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Page 41

Daniel couldn’t stop his chuckle, which shook the bed.

“Are you all right?” Violet rose beside him like a goddess, her dark hair tumbling, her blue eyes picking up the fire’s glow. Her nightgown gaped a little at her neck, showing him the softness of woman inside.

Daniel wanted to push her back down into the bed, bury himself in her, and never come out.

“No,” he said, shoving the covers away. “No, I’m not.” Daniel scrambled out of bed, feet missing the steps, so he thumped to the floor. “I need another walk. To settle my . . .” He trailed off as he grabbed his kilt and coat, heading for the door. “Go to sleep. I’ll be back.”

Daniel shut the door on her bewildered expression, dressed in the hall, and pulled on his boots on the stairs. He walked on down and out of the inn into wind and freezing rain, but it was a long time before his c**k went down again.

Violet woke to sunshine, a fine winter day, and Daniel draped over her.

He was asleep, one large leg shoved between hers, Violet spooned back against his chest. He held her securely with one arm, his breath in her hair steady and even.

Violet didn’t move. If she woke him, Daniel might yank himself away, leave the bed again, perhaps go for another walk. Violet had fallen asleep long before he’d returned.

If he stayed curled around her, she could keep pretending Daniel was hers. The memory needed to last her a long time.

A door slammed somewhere below. Daniel moved behind her, his breath quickening. Violet braced herself for him to roll away and leave her cold, but he didn’t. She turned her head the slightest bit, and found his amber gaze fixed on her.

Daniel’s eyes were the strangest shade of hazel brown, touched with a golden hue, like the depths of strong whiskey. His rumpled hair was dark, burned with bits of red where the sunlight through the shutters touched it. His face had a hardness that would increase with age, and given the number of times he smiled, lines would soon brush the corners of his eyes. He was a strong man, virile, young, beautiful.

Daniel slid his hand from her waist to the open neck of her nightgown. Buttons held the garment closed in front, and Daniel slowly, without much movement, slid the buttons open.

One, two, three . . . He glided his hand inside the nightgown until he reached the warmth of her breast.

Daniel closed his eyes as he cupped Violet’s breast in his work-worn palm. Her breath came faster, which pushed her breast right into his hand.

He was gentle, so gentle. No pinching, squeezing, hurting. Daniel caressed her breast with soft pressure, lifting the weight of it, smoothing his thumb over the areola.

He turned his face to hers and kissed her lips. It was a half kiss, landing on the side of her mouth, but the warmth in it, and the desire, were obvious. A point between Violet’s legs burned.

Daniel very slowly rolled her onto her back, his body now half covering hers. The weight of him was like the finest, warmest pillow, not trapping her but pressing her down into the layers of quilts that cushioned the hard mattress. He drew the placket of her nightdress apart, eyes flicking down to admire the br**sts he caressed.

The next kiss he gave her was like breath itself. Then Daniel licked inside her mouth, slow, tender, sensual.

Violet’s lips opened under his, the slow kiss becoming thorough, loving. Daniel braced himself with one hand on the mattress, while the other smoothed her breast, closing her nipple between his fingers. Their mouths came together again as they tasted each other, learning, a tender moment of discovery.

A heavy rap on the door was followed by the door banging open and the innkeeper’s wife striding in with another full tray. “Good morning, Madame and Monsieur. A little petit-déjeuner for you. Nice and warm after the storm.”

Daniel casually rolled away from Violet and sat up, moving the quilt to cover her open nightgown. “Madame, you are too kind.”

Violet remained in place, her heart hammering at her sudden sense of loss. She felt Daniel’s heat dissipate from around her and knew she’d never be warm again.

Simon and Monsieur Dupuis arrived in a large cart by midmorning. Daniel left Violet to ready herself while he led the two men and some villagers back to the woods to wrest the basket from the trees and load it onto the cart.

The morning was fine and crisp, the sunshine bright, but that couldn’t make up for the fact that Daniel had to leave his warm nest with Violet and return to everyday life.

He’d been right that the villagers had already made off with every bit of silk from the balloon. Daniel promised Dupuis more than the price of it, and Dupuis was satisfied. Daniel always paid his debts.

Dupuis was much more interested in Daniel’s experiments with his onboard combustion engine and the wind machine. Dupuis offered to take the wind machine in trade for the ruined envelope, but Daniel said no. The machine belonged to Violet.

The wind machine was relatively undamaged, though whether it still worked would have to be seen. Daniel wrapped it up and stowed it in the wooden box Simon had brought, then rode back with them and the basket on the cart to the inn.

Violet looked surprised that Daniel had returned for her. He caught her sitting at the table in their bedroom, counting out coins for a third-class ticket on the local train and inquiring from the innkeeper’s wife what time it left the station.

Lord, what had people done to her? When Daniel made Violet his permanent lover, she’d understand that she would be treated better than the false Princess Ivanova ever could have been. Violet would have every luxury, and she’d have them for as long as she could put up with Daniel, and even beyond that.

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