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Page 58

Violet studied the drawings with interest. “I thought you were a balloonist.”

He shrugged. “My career as an aeronaut is a passing hobby. My real concern is designing engines to make vehicles go where I want at my command. Needs much work, as you saw, firsthand. Here’s the motorbike.”

Daniel came next to her to push papers out of the way. The drawing he pulled out showed different angles of what looked like a bicycle with large tires and a large box for the engine where the pedals should be.

“Haven’t got the design quite right, yet. The engine box can’t be too big, or the rider won’t be able to keep the thing upright. But not too small, or there won’t be enough power to make it faster than a regular bicycle. But bicycles can run across fields and through mud where even horses have difficulty.”

Daniel’s animation as he spoke about his designs made him different from the Daniel she’d observed with his friends on the street or at tonight’s ball. Both places he’d been full of lazy smiles and cultured charm, speaking with the same ease to courtesans as he did the comtesse.

Now his gaze held intensity, his focus all for the inventions he loved. His body hummed with his excitement, the heat of him next to her cutting through the cold in the room.

Violet liked him best like this, his hair rumpled, his eyes warm as he focused on his passions. Daniel was letting Violet into his world. The energy he exuded as he talked her through the drawings rendered every gentleman she’d met at the ball tonight languid and dull.

Then he stopped. “Damn, listen to me.” Daniel dropped the drawings to the table. “I bring a beautiful woman back to my rooms, and I talk about engines.”

“I like engines.” Violet did. Everything about the balloon and these motorcars and motor-bicycle fascinated her.

“I know you do. That’s why I adore you, lass. Hang on a minute.”

Daniel made a path to the fireplace in the corner, shoveled a bit of coal into it, and lit it with a few matches. After a moment, fire began to flicker around the coals, on their way to bringing warmth to the room.

“Better.” Daniel wiped his hands on a rag that was already stained with coal dust and tossed it down. “I’ll show you what I’ve done on the bike and the motorcar when we get back to London. For now . . .”

He peeled the greatcoat from her shoulders and ran his hands up Violet’s arms. In spite of him forsaking his gloves when they’d entered, his hands were already warm, dragging heat into her skin.

Violet still shook, her heart alternately squeezing in cold pulses or pounding hot.

She wanted this. She wasn’t a shrinking virgin, was she? Daniel was amazing, handsome, funny, kind. He’d brought her here to be his lover for the night, in this place of his heart, tucked away where no one would find them.

Why not take what he offered, even if only once?

But she sensed the terror lurking inside her, coiled like a waiting snake.

Daniel wasn’t the monster. Violet’s past was.

Daniel continued to caress her, his hands coming up to clasp her shoulders. His first kiss would be gentle, she already knew that. And then he’d touch her and slowly open her.

The slowness might kill her. Too much time for the fear to take over, to dictate what happened.

Violet could think of only one thing to do. She shoved his hands from her shoulders, slammed her arms around him, closed her fingers in his hair, and yanked him down to frantically kiss his lips.

Chapter 16

The force of Violet’s kiss, the small pain of her tug on Daniel’s hair, made everything go foggy for him. Her mouth was hard on his, her tongue scraping inside him. Daniel opened his lips for her and tasted her desperation.

Violet’s hands scrabbled to open his frock coat, his waistcoat. She pulled on the buttons of Daniel’s shirt until a few ripped away, then she grabbed the waistband of his kilt.

Daniel broke the kiss and caught her seeking hands as one snaked down to cup him through the plaid wool. Violet’s eyes held need, but also fear, the same fear she’d shown in London the moment before she’d reached for the deadly vase.

“Love,” Daniel said. “Slow down a little. Let me savor you.”

“I can’t.” Violet yanked her hands out of his grip and seized his shoulders, dragging him against her. “I can’t go slowly. I can’t.” She kissed his lips, his chin, the rough stubble of whiskers. “Please, Daniel.”

Daniel gently but firmly held her back. Violet looked up at him with wild blue eyes in a face pale behind the dark powder.

“Lass, I’m hungry for you too. Believe me, I am. But I’m not going to fall on ye and devour you. Much as I’d like to. I want to get to know you.” His grip softened, and he drew one finger across her cheek. “I want to know all of you, Vi, my sweet South London Sassenach.”

“I can’t.” Violet grabbed his shirt, jerking it apart, the remaining buttons tinkling to the floor. “I need to do this. I need to.”

“Violet.” Daniel’s voice went stern. He seized her wrists to still her wild clawing. “Stop this.”

“I can’t. Why should a man be able to rip into a woman . . .” She trailed off as the fear welled up, spilling tears from her eyes. “I can’t.” Her sobs came up, heaves that shook her chest. “I can’t. It’s not fair.”

“Vi.”

Violet jerked out of his grasp, spun away, and ended up sitting on the window seat. She clasped her arms over her belly and rocked back and forth.

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