoat. Not to mention the wide-brimmed, cream-colored hat worn carefully angled over one eye.

"I have to dress this way at court," Keyes said defensively.

Chuckling, Flagstad began to guide Keyes away before an argument could brew.

"Wait," Keyes said, an urgent note of interest entering his voice. "Morgan, I heard you were sent out last night to investigate a bloat found in the river."

"Yes."

Keyes seemed impatient at his terseness. "Talkative as a clam, aren't you? Well, what can you tell us about it? Was the victim male or female?"

"What does it matter to you?" Grant asked, perplexed by the Runner's interest in the matter.

"Are you going to take the case?" Keyes persisted.

"Probably."

"I'll take it for you if you like," Keyes offered. "God knows you haven't much interest in investigating a dead woman. I hear bloats aren't paying much these days."

Flagstad snickered at the lame jest.

Grant stared at Keyes with new alertness. "Why do you think it's a woman?" he asked idly.

Keyes blinked, and took a moment to answer. "Merely a guess, lad. Am I right?"

Giving him a last questioning glance, Grant refused comment and entered Cannon's office.

Sir Ross sat with his back to the door, at a massive oak pedestal desk arranged to face the long rectangular window overlooking the street. A massive brown-and-gray-striped cat occupied a corner of the desk, glancing lazily at the newcomer. The reticent feline had been discovered on the front steps of the Bow Street office a few years earlier. She was missing a tail, either by accident or some act of mischief, and had promptly been dubbed "Chopper." Strictly a one-person cat, Chopper reserved all her affection for Cannon, and barely tolerated anyone else.

Cannon's dark head turned, and he regarded Grant with a pleasant but unsmiling expression. "Good morning," he murmured. "There's a jug of coffee on the side table."

Grant never refused an offer of coffee. His passion for the bitter brew was rivaled only by Cannon's. They both drank it black and scalding hot whenever possible. Pouring a liberal amount into an empty creamware mug, Grant sat in the nearby chair Cannon indicated. The magistrate bent his attention to some documents on his desk once more, signing one with a deft flourish.

While he waited, Grant let his gaze roam over the comfortably familiar room. One wall was covered with maps of the city and surrounding counties, as well as floor plans of Westminster Hall, the Bank of England, and other buildings of significance. Another wall was covered with bookshelves, containing enough volumes to crush an elephant. The furniture consisted of a few heavy oak pieces, plain and functional. A library terrestrial globe was poised on a mahogany stand in the corner. Enough wall space had been allowed for a single painting, a landscape of North Wales in which a small stream rushed over craggy rocks, with dark trees and gray hills looming in the distance. The landscape was jarringly pristine in comparison with the bustling artifice of London.

Finally Cannon turned toward him, black brows arched in a request for information. With its sharp features and wintry gray eyes, his face possessed a wolfish cast. Were he to allow any warmth in his expression, he would have been considered handsome. "Well?" he murmured. "What of the bloat you investigated last night? Is there a need for a coroner's inquest?"

"No bloat," Grant replied briskly. "The victim--a woman--was still alive. I brought her to my home and sent for Dr. Linley."

"Very charitable of you."

Grant responded with a careful shrug. "I know the lady rather well. Her name is Vivien Duvall."

The name caught Cannon's interest. "The one who rebuffed you at the Wentworth ball?"

"I gaveher the shove-along," Grant said with a quick flare of annoyance. "Somehow in the course of gossip, the story was twisted around."

Cannon's black brows inched upward, and he made a sardonic "hmm" deep in his throat. "Go on. Tell me about Miss Duvall's condition."

Grant drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. "Attempted murder, no doubt about it. Heavy bruising and finger marks around the throat, not to mention a blow to the head. According to Linley, she'll be all right...but there is one difficulty. She's lost her memory. She can't provide a single detail of what happened, or even recall her own name."

"Did the doctor say when or if her memory might return?"

Grant shook his head. "There's no way of knowing. And until the investigation brings some evidence to light--or she regains her memory--it's safer if everyone thinks she's dead."

Cannon's gray eyes narrowed in fascination. "Shall I assign one of the Runners to investigate, or will you take the case?"

"I want it." Grant drained the last of his coffee and wrapped his long fingers around the cup, absorbing what little warmth remained. "I'm going to begin by questioning her former protector, Lord Gerard. It seems likely that he or some jealous lover may have tried to strangle her. The Devil knows there's probably a long list of them."

Cannon's mouth twitched with suppressed humor. "I'll send a man to question the waterman who found her, as well as the others who were ferrying passengers near Waterloo Bridge last evening. Perhaps one of them may have seen or heard something useful. Let me know how your investigation proceeds. In the meantime, where will Miss Duvall reside?"

Grant studied the sparkling black droplets that clung to the interior of his mug. He made his tone as matter-of-fact as possible. "With me."

"Surely she has friends or relatives who will take her in."

"She'll be safest under my protection."

Grant met Cannon's wintry, piercing gaze without flinching. The magistrate had always declined to comment on his Runners' personal lives, so long as they performed their jobs well. However, Cannon had a soft spot in his heart for women and children, and would do everything in his considerable power to prevent mistreatment of them.

***

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

***