He nodded.

“But you hate the river, Thorn. And look what happened: it nearly killed you.” Her hand brushed back his hair, caressing the wound that would remain on his brow, a permanent gift of the river. “No jewelry is worth your life!”

“Your parents loved you, just as I love you,” Thorn told her. “They weren’t leaving you, just as I will never leave you. I shall prove it to you this very afternoon.”

India was completely confused. “How could you possibly prove that?”

“You believe yourself to be unlovable,” Thorn said, ignoring her question, “but I was in love with you after five minutes in your company, and Vander was only ten minutes behind me. All those men who asked to marry you—the ones you say wanted to marry you for your title—they were in love with you too. Not to mention the stonemasons, and painters, and the rest of the men whose hearts you stripped bare.”

“Oh,” she whispered.

“I did the same thing as you,” he continued.

“What do you mean?”

“I tried to keep you in your place, even to drive you away, because I could not believe that you would love a mudlark and a bastard.” His voice was raw with emotion.

A hot flush washed over India, a wave of feeling so deep that she could hardly put it in words. “You humble me,” she said, stumbling into speech. “You make me—”

The stones tumbled off the bed. No one noticed.

Later that day, a polite man by the name of Mr. Farthingale appeared in Thorn’s library and explained to India and Adelaide that he was a jeweler who had met, years ago, with the Marquess of Renwick.

“Oh,” India said, clasping Thorn’s hand very tightly.

“I know your shop quite well,” Adelaide said brightly. “Just off Blackfriars, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is, my lady,” Mr. Farthingale said, inclining his head. Then he gave India a kindly look and said, “Lady Xenobia, I understand that you wish to know more of my encounter with your father.”

“Yes, I would,” she managed, her heart thumping.

“His lordship was in possession of a diamond demi-parure, which had descended through his wife’s family. He asked me to value the pieces, as he was considering sale.”

India didn’t know what to think, so she nodded.

“The marquess and the marchioness were considering the sale in order to fund their daughter’s debut and dowry.” Mr. Farthingale paused delicately.

“For me?” India whispered.

“There was a reason your parents didn’t immediately sell the jewelry to Mr. Farthingale,” Thorn said, smiling at her.

Mr. Farthingale inclined his head, his eyes compassionate. “I believe they would have eventually consigned the pieces to me, but they wished to consult with their daughter, that is, with you, Lady Xenobia, before doing so.”

A few minutes later, India rose to say goodbye, feeling lightheaded, as if her head were filled with air. Her parents hadn’t been running away from her. They had loved her. They had been thinking of her future.

“Your news was very welcome,” she told Mr. Farthingale.

“If you ever wish to sell the pieces . . .” he murmured, bowing.

“Never,” Thorn intervened before India could say the same.

The pieces were her only tangible tie to her mother and father, and they represented all that Thorn had given her . . . and that which he had almost lost for her.

After they made love that night, India curled against Thorn’s side, staring into the darkness, allowing herself to remember her parents.

Her mother used to throw back her hair and laugh in a deep-throated, joyful way. Her father wasn’t much good at being a gentleman, or managing an estate, but she recalled how he’d sat with her for hours, helping her arrange glass tiles in just the right order. He taught her the skills that allowed her to make any room into an enchanting oasis.

She even remembered the way her mother would laugh and say, “I knew you would work it out, poppet,” when India went to find them to say that she’d succeeded in locating a chicken for supper, or had made mushroom soup.

Her mother’s cheerful confidence had pushed her to learn how to bake bread, how to apply stucco, how to polish silver.

Her parents had been the wind at her back in every house she had reorganized and refurbished, and she had never thanked them, or even realized it.

Thorn had given her parents back to her. They hadn’t been conventional, or particularly aristocratic, and certainly not protective. But they had loved her.

The following evening, Messrs. Bink, Dusso, and Geordie had the singular experience of dining at the grand home of a duke and duchess, who were deeply grateful to them for saving the life of their eldest son.

Not only were they seated across from the Duke and Duchess of Villiers, but another future duke, Lord Brody, had also joined the meal. News of Thorn’s near demise had spread through London, and Vander had turned up, as he said, “because he knew that Thorn’s head was harder than a rock but he wanted to see for himself.”

All that nobility at one table meant that Geordie, in particular, had trouble shaping a single word until Villiers’s butler took pity on them and brought tankards of ale to the table.

Thorn grinned at his father, who fastidiously declined the ale; his stepmother, who not only accepted it, but was drinking it with every sign of enjoyment; his closest friend, who had accepted defeat with utmost grace; and finally at the woman who would soon be his wife.

Earlier that afternoon the archbishop had reluctantly given Thorn’s solicitor yet another special license—this one not blank but specifying the union of Mr. Tobias Dautry to Lady Xenobia India St. Clair.

They would be married in the morning, the ceremony witnessed by a duke and duchess, and three members of the fraternity of mudlarks. Evander Brody, heir to the Duke of Pindar, would stand as Thorn’s best man, even though he was laughingly offering the bride a last chance to become a duchess.

“Never,” Thorn growled, pulling his fiancée close in an entirely improper manner and bending his head to drop a kiss on a neck that glittered with diamonds . . . restored through Mr. Farthingale’s expert ministrations.

“Those joowels looked like rubbish when Bink fished them up,” Dusso told the Duke of Villiers. “I’d never know they was the same, now they’re cleaned up.”

Dusso grinned, and so did Bink and Geordie. They’d been in the Thames, and it hadn’t conquered them.

Thorn felt the same. The river had almost killed him, but it had brought him India, and that was worth everything. If he hadn’t been a mudlark, he never would have become the man whom India wanted.

He held her hand tightly under the table.

With a wicked little smile playing around his mouth, the Duke of Villiers began telling India about why he’d sent Thorn off to Piggleston. “I thought that Tobias needed to be made to understand how much he loved you.” He raised his heavy-lidded eyes and glanced at his own wife. “He is my son, after all. We’re fools when it comes to women.”

Eleanor bent near, her hair brushing the duke’s magnificently clad shoulder. “My husband was playing Cupid,” she said. “He likes to do that.”

India laughed, and Thorn thought, once again, that he could spend his life listening to this woman, this particular woman, laugh.

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