Authors: Andrea Pickens
Sweeter Than Sin
The Dangerous Liaisons Series
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The lush scent of sweetness licking up from the flames.
"Breathe deeply, Rafael." The contessa held him close to the swirling steam. "Drink in its essence." She sprinkled a grating of cinnamon and a pinch of
over the roasting nibs. "Watch carefully,
. Like life itself, the cacao is even better with a bit of spice, but the mix must be just right. Let me show you..."
Her hands fluttered over the copper cauldron, still quick and graceful despite the gnarled knuckles and fragile wrists. "
—food of the gods," she murmured. "Now we must wait for just the right moment to douse the flames. Remember—its magic cannot be rushed, Rafael."
From a smaller pot, the contessa poured a measure of hot milk into a silver cup. Adding a spoonful of ground beans, thickened with sugar, she whipped the concoction to a foaming froth with her
. "But patience will be rewarded. Drink this—"
Throat parched, Rafael de Villefranca Greeley managed only a hoarse croak as he grabbed at thin air.
"Drink this, sir." The sergeant dodged a fist and held the glass to the major's lips. "The doctor says it will help ease the pain."
Now fully awake, Rafael fell back against the rumpled pillow. The laudanum was bitter as bile on his tongue. Not at all like the taste of his grandmother's chocolate. He closed his eyes, savoring for an instant the spicy warmth of her laughter, the touch of her sugar-dusted fingers upon his cheek.
But now there was only opium, and a darkness blacker than hell.
He gulped down a swallow and waited for the drug to dull his senses. Shadows flickered in the guttering candlelight of the field hospital, ghostly patterns on the bloodstained canvas. From nearby, a man moaned, his agony echoing down the row of straw pallets.
"You are lucky to be alive, sir," murmured the sergeant. "An English officer pulled you from beneath your dying horse before the French could muster a counterattack."
The shapes blurred, and the frail fingers of the elderly countess curved into sabers. Slashing steel, filling the air with the stench of death. A splash of crimson as his cousin charged forward to block the blow meant for his own head. Pressing his palms to his brow, Rafael bit back a groan. His skin was sheened in sweat and yet he felt chilled to the bone.
Jack was dead and he was alive. That was no blessing but a curse. How was he ever to face his uncle with the news?
Shivering, Rafael surrendered to oblivion, knowing it was a coward's way out of the battle. But even as he sunk into a fitful sleep, he knew the war was far from over.
* * *
"Why must you always be so cautious?"
"Because one of us must try to temper wild spirits with common sense."
Kyra Pinnell colored, uncomfortably aware that her sister's words held more than a grain of truth. At the moment, however, the warning rubbed raw. She ducked to tighten the saddle girth. "You needn't come along, Lexy. I'm more than willing to bear the brunt of any trouble that comes from this." The big stallion whinnied as she worked the bit between his teeth. "Not that there is much chance of that. Aunt Adelaide is dozing in a corner of the card room—"
"You ought not to have slipped brandy into her punch," chided Alexandra.
"It's a harmless prank." Kyra's laugh, slightly slurred by several glasses of champagne, gave way to a defiant little tilt of her chin. "Chas bet Harry that I could not ride Pemberton's bay to the abbey ruins and back in under a quarter of an hour. What fun I shall have in making him eat his words."