He should have guessed that Robert would be unable to resist the dare of the Dark Walk Jared thought. It was his own fault that the boy had slipped away. He had been thinking of his wedding night, not his responsibilities. Passion had ruled his brain all day and now, as always when passion was involved, there were consequences.
The myriad colored lanterns that lit Vauxhall's grounds became increasingly sparse as Jared made his way toward the Dark Walk. The weak moonlight provided little illumination. The music and the noise of the crowd faded behind him as he moved deeper into the vast gardens.
The trees grew close and thick along the darkest of the long paths that had been laid out on the extensive grounds. Here and there Jared saw couples that had sought out the shadows for obviously amorous purposes. When he passed a particularly dense area of foliage he heard a woman's soft, sensual laughter followed by a man's low, eager murmur.
But there was no sign of Robert.
Jared studied the shadows intently, wondering if he might have miscalculated. Perhaps Robert had not come this way, after all. In which case, Jared thought, he had a much larger problem on his hands than he had anticipated.
Visions of his wedding night receded into the distance. At this rate he would be lucky to get everyone home and in bed by one in the morning.
His entire schedule for the evening was rapidly being thrown into serious disarray.
Leaves shivered at the side of the path. A man coughed softly.
"Ahem. Ye wouldn't happen to be a rich cove named Chillhurst, would ye?"
Jared came to a halt as the rough whisper cut into his thoughts. He turned toward the thick stand of trees that stood on the left of the walk.
"Thought so. He said ye'd be wearing a patch over one eye. 'Looks like a bloody pirate,' he said."
"Who said that?"
"Me employer." A thin, short, wiry man dressed in a dirty brown cap, a badly stained shirt, and a pair of loose-fitting trousers emerged from the trees. He sauntered out onto the path and gave Jared a gap-toothed smile. "Evenin' yer lordship. Nice night for doin' business, ain't it?"
"That depends. Who are you?" Jared asked.
"Let's see now." The wiry little man rubbed his jaw reflectively. "Got friends what calls me Travelin' Tom." He grinned cheerfully. "Ye can call me that, if ye care to."
"Thank you. Now as you already appear to know who I am, perhaps we could dispense with the introductions and get directly to the subject at hand. I have a rather important appointment to keep tonight."
Traveling Tom nodded, pleased. "The little blighter said ye was keen on keepin' to yer schedule. Suits me. I'm a man o' business meself, same as you and the cove what employed me this evenin'. A man o' business is obliged to pay prodigious attention to his appointments, ain't he?"
"We men o' business know how to deal with each other." Traveling Tom shook his head sadly. "Not like the other sort."
"What other sort?" Jared asked patiently.
"The sort what's all flash and show and no brains. Ye know what I'm talkin' about, I'm certain. There's the type what always seems to get emotional about a simple matter of business. They start wavin' pistols about and makin' ridiculous threats."
"Yes, I know the sort."
"But then there's rational men such as ourselves, m'lord." Traveling Tom nodded sagely. "Men what keeps cool heads and uses logic instead of passion to make business decisions. We don't let the blood get hot over a triflin' financial matter, do we?"
"No point in it," Jared agreed. "Ah, just where is the little blighter, if I might ask?"
"Safe enough. Got him stashed just outside the grounds. Now, then, if ye want him back in a timely fashion, which I'm assumin' ye do, I suggest we get the business done."
"I am at your service." Jared held on to his temper and refused to let his concern for Robert show in his face. Nothing good would come of displaying any sign of emotion. Traveling Tom was right. For Robert's sake, the matter must be treated as nothing more than a business transaction.
Jared had been through a similar scene a few months ago in Spain. On that occasion he had found himself negotiating with hill bandits for the release of his two cousins.
It seemed to be his fate to be relegated to the task of rescuing others from the consequences of their reckless ways.
Who would rescue me? he wondered.
He pushed the fleeting thought aside to concentrate on the matter at hand.
The weight of the dagger inside his coat was reassuring but he was loathe to produce it. In his experience violence was frequently an unnecessary last resort, the mark of failed negotiations. There were usually better methods of dealing with problems. Calmer, saner, more reasonable methods.
"Glad to hear it." Traveling Tom gave him a wink that implied they were both men of the world. "Now then, it's very simple, m'lord. Me client wants something from ye. In exchange, he'll give ye back the little blighter."
"What does your client want from me?"
"Now that he didn't say. Between ourselves, m'lord, I expect it'll be a prodigious amount of money. Ye know how this sort o' thing works, I'm certain. All I was told is that I'm supposed to spirit the little blighter away tonight and deliver a message to ye. The rest is none o' my concern."
"What is the message?" Jared asked.
Traveling Tom hitched up his belt and assumed an air of grave importance. "Ye'll be receivin' a letter tomorrow tellin' ye to come to a certain place at a certain time. The letter will tell ye what it is yer to bring with ye."
"Afraid so, sir." Traveling Tom shrugged. "As I said, my part in the matter is of a somewhat limited nature."
"May I inquire how much your client is paying you for your efforts this evening?" Jared asked softly.
Traveling Tom gazed at him with deep interest. "A very pertinent question, if I may say so, m'lord. Very pertinent, indeed. As it happens, I do believe I'm not bein' paid quite enough for all my time and trouble."
"That does not surprise me. You said your employer was a man of business and such men always seek a bargain, do they not?"
"It's as natural to 'em as breathin' air, m'lord."
"I am well aware that a man of your talents must place a high value on his time." Jared eased his watch out of his pocket and frowned thoughtfully at the face. It was so dark he could not read the hour, but there was just enough moonlight to reveal the glint of gold.
"Aye, sir, I do." Traveling Tom's eyes gleamed as he eyed the handsome watch. "Time is money to a man of a business-minded nature."
Jared allowed the timepiece to dangle tantalizingly from his fingers. "To busy men such as ourselves, there is no substitute for efficiency. Transactions that are dealt with satisfactorily in a few minutes rather than over a period of several hours allow one to engage in several profitable enterprises in an evening rather than just one."
"Ye are, if I may say so, a man of prodigious understanding sir."
"Thank you." Jared swung the watch gently so that it glimmered with every movement. "I suggest, sir, that we could both save ourselves a great deal of bother by striking a bargain here and now."
Traveling Tom eyed the watch the way a trout eyed a lure. "Perhaps we could, sir. Perhaps we could."
"What has your current client offered for your services?"
Traveling Tom's gaze narrowed in a sly manner. "Forty pounds. Twenty to start and the rest to follow when I deliver the goods."
He was lying, Jared thought. Traveling Tom had probably been paid no more than twenty pounds in all, if that. The gold watch was worth far more.
"Very well, then, let us be done with it." Jared closed his fingers around the watch. "As I said, I have an important appointment tonight. I am offering this watch upon delivery of the little blighter. If you accept, it will mean that you can have your profit immediately rather than postponing it until tomorrow."
"The watch, eh?" Traveling Tom considered the matter. "Well, now, I got no guarantee I'll be able to collect the second half o' me payment from me client, do I?"
"No." Jared paused. "Unless you know his true identity and can pursue your claims."
"Don't know his name and he don't know mine. I prefer to work through an arranger, y'see. Safer for all concerned."
"Very wise." Jared concealed his irritation. It would have made matters simpler if he had been able to learn the client's identity tonight. Now he would be obliged to waste time locating him.
"Yes, sir, I exercise great caution in me work. Now, then, about the watch."
"The case of this watch is of solid gold, as I'm certain you can tell. Very nicely worked gold, I might add. The fob is set with a rather valuable plaque. It's worth a hundred and fifty pounds but you may wish to keep it as a souvenir of this night's work rather than sell it to a fence."
"A souvenir, eh? Me friends would be mightily impressed, wouldn't they?" Traveling Tom licked his lips and hitched up his belt again. "In exchange ye'll be wantin' the little blighter back, I take it?"
"Indeed. I shall want him tonight." Jared looked at Traveling Tom. "I have more important things to do on the morrow than waste my time paying ransoms."
"I can understand that, sir." Traveling Tom grinned his black and white grin. "Follow me, yer lordship, and we'll have done with this matter in a few short minutes."
Traveling Tom turned and sauntered off the path, into the thick foliage.
Jared put the watch back into his pocket and eased one hand inside his coat. He gripped the hilt of the dagger but did not remove it from its hidden sheath.
It took several minutes to wend their way through the grounds and out onto the street. Once outside the gardens, Traveling Tom cut through rows of waiting coaches and hurried toward a narrow lane. A small, darkened hackney waited in the shadows.
A coachman, shrouded in a filthy cape, huddled on the seat. He gave a start when he caught sight of Jared. He slowly lowered his gin flask and tucked it under his perch.
" 'Ere now, what's goin' on?" The coachman scowled at Traveling Tom. "Weren't nothin' said about this cove comin' along."
"He ain't comin' with us," Traveling Tom said soothingly. "He and I have come to terms on a business matter. We're turnin' the little blighter over to him."
"In exchange for what?" the coachman demanded sourly.
"A watch that'll fetch us three times what we got paid for this job."
The coachman looked sharply at Jared. He thrust his hand inside his many-layered cape. "Well, then, why don't we take his watch and the little blighter, too?"
Jared took one step toward Traveling Tom and wrapped an arm around the little man's neck. He slipped the dagger out of its sheath and held the point to Traveling Tom's throat. "I would prefer to keep this a matter of business," he said softly. "But we can make it more complicated, if you wish."
"Calm yerself, m'lord," Traveling Tom said quickly. "Me friend is a mite hasty. Not coolheaded like you and me. But he works for me and he'll do as I say."
"Then tell him to remove the pistol from his pocket and toss it to the ground."
Traveling Tom glowered at the coachman. "Do as he says, Davy. We're goin' to see a fine bit o' blunt out of this night's work. Stop makin' things difficult."
"Ye sure ye can trust him?" Davy looked skeptical.
" 'Od's blood, man," Traveling Tom muttered. "Even me client said he was a man what always honored a bargain."
"All right, then. If yer certain."
"I'm certain I don't want to get me throat slit," Traveling Tom snapped. "Now get the little blighter out o' the coach and let's be off."
The coachman hesitated briefly and then jumped down from the seat. He opened the door of the coach, reached inside, and hauled Robert, arms bound, mouth gagged, out onto the cobbles.
"Here ye go, then," the coachman growled. "Now hand over this watch Tom says ye got for us." He gave Robert a push toward Jared.
Robert's eyes were huge with fear as he stumbled blindly forward. Jared lowered the point of the dagger before the boy caught sight of it. He shifted the blade around behind Traveling Tom and held the concealed tip against the little man's back.
"Over here, Robert."
Robert's head jerked around at the sound of Jared's quiet command. He gave a muffled exclamation. The fear in his eyes vanished. It was replaced by a look of desperate relief.
Jared slipped the dagger into its hidden sheath. He stepped back and withdrew the watch from his pocket. Then he gave Traveling Tom a purposeful push toward the coach.
"Be off with you," Jared said. "Our business is finished."
"What about me watch?" Traveling Tom whined.
Jared tossed the watch toward him in a high, wide arc. The golden case flashed in the moonlight. Traveling Tom snatched it out of the air with a chortle of satisfaction.
"Pleasure doin' business with ye, sir," Traveling Tom said. The watch vanished into his pocket.
Jared did not bother to reply. He caught hold of Robert and yanked him swiftly out of the lane and into the relative safety of the busy street. He removed the boy's gag.
"Are you all right, Robert?"
"Yes, sir." Robert's voice shook slightly.
Jared undid the ties that bound Robert's wrists. "There, you're free. Let's be off. Your aunt and brothers are waiting. They will be worried."
"You gave him your watch." Robert gazed up at Jared with a stricken expression.
"And you gave me your word of honor that you would not stray from my sight." Jared led Robert through the milling carriages, back toward the pleasure gardens.
"I am very sorry, sir," Robert said in a hushed tone. "I just wanted to go along the Dark Walk by myself. It was the dare, you see."
"The dare was more important than your word of honor?" Jared strode swiftly through the crowds to the well-lit area where he had left Olympia and the twins.
"I thought I'd be back before you missed me," Robert said miserably.
"Enough. We will discuss this in the morning."
Robert slid another glance toward Jared's face. "I expect you're very angry."
"I'm very disappointed, Robert. There is a difference."
"Yes, sir." Robert lapsed into silence.
The display of fireworks had concluded but the band was still performing enthusiastically in the pavilion. Olympia was waiting with the restless and bored looking twins. The anxiety in her eyes disappeared when she caught sight of Jared and Robert.
"There you are," she said with obvious relief. "We were just about to go in search of you on the Dark Walk ourselves."
"That's right," Ethan volunteered. "Aunt Olympia said we would be safe enough if we all stayed together and went to search for you."
Jared thought of what could have happened had Olympia and the twins appeared at an inopportune moment during the negotiations with Traveling Tom. The anger and concern he had been holding back for the past half hour slipped free of his self-control.
"I told you that you were to stay here with the twins," he said very softly. "When I give an order I expect it to be obeyed, madam."
Olympia stared at him as if he had struck her. Then swift understanding flashed in her eyes. "Yes, my lord," she said gently.
She looked quickly at Robert. "What happened, Robert? Where have you been?"
"A villain kidnapped me right off the Dark Walk," Robert said, not without a touch of pride. He glanced at Jared and the excitement died in his eyes. "He spirited me straight out of the gardens. He told me he was going to keep me with him until tomorrow."
"You're bamming us, ain't you?" Ethan demanded.
Hugh's expression hovered between disbelief and awe. He turned to Jared for confirmation. "It's all a tale, is it not, sir? No one kidnapped Robert. He's having us on."
"I'm afraid Robert is telling the truth." Jared took Olympia's arm and started toward the gates.
"What are you saying?" Olympia wriggled free of Jared's grasp and caught Robert by the shoulders. She pulled him toward her. "Robert, is it true? Someone took you away tonight?"
Robert nodded and hung his head. "I should not have gone down the Dark Walk by myself."
"My God." Olympia hugged him fiercely. "Are you all right?"
"Yes, of course." Robert struggled free of Olympia's arms and straightened his shoulders. "I knew that Mr. Chillhurst, I mean, his lordship, would come after me. I just didn't know if he would come tonight. I thought I might have to wait until tomorrow, you see."
"But why did someone try to kidnap you?" Olympia demanded. She looked at Jared. "I do not understand. What did the villain want?"
"I do not know." Jared said. He took her arm again and led the small group out through the gates and onto the streets. "I confess I did not hang about long enough to discover the motives behind the matter."
"Good heavens," Olympia whispered. "There is only one reason why someone might have wanted to kidnap Robert."
"What is that?" Hugh asked eagerly.
"He must have been after the Lightbourne diary," Olympia said with grim certainty.
"Bloody hell," Jared muttered.
"Whoever it was must have intended to hold Robert for ransom," Olympia explained. "He would very likely have demanded the diary in exchange for returning Robert. Such villainy could have been perpetrated by only one individual."
Jared realized belatedly where her inventive brain was leading her. "Now, Olympia…"
"It was the Guardian," Olympia said very gravely. "Don't you see? It must have been him. We have got to stop him before something terrible happens. Perhaps we should hire a Bow Street runner to track him down. Do you think that would work, my lord?"
Jared had had enough. "Damnation, Olympia, will you cease prattling on about that wretched Guardian? There is no such person. If he ever existed, he is long since dead. Furthermore, this is neither the time nor the place to indulge your silly imaginings."
Olympia stiffened in his grasp. All three of the boys looked at Jared in silent reproach. Jared cursed himself under his breath.
He knew that the simmering rage he was experiencing was aimed largely at himself. He had failed in his responsibilities. He should have kept a closer eye on Robert. Instead, he had been contemplating his wedding night.
That knowledge only served to stoke the fires of Jared's foul mood. All he could think about was how close they had all come to disaster tonight and of how Olympia had nearly compounded that disaster with her plans to go in search of him.
And now she was attributing the entire matter to the Guardian.
A man should not have to suffer such nonsense on his wedding night, Jared thought as he hailed a hackney. Even if he had been personally responsible for the entire affair.
"How did you get Robert back, my lord?" Ethan asked with his usual unquenchable curiosity.
"Yes, sir," Hugh echoed as he bounced up into the carriage. "How did you rescue Robert?"
It was Robert who answered. He slid a sober glance at Jared and then quickly looked away. "His lordship gave the villain his watch in exchange for me."
"His watch?" Ethan's eyes grew very round.
A hushed silence fell on the darkened carriage. As the vehicle clattered off down the street everyone gazed at Jared in stunned amazement.
"Oh, dear," Olympia murmured.
"Bloody hell," Ethan whispered.
"I don't believe it," Hugh said. "Your beautiful watch, sir? You paid for Robert with it?"
Robert sat up very straight. "It's true, is it not, my lord? You gave the villain your watch in exchange for me."
Jared looked at each of them in turn and finally settled on Robert. "We will discuss this matter tomorrow morning at nine o'clock, Robert. Until then, no one is to say another word on the subject."
Silence descended again on the carriage.
Satisfied that he had managed the last word for the moment, Jared lounged back against the cushions and gazed broodingly out the window. It was, he reflected, a damnable prelude to a wedding night.
He wondered why it was that nothing went according to plan in his life these days.
Olympia paced her small bedchamber an hour and a half later. She glanced at the clock on the bureau for the fourth time since she had dressed in her nightgown and chintz wrapper. There was still no sound from Jared's bedchamber.
The house had been quiet for nearly an hour. Everyone but Jared was in his or her bed. Even Minotaur had disappeared into the kitchen.
Jared had ensconced himself in the study with a bottle of brandy immediately after ordering everyone else upstairs. He was still down there.
This was her wedding night, but Olympia was no longer looking forward to it with longing and anticipation. Indeed, she was not at all certain she was even going to have a wedding night. The pall of Jared's grim mood hung over the entire house.
Olympia felt it but she did not entirely understand it. She had told herself that Jared had been overset by the extraordinary events of the evening. It was a reasonable enough explanation for his short temper. After all, he had been obliged to go very much out of his way to rescue Robert, who should have known better than to go haring off on his own.
She was also aware that there must have been a few very nasty moments for Jared in the course of dealing with the villains who had kidnapped Robert. And it was perfectly dreadful that he had been obliged to give up his treasured watch in exchange for Robert.
All in all, Olympia thought, she could see how the happenings of the evening could ruffle even Jared's normally unflappable composure.
Nevertheless, she thought, there was no call for him to behave in such an unpleasant fashion on their wedding night.
She reached the far end of the tiny bedchamber, turned around, and paced back toward the opposite wall. A growing sense of unease was beginning to unfurl deep inside.
She prayed that Jared was not nursing a newly discovered sense of regret downstairs in the study.
What if tonight's happenings had caused him to have serious doubts about the wisdom of marrying her, Olympia thought suddenly.
What if he had concluded that she and her nephews were too much bother after all?
What if Jared was downstairs drinking brandy to forget that he was stuck with the lot upstairs?
Olympia paused in front of the glass on her dressing table and scowled at her image. It was not entirely her fault that she and Jared had been obliged to marry, she thought. Jared had set the entire disaster in motion when he had insinuated himself into her household as the children's tutor.
He had deceived her right from the start. And while she could certainly sympathize with his reasons for doing so, the fact nevertheless removed some of her own guilt in the matter.
Furthermore, she had employed Jared at the start of this business and he had never actually resigned.
Olympia's chin lifted. Jared had no right treating his innocent employer to such surly behavior on her wedding night.
Inspired with righteous resolve, Olympia straightened her cap on her hair, retied her wrapper, and went to the door. She opened it and stepped out into the silent hall.
From the top of the stairs she could make out the glow of candlelight under the study door. She squared her shoulders, stalked down the stairs, and crossed the small downstairs hall.
She raised her hand to knock on the door, changed her mind, and turned the knob, instead. Head high, she sailed into the study and closed the door behind her.
She halted abruptly when she saw Jared. The sight of him unsettled her far more than she had expected.
Jared sprawled in her chair with the relaxed grace of a carnivorous beast. His boots were arrogantly propped on her desk, as if he owned the study and everything in it.
He had long since discarded his coat. The single candle that burned in the room revealed that Jared's shirt was undone halfway down his chest. He had a half-finished glass of brandy in one hand.
The black velvet patch over his left eye only served to make the hooded gleam in his good eye all the more intimidating.
"Good evening, Olympia. I assumed you would be sound asleep by now."
Olympia fortified herself against the decidedly unpleasant tone of his voice. "I came downstairs to speak to you, Mr. Chillhurst."
Jared's brow rose. "Mr. Chillhurst?"
"Your lordship," she corrected herself impatiently. "I wish to discuss a certain matter with you."
"Do you, indeed? I would not advise it, madam. Not tonight." He saluted her with the brandy glass. "I am not in the best of moods, you see."
"I understand," Olympia gave him a small, tremulous smile. "You have been through a great deal this evening. A man of your refined sensibilities is bound to be affected by such an unfortunate experience. No doubt you need time to recover."
"No doubt." Jared's mouth twisted. Harsh amusement gleamed in his gaze as he took a swallow of the brandy. "We men who are cursed with refined sensibilities and passionate natures have somewhat emotional reactions to kidnappings and such."
"There is no need to mock me or your own nature, Chillhurst," Olympia said quietly. "We are what we are and we must make the best of it." She took a deep breath and gathered her courage. "And I feel the same applies to our marriage, my lord."
Jared regarded her with a look of disgust. "Does it, indeed?"
Olympia took a step forward and clutched her wrapper very tightly together just below her throat. "The thing is, sir, we are stuck with each other, if you see what I mean."
"Stuck with each other. A charming notion."
"I realize you are having second thoughts about the wisdom of our marriage and I am truly sorry about that. I did try to dissuade you, if you will recall."
"Only too well, madam."
"Yes, well, unfortunately, there is nothing to be done about it now. We must try to make the best of it."
Jared put down his brandy glass and rested his elbows on the arms of the chair. He placed his fingertips together and regarded her with an enigmatic expression.
"Are you having second thoughts about our marriage, Olympia?"
She hesitated. "I regret that you felt compelled to marry me, my lord. I would not have had it thus."
"I was not compelled to marry you."
"Yes, you were."
"Must you argue with me at every turn?" Jared's mouth thinned. "I married you because I wished to do so."
"Oh." Olympia was taken aback by that statement. Her spirits lifted. "That is very reassuring, my lord. I had been a trifle anxious, you see. One does not like to feel that one has been married simply because there was no honorable alternative."
"I dissolved one engagement, if you will recall. Rest assured, had I wished to do so, I would have found a way out of this alliance, too."
"Like you, I am not overly concerned with appearances or the potential of a scandal."
Olympia took another step toward the desk. "I am very pleased to hear that, my lord."
He tilted his head slightly, his expression mockingly quizzical. "Do you think you might manage to call me Jared? We are quite alone here tonight. And as you have just pointed out, we are married now."
Olympia blushed. "Yes, of course. Jared."
"Why did you marry me, Olympia?"
"I beg your pardon?"
He watched her face in the candlelight. "I asked why you married me. Was it solely because you have found me somewhat useful about the place?"
"I believe that was what you implied when you accepted my offer yesterday. You made it clear that you valued me primarily because I could keep your household in order."
Olympia was horrified. "I only said that because I had the headache and I was very overset by that scene in the parlor with Lady Beaumont and Lady Kirkdale and Mr. Seaton. There are many other reasons why I was pleased to accept your offer."
"Are you quite certain?" Jared tapped his fingertips together. "I should point out that I am not quite so useful as you might have once believed me to be. I almost lost Robert for you tonight."
"You did not lose Robert, he got himself lost." Olympia was growing desperate. "You rescued him, Jared. And I shall never forget it."
"Is that the reason you have come down here tonight? Did you wish to thank me for rescuing Robert after I lost him?"
"That is quite enough." Olympia stormed the rest of the way across the room to stand directly in front of the desk. "I believe you are being deliberately difficult, sir."
"Quite possibly. I am in a difficult mood."
Olympia narrowed her eyes. "What's more, I begin to believe that you have instigated this quarrel merely to cause me distress."
"I did not start this quarrel." Jared abruptly took his boots down off her desk and got to his feet. He towered over her. "You did."
"I did not." Olympia refused to draw back.
"Yes, you did. I was sitting alone down here, minding my own affairs, when you came traipsing through that door a moment ago."
"This is our wedding night," Olympia said through her teeth. "You should have been upstairs with me. I should not have had to come down here to look for you."
Jared flattened his hands on the desk and leaned closer. "Tell me why you agreed to marry me, Olympia."
"You know the answer to that." Passionate outrage swept through Olympia. "I married you because you are the only man I have ever wanted. The only man whose touch fills me with desire. The only man who understands me. The only man who does not think me odd. Jared, you have given life to my very dreams. How could I not want to marry you, you bloody pirate?"
A thundering hush settled on the room. Olympia felt as though she had just stepped off a very high bridge above a roaring, fathomless torrent.
"Ah," Jared said softly. "Well, there is that, I suppose." He reached for her.
And caught her just as she plummeted into the sea of passion that cascaded over them both.