Poppy felt ill as she heard the na**d greed in his voice. Kinloch wanted profits. Sir Gerald wanted power.

And if Harry obliged them . . .

She couldn’t bear to listen any longer. As the men continued to talk, she slipped away silently.

Chapter Eighteen

After bidding farewell to Sir Gerald and Edward Kinloch, Harry turned and set his back against the inside door of his apartments. The prospect of designing the new gun and integrated bullet casings would ordinarily have been an interesting challenge.

At present, however, it was nothing but an annoying distraction. There was only one problem he was interested in solving, and it had nothing to do with mechanical wizardry.

Rubbing the back of his neck, Harry went to his bedroom in search of a nightshirt. Although he usually slept naked, it would hardly be comfortable to do so on the settee. The prospect of spending another night there caused him to question his own sanity. He was faced with the choice of sleeping in a comfortable bed with his enticing wife, or alone on a narrow piece of furniture . . . and he was going to opt for the latter?

His wife regarded him from the bed, her gaze accusatory. “I can’t believe you’re even considering it,” she said without preamble.

It took his distracted brain a moment to comprehend that she was not referring to their sleeping arrangements, but the meeting he’d just concluded. Had he not been so weary, Harry might have thought to advise his wife that now was not the night to pick an argument.

“How much did you hear?” he asked calmly, turning to rummage in one of the dresser drawers.

“Enough to understand that you may design a new kind of weapon for them. And if so, you would be responsible for so much carnage and suffering—”

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“No, I wouldn’t.” Harry tugged off his necktie and coat, tossing them to the floor instead of laying them neatly on a chair. “The soldiers carrying the guns would be responsible for it. And the politicians and military men who sent them out there.”

“Don’t be disingenuous, Harry. If you didn’t invent the weapons, no one would have them in the first place.”

Giving up the search for the nightshirt, Harry untied his shoes and cast them on the heap of his discarded clothing. “Do you think people will ever stop developing new ways to kill each other? If I don’t do this, someone else will.”

“Then let someone else. Don’t let it be your legacy.”

Their gazes met, clashing. For God’s sake, he wanted to beg her, don’t push me tonight. The effort to carry on a coherent conversation was draining away what little self-restraint he had left.

“You know that I’m right,” Poppy persisted, flinging back the covers and hopping out of bed to confront him. “You know how I feel about guns. Doesn’t that matter to you at all?”

Harry could see the outline of her body in the thin white nightgown. He could even see the tips of her br**sts, rosy and firm in the chill of the room. Right and wrong . . . no, he didn’t give a damn about useless moralizing. But if it would soften her toward him, if it would cause her to yield even a little of herself, he would tell Sir Gerald and the entire British government to go swive themselves. And somewhere in the depths of his soul, a fracture began as he experienced something entirely new . . . the desire to please another person.

Yielding to the feeling before he even knew what it was, he opened his mouth to tell Poppy that she could have her way. He would send word to the War Office tomorrow that the deal was off.

Before he could get out a word, however, Poppy said quietly. “If you keep your promise to Sir Gerald, I’m going to leave you.”

Harry wasn’t aware of reaching out for her, only that she was in his grip, and that she was gasping. “That’s not a choice for you,” he managed to say.

“You can’t make me stay if I don’t want to,” she said. “And I won’t compromise on this, Harry. You will do as I ask, or I will leave.”

All hell broke loose inside him. Leave him, would she?

Not in this life, or the next.

She thought him a monster . . . well, he would prove her right. He would be everything she thought him and worse. He jerked her against him, hot blood teeming in his groin as he felt the cambric slide over her firm, smooth body. Grasping her braid in his hand, he pulled the ribbon loose. His mouth went to the curve of her neck and shoulder, and the scents of soap and perfume and female skin inundated his senses.

“Before I make a decision,” he said in a guttural tone, “I think I’ll have a sample of what I might be forgoing.”

Her hands came up to his shoulders as if to push him away.

But she wasn’t struggling. She was holding onto him.

Harry had never been so aroused, desperate beyond pride. He held her, absorbing the feel of her with his whole body. Her hair was loose, fiery silk sliding over his arms. He took handfuls of it, lifted the soft locks to his face. She smelled like roses, the intoxicating residue of perfumed soap or bath oil. He hunted for more of the scent, drawing it in with deep breaths.

Tugging the front of her nightgown open, Harry sent tiny cloth-covered buttons pattering to the carpet. Poppy quivered but offered no resistance as he tugged the garment to her waist, letting the sleeves trap her arms. His hand went to one of her br**sts, their shapes lush and beautiful in the muted light. He touched her with the backs of his fingers, drifting down until one of the pink buds was caught lightly between his knuckles. He pulled, just a little. At the feel of the gentle tug, Poppy gasped and bit her lip.