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As reluctant allies on a quest to solve a grisly murder, Ben and Barbara discuss an important clue that could lead them to the killer, and Ben regrets having become a little too excited while trapped in a tight space with Barbara the night before.
Ben laughed, and just when I’d begun to think he couldn’t possibly be any more handsome, he had to go and prove me wrong. “You know,” he said, looking across at me with a smile, “you aren’t half bad when you’re not tossing out threats.”
I wasn’t sure whether to be flattered or insulted by not half bad, so I focused on the part that made no sense. “What do you mean, ‘tossing out threats’?”
“You know…” he said, coloring slightly. “Hinting that if I didn’t agree to keep your sister’s secret, you’d make my—my predicament in the cupboard public knowledge.”
My jaw dropped. “You thought I was threatening you?” I sprang to my feet, incensed. “I was simply trying to appeal to your better nature, you clunch! I was attempting to point out that every one of us has things we’d rather not share with the world. Even if I’d wanted to hold such a thing over your head, how could I reveal what happened without compromising my own reputation into the bargain? For that matter, what’s to prevent you from telling every gossip in London I touched your—your—” Blushing, I finished hotly, “And what’s to stop you from bragging to everyone you know that I invited you into my bedroom today?”
Ben had risen to his feet when I did, and now he quivered as if I’d slapped him. “I would never do anything so contemptible. What kind of scoundrel do you think I am?”
“The kind who thinks I’m a vicious, unprincipled schemer!”
We glared at each other.
“All right,” Ben said at last. “I’ll concede you weren’t threatening me if you’ll concede I’m not a scoundrel.”
“I wasn’t threatening you.”
“I realize that now.”
“Well, good. I’m glad we have that much straight.”
“So am I.”
And then a subtle shift took place. One moment we were staring each other down, both of us indignant and a little flushed, and the next we were gazing into each other’s eyes. As the seconds stretched out, the look between us went beyond gazing, so that I had the strange and dizzying sensation that the earth had given way beneath me, and I was tumbling helplessly through space.
I leaned infinitesimally closer. His lips parted, and, ever so slightly, he bent his head toward mine, his eyes beginning to drift closed.
Just as his lips brushed mine, I snapped out of the trance I’d fallen into. Oh, no, I was not going to make that mistake again—the mistake of thinking a gentleman was interested in me when he wasn’t. The nicest thing Ben had ever said to me was that I wasn’t half bad. Just because he was unfairly handsome and had those beguilingly sleepy gray eyes didn’t mean I was going to kiss him—and in my bedroom, no less. I was not that idiotic.
I jumped back. “What are you doing?”
Looking startled, he drew back, too. “What do you mean, what am I doing? What are you doing?”
“I asked you first!”