“Tell me what you love most in the world.”
Iris stared at Henri. She didn’t understand his captivation with her, but they were stuck together for the rest of this dance. She couldn’t very well ignore him.
She could try to dissuade his attention, though.
She smiled a bit thinly. “I love poison.”
Henri blinked, though he was skilled enough at dancing that he didn’t miss a step. “Poison?”
“Yes.” Her head tipped to the side. “Don’t you think poison is interesting?”
“I’ve never really thought about it, to be honest.”
“It’s my favorite area of study.”
Challenge was in his voice, and Iris’s spine straightened as she rose to it. “Did you know there’s a toad in Zennor that secretes a venom that can paralyze every muscle in a man’s body? It’s absorbed through the skin, so there’s not even a need to pierce the flesh. And did you know there’s a berry in Devendra so poisonous, it can kill a person mere seconds after eating it? There’s a root in Mortise that can be ground up and dried, and added to tea—and it will boil your insides. There’s even a powder that can burn you. No flames—just a harmless-looking white powder. There are potions that will make a person sleep, and others that will keep a person awake. Some things can even force a person to tell the truth—whether they want to or not. It’s endlessly thrilling to experiment with what nature offers. Perfecting it, and making it your own . . . It’s my ultimate passion.”
Henri stared at her, his expression impossible to read.
Iris’s cheeks warmed under his scrutiny. “What?”
“You’ve convinced me,” he said. “Poison is utterly fascinating.”
They still moved together to the sound of the stringed music, dancing on the floor with the other couples. But having his focus solely on her, Iris felt like they were completely alone.
“How did you come to know so much about poison?” Henri asked.
“It was my father’s passion. I joined him in his research, and it eventually became mine as well. I’ve learned much from books and experimentation.”
His forehead creased. “That sounds dangerous.”
“It can be, if you’re not paying attention. But there’s an order to things. An expected reaction. It’s exhilarating when you find the right blend or the proper dilution . . .” She trailed off.
Henri was smiling. “Utterly fascinating,” he repeated. This time, she didn’t think he was talking about poison.
Her face felt even more flushed than before. Almost feverish. Fates, what was wrong with her?
The sound of applause made her jolt. The song had ended.
She attempted to pull away, but Henri held her fast.
“Unfortunately, I must dance with several other ladies tonight,” Henri said. “But are you free tomorrow afternoon?”
Her breathing came out a little strained. “Your Highness, I don’t think you should spend any more of your time with me.”
“Are you free tomorrow afternoon?” he repeated, unruffled.
Across the floor, all the couples had broken apart—except for them. She could feel people staring.
That uncomfortable flush wound down her neck, heating all her skin. “Fine,” she said through her teeth.
The corner of his mouth lifted. “You’re free, then?”
“Yes. As long as you let me go.” She tugged at her hand, which he still clasped.
Henri smiled. “For now.” He lifted her hand and brushed his lips against the back of it.
Her skin tingled from the unexpected kiss, and her heart stuttered in her chest.
The prince seemed wholly unaffected as he released her hand and inclined his head, his lips quirked and his eyes glittering as he said, “Until tomorrow afternoon, Lady Iris.”
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