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Page 33

Daniel’s arm came around her waist. “We have sandbags to counterweight as well,” he said. “But this is much more enjoyable.”

Violet sucked in a breath, torn between exhilaration and terror. “You are the most bloody incorrigible madman I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet!”

“I have no doubt.” Daniel held her close against him, his grin infectious. “Do ye know, when you’re this angry, you speak in your own accent. London, is it? A bit south?”

“Now you are a dialectician as well as a horseman, inventor, and balloonist?”

“No, I’m friends with a bloke from Southwark. You’re not French at all. You’re one of the bloody English, aren’t you?”

“My father’s family is French,” Violet said. “Came to England from a village outside Paris. My father was . . .” She trailed off, not sure what to say. She had no idea what her father had been, and only a vague idea who he’d been.

“I like that you have difficulty lying to me,” Daniel said, his hand warm on her back. “Ye do it so easily to others.”

“I don’t lie.”

“Not outright, but you deceive. Amounts to the same thing in the end. Me, now, I’m never anything but honest.”

“You are, are you?”

“Look around.” Daniel gestured with a broad hand. “Did I not promise you a day out to remember?”

Violet looked, and the last of her fear loosened and flew away. They were higher now, higher than the tallest building she’d ever seen, higher than any hill she’d climbed. The French countryside spread out before them, sharp hills studded with dark evergreens marching northward, snow on the highest peaks.

Behind them was the Mediterranean, vast and dappled blue gray under the sunshine, white gray cliffs of the coast tumbling to the sea. Waves of white foam formed neat lines as they marched toward the cliffs and narrow strips of shingle.

“It’s breathtaking. I’ve never seen . . .”

“Only fools of aeronauts get to see the world like this.” Daniel’s arm tightened around Violet’s waist, his breath in her ear. “I wanted to show it to you.”

“Why?” The wind dragged Violet’s question away.

“Why would I want to show you this? Because it’s breathtaking, like you said.”

“No, I mean . . . why me?”

“You mean because you hit me over the head with a vase?” Daniel’s smile was as warm as his body. He should be freezing without his coat, but his shirt was damp with sweat, and the heat of him cut the wind. “It’s because I’ve never met a woman with such beautiful eyes as yours.”

His gaze, so close, trapped her. Daniel’s eyes were the color of dark whiskey, with sparkles of gold in them like the depths of a fire. He had a hard face for so young a man, and a haunted look he kept buried under many layers. A woman would only see it if she recognized pain, and only if she bothered to look closely enough.

But no woman in Daniel’s arms would be studying him to discover his pain. She’d be trembling, her heart thudding, her legs weakening as she wondered whether he’d kiss her, and if she’d be lost if he did.

Violet felt the hard of the spanner still in Daniel’s hand against her lower back as he pressed her up to him and removed the space between them. He took his time, his gaze flicking to her mouth, before he gently touched her lips with a gentle kiss.

Slow, satin smooth, warm. The light kiss held nothing of the swift desire Daniel had shown in the dining room in London. Nor was it like the sensual kiss he’d given her when they’d shared the cigarette in the room above.

This kiss was careful, tender. Daniel eased his lips across hers, brushing, touching, the tiny contact sending more fire through Violet than his burner sent upward to keep them aloft.

He closed his mouth over her lower lip, suckling a little. The pain was tiny, erotic.

Time slowed and stopped. Nothing existed but Daniel holding Violet, his lips playing with hers, the flicker of his tongue into her mouth. Then came the taste of him, wild and heady, like the best young wine.

Wind sliced across the basket, bringing with it the chill of winter, but in Daniel’s arms there was nothing but warmth. Violet was flying high above the world, joined to Daniel in the quiet but fierce kiss, safe in his embrace. As in the upstairs room when he’d tasted the smoke on her tongue, Violet experienced a jolt of heat, sweet excitement, and no panic.

Daniel’s gloveless hands were strong on her back, the spanner stiff against her spine. Violet’s br**sts tightened in a pleasant way behind her corset, and the heat between her legs was a new sensation. Desire had always been closed off from her—something only the lucky felt.

Daniel eased his lips from hers, but he didn’t step away. Still holding her against the length of him, he glanced to either side of her, taking his time.

“What are you doing?” she asked shakily.

“Looking for something you might hit me with. Wait a moment.” Daniel had her right arm pinned to her by the way he held her, and he now laced his free hand through her left, binding it fast. “There.”

“I don’t want to hit you.” Violet sounded choked.

“You certainly did then.”

“You frightened me. Sometimes I go into . . . I don’t always know what I’m doing or why. Just a flash, and then it’s gone.”

With his eyes so close to hers, she knew Daniel saw the lie—that Violet knew exactly why she’d panicked but didn’t want to explain.

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