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There is no greater sorrow than to recall,

in misery, the time when we were happy.


The authorities would try to extract information from her. Ian would not allow himself to think about the methods they might use. He worked for the English, aye, but only because they were the highest bidder for his services. He had no false ideas about their compassion for a woman they perceived as a traitor.

He brought Miranda south through London, along the crumbling river walks. When they reached the west side of London Bridge, they would take a barge and then a hansom cab to the rendezvous in Great Stanhope.

“So we will leave the city today?” she asked, standing at the edge of the river and watching the traffic of boats and barges with rapt fascination. Before he could reply with an appropriate falsehood, she said, “I know that I lived in London before the...” She hesitated, looking so vulnerable for a moment that he had to glance away. His heart was pure steel—he had made it so. Yet he sensed that this woman could turn steel to ash if he let her.

“Before what?” he asked.

“Just...before. But I don’t remember it being so vital. So alive and exciting. Look at all the people. I wonder if I should know any of them.” She sobered. “It is the oddest feeling, Mr. Mac... Ian. It’s happened a few times. I feel as if I’m on the brink of something—some discovery or revelation—and then everything disappears into a fog. Dr. Beckworth said my memory would return.” She raised bewildered brown eyes to him. “The question is, what made me forget this in the first place?”

Ian’s heart gave a lurch. “It was the accident,” he said quietly. “’Twas a miracle you survived.”

“But what was I doing there?”

His gut twisted. “I don’t know, love,” he said. “I’m only glad I was there to get you out in time.”

“I wanted to die in there,” she whispered.

He hoped he had heard her wrong. “No, Miranda—”

“It’s true. A calmness came over me, an acceptance. I wanted it, Ian, I did.”

“You were overcome by smoke.” The idea that she had craved death disturbed him deeply. In God’s name, Miranda, he wanted to say. What happened to you?

But he couldn’t ask that. She expected him to know.

She frowned and rubbed her temple, swaying a little.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“A headache. They come and go.” She walked a few steps along the quay, then turned and walked back. Ian watched her, trying to analyze the effect she had on him.

What was it about the lass? She was almost waiflike in the faded dress, yet the worn fabric failed to conceal the body of a temptress. And in her eyes he could see ancient, veiled secrets. A wealth of memories lived inside her. His task was to unlock them, even if he had to batter down the door.

She rubbed her temples again, wincing at the pain and closing her eyes.

“Are you certain you’re all right?” he asked again.

She nodded, eyes still closed. “Can you take me to the house where I live?”

He thought swiftly of the ramshackle rooms in Blackfriars, the overturned furniture, the dried blood. “You should rest.”

She opened her eyes. A shroud of shadows crept over her face. Without moving, she distanced herself from him, receding to a place he could not imagine. For a moment it was as if she lived somewhere else, in a world of her own fancy. Or was it the past?

“Miranda?” he prompted. The syllables of her name tasted sweet, spoken with his Scottish burr. He was a sick man indeed. He took a perverse pleasure in simply saying her name.

She blinked, and the distant look passed. “I try, truly I do. I try to remember.” She clasped both her hands around his. Her fingers were chilly; he could feel it through his gloves. He rubbed his thumbs over them, to warm her. Or himself, he was not sure which. But in that moment he felt something—they both did; he could see it in her eyes. The startlement. The recognition. The deep inner twist of captivation that defied all logic.

“You must tell me, Ian,” she said. “You are my betrothed. Surely you know my home.” She hesitated. “My family. For the love of God, what was my way of life?”

Falsehoods came to him swiftly. “Ours was a whirlwind courtship, so I confess there is much about you I do not know.”

“Then tell me something you do know.”

“You lived,” he said, hating himself for lying but lying anyway, “to love and be loved by me.”

She caught her breath, a dreamy softness suffusing her face. “Ah, Ian. That is what I want to remember most of all. Loving you, and you loving me.”

He stroked her cheek, and when her eyes opened, he let a devilish smile curve his mouth. “Does this mean I must teach you all over again?”

She laughed throatily. “Perhaps.

Do I have family?”

“Alas, no.” He didn’t look at her, didn’t want to see her reaction. “You’re a scholar, Miranda. A teacher. A...private tutor.”

“Then I lived with a family. With children.”

“The family recently repaired to Ireland.”

“Then we must write to them.”

“Aye, we must.” He knew such a letter would never go farther than his waistcoat pocket. “You’re tired, my darling.” He did not know whether it was part of his ruse or an untapped softness in his heart that made him slip an arm around her shoulders. She nestled against his chest as if seeking shelter from a tempest. And perhaps she was, from the storm of confusion inside her.

Her hair smelled of harsh soap, yet he also detected a hint of her own unique essence, something earthy and faintly herbal, evocative as a whisper in the dark.

“Ah, Miranda, forgive me. I know so little of your former life.”

“Please,” she whispered. “Tell me anything.”

“’Tis melancholy.” The lie spun itself with quick assuredness, like a silken web produced by a spider. He borrowed from the truth but seasoned it liberally with fiction.

He explained that her mother had died in childbirth, even though Frances had found out Helena Stonecypher had run off with a lover years earlier. Miranda’s father, an impoverished scholar of indifferent reputation, had raised her in haphazard fashion and had passed on more recently. Miranda had been employed as a tutor, but she had scarcely taken over the duties when the family had gone to Ireland.

“When I met you, Miranda,” he finished, “you were alone, in leased rooms near Blackfriars Bridge.”

She extracted herself from his arms and walked to the edge of the river. She stared at the rippling surface for so long that he wondered if her mind had wandered again.

“Did you hear me, lass?” he prodded, standing beside her.

She raised her face to him. Her cheeks were chalk pale, her eyes wide. “I was quite the pathetic soul, then,” she said in a low voice.

She was as fragile as spun glass. So easy to break. He had no doubt he could crush her with words alone. Rather than softening him, the notion made him angry. She was a gift he did not want, a responsibility he could not shirk.

Determined to stir her out of her sadness, he cupped her chin in his palm and glared down at her. “Did you expect to hear that you’re some long-lost princess, and I a blue-blooded nobleman? That I’ll conduct you to a vast and loving family who have been waiting for your return?”

She flinched and tried to pull away, but he held her firmly, forcing himself to regard her with fierce steadiness. She would need a stiff spine for the trials ahead. If she broke now, dissolved into tears, he would take her directly to Frances and wash his hands of the entire affair.

She swallowed, and he felt the delicate movement of her throat beneath his fingers. “Touché, Mr. MacVane,” she said, surprising him with a calm regard. “Though actually I had hoped I was a lady of great learning. There are things I know, things I have read, that Dr. Beckworth considered quite extraordinary.” She squared her shoulders. “But that is a common hope even for people who remember the past, is it not? To wish to be something better than we are?”

“Touché yourself,” he said. He let his hand trail down to her shoulder and gave her a squeeze. “Forgive me. I’m not angry at you, but at myself. I want so much more for you.”

Her smile trembled, then steadied, and she looked amazingly winsome. And also weary. “There now,” he said. “You must rest, and later we’ll speak of the past.”

“And of the future.”

“That, too,” he admitted, as foul a liar as had ever crossed the border from Scotland into England. Her future was a short trip up the Thames to Biddle House, where she would endure an interview with Lady Frances.

Yet when a barge arrived and the ferryman asked where they were bound, Ian rapped out his own address. He told himself it was because information obtained under torture was notoriously unreliable. Aye, that was why he didn’t want her tortured. He’d find out her secrets in his own way. In his own time.

* * *

Miranda turned in a slow circle in the foyer of Ian’s opulent residence, her head angled up so she could take in the spiraling sweep of a marble staircase, the tall windows of beveled glass, the painted cherubs and clouds on the ceiling and wainscoting.

“Have I been here before?” she asked. She nearly reeled with weariness, her hair escaping from its single frayed string, yet a sense of exhilaration buoyed her up.

“Nay, lass. It’s not proper for an unchaperoned lady to call on a gentleman.”

The word lady rolled elegantly off his tongue. His Scottish burr turned mere words to poetry. She felt a ripple of delight course through her. “Have I always loved the way you talk...Ian?” It felt delicious and right to call him by his Christian name.

He looked at her with his gentian blue eyes, and the shiver up her back turned to a warm river of sensation. “You never told me so,” he said.

“I should have.”

He gave her the oddest sensation, a sort of breath-held anticipation that lodged behind her heart. Had he always had this effect on her? How in heaven’s name could she have forgotten?

Miranda saw a movement from the corner of her eye. Turning, she noticed a window in the wall. A woman stood in the window, watching her. And then it hit her—this was no window, but a mirror. The first mirror she had encountered since her terrifying journey into madness had begun. Her heart pounded as she looked into the glass. A complete stranger looked back at her. Miranda lifted one hand to her cheek, skimming it along a cheekbone and across a straight dark brow. The stranger did the same.

A feeling of utter panic swept over her. What sort of oddity of nature was she, a woman so addled in the brain that she did not know her own face? Brown eyes—what had they seen that was so horrible she had hidden from the memory? Dark curls falling across a high, clear brow—had her unremembered father ever kissed her there? An ordinary nose and a wide mouth—had she opened it to scream the night of the fire?

Who are you? she asked the image silently. What have you done with your life?

The stranger stared silently back at her. There were no answers in the unfamiliar brown eyes. Only questions. Only an endless string of questions, and the answers were locked up inside the creature in the mirror.

She looked back at Ian, feeling more lost and helpless than ever, and wanting more than ever to be swept into his world, where she knew she would be safe.

For long moments they simply stared at each other like two figures in a painting. His face was inscrutable, while Miranda felt certain every inch of her yearning for him surely showed on her features. She wanted to tumble right into the middle of his life, and she had never been so aware of her own desire. Had she?

Then Ian looked past her and broke the spell. He said something in a rolling, guttural tongue that she recognized as Gaelic but did not understand.

“My assistant,” Ian said, taking her by the shoulders and steering her around. “Angus McDuff.”

She turned to see a cherubic man of middle years, dapper in black breeches and a tartan waistcoat, his gray beard forming a bristly U from ear to ear.

Angus McDuff spoke with Ian in Gaelic, then swept low in a courtly bow. “How good it is to see you safe and sound, Miss Miranda.”

She inched her head. He seemed to know her, or at least to know of her. “It is good to be safe,” she said. “But sound?” She looked helplessly at Ian. “I cannot remember my life before the moment of the explosion.”

“So he was just explaining. Some things are for the best, my dear. ’Tis a thing I have always believed.”

“Thank you, Mr. McDuff.”

“Call him Duffie!” piped a loud, childish voice. “He’ll insist on it.”

With a squeal of skin on wood, a little boy slid down the banister. He landed with a flourish, wobbled, then fell on his backside.

“And I insist,” Ian said with exaggerated severity, pulling the child to his feet, “that you greet the lady properly, scamp.”

Full to bursting with mischief and merriment, the boy bowed from the waist. He had a clean bandage wrapped around one hand, and she realized he was the child Ian had saved from the fire.

“Robbie MacVane, at your service, mum,” he said in a clear soprano voice.

“MacVane?” Ian asked, lifting a dark eyebrow.

“Aye, if it’s all the same to you,” Robbie said.

Ian did not smile, but looked solemn as he nodded. “You do honor to the name, lad.”

“Besides,” Robbie said, “It’s the only name I know how to spell.”

Miranda stifled a laugh. She found the boy enchanting, from the top of his tousled head to the tips of his scuffed leather shoes. Ian hooked a thumb into the band of his breeches. Robbie did the same, perfectly copying Ian’s stance. Miranda looked from the boy to the man. It was extraordinary to think that in an age when some parents abandoned their children or sold them into apprenticeships, Ian had taken in this enchanting little stranger. He was a special man indeed.

When did I fall in love with you? she wanted to ask him. What did it feel like?

And was it happening again?

Thinking hard, she absently brushed a deep brown lock of hair out of her face.

“Cor, mum, I know you!” Robbie was staring at her with wide, unblinking eyes.

All the hairs on the back of her neck seemed to stand on end. “Do you, Robbie?” she asked in a low, shaken voice.

Duffie took the boy by the hand. “Come along now, my wee skelper. We’ll leave the master and—”

“No,” Ian said hurriedly. “What do you mean, you know Miss Miranda?”

Robbie lifted his shoulders to his ears in a shrug. “Not by name, mind you. But she gave me tuppence when she passed me in the road. I knows it were her because she’s got a face like the mort in that painting in St. Mary-le-Bow, the one what looks all holy even though she ain’t hardly got a stitch on.”

Duffie made a choking sound and put his hand up to his mouth. Robbie scurried away from him.

“Gave you tuppence?” Miranda asked. “When?”

“Just before you went in there,” Robbie said, puffing up to find himself the object of such rapt attention.

“In where, lad?” Ian asked.

“Well, you know.” Like a monkey, he hung in the knobby banister rails at the bottom of the staircase. “In that building what blew to smithereens.”

Miranda felt nauseated. Her head started to throb. She had been there. Inside the warehouse. Sickening guilt crept up her throat, gagging her. She thought of the twist of stiff, sulfur-smelling rope she had found in her apron pocket, along with tinder and flint. She had almost caused her own death and that of this innocent child.

She remembered the victims of that night, the bleeding faces slashed by flying glass, the burned flesh, the screams and moans of the wounded. Why would she hurt them? Why? She swayed, and the question she dared not ask screamed through her mind. Am I a murderer?

“There, see?” Duffie said with comforting brusqueness. “The lady’s well nigh exhausted. I’ll just have the housekeeper show her to—”

“Not so fast.” Ian spoke in his customary low voice, but his words rang with authority. “Robbie, was Miss Miranda alone?”

“Oh, aye, sir, and she were in a great hurry—but she took the time to toss me a copper and bid me to get myself home.” His round cheeks flushed. “She didn’t know about me having no home.”

Ian contemplated the boy with a look that was fierce, but protective rather than frightening. “Run along, then,” he said. “See if Cook’s made more of those gooseberry tarts.”

Robbie scampered off, and Duffie followed him out of the foyer.

Miranda faced Ian with trepidation. He knew something. But what? Was it more than she herself knew about that night? Or less?

The icy speculation in his eyes was unmistakable. She swallowed past the dryness in her throat. “I don’t suppose,” she said, “you could explain why I was down at the wharves, unchaperoned.”

His large and powerful hand, still sheathed in its black glove, came to rest on her arm. A shiver coursed through her.

“I’m certain you had your reasons, love,” he said, leading her into an opulent parlor furnished with dark wood and deep green hangings. “Come and sit down, and we’ll—”

“Excuse me, sir.” A cheerful-looking man with a peg leg came into the room. On his hand he balanced a salver, and he approached them with an ease that belied his infirmity. “This just arrived for you.”

Ian took the letter from the tray. “Thank you, Carmichael.”

“You’re welcome, sir.” Carmichael sent a pleasant smile to Miranda. “And welcome to you, too, miss. We’ve heard so much about you—”

“Thank you, Carmichael,” Ian said, louder this time. “That will be all.” He helped Miranda to a settee as the servant withdrew.

“How did he lose his leg?” she asked.

“The Battle of Busaco. We were in the Thirty-second Highlanders together.”

Ian MacVane, she decided, was a man who took in strays. As Miranda watched him open his letter, she wondered what sort of stray she had been when they’d first met.

“Damn it,” he said.

She jumped. “Damn what?”

He crumpled the letter in his hand. “Cossacks in Hyde Park.”

She felt no surprise; her knowledge of local events had remained intact. Arriving with fanfare and entourages that often occupied entire flotillas, an extraordinary group was convening in London this summer. All the crowned heads from Tsar Alexander of Russia to the prince of Saxe-Coburg had come to celebrate Bonaparte’s defeat. The Cossacks, under their hetman Count Platov, were serving as life guards to the tsar.

“Have they done something wrong?” she asked.

“It seems they’ve challenged the Gentlemen Pensioners to a horse race. A few of them had too much to drink and are terrorizing people.” Ian went to the door. “I’d best go and see that order is restored.”

“Why you?” She was suddenly aware that she had no notion of Ian’s role in all of this.

He grinned. “It is my métier. I’ll tell you more when I get back. Duffie will see to your needs.”

“Ian, wait!” A flush suffused her cheeks. “Is it true—what you said earlier? About...going to Scotland?”

“Upon my oath,” he said, then was gone.

* * *

The next morning, Ian awakened to the dreadful notion that he had pledged to take Miranda to Scotland and make her his bride.

“A simple enough idea, when you consider it,” Duffie said as he laid out a clean shirt and morning coat. “Marriage happens every day.”

Ian sluiced cold water over himself from the yellow-glazed Newcastle ware bowl on the washstand. “Not to me.” He turned the ewer sideways and took a long drink directly from it. “Never to me, McDuff.”

The diminutive man seemed to swell to twice his size. “What are you saying, then?”

Ian grabbed a towel and began scrubbing his face and hair dry. Craning his neck, he inspected his burned shoulder. He closed his eyes, felt a sickening terror pitch in his gut as he relived the moment of rescuing Robbie. Only the desperate need of a child had prodded him out of his paralyzing fear of heights, prodded him just as the bigger boys had, so many years ago, sticking pins in his bare feet to urge him to climb higher, higher through the tight, narrow passageways of the chimney pots he had been forced to clean.

“I’m waiting for an answer.” Duffie snatched away the towel and gave Ian’s shoulder a casual glance. “Healing nicely,” he pronounced, “which is more than I can say for your paper skull if you don’t answer me. What are your intentions toward the girl?”

Ian grabbed back the towel and rubbed it across his chest. Only from Angus McDuff would he tolerate this constant meddling. He heaved a sigh. “You sound like a fierce papa.”

The salt-and-pepper brows beetled. “Lord knows she could use one. She’s helpless as a lamb, man. Dinna eat her alive.”

Ian began dressing in traveling garb of black breeches and boots, a starched and snowy shirt, a waistcoat, and a cravat. “I’m taking her to Scotland.”

“To Scotland.”


“To marry her.”


For an older man, Duffie moved with surprising speed. In one swift movement he had Ian shoved back against the wall, showing no sympathy for the wounded shoulder. His face was florid, his eyes hard. “Damn you to hell, Ian MacVane. I ought to skelp your stubborn hide for you. Have you taken a knife, then, and carved out your own heart?”

Ian glared at him coldly. “Oh, aye. You know I have.”

Duffie dropped his hands to his sides, but he did not retreat. “That doesna mean others are made of ice. I’ll not let you ruin the girl. Not let you whisk her away, destroy her reputation, destroy any chance she has to settle down one day and find happiness.”

“She’s happy now,” Ian said, his mouth a cruel twist, “when she knows nothing of the past.”

“Fine. She knows nothing. And you care nothing for her future. It’ll be no future at all if you skulk off with her, wooing her with false promises. What decent man would have her after she goes adventuring with Ian MacVane?”

“No one need know.” The back of Ian’s neck prickled. He didn’t like feeling this way—knowing he was wrong but lacking the conscience to stop himself.

“She will know,” Duffie said obstinately. “To her core, she is a sweet and decent soul.”

“Frances thinks she is a traitor. Oh. Do pardon me. A sweet and decent traitor.” Ian raked a wooden comb through his close-cropped hair. “Look, would you rather I do what I should have done in the first place?”

“And what is that?”

“Take her directly to the authorities. I could make this all very simple by marching her before them and letting them be the ones to unlock her secrets.”

Duffie’s cheeks paled beneath his beard. “She’s a wee, fragile thing. I suspect you guessed that or you wouldna have brought her this far. There is only one solution.”

Ian set down his comb. He was tired of arguing. It had taken half the night to get the hard-drinking Cossacks to return to their residence at the Pulteney Hotel. “Why do I get the feeling I’m not going to like this?”

“Because it’s the kind and proper thing, which is not what you are used to doing.” Duffie pointed a stubby finger and narrowed an eye as though taking aim at his employer. “You’ll do exactly as you promised, my fine gentleman. You’ll marry the girl. Perhaps, if you’re lucky, you’ll find out her secrets. And if you’re luckier still, I willna skelp you.”


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