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Page 38

Daniel strode into the parlor, followed soon after by the innkeeper’s wife bearing a tray loaded with full platters and crocks. The odor of hot food made Violet’s stomach growl in longing.

“Thank you kindly,” Daniel said in French as he stripped off his gloves. “Flying is hungry work. Mmm, are those roasted potatoes I smell? In garlic and cream? My favorite.”

He took the heavy tray from the innkeeper’s wife and set it on the table for her, keeping up a conversation with her as he helped her lay out the food. Violet watched mutely from her place on the sofa. When the table was laden with steaming dishes, Daniel walked the innkeeper’s wife to the door, carrying the tray for her, onto which he tossed a few coins before handing the tray back to her and thanking her profusely. The woman was blushing and smiling as she ducked out and closed the door.

Daniel turned back, rubbing his hands. “I’m starving,” he announced in his big voice. “Ate far too early for my good this morning. Aren’t you joining me?”

Violet would have to lay aside his coat to join him and eat. She hated to give it up, as though she’d be giving up a part of him.

But the food called to her. Violet rose and hung Daniel’s coat on a hook on the wall, running her hands over it until the last possible minute. Daniel didn’t notice, still standing over the table and admiring the food.

Daniel waited until Violet sat down at the table before he took the seat closest to hers and started dishing out the food. He filled a plate with sausages, potatoes, greens, and sauce, and added cheese and bread before he laid the plate in front of her. “Grub smells good.”

“You’ve landed on your feet,” Violet said. She took up the bread and spread soft cheese on it as Daniel loaded a plate for himself. “I imagine you always do.”

“Not always.” Daniel shoveled creamy potatoes into his mouth and washed them down with the rough-tasting red wine. “When you laid me out with that vase, I landed on my back.”

Violet looked up at him, stricken. “I will apologize forever for that. It was horrible when I thought I’d hurt you so much.”

Daniel’s eyes glinted with good humor. “Stop. I was teasing you. Mackenzies are hard-headed. Difficult to kill. I imagine I’ll tease you about it for a long time to come.”

Implying they’d be friends for a long time to come. Friends who kissed, flew in balloons together, and shared dinners at out-of-the-way country inns.

Violet had never had such a friendship, especially not with a man. And she’d never desired a man before, but she couldn’t cease thinking about the kisses he’d given her. She thought again of how Daniel had cupped his hands around her backside in the balloon, pulling her hard up into him. The experience of wanting was entirely new, entirely strange, and left her confused.

“Do you think the balloon can be repaired?” she asked, switching to a safe topic.

Daniel returned to his food. “No. And if I’m right, the woodsmen and farmers will make themselves feel better about me destroying their trees by cutting up the silk and selling it or turning it into new clothes. Come summer in this place, everyone will be wearing yellow and scarlet.”

“You don’t seem bothered.”

He shrugged. “As I said, I’ll give Dupuis the price of it. His next balloon will be even better.”

Violet licked cream from her spoon. “It’s the mark of a rich man to be able to give up things so easily. You let it go and buy something new, no worry at all.”

Another shrug. “They’re only things. Besides, these people will save the cost and labor of new cloth. If ye’ve noticed, the innkeeper’s given us the very best in the house, which means they don’t have much overall.”

Careless kindness and generosity flowed from Daniel so easily. He was a man who gave and thought nothing of it.

A gust of wind hit the window, banging a shutter into it. The wind was followed by rain, icy fine, with snowflakes mixed with it. The sunshine outside had gone.

“You were right about the weather changing,” Violet said. “I’m glad we came down before this.” She shivered, feeling winter cold permeate the room, in spite of the fire. “Quite a squall.”

“Ye’ve seen nothing of squalls until it’s the snow whirling around Kilmorgan Castle in a wild white blizzard. But Kilmorgan’s a fine place in the height of summer, when the light never really goes away. ’Tis beautiful. You’ll like it.”

Violet stopped, her fork halfway to her mouth. Daniel went on scraping the last of his sauce from his plate, not noticing her hesitation.

Again he was implying they would be friends for a while. That he’d show her this place with the lofty title of Kilmorgan Castle, in the summer when light lingered into night.

“You shouldn’t make promises you can’t keep,” she said lightly.

Daniel looked up at her, his smile rich and hot. “Oh, sweetheart, I always keep my promises.”

The innkeeper’s wife entered again before Violet could think of a reply. The woman started piling empty dishes onto the tray, taking their compliments on the food in stride. “Just a bit of home cooking,” she said. “Now, we’ve fixed the bedroom upstairs for you. The day is short, the storm is upon us. You’ll not be flying anywhere tonight.” She chuckled. “To be sure, when Jean ran in to tell me a man and his lady wife had been flying high and were now stuck in a tree, I thought he was having fancies. But you’re foreign. What you get up to is beyond me.” She shook her head at them, more amused than dismayed.

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