"Vivien's servants were aware of it, I'm certain. No doubt I raised the roof a time or two."
"Did you strike her?"
"Never," Gerard said instantly, seeming offended. "I'll admit, I was tempted to choke the life out of her. But I would never do harm to a woman. And in spite of my anger, I would have taken Vivien back if she had desired it, my pride be damned."
Grant's brows pulled together at the statement. In his opinion, no woman was worth the sacrifice of a man's pride, no matter how attractive she might have been. There was always another pretty face, another well-shaped body, another display of feminine charms that would soon blot out the memories.
"I can see what you're thinking," Gerard said. "But there's something you don't understand...Vivien is one of a kind. The smell, the taste, the feel of her...No one could compare. There was nothing she wouldn't do in bed. Have you ever slept with a woman who has no shame? If I could have just one more night with her...even one hour..." He shook his head with a mumbled curse.
"All right, my lord," Grant said tersely. "We're finished for now. As my investigation proceeds, I may have more questions for you." He stood and headed for the door, but paused as he heard Gerard's pleading voice.
"Morgan, you must tell me...What has happened to her?"
Grant turned to glance at him curiously. "If she were dead," he said slowly, "would you mourn her?" He waited a long time for the other man to reply, but Gerard apparently found it difficult to answer.
Grant smiled cynically. Gerard was like a child deprived of his favorite toy--he would miss the sexual pleasure Vivien had given him, but he felt no genuine caring or concern. Some courtesans and their protectors genuinely loved each other, had relationships that lasted for decades. Grant knew more than one man who had escaped the bitter disappointment of his arranged marriage by taking a mistress who would bear him children and serve him as the loving companion his wife should have been. For Vivien, however, the role of courtesan was played purely for reasons of business and profit.
"Do you have a set of keys to her town house?" Grant asked Gerard.
The question clearly nonplussed him. "I suppose I might. Do you intend to search her possessions? What do you expect to find?"
"Where Miss Duvall is concerned, I'm learning not to expect anything," Grant replied dourly, while curiosity and an odd touch of dread tangled inside him at the prospect of visiting her town house. The more he discovered about Vivien and her sordid past, the darker his mood became.
Grant deftly unlocked the bronzed door of Vivien's town house, one of many located behind the palace front of east Grosvenor Square. The prestigious address, with its spectacular row of columns and arched doorways, must have cost a pretty penny. A further testament to Vivien's skill at her profession, he thought darkly. The interior was dim and quiet, with a faint mustiness in the air from being closed up for weeks. Grant lit a lamp and a pair of wall sconces, which shed a bright glow on walls covered in hand-painted wallpaper. Taking the lamp in hand, he wandered through the first-floor rooms. The house was elegant and decidedly feminine, with abundant frescoes of pastel flowers, walls covered in French paper, delicate furniture with spindly legs, and large framed looking glasses over every fireplace.
He ascended the stairs, noting the costly twisted balusters with carved tread ends, and the lamps housed in crystal cases. It seemed no expense had been spared in decorating the place to Vivien's satisfaction. Upstairs, the air seemed to hold a hint of stale perfume. He followed the scent to the main bedroom, lit more lamps, and surveyed his surroundings intently.
The walls were covered in emerald-green silk, a jewel tone that was echoed in the rich Brussels floral-patterned carpet underfoot. Although the current fashion for ladies' bedrooms was to half conceal the bed in an alcove, Vivien had made hers the central attraction, placing it on a carpeted platform to increase its visibility. What drew Grant's attention most strongly, however, was a portrait of Vivien hung on the wall facing the bed. She had been painted in the nude, half turned away from the viewer to expose her pale back and buttocks. She glanced artfully over her shoulder, her torso angled to reveal the profile of one round, lovely breast.
The artist had idealized Vivien, making her form a little fleshier than in reality, the legs and waist slightly elongated, the unswept hair so red that it contained tongues of purple flame. Had the artist bedded Vivien during one of the many sittings it had taken to paint her? It seemed likely. Nothing but lovemaking could have given her face that flushed, replete look, the mouth soft with satisfaction, the blue eyes heavy-lidded and catlike.
Staring at the painting, Grant experienced what was fast becoming a familiar reaction to Vivien...a mingling of fire and ice...a flare of intense desire balanced by cold deliberation. He wanted her, and more than that, he wanted to humble and chasten her. He was going to use her, the way she had used so many men. It was time for Vivien Duvall to receive her reckoning.
He wandered to a Louis XV dressing table with an inlaid tulipwood top, and picked up a large crystal flacon of perfume. The scent was heavy with roses and tempered by the crispness of sandalwood. Instantly it brought back the memory of Vivien at the Wentworth ball. She had smelled exactly this way, her warm skin emanating the sweet fragrance.
Setting aside the perfume, Grant opened the shallow drawers of the dressing table, finding a jumble of brushes, jars filled with pastel-colored creams, hair ornaments of tortoiseshell, ivory, and silver. Beneath the clutter, there was a small book bound in red moroccon leather.
Grant extricated the volume and leafed through it quickly, finding lists of gentlemen's names, detailed descriptions of sexual activities, times and dates of romantic assignations. It would serve as an excellent tool for blackmail. He recognized some of the names in the book, a few belonging to gentlemen who prided themselves on their solid marriages and sterling reputations. None of them would care to have his infidelities exposed, and would doubtless pay dearly to ensure Vivien's silence. Or perhaps even resort to murder to make her silence permanent.
"What a busy girl you've been," Grant muttered, slipping the book into his pocket. He closed the drawer with unnecessary force.
His jaw was clenched as he searched the room methodically, locating a leather valise. He stuffed the first decent clothes he could find into the valise...a few richly colored gowns, linen undergarments, stockings and shoes, and a box containing lace handkerchiefs and three pairs of cream-colored gloves. With the valise filled to overflowing, he picked up the lamp and left the bedroom. Tomorrow he would return to search the terrace in earnest, but for now he wanted to pay a visit to his new guest and see how she was faring.
Hiring a hackney to convey him to King Street, Grant returned to his house. Mrs. Buttons greeted him at the door, shivering a little as a blast of wintry wind slipped inside the house. She took his coat and folded it over her arm. "Good afternoon, sir. Will you be taking a midday meal today?"
"I'm not hungry," he replied, glancing in the direction of the staircase. "How is she?"
Unperturbed by his abruptness, the housekeeper replied calmly. "Very well, sir. Miss Duvall had a nice soak in the bath, and one of the maids--Mary--helped me to wash her hair. I believe her condition is much improved."
"Good." He studied the housekeeper closely, having the feeling there was more she could tell him. "You strike me as an apt judge of character, Mrs. Buttons."
She took visible pride at the compliment. "I believe I might be, sir."
"Tell me, then...what do you make of Miss Duvall?"
Mrs. Buttons seemed eager to answer the question, her usual reticence giving way to animated interest. She lowered her voice to keep from being overheard by passing servants. "Her behavior has been rather perplexing, sir. After I brought Miss Duvall a plate of toast this morning, and left to oversee the preparation of her bath, she arose by herself and tidied the room. She even made the bed, despite the pain it must have caused her. I can't think why she would have gone to such effort, especially considering her state of health. And then in the bathing room, she tried to lift one of the buckets the maid had brought, to help fill her own bath. We took it from her immediately, of course, but she apologized for the extra work we had done on her behalf. She seems anxious not to cause trouble for anyone and grateful for any assistance we render, as if she is unused to having anyone serve her."
"I see." Grant's face was wiped clean of expression, as it always was when he puzzled over contradictory facts.
Mrs. Buttons warmed to the subject. "She seems to be one of the most considerate and gentle-spirited young women I have ever encountered. With all due respect, sir, I can scarcely believe that what you told me about her last evening is true."
"It's true," Grant said curtly.
Could it be that Vivien's memory loss had altered her character as well? Had she forgotten how to behave with her usual smug superiority...or was she merely playing some game with them all? Impatiently Grant handed the valise to Mrs. Buttons. "Have one of the maids put Miss Duvall's clothes away."
"Yes, Mr. Morgan." The housekeeper set the valise on the floor and regarded him with calm brown eyes. "Sir, Mary offered her best night rail for Miss Duvall's use, as we had nothing else to clothe her in." "Thank you. I consider any kindness done for Miss Duvall as a direct favor to me. Tell Mary to have a new gown and matching pelisse made for herself, and charge it to the household account. A nice gown--she needn't skimp on the trimmings."
Mrs. Buttons turned an approving smile on him. "You're a kind master, if I may say so."
He responded with a scowl. "I'm a reprobate, and we both know it."
"Yes, sir," the housekeeper replied demurely.
Grant headed for the stairs. Some unidentifiable feeling knotted and tightened inside him. Vivien Duvall playing the sweet damsel in distress...he wouldn't tolerate it. In the space of a few minutes, he was going to expose her for the fraud she was. If she didn't remember that she was an unprincipled whore, he would damn well remind her. He would reveal every cunning, shameless facet of her dissolute character, and let her ponderthat for a while. Then let her try to play the innocent.
Reaching his bedroom, he opened the door without knocking, halfway expecting to find Vivien laughing privately about how she was deceiving everyone with her pretense of virtue. He entered the room...and stopped dead in his tracks. She was sitting in an armchair by the grate, her small bare feet drawn up and to the side, an open book in her lap. Golden shards of firelight played over her vulnerable face as she glanced up at him. She was dressed in a high-necked white nightgown that was a little too big for her, with a blue cashmere lap robe draped over her waist and thighs.
After setting the book on the floor, she pulled the lap robe up to her chest. The tension inside Grant rose to an excruciating pitch. She had the face of an angel, and the hair of the Devil's handmaiden. The freshly washed locks flowed around her in a waist-length curtain, waves and curls of molten red that contained every shade from cinnamon to strawberry-gold. It was the kind of hair that nature usually bestowed on homely women to atone for their lack of physical beauty.
But Vivien had a face and form that belonged in a Renaissance painting, except that the reality of her was more delicate and fresh than any painted image could convey. Now that her eyes were no longer swollen, the pure blue intensity of her gaze shone full and direct on him. Her mouth, tender and rose-tinted, was a marvel of nature.
Something was wrong with his breathing. His lungs weren't working properly, his heartbeat was too fast, and he clenched his teeth. If he weren't a civilized man, if he didn't pride himself on his renowned self-possession, he would take her here, now, with no regard for the consequences. He wanted her that badly.
Seeming not to understand his silent, ferocious struggle, Vivien gave him a hesitant smile of welcome. He almost hated her for that smile, so soft and warm that it pulled at something deep in his chest.
He returned the smile with a confident one of his own. "Good afternoon, Miss Duvall. It's time for us to talk."
Vivien kept the lap robe pulled high around herself as she stared at the man before her. Emotions tumbled inside her, not the least of which was curiosity. The servants had told her Grant Morgan was a Bow Street Runner, the most famous of the pack. The most fearless man in England, one of them had added, and now Vivien understood why.
He was a giant. Somehow in the fear and discomfort of the last twenty-four hours, she hadn't really noticed that the gruff, deep voice and brooding green eyes belonged to a man who was so...well, large. Not merely tall, but large in every way. Now that she had recovered somewhat from her dunking in the Thames, she was able to take a good, clear look at him. His shoulders were as broad as cathedral doors, and his rangy body was impressively developed, with long muscled thighs, and upper arms that bulged against the constraints of his coat sleeves.
He wasn't handsome in the conventional sense. This man's face was as expressive as a block of granite. Her gaze fell to his hands, and she felt a wash of fire cover her face as she remembered the gentle touch of them.
"Yes, I would like to talk," she murmured.
Morgan picked up a heavy armchair and moved it close to hers, hefting its weight with astonishing ease. Watching him, Vivien wondered how it might feel to possess such boundless strength. The sheer physical presence of him, his raw masculinity and vitality, seemed to fill the room. He sat and studied her with those perceptive green eyes...long-lashed eyes that weren't quite emerald. The shade was deeper than that, a color that reminded her of beech leaves, or the smoky green of an antique wine bottle.
"Mr. Morgan," she said, helpless to look away from those riveting eyes, "I can never thank you enough for all you done...your kindness and generosity, and..." She felt the color on her face condense into two bright spots on her cheeks. "I owe you my life."
"I didn't pull you from the river," Morgan said, not seeming particularly pleased by her gratitude. "The waterman did."
Vivien was unable to let the matter drop without making certain he understood how she felt. "Even then, I would have died. I remember lying on the steps, and I was so cold and wretched that I didn't particularly care if I lived or not. And then you came."
"Do you remember anything else? Anything about yourself, or your past? Do you have impressions of struggling with someone, or arguing--"
"No." Both of her hands went up to her throat, investigating the soreness, and she stared at him wonderingly. "Mr. Morgan...who did this to me?"
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