Miles lowered his long frame and sat down on the ground next to his subdued sister. He whipped his coat behind him, leaned back on his hand and sighed. “Why?” he asked simply.
“Why?” She turned to him, a picture of wide-eyed innocence. “Whatever do you mean by—”
“Enough, Violet.” He said it so firmly it nearly qualified as snapping. She blinked in astonishment. “Tell me the real reason you ran away. Do you even know? Was it Samuel Heron?”
Violet opened her mouth to speak, then paused, looked into his face, and frowned. Then caught herself frowning and the frown eased away. She was always careful about inviting lines to etch themselves upon her lovely visage.
“You look weary, Miles.”
He cast a baleful glance at her. But her surprise sounded genuine, not a diversionary tactic.
Late nights with Cynthia Brightly. “I wondered if it has anything to do with my sister disappearing.”
She flinched. The word “disappear” had an unpleasant connotation in their family.
They were quiet again.
“No,” she said finally. “It had naught to do with Samuel Heron. Not entirely. Though he is handsome. He’s different. You should know about different.” Her sidelong glance was accusing but it lacked conviction. “He’s…” She sighed. Pushed a wayward strand of hair out of her eyes. “It had naught to do with him. I’m not sure I know why I did it, Miles. That’s the truth.”
Miles was tempted to give her a hard shake.
“Violet…let’s supposed you had left with the Gypsies. Had just…vanished into the night, and we never saw you again. Do you have any idea what that would have done to Mother and Father? To…all of us? Do you honestly mean to tell me that this doesn’t matter to you?”
She began to cry. Quietly at first, so he wouldn’t know it, and because Violet hated to be messy about things, and she wasn’t sentimental. But they were genuine tears. And they soon became the messy sort, replete with sniffing and gurgled sobs.
He suffered along with her. He’d never been able to bear her tears, from the moment she was born. But he didn’t “There, there” her, or pat her back, or hug her. It was good for Violet to cry tears that weren’t meant to be anything but tears. Tears that merely meant genuine grief and frustration, not a means to make someone—usually a man—so uncomfortable he would do absolutely anything she wanted.
So he let her cry. And felt every single one of her tears as surely as if they were his own.
And eventually she pulled out one of her spotless handkerchiefs and dabbed daintily at her eyes. Violet was invariably, astoundingly, crisply neat. He wondered how she did it, as she was active enough.
“I’m sorry to worry you, Miles.”
“I know,” he said gently.
“It’s just…I miss him.”
“Him being Lyon.
“I miss him, too.”
“I hate him for leaving. I hate her”—Violet had managed to thoroughly demonize Olivia Eversea, and refused to even utter her name, as though its mere utterance would conjure a devil—“for making him leave. Everything was lovely, and now everything is ruined. Ruined and quite odd.”
Miles didn’t know about ruined. They had all managed to stagger somehow; Redmond life continued in all its forms, mundane and profound. Laughter and arguments and feuding and the making of money continued. But he did agree with the “quite odd.” And he didn’t know whether his brother had left or whether something had befallen him, and he wasn’t certain whom to blame. It was an odd sensation, this not knowing, like falling and falling and falling and never knowing where or when or if one might land. A different sort of gravity seemed to apply to their family now.
“We don’t know what really happened, Violet.” He said this to her again though he’d said this so many times it had begun to lose all meaning and sound strange to his own ears, the way any word might if you stare at it for too long. There were moments, he confessed to himself, when he hated Lyon, too.
But he was tired of humoring Violet; thanks to a certain house party guest, he’d acquired a taste for bald honesty. His sister’s recklessness took place against a backdrop of entirely taken-for=granted love and protection. She expected to be scolded, rescued, punished, and pampered no matter what she did, and not once had her brothers or her parents disappointed her. Her recklessness required no real courage, as such. And it was, as Cynthia had pointed out, an indulgence of a bored and willful girl who didn’t have th faintest idea how to channel her energies.
And it was an expression…of loss. Loss of family, loss of certainty, loss of equilibrium.
“Do you truly think Olivia Eversea could actually make Lyon do anything, Violet? Lyon? You know Lyon.”
“She broke his heart.” Violet made this sound like the most sinister of crimes, and as though a broken heart was the sort of debilitation excusing all manner of behavior.
“We don’t know this, either. It’s all conjecture.” He’d said this a thousand times before, too.
They watched the Gypsies, including Samuel Heron, cluck to the horses, begin saddling the ones they would ride out of camp and settling harnesses over others. Rolls and trunks were being lifted into wagons. The tents would come down next, like flowers blooming in reverse.
“Miles…” Violet said this with uncharacteristic trepidation. She took a breath. “It’s just…sometimes I don’t think it’s enough.”
This was a faintly alarming statement. He swiveled toward her. “What isn’t enough?
She went abruptly quiet. As though saying those words aloud unnerved her. As though she hoped he would forget about them.
He half suspected he knew what she mean. It was just as Cynthia had said: Violet was intelligent and bored and restless, and nothing in Sussex, or even London, would satisfy her.
He simply didn’t know what to tell her. She was a woman. And a Redmond. This rather firmly delineated her options.
“I do miss Lyon, too, Violet. But he isn’t here. And I know I am not him. I can never be him. I wish I could, but I know I can never make up for the fact that he’s—”
She’d turned sharply and was looking up at him in such blank astonishment that he stopped speaking.
“What is it?” he asked irritably.
“Miles, don’t you know that we would fly apart without you?” She looked truly bemused.
“The Redmonds,” she said, as though he were a slow-witted child. And no one had ever spoken to him that way. “All of us.”
“Well, I suppose I’m now the…Heir Regent, if you will. Given Lyon’s absence, my role has changed and I’ll be expected too—”
“No, Miles.” She was genuinely impatient now. “For heaven’s sake. It was always you. I recall…well, there is something boring and scientific you tried to explain to me once…a theory about a certain force that keeps the moon up in the sky and hugging close to the earth rather than flying off into space?”
“Well, that would be gravity, I suppose, for a beginning,” he supplied wryly. Wondering where she was headed with this.
“If you say so,” she allowed dubiously. “But that’s you, Miles. You’ve always been that. If you had been the one to leave, we would all go flying apart, cartwheeling off through the solar system. Pap is so absorbed in making money and hating the Everseas and impressing everyone. Mama cares only for us and for the house and for the things she buys. It’s enough for her. And I love both of them, I do. Lyon was so busy being wonderful, being the heir, you know, learning the business, making everyone proud. And Jonathon is Jonathon, and—well, what I mean to say is that Lyon might be the sun in all of this, but you’re the earth. You allow all of us to be who we are, because of who you are. Solid. Looking out for us. We can count on you. We all know it, you know. I think even Father does. And then you went off to the South Seas, which seemed very exotic, but even that was so scrupulously planned, and we knew you were going…but I never doubted for an instant that you would return to us. Not one instant. Because that’s who you are.”