He stood, dug out his tin of amber mints, and flicked it open. He held it out to her. “Keep it to one. They’re very strong but well worth the unexpected bite.” It was the ultimate test. If she could handle the heat of his candy, she could handle him.
She peered down at the small tin that hosted the remaining amber hard candies. “What are they?”
“If ginger and licorice ever fell madly in love and married, their children would look exactly like this. It’s an acquired taste.” And yes, he was also referring to himself.
She leaned in and lifted her gloved finger above the tin as if to take one, but edged her fingers back and quickly lowered her hand. “I really don’t care for spiced candies. They usually overwhelm me. I prefer simple candies. Plain sweets. Do you have any honey sticks?”
Honey sticks? This one desperately needed some excitement in her life. And he was more than willing to give it. “I’m sorry, love, but I don’t do honey sticks. Plain sweets do nothing for me. In my opinion, being overwhelmed is far better than being underwhelmed.” He edged in closer until their faces were only two hands apart and her skirts brushed his trouser-clad thighs. The fullness of those lips taunted him as he rattled the candies in the tin. “I can assure you, it’s worth trying.” He held her gaze. “I promise you’ll never be the same.”
Her lips parted as she lowered her gaze back to the candies and perused each one as if they were different, even though they were the same. “I suppose I don’t mind trying one. How strong are they?”
“Your very knees will wobble.” He took one out of the tin with his bare fingers and brought it to her mouth, gently tucking it between those already parted lips. “Now imagine me crawling onto your tongue.” He pushed it in, letting her moist lips graze the tip of his finger.
Her eyes widened.
Ah, yes. That was the reaction he was hoping for. He grinned, clicked the tin shut and put it into his pocket. Holding her gaze, he sucked on the finger her lips had touched, trying not to be too obvious about it, and asked, “What do you think?”
She glanced at the finger he had sucked, her cheeks flushing. Her lips remained overly puckered as she winced against watering eyes. “I…sakes alive…it’s very…”
He still grinned. “Intoxicating. I know. If you bite into it, it adds more fire. Do you like fire?”
Her chest rose and fell more steadily. She waved a hand before her flushed face and pushed the candy around in her mouth and winced. “No. I don’t— This is…I can’t believe you actually like this. It’s like piling on…agony. My tongue is burning.”
That wasn’t the only thing burning. Her flushed face was stunning to watch. He could only imagine what she’d look like after a kiss. He angled in very close to the side of her bonnet and whispered so his brother couldn’t hear, “If you can handle the burn, you can handle me. How about we disappear for a small while into the library? I promise we won’t do anything you don’t want to do.”
She choked and spit out the candy into her gloved hand.
He leaned back. “Are you all right? Is it coming on too strong?”
She scrambled away, her chest heaving. “I can assure you, Mr. Holbrook, it isn’t the candy that is coming on strong.” She tried to flick the candy off her glove, but it stubbornly clung to the kid leather. She panicked and shook her hand once and twice, but it still clung.
He closed the distance between them again. “You shouldn’t waste it. They cost a shilling a piece. Come here.” Taking her hand, he brought her palm upward.
She stilled and their gazes locked.
Still holding her gaze, he used his lips to fully take up the candy into his mouth, dragging his lips across the expensive leather of her glove so he could taste more than just candy. “You’re beautiful. Do you know that?”