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Authors: Catherine Palmer

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A Kiss of Adventure

BOOK: A Kiss of Adventure
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A Kiss of Adventure

Copyright © 1997 by Catherine Palmer. All rights reserved.

Cover photograph copyright © 2000 by Ron Chapple/FPG. All rights reserved.

Originally published in 1997 as
The Treasure of Timbuktu.

Designed by Melinda Schumacher

All Scripture quotations except that noted below are taken from the
New American Standard Bible
®
, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quoted in the epigraph is taken from the
Holy Bible,
New Living Translation, copyright © 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or the publisher.

The Library of Congress has cataloged the previous edition as follows:

Palmer, Catherine, date
A kiss of adventure / Catherine Palmer.
     p. cm. — (HeartQuest) (Treasures of the heart ; 1)
ISBN 0-8423-3884-5 (sc)
1.Africa—Fiction. 2.Tuaregs—Fiction. 3. Kidnapping—Fiction. I.Title. II. Series.
PS3566.A495 K57 2000
813´.54—dc21                              00-056768

ISBN-13: 978-1-4143-2190-5
ISBN-10: 1-4143-2190-2

Printed in the United States of America

14 13 12 11 10 09 08
7   6   5   4   3   2   1

For my parents, Harold and Betty Cummins, missionaries to Bangladesh and Kenya from 1959 to 1991

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where they can be eaten by moths and get rusty, and where thieves break in and steal.
Store your treasures in heaven. . . .
Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be.
—J
ESUS
C
HRIST
(M
ATTHEW
6:19-21)

Prologue

“What is the treasure of Timbuktu?” Tillie asked as the purple African twilight gave way to an onyx night. In the secluded clearing she could no longer hear water lapping the banks of the Niger River, but the mosquitoes whining around her head and the bullfrogs croaking their throaty love songs told her the river was not far away.

Graeme squinted once more down the dusty road they had followed; then he leaned back against the fallen branch of a giant baobab tree. “ I’m not sure. It could be a number of things. Right now that’s not important. What is important is that you understand your role.”

“I’m listening.”

“Two hundred years ago, Mungo Park left Scotland to explore this river. He vanished, leaving only that scrap of a diary you’re holding. I don’t know what he meant by writing about a tree-planting woman. I have an idea, but I’m not sure.”

Gently rubbing the aged, crumbling paper between her thumb and forefinger, Tillie pondered the fragile mystery it held. “Go on.”

“When I first found out about the journal, the Tuareg tribe had it. One Targui in particular: Ahodu Ag Amastane. He’s the
amenoukal
, the chieftain, of a large federation of Tuareg drum groups. And he’s not someone to tangle with.
Ruthless
and
bloodthirsty
are the best words I can think of to describe the guy.”

Tillie straightened on the fallen log and listened for any sound of pursuit. “Our friend on the camel?”

“The same.”

“But if the document was his, why did he let the little boy give it to me?”

“I think the boy was sent to find out whether you’re the tree-planting woman.”

“Yes! That’s what he asked when he gave me the amulet!”

“When you acknowledged it, the next step for the
amenoukal
was to abduct you from Bamako.”

“Why?”

“Because of the curse. For some reason the Tuareg believe the document is cursed—and so is the treasure. No one can handle it but the tree-planting woman.” He took the paper, refolded it, and slipped it into the locket. Then he opened her palm and set the amulet in it.

Tillie felt the hair rise on the nape of her neck. Her eyes lifted to meet his.

“Me,” she whispered, slightly stunned. “ I’m the tree-planting woman in the legend.”

ONE

“Nothing happens.” Tillie Thornton slipped her hands into the pockets of her pale blue cotton skirt and frowned. “You know what I mean, Mama Hannah? My life here is always the same, day after day. What am I doing?”

“You are walking through the market with me to buy some fruit and perhaps a good yam.”

Tillie glanced at the elderly African woman—her companion, caretaker, and best friend since her mother’s death so many years before. Never tall, Hannah lately had taken on a pronounced stoop, as though she were always walking into a strong head wind. Tillie knew that the old woman had spent her youth carrying hundred-pound loads of firewood, and that beneath her bright yellow scarf Hannah’s forehead bore the indentation of the leather strap that had steadied the burdens.

But Tillie suspected her
ayah
’s stride had less to do with weighty cargo than with an unfaltering sense of purpose. Hannah never varied from obeying the God-given command to look after her
totos
, the four Thornton children placed in her charge. Shoulders bowed and neck arching forward, she strode Bamako’s dusty streets with no less determination than a mother hen with chick in tow. At twenty-five, Tillie was certainly no fledgling, a fact that mattered not at all to the older woman.

Hannah’s high cheekbones, ebony skin, and large earring holes testified to her Kikuyu heritage, yet she was every bit a mother to the four ivory-skinned siblings she had reared. Practical, pedantic, God-fearing, and blessed with a wry sense of humor, Hannah had been the serene eye in every storm that had whipped across the family through the years. There had been many.

“‘When the whirlwind passes, the wicked is no more,’” she liked to remind the children, “‘but the righteous has an everlasting foundation.’” Solomon’s proverbs were nourishment to Hannah, and she doled them out like precious cups of water to the thirsty.

Looking over a box of yams in the Bamako market, the old woman squinted and tilted her head first one way and then the other. “Small and mealy,” she pronounced. “Come, Tillie. We shall search until we find better yams. ‘The Lord will not allow the righteous to hunger.’”

A heady scent, sweet and overripe, saturated the dry air in the marketplace. Rows of stalls displayed pyramids of fruit and vegetables, sacks of yellow and white corn, lumps of peanut paste, rocks of salt, heaps of fragrant herbs and spices. Like fat black raisins, flies seeking moisture stuck to everything.

While children played in the folds of their skirts, women in flowing dresses and heavy necklaces haggled over prices of silver filigree rings, amber beads, carvings, woven blankets, and cotton fabrics printed in bold patterns and brilliant colors. Their good-natured bartering mingled with the squawks of scrawny chickens and the bleating of tethered goats.

Unable to put aside her nagging discontent, Tillie touched Hannah’s arm. “I know where I’m going today, of course. How could I not know? It’s always the same. I know I’ll fill this basket with bananas and coconuts. I know we’ll walk back to the house and cook supper. Tomorrow morning, I’ll get up and drive out to the compound to check on my neem trees. I’ll talk to my gardeners, prune the trees, plant the three new species that were flown in from South America, eat my lunch—”

From down the row of stalls a swift dark movement caught Tillie’s eye, and she broke off. As she turned, the shadow darted behind a pyramid of long green plantains. “What was that, Hannah?”

“What,
toto
?” Her companion glanced about the market, then shook her head. “Your peace has been shaken by the disturbance last night.”

“Disturbance? Someone tried to break into our house, Mama Hannah! If I hadn’t thrown my shoe at the window and scared him off—”

“God watches over us, doesn’t he?” The elderly woman smiled, her face softening into a familiar grid of gentle lines.

“‘The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe.’ Your unease disturbs me far more than a thief at the window, Tillie. You always wanted to help people, and now you are. Planting trees to hold back the Sahara sands and put food in the mouths of the hungry is a good thing.”

Tillie stopped, her basket of woven palm leaves dangling against her skirt. How could she explain the turmoil in her heart? At her feet, dust from the dry street settled onto her sandals and bare skin. She sucked in a deep breath of arid, ninety-degree heat and brushed at the flies dancing about her face.

Lifting her head, she searched for a way to make Hannah understand. Above her, two-story houses—crumbling whitewashed memories of Mali’s long French occupation— blocked what little breeze might drift from the Niger River a few city blocks away. Laundry strung overhead from balcony to balcony hung motionless in the still afternoon.

“Yes, planting trees is a good thing,” Tillie acknowledged finally. “I can’t deny that.” Though the capital city lay in the Sahel, a zone just south of the Sahara Desert with the river to provide fish and irrigate crops, she knew the threat of famine always hovered. The few native kapok, baobab, and shea trees that studded the shimmering landscape seemed to cry out in thirst.

“But, Hannah,” she went on, “is this God’s choice for me?”

“Once you thought so. I remember how your eyes shone when you tore open the letter from the Pan-African Agriculture Council. When you read that you had been given a job in Mali, you cried, Tillie. Even your father smiled at your happiness.”

“And when you agreed to come here with me, everything seemed exactly right. I’d prayed so hard to find something useful to do with my life, and I felt sure this job was the last piece in the puzzle. My plans all made perfect sense.”


Your
plans? ‘Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord, it will stand.’”

“I thought coming here was God’s plan, too. What could be more logical?” Tillie let her basket drop at her feet and held up her left hand to count in the African way Hannah had taught her. She wrapped her little finger with her right hand.

“First of all, I grew up in Africa. Even though Kenya is on the other side of the continent, I knew I’d adapt to life in Mali better than I ever did to college in the States.” She gripped her ring finger. “Second, I speak three African languages. I felt sure I could learn another.” The middle finger disappeared. “Third, agroforestry is my passion. Holding back the desert with trees to help people grow food was the perfect vocation.”

“Then what troubles you?” The elderly woman took Tillie’s hand and cupped it inside her own dark chocolate fingers. “You have always been the surest of the four
totos
God gave me to bring up. You are calmer than Jessica, bolder than Fiona, and more faithful to the Lord than Grant. What is this distress I see in your eyes?”

Tillie picked up her basket. “Oh, Hannah. I’ve been here almost a year, and I’m sure I haven’t touched a single life. I’m not even certain my trees will grow. PAAC won’t let me drive up north to choose planting sites until I’ve finished all my experiments down here in the capital. I’ve told them Bamako has different soil from Timbuktu and the rest of the Niger River basin, but they—”

Again, a quick movement snared her attention. The shoppers in the market moved as languidly as the stifling air, but someone . . . something . . . didn’t feel right.

“Did you see that?” Tillie whispered. “Over by the sandal stall. Someone’s following us and then hiding when I look up.”

Hannah touched a yam. “It is not every day a white woman with long golden hair walks through Bamako market. Probably a curious child is tagging after you.”

“Maybe.” Tillie scrutinized the stall a moment longer. “Anyway, I don’t see how I’m supposed to spread agroforestry techniques to the people of Mali unless I can spend time with them. My employees have taught me only a smattering of the language because they want to practice their English all the time. And then there’s Arthur. . . .” Her voice trailed off.

“A Christian man. A man who wants to marry you, Tillie.”

“I’ve prayed about Arthur Robinson until I’m blue in the face. I just can’t make up my mind.”

“Your mind?”

“I mean I can’t read God’s will in this. What does he want me to do with my life?”

“He wants you to walk in him one day at a time.”

“Easier said than done.” She flipped her braid over her shoulder as she bent to inspect a stack of mangoes. Selecting one, she held it up to the late sunlight and pressed her thumb against the flesh to see if it was firm.

Hannah tugged on the green leaf-spikes of a pineapple. Dressed as always in a colorful cotton shift and narrow belt, with a bright scarf covering her hair, the old woman seemed as much at home in the middle of Mali as she had been in Kenya, so many miles away. How did she do it? Where did that peace come from?

“Do you think God wants me here planting trees and helping people?” Tillie asked.

“I think he is the vine and you are only a branch. If you remain in him and he remains in you, you will bear fruit as big and sweet as this.” Hannah held up an enormous ripe pineapple. Her face broke into a warm smile, brown eyes crinkling at the corners. “But apart from Christ, Tillie, you cannot do a thing.”

Tillie set the mango back on its pyramid. Her own words echoed.
I’ve been here almost a year, and I’m sure I haven’t touched a single life.
Could her failure to bear fruit, her inability to make a difference in the lives of those she touched every day, mean she had grown apart from Christ?

“God will work his purposes in Mali whether you are here or not,” Hannah said as she set the pineapple in Tillie’s basket. She picked up a coconut from another pile. “With him acting through you, you can do anything. But you have to learn to bend like the coconut palm.”

“I know you’re right. It just seems like nothing ever happens.”

“Something is happening now.”

Tillie swung around. A dark figure slipped behind a door. “I’m telling you! There he is again.”

“It is only Arthur.”

“Arthur? No, it’s—” She turned to find Hannah gazing in the opposite direction. At the opening to the market, a tall man in a crisp gray business suit lifted a hand in greeting.

Tillie let out her breath. “Yes, here comes Arthur. But, Hannah, someone’s in the shadows down at the other end of that stall.”

“A street urchin looking for a pocket to pick.” She added the coconut to Tillie’s basket. “Poor child.”

Tillie watched Arthur’s progress, noting his frown as he skirted a tethered donkey on his way down the long, straw-littered aisle.
In spite of his training in diplomacy, he never feels comfortable in the poorer sections of the city,
Tillie thought.
He’s so much better suited to his air-conditioned office in the British embassy.

During the past year, Tillie had come to enjoy her adopted home. Ever adventurous, she went on lone expeditions, exploring the back alleys of Bamako, drinking cups of steaming, sweet, mint coffee on street corners, trying on the strange silver rings and necklaces sold by street vendors. She had made it her business to absorb every scent, every sound, every taste of Mali’s fascinating desert land.

“Matilda!” Arthur caught up with her and swept his hat from his head. Light brown hair scattered across his damp forehead. “The guard at your house told me you’d walked down to the market. I’ve had some wonderful news.”

“Let me guess. You’ve figured out who was stealing rare books from the library in Timbuktu and selling them in London?”

His mouth hardened. “Not yet, but we’re close.”

“You got the reassignment you’d applied for?”

“Indeed I did.” His face beamed. “ I’m to be transferred back to England in less than a month. I’ll work in downtown London. Television, cinemas, warm baths, the tube . . . humidity!”

Tillie laughed. “I could do with a little rain myself.”

“Could you?” He searched her eyes. “Tillie, I’ve come down to the market because I have something important to talk to you about. This position is the answer to my prayers in more ways than one. May we speak in private?”

Knowing exactly what he wanted to discuss, Tillie glanced at Hannah. The older woman was pulling her little cloth money pouch from her bodice. As usual, Hannah looked as though she hadn’t heard a word. Tillie knew better. Hannah heard everything, her sharp brown eyes missed nothing, and her lips were ever ready to voice her opinion.

“Please, Tillie.” Arthur took her hand in an uncharacteristic public display of affection. “I’ve come all this way to speak with you. I must have your answer.”

She gulped down a bubble of air.
Think . . . pray . . . run . . .
“I’m sure I saw some tree-shaped carvings in one of these stalls,” she managed to mutter. “Umm . . . Hannah, would it be all right to separate for a few minutes while Arthur and I look for carvings?”

“Give me the basket. I will meet you at the house at suppertime.”

“I hate to leave you alone after what happened last night and . . . and everything.” She searched the street for signs of the person she felt sure was following them. “You’ll be okay in the market by yourself ?”

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