My jaw hung open as Joseph returned to the room. He looked at me. Keep kissing up, she said.

Are you all right? she asked Fleur, who was still hiccuping in her arms. No, don’t answer that. Of course you’re not all right. None of us is.

By the way you pursed your lips when you swallowed, like it burned going down. There are much better things you can put in your mouth.That got her attention. Those blue eyes snapped to mine and widened as I leaned in a little closer.

I could help if you’re looking for something a little . . . sweeter.Charlotte didn’t nod, but she didn’t shake her head either. I took her lack of response as a yes, and wondered for a second exactly what I could get away with.What if I just went for it and closed the gap between us? What if I pressed my lips against hers and slipped my tongue into that smart little mouth?

As tempting as the notion was, I raised a hand to the bartender instead. Two glasses of Wilder, I told him. Neat.I placed a hand on the back of the empty barstool next to her and waited for her to nod her okay before I sat down.

Whiskey? she asked when the glasses were placed in front of us.

Best whiskey in town.She was perfect. And sweet. And he had the strangest sense that he could stay there all day, his hand on her cheek, her hand on his head, touching nowhere else but at their lips. It was almost chaste, almost spiritual.

But then a bird cawed loudly in the distance, its sharp call piercing the moment. Something changed. Iris grew still, or maybe she simply breathed again, and with a shaky exhale, Richard managed to pull himself a few inches away. He blinked, then blinked again, trying to bring the world into focus. His universe had shrunk to this one woman, and he could not seem to see anything but her face.Her eyes were filled with amazement, the same expression, he thought, that must be in his own. Her lips were gently parted, offering him the tiniest peek at her pink tongue. It was the strangest thing, but he felt no urge to kiss her. He wanted just to look at her. He wanted to watch the emotions wash across her face. He wanted to watch her eyes as the pupils adjusted to the light. He wanted to memorize the shape of her lips, to learn how quickly her eyelashes swept up and down when she blinked.

That was . . . he finally murmured.That was . . . she echoed.