“I need answers to keep more people from dying,” Tess ignored the internal struggle to tell more and yet to hold back.
“I find myself confused by you, by who you are.” Northfield turned on the stool so that they faced each other directly, knees bumping together and sending her body humming once more. “I also find myself respecting you as well. For more than your fighting skills and your intelligence.”
For a moment, Tess felt as though the duke saw more than what she presented to the world. That he saw something deeper, though she did not entirely know what that meant. A flush rose in her, hot beneath her skin
She’d had too much gin.
He tipped his glass and stared into the unconsumed contents. After a moment of deliberation, it seemed he had made up his mind. “I suppose we want the same thing, as we both want to know who is smuggling the muskets—assuming it is not you, of course.”
“And assuming it is not you.” Still unsteady, Tess studied the duke’s serious expression. Perhaps it would be best if they were bound together for now.
Keep your friends close.
Keep your enemies closer.
She pushed her stool away from the counter and stood. Northfield did the same, so they were face-to-face. Even as she opened her mouth to speak, the simmering crowd shifted, pressing toward them so Tess was forced against Northfield.
Her hands came up, palms against his chest, to steady herself. Even through his coat, she felt the heat of him.
Beneath the rough fabric, his muscles tensed as if ready to spring.
Instead, keeping that strength controlled, he slowly raised his hands and set them on her upper arms. His fingers stayed there for a moment, tentatively, as if they could not decide where to roam next.
“I had forgotten we were the same height.” He spoke in a low voice, barely audible above the sound of the crowd. The vivid green of his eyes was intense, the desire in them clear, while his thumbs gently stroked her arms.
“So that is the way of it, Northfield?” she whispered, breathing in his spice and sandalwood scent. There was a beat in her blood now, a deep, warm pulse that made her want to forget they were standing in the center of a tavern.
“Against all good judgment,” he answered with a wry smile on his lips. That devil’s face with its angles and piercing eyes had softened, his eyes heavy-lidded and without their usual wariness. He set a thumb against her bottom lip, lightly, and the gesture was more powerful because of it.
The crowd shifted again, moving away from them, but she did not step back. Not yet. She needed something more, craved it, to ease what roiled inside her.
Tess gripped his neckcloth and twisted her fingers into it, then pulled him close. There were only inches between them, and she was aware of each small movement of his body and the curve of his full lower lip.
“This changes nothing,” she whispered, and pressed her mouth against his. His body was solid and warm, the hands that moved to circle her waist large and strong, his mouth firm against hers. She tasted brandy and man and reveled in the heat of both. “I will not stop watching you,” she murmured against his mouth before drawing back. Late-evening stubble shadowed his jaw, and with a lock of deep black hair falling over his forehead, he looked every bit the dangerous rogue. “If I did, it would be against everything I believe in.”
“Oh, I understand.” His mouth met hers once more, hard and fast, as if to accentuate his hunger. “You are, effectively, an adversary.”
She smiled fiercely at him.
“You would do well to remember it.”