He flinched away from her, and Tessa dropped her hand, hurt. “Jem, what it is it? You don’t want me to touch you?”Teaser #2:
“Not like that,” he flared, and then flushed even darker than before.
“Like what?” She was honestly bewildered; this was behavior she might have expected from Will, but not from Jem: this mysteriousness, this anger.
“As if you were a nurse and I were your patient. You think because I am ill I am not like —” He drew a ragged breath. “Do you think I do not know,” he went on more quietly, “that when you take my hand, it is only so that you can feel my pulse? Do you think I do not know that when you look into my eyes it is only to see examine my pupils, to see how much of the drug I have taken? If I were another man, a normal man, I might have hopes, presumptions even; I might -—” His words seemed to catch; either because he realized he had said too much or because he had run out of breath.
She shook her head, feeling her plaits tickle her neck. “This is the fever speaking, not you.”
His eyes darkened, and he began to turn away from her. “You can’t even believe I could want you,” he said in a half-whisper. “That I am alive enough, healthy enough —”
“No.” Without thinking, she caught at his arm. He stiffened. “James, that’s not at all what I meant —”
He curled his fingers around her hand, where it lay on his arm. His own scorched her skin, hot as fire. And then he turned her, and drew her toward him.
They stood face to face, chest to chest. His breath stirred her hair. She felt the fever rising off him like mist off the Thames; sensed the pounding of the blood through his skin, saw with a strange clarity the pulse at his neck, the light on the pale curls of his hair where it lay against his paler throat. Prickles of heat ran up and down her skin, bewildering her. This was Jem — her friend, steady and reliable as a heartbeat. Jem did not set her skin on fire or make the blood rush fast inside her veins until she was dizzy.
“Tessa,” he said. She looked up at him. There was nothing steady or reliable about his expression. His silver eyes were dark, his cheeks flushed. As she raised her face, he brought his down, his mouth slanting across hers, and even as she froze in surprise they were kissing.
They slowed finally at the southeastern corner of the church. Watery daylight poured through the rose windows overhead. “I know we are in a hurry to get to the Council meeting,” said Jem. “But I wanted you to see this.” He gestured around them. “Poet’s Corner.”
Tessa had read of the place, of course, where the great poets and writers of England were buried. There was the gray stone tomb of Chaucer, with its canopy, and other familiar names: Edmund Spenser, who had written The Faerie Queen, “Oh, and Milton,” she gasped, “and Coleridge, and Robert Burns, and Shakespeare —”
“He isn’t really buried here,” said Jem, quickly. “It’s just a monument.”
“Oh, I know, but —” She looked at him, and felt herself flush. “I can’t explain it. It’s like being among friends, being among these names. Silly, I know . . .”
“Not silly at all.”
She smiled at him. “How did you know just what I’d want to see?”
“How could I not?” he said. “When I think of you, and you are not there, I see you in my mind’s eye always with a book in your hand.” He looked away from her as he said it, but not before she caught the slight flush on his cheekbones. He was so pale, he could never hide even the least blush, she thought — and was surprised how affectionate the thought was.
She had become very fond of Jem over the past fortnight; Will had been studiously avoiding her, Charlotte and Henry were caught up in issues of Clave and Council and the running of the Institute —even Jessamine seemed preoccupied. But Jem was always there. He seemed to take his role as her guide to London seriously: they had been to Hyde Park and Kew Gardens, the National Gallery and the British Museum, the Tower of London and Traitor’s Gate. They gone to see the cows being milked in St James Park, the fruit and vegetable sellers in Covent Garden, had watched the boats sailing on the sun-sparked Thames from the Embankment. And as the days went on, Tessa felt herself unfolding slowly out of her quiet, huddled unhappiness over Nate and Will and the loss of her old life, like a flower climbing out of frozen ground. She had even found herself laughing. And she had Jem to thank for it.
“You are a good friend,” she exclaimed, and when, to her surprise, he said nothing to that, she said, “At least, I hope we are good friends. You do think so too, don’t you, Jem?”
He turned to look at her.