Authors: Allyson Jeleyne
“Most of them were recovered, though,” she added. “Shinier than ever.”
He smiled. “And you lived to eat buttons another day.”
“Oh, I grew out of it,” Linley said. “But I went through all sorts of strange phases as a child. Someone once told me it was because I never had a mother. That I developed fixations in place of her to fill that necessary void in my life, though I am not sure I believe that.”
“You did not know your mother?” Patrick asked.
She shook her head. “I was just a baby when she died.”
“I cannot remember mine,” he said, frowning. “I was three years old.”
“It still affects us, you know. Whether we realize it or not, losing a parent, or the absence of a parent in whatever capacity, shapes us into the adults we grow to become. If your mother had not died, you might be a very different man today.” Linley paused and shrugged. “Who knows, if my mother had not died, I might’ve been a normal girl with a normal life. But there is no use in speculating,” she said. “I am here, and you are here, and everything happens for a reason.”
“So you never missed growing up with other children?” he asked her.
The sun hung much lower in the sky, and the jungle grew more active in the cool of evening. It seemed even the animals loathed the midday heat.
“I played with other children if they were around, but I was always more comfortable when I kept to myself,” Linley explained.
“What a pity. You must have missed out on a great deal of fun.”
She snorted. “I had heaps of fun as a child. I got to play in the dirt while other little girls learned embroidery and practiced French lessons. And, by the way,” she wagged her finger in his face for emphasis. “I speak French from talking to real French people. Not from reading a book to a governess.”
Patrick pretended to clap. Clearly, he was not impressed.
“Papa could have left me, you know. He could have given me over to my mother’s family, or to his own. But he didn’t. Instead, he gave me a life most children could only dream about.” She paused for a moment, and then turned to him. “What did you dream about when you were a boy?”
“The usual things, I suppose. Brave knights, fast horses, and fair maidens.”
Linley smiled. “You wanted to be a hero.”
“Oh, no. I was never that foolish.”
“What do you mean?”
“I am not brave or strong. Not in the ways that matter. Even as a boy, I knew that. I knew I would never fight battles, or slay dragons, or save princesses. I would never be a hero, so I set out to be a good man. The best man I could be.”
“You are a good man, Patrick. Those who know you love you.”
“They respect me. They know I am honest and fair, that I am good to my word and pose no threat to anybody. I know exactly what is expected of me, and I accept it,” he explained. “In other words, I know my place. And where I come from, that is more important than knowing one’s own name.”
“But why do you have to accept it?” she asked. “Why try to fit yourself into that same, tired mold when you could become something better?”
“Because it’s safe,” he said. “Don’t we all want to feel safe?”
Linley shrugged. “Not always. Sometimes I like to push the boundaries. I like seeing what I’m truly capable of.”
They both ducked down to miss a long, overhanging branch that skimmed across the jungle path.
“But you could get hurt,” Patrick said. “You could get yourself killed.”
“Isn’t death the one risk of really living? Think of yourself as a child, huddled in a corner with your books, praying for something to come along and break you out of your dull, boring life. But nothing ever came along, did it? And here you are now, still living the same life you’ve dreamed of escaping since you were a boy.” She reached over and squeezed his hand. “No one is going to make you a hero, Patrick. You have to go out and do it yourself.”
“Here looks as good a place as any to set up camp,” Sir Bedford said, stretching after almost twelve hours on an elephant’s back. “Archie, if you and Reginald would go for water, Linley and I will see to the tents.”
Both Archie and Reginald nodded, gathering the water buckets.
“Schoville,” Linley’s father continued, “You are in charge of collecting wood for the fire this evening.”
Without a word, Schoville dug a hatchet from their pile of tools and started off toward a large clump of trees at the jungle’s edge.
Patrick looked from face to face. “And what can I do?”
“You can stay out of the way.” Archie snorted, pushing past them. He and Reginald pulled a pair of machetes from their cases and hacked a path into the dense jungle.
Ignoring them, Patrick blinked down at Linley. “How can I help?”
“Do you know how to pitch a tent?”
“No,” he said. “But I’m a quick learner.”
She glanced around the small clearing that would serve as their campsite. “For now, why don’t you just stay where you are until Schoville comes back with the firewood. Papa and I can work much faster without you getting in the way.”
Patrick threw up his arms. “I do not understand why everyone here treats me as if I am incompetent.” With a huff, he stamped over to a fallen log and started to sit.
“Don’t do that,” Linley called. “There are ants.”
He jerked up from his seat. With the heel of his boot, he gave the log a strong kick, sending a legion of large red ants scurrying into action. He watched them rush about, and then looked up at Linley.
She smiled and shook her head, and if Patrick didn’t know better, might have even rolled her eyes.
An hour later, the campsite buzzed with activity. Six canvas bivouacs formed the perimeter around a crackling fire, and inside the circle, wooden tables and camp chairs sat angled toward the blaze. The
preferred to sleep with their elephants, but hung around in the hopes of a decent meal.
Patrick sat in one of the stiff-backed chairs, arms crossed over his chest. He watched Linley stoop over the fire, brushing a loose strand of hair back as she bent to stir something boiling in an iron pot. Even she—a girl—was more helpful than he was! He felt ridiculous, and not at all manly. What was he thinking coming all the way to India? He belonged in Kyre, huddled in the library with a dog curled at his feet. At least there he could shoot or ride to hounds. In India, they hardly allowed him near the firewood, let alone within arms reach of a gun.
Patrick shifted in his seat, causing Linley to look up in his direction. She smiled, long and slow, sending her freckles scattering across her cheeks. Her glance stilled him.
was what he was doing in India.
He smiled, not nearly as wide or as bright as hers, but with no less meaning behind it—perhaps with even more. They held each other’s gaze for a breath of a second. Whether from the heat of the fire or her own feelings, Linley’s skin grew flushed, and she looked away. She stared down at the boiling pot, stirring. She stirred and stirred, never once breaking her concentration or looking back up at him.
He made her nervous. His advances, if they could even be called advances, embarrassed her. Patrick reveled in the thought. Usually, young ladies made
blush, their overzealous attempts to seduce him often more distressing than convincing. He was not ignorant of why. He knew they saw him as a title. A living, breathing pay-packet. An old house they could fix up and flaunt to their friends. An opportunity.
But not Linley Talbot-Martin. She saw him as a friend. Perhaps as something more than a friend, but never as a way to better herself. Despite what Gaynor Robeson and so many others tried to tell him, Patrick knew in his heart that he was not a vehicle to further Linley’s own ambitions.
Archie must have noticed the way he stared at her because he leaned over and hissed in Patrick’s ear. “I’ve known Linley since she was a baby,” he said. “I was there when she learned to walk. I taught her how to swim, how to drive.” He took a deep breath, letting his words settle in. “If you so much as lay a hand on her—”
Patrick snapped his head around, locking eyes with him. “You’ll do what, then?”
Archie rose to his feet and shrugged. “The jungle is a dangerous place, my friend. Especially late at night. I would hate to see you carried away by tigers.” He slapped Patrick on the back for emphasis.
After dinner, Linley pulled Patrick aside.
“I have something for you,” she said, reaching into her tent and pulling out a tin of talcum powder.
She handed it to him, and he read the label.
Patrick turned the tin over in his hands, and then grinned. “You are an angel.”
Linley grinned, too. “I know.” She bent down to pull off her boots. “When you spend enough time slopping around in the heat with nothing but men, you pick up a few tricks along the way.”
“Yes, I imagine you would,” Patrick said, waving the tin of powder in his hand. “And I promise I will make very good use of this.”
She crawled into her tent before he could catch her blushing. “I’d be disappointed if you didn’t.”
Left standing out in the balmy night, Patrick grinned, almost blushing himself. He looked across the campsite at Archie, who watched his every move. Raising the tin of talcum powder, he touched it to his temple in a mock salute and climbed into his own tent.
“Patrick?” Linley whispered through the canvas that separated them.
He stretched out as best he could and situated his blanket around him. “Hmmm?”
There was a long pause. “Goodnight.”
Patrick smiled to himself. “Goodnight, Linley.”
Alone in her own tent, knowing he lay just on the other side of the canvas walls, Linley fished through one of her bags. She pulled out her stack of traveling papers and untied the knot of twine holding them all together. From between the pages, she found what she searched for—Patrick’s photograph.
She dared not fold or crease the image. Linley clutched it to her chest as carefully as she could, treasuring it. She knew it was silly, but she held the picture of him just as she would if she really held him in her arms. Knowing he was just next door made her heart ache. Linley longed to go to him, to have him hold her in his arms again, and to feel for the briefest instant like she was…his.
Pressing her lips to the photograph, she kissed Patrick goodnight and tucked him back into her papers. Linley didn’t want to risk falling asleep and crushing his image, but more importantly, she didn’t want to risk anyone stumbling into her tent and finding out her little secret. Especially not Patrick, whom she imagined would be more appalled than flattered to catch her worshipping at the altar of his person.
Linley curled herself into a tight ball, wrapping her blanket around her shoulders. She listened to the sounds of the jungle outside the thin sheet of canvas protecting her from the elements. Knowing that at any minute a man-eater could rip through the tent and kill her was not the most comforting of thoughts before drifting off to sleep, but Linley had grown so accustomed to living in danger that the notion hardly fazed her.
Patrick, however, lay wide-awake. Every sound in the jungle was new to him and potentially dangerous. He had not yet learned to tell the difference between the rustling of tree branches and the sound of a tiger’s paws against the soft, wet grass. To him, the cry of a gibbon was no different the roar of a leopard. And, although he was unafraid, Patrick was not foolish enough to believe he was safe.
If not for the heat—which was intense—and if not for the great swarms of stinging, buzzing creatures—which were innumerable—Patrick would have been blissfully happy. With one arm, he swatted the gnats, and flies, and mosquitoes drawn by the sweet scent of human sweat. With the other, he held Linley close to him.
It was no picnic sharing a
with her. She was greedy and took up twice as much space as she needed. But Patrick gladly crushed himself against the side of the basket to accommodate her.
He pulled his panama hat low on his head, shielding his face with its wide straw brim. Every piece of fabric on his body stuck to him. He was still chafed from yesterday’s journey, but the talcum powder helped with the discomfort.
He smelled horrendous. He hadn’t shaved in days. His legs were cramped and he couldn’t quite feel his toes. His arm rubbed raw where Linley’s bony shoulder pressed against him, and he needed to go to the toilet, but dared not ask Bedford for permission to stop. Patrick should have been miserable, but with Linley at his side, everything else seemed trivial.
She rested her head on his shoulder, listing back and forth as the elephant swayed through the forest. She’d fallen asleep or else he would have never gotten this close to her in full daylight with her father watching. Or Archie. Or Reginald. Or even Schoville.
Patrick hadn’t seen a young woman so intensely chaperoned since he danced with Princess Maud at her come-out ball. Linley’s guard dogs might not like it, but packed so tightly into the
baskets, there was little they could do. So Patrick cuddled her close and gloated. He would worry about the consequences later.
Unfortunately, the elephant stumbled, and the basket lurched, jostling Linley awake. She shot up, embarrassed to find herself in so intimate a position.
“I was rather comfortable,” he said. “Put your head back.”
Linley studied her hands in her lap, too mortified to look him in the eye. What if someone had seen them—her father, or perhaps Archie? She would never hear the end of it.
“Well, then,” Patrick said after some silence. “I’ll just put my head on your shoulder and try to finish the rest of our nap.”
When he tried to do just that, Linley shrugged him off. “Don’t!”
“What is wrong with you?”
“I don’t want you to lay on me,” she said. “Nor do I want to lay on you.”
He frowned. “You did not seem to mind a moment ago.”
“I—I’m hot,” she lied. “It’s too hot to sleep bunched up together like that.” The truth was that she was afraid to tell him just how much she enjoyed sleeping against his body. “And besides, someone might see us.”