"Good."

Reaching for a quill and paper on the desk, Matthew said with pen poised, "Where does her family reside and what are her relatives' names?"

"I don't know."

Advertisement

"You don't… know?"

"No."

"Perhaps," Matthew suggested, very cautiously, and very respectfully, "we might make inquiries of the young lady?"

"We might," Stephen said dryly, "but she will have precious little to tell you." Taking pity on the solicitor, he added, "Her injury was to the head and severe enough to cause a loss of memory, which Dr. Whitticomb believes is a temporary condition. Unfortunately, although her health is mostly restored, her memory isn't."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Matthew said sincerely. Thinking that concern for the young woman had somewhat diminished the earl's usual perspicacity, he suggested diplomatically, "Perhaps her maid could be of help?"

"I'm certain she could. If I knew where she was." With veiled amusement, Stephen watched the solicitor struggle to keep his face from showing any emotion whatsoever. "I sent someone to her cabin within minutes after the accident, but the maid was nowhere to be found. One of the crew members thought she might have been English, so perhaps she went home to her family."

-- Advertisement --

"I see," Matthew replied, but he still wasn't overly concerned. "In that case, we'll begin our inquiry on the ship."

"It sailed the following morning."

"Oh. Well, what about her trunks? Was there anything in them to give us a clue as to her family's direction?"

"There might have been. Unfortunately, her trunks sailed with the ship."

"You're certain?"

"Quite. In the immediate aftermath of the accident, my only concern was to get her medical attention at once. The following morning, I sent for her trunks, but the Morning Star had already sailed."

"Then we'll begin our search at the ship's Office. There's bound to be a passenger manifest and a cargo manifest, and they'll be able to tell us what her ports of call were in America."

"Start with the shipping office," Stephen agreed. He stood up, concluding the interview, and Matthew promptly arose, his mind already on the search he was about to instigate.

"I've only been to the Colonies once," he said. "I shan't mind another visit."

"I'm sorry to have cut your holiday short," Stephen repeated. "However, there's another reason for urgency, beyond the obvious one. Whitticomb is becoming concerned that her memory hasn't shown the slightest sign of returning. I'm hoping that seeing people from her past may help."

12

As he'd promised, Stephen went upstairs to see her later that evening. He'd made it a practice to visit her twice each day, and although he kept them very brief and impersonal, he found himself nevertheless looking forward to them. He knocked on her door, and when there was no response, he hesitated then knocked again. Still no reply. Evidently his instructions that a maid was to be with her at all times had not been followed. Either that or the servant had fallen asleep on duty. Both possibilities angered him, but his primary emotion was alarm for his houseguest. She'd wanted to leave her bed. If she'd decided to try it, despite his instructions, and then collapsed with no one there to help her or sound an alarm… Or if she'd lapsed back into unconsciousness…

He shoved the door open and strode into the chambers. The empty chambers. Baffled and annoyed, he looked at the bed, which had been neatly made up. Evidently the little idiot had not seen fit to follow his orders, and neither had the maid!

A soft sound made him swing around. And stop cold.

"I didn't hear you come in," his houseguest said, walking out of the dressing room. Clad in a white dressing gown that was too large for her, with a hairbrush in one hand and a blue towel loosely draped over her head, she stood before him barefoot, unselfconscious, and completely unrepentant for ignoring his instructions.

Having just been needlessly subjected to several awful moments of fear, Stephen reacted with a flash of annoyance, followed by relief, and then helpless amusement. She'd borrowed a gold cord from the draperies and tied it around her waist to hold the white dressing robe closed, and with her bare toes peeping out from beneath the long robe and that light blue towel over her head like a veil, she reminded him of the barefoot Madonna. Instead of the real Madonna's serenely sweet smile, however, this madonna was wearing an expression that looked bewildered, accusing, and distinctly unhappy, all at once. She did not make him wait to find out the cause.

"Either you're extremely unobservant, my lord, or else your eyesight is afflicted."

Caught completely off-guard, Stephen said cautiously, "I'm not certain what you mean."

"I mean my hair," she said miserably, pointing an accusing finger to whatever was concealed beneath the towel.

He remembered that her hair had been matted with blood, and assumed the wound to her scalp had bled even after Whitticomb had stitched it. "It will wash right out," he assured her.

"Oh, I don't think so," she said ominously. "I already tried that."

"I don't understand…" he began.

"My hair is not brown—" she clarified as she swept the towel away and picked up a fistful of the offending tresses to illustrate the problem. "Look at it. It's red!"

She sounded revolted, but Stephen was speechless, completely transfixed by a heavy mass of shiny, flaming strands that tumbled in waves and curls over her shoulders and the bodice of her robe and down her back. She released the handful she was holding, and it ran through her fingers like liquid fire. "Jesus…" he breathed.

"It's so… so brazen!" she said unhappily.

Belatedly realizing that her real fiancé wouldn't be standing there, staring at something he would have already seen, Stephen reluctantly withdrew his gaze from the most magnificent, and unusual, head of hair he had ever seen. "Brazen?" he repeated, wanting to laugh.

She nodded and then impatiently shoved aside a glossy panel of coppery locks that slid away from her center part and draped itself over her forehead and left eye.

"You don't like it," he summarized.

"Of course not. Is that why you didn't want to tell me its real color?"

Stephen seized the excuse she'd inadvertently handed him and nodded, his gaze shifting back to that exotic hair. It was a perfect frame to set off her delicate features and porcelain skin.

It began to register on Sheridan that the expression on his face wasn't revulsion at all. In fact, he looked almost… admiring? "Do you like it?"

-- Advertisement --