Authors: Allyson Jeleyne
Yet, he thought of none of that when he crawled between the sheets with Lady Wolstanton. She was a few years older than him, already married to an elderly man, and had nothing to gain from taking him to bed. Everyone knew she willingly took on any man who wanted her. Hell, Patrick knew of three or four chaps personally. They assured him she was good and always discreet. All he needed to do was let her know he was interested.
Lady Wolstanton seemed all too delighted to entertain him, especially once she discovered he was a virgin. One could even say she took advantage of him, in her own way. Patrick was her pet. Her handsome little lapdog who turned himself inside out to get a taste of what his friends bragged about.
And in the end, he got his fair share.
Lady Wolstanton relished in his inexperience. In fact, she seemed to draw more pleasure from watching him fumble around in bed with her than anything else. Remembering the way he shuddered and moaned as she took him humiliated Patrick to this very day. Even alone in his tent, he struggled to push the memory away, too ashamed to relive it again. All he had wanted was a companion, but what he got was a mistress in the most literal sense of the word—someone to control him.
Yet it wasn’t a total loss. She managed to pass on a great deal of knowledge about women and lovemaking to him. When Patrick learned too much to be of any more fun to her, Lady Wolstanton sent him packing. But there were plenty more eager women to soothe the young marquess’ heart. The last of whom, Patrick had ended their affair just before Linley arrived in London.
Her timing could not have been more perfect. Patrick still had his penchant for companionship and long, comfortable romances. He wasn’t one to hop from one bed to another. He enjoyed cultivating his relationships—getting to know the girl, and allowing the girl to know him.
Patrick liked Linley from the start. He felt drawn to her, even in Morocco. When Berenice Hastings announced the presence of a young Miss Talbot-Martin at the Robeson’s ball, Patrick jumped at the chance to reunite with her. And he did not regret it. Linley proved to be just as beautiful as she was the first time he saw her. She was still her own woman. She did not try to be something she was not, even if it meant never making any friends in London.
He respected her for that. She told it like it was and would never toy with him or his emotions. Girls like Gaynor Robeson made Patrick’s skin crawl, and it turned out Linley was the antithesis of that sort of woman. Gaynor would never offer herself up to him the way Linley had last night. Would never embrace their passion as Linley had. The night before proved something that Patrick knew all along—he and Linley were partners.
In her own tent, Linley sat cross-legged on the floor. She rolled her socks into little balls and shoved them in her bag on top of the shirt she wore the night before.
shirt. The one with his lips emblazoned across the front. If it wasn’t her only other blouse, she would have saved it—unwashed—to forever remind her of their moment together.
But shirts were precious commodities in her world, so it could not be spared. A pity. She wanted something to remember him by besides a clipped-out photograph from
When all her things were packed, Linley still sat in the sanctuary of her tent. She dreaded leaving the quiet solitude. There, alone, she could collect her thoughts, far from the watchful eye of her father and the others. Even from Patrick.
Sometimes just the sight of him muddled her brain. He brought forth an onslaught of new and confusing emotions, and sometimes that frightened her. She never quite knew how to act around him. Slowly, she learned to flirt with him. To say things that shocked him because she sensed he liked that. Patrick liked it when she was honest with him, even when she told him things he didn’t want to hear. And she knew he liked to kiss her, although that was the latest development in their already confusing relationship.
“I’d knock, but there is no door.” Patrick’s voice interrupted her thoughts.
Linley almost jumped, fearing somehow that she’d conjured him up, or that he knew she’d been thinking about him. “What is it?”
“Your father would like to get started.”
She nodded, even though he could not see her. “All right, I’m coming.”
Linley stuffed the rest of her belongings into her pack and crawled out of the tent. Patrick waited for her on the other side. She was convinced he knew she had been thinking about him. It was written all over his face—or rather,
face—and that was the problem. She was never good at hiding secrets.
Rain dripped off the end of Linley’s hat, traveled down the front of her rain slicker and landed in the mud around her boots. The Talbot-Martin team walked all day in the direction Linley’s father
would lead them to a place he vaguely remembered someone telling him about ten or fifteen years before. Now they stood at the edge of a river, unsure how to cross. It swelled over the banks from the rain, blurring the boundaries of land and water as it swept away anything in its path. Just across lay the lush green mountains they would still have to climb, and beyond that, the faintest misty gray of the Himalayas.
“How do you propose we get across?” Schoville asked, taking a step back as the river lapped the embankment where he stood.
Sir Bedford shook his head. “It’s too high to cross here. And the water is moving too fast.” He looked from one end of the river to the other, seeing only murky brown water rushing through the little tree-lined valley. “We should follow the bank until it narrows.”
“If it narrows at all,” Reginald said. “These look more like flood waters to me.”
Linley studied the river. With the monsoon beating down on them, she knew the river was flooded. And with rains sweeping across the whole of India, it would no doubt continue to flood. They either needed to turn back or find another route. “Who has the map?”
Archie stepped forward and pulled the map from under his rain slicker. He unfolded its tattered edges and held it out for her.
Linley traced the path of the water with her finger across the paper. “If we head downstream, it will take us miles out of our way…”
“Then we should head upstream,” her father said.
“I don’t know. The river looks even wider there.”
Patrick, who stood a very safe distance away from the water, finally spoke. “It doesn’t matter which way we go, this entire valley will be flooded in a day or two.”
“He’s right,” Linley said. “It isn’t safe here.”
Sir Bedford took the map from Archie’s hands and folded it up. “Then we’ll follow the river upstream.”
They walked single file alongside the river. Their feet slogged in the mud, every step dragging them down. Patrick used his long stalk of bamboo as a walking stick, jamming it into the ground and pulling himself out of the slop. Red mud caked his boots and his trousers up to his knees. The once sturdy straw Panama hat hung limply around his face, beaten into submission by the heat and the wet. He looked more like a weary Gypsy than a young marquess.
And he felt like one, too.
In front of him, Linley struggled in the muck. It was harder on her than the men. Her boots grew heavier and heavier as they bogged down with mud, tripping her up. She fell forward on her hands and knees, her feet slipping and sliding beneath her, refusing to gain traction against the slime.
Patrick swooped down to help.
He held tightly to her arm as they trudged through the mud together. He would not let her fall again.
“Look there!” Archie pointed into the mist that clung to the treetops.
Barely visible through the rain and the fog, a bamboo bridge spanned one side of the valley to the other. Suspended fifteen feet from the water’s surface, it bobbed in the wind, dipping down over the river below, swaying back and forth as the weathered bamboo creaked and groaned.
Sir Bedford pushed on a support rope, testing its strength. “Shall we go one by one, or cross it together?”
Archie pushed past him and stepped onto the bridge. It was only wide enough for a single file line but seemed sturdy enough to carry the weight of the entire team. “Let me go first,” he said. “If I cross without incident, then we will know it is safe.”
Sir Bedford agreed, and Archie took a few tentative steps across the woven bamboo boards. They crunched beneath his feet but showed no sign of stress. Encouraged, he walked a few more paces. When he reached the center of the bridge, he looked back at the team.
They waited on the bank for him to cross, no one daring to speak, or even to stir. As the bridge wobbled under his weight, Archie crossed the remaining feet to the other side of the valley. Once his boots hit solid ground, the team let out one collective breath.
“Come along, everyone!” Linley’s father said, making his way onto the bridge.
Reginald and Schoville followed at his heels, holding onto the bamboo stalk railings with white knuckles. Linley and Patrick waited until the others were half way across before they started walking.
The bridge protested under their added weight. It rocked a little harder with every step, swinging as the wind whistled through the latticed boards.
…Whenever I cross the river,”
“On its bridge with wooden piers, like the odor of brine from the ocean comes the thought of other years. And I think how many thousands of care-encumbered men, each bearing his burden of sorrow, have crossed the bridge since then.”
“Who wrote that?” Linley asked.
They crossed the halfway point just as the rest of the team stepped off onto safe ground. Linley and Patrick were alone on the bridge.
She tried not to look down at the river raging below. “I don’t like it.”
“Nor do I,” Patrick said, one step behind her. “I don’t know why I said it.”
Neither spoke another word until they stood with both feet on the solid earth. Patrick looked back at the bridge one last time, amazed that he made it across.
They reached the hills by nightfall and set up camp in the narrow, wooded dell. When supper was finished and the dishes put away, Linley heated up another pot of water on the small campfire. After nearly a week of being wet and muddy, she needed a bath. In her usual fashion, she hung her sheet of canvas as a makeshift curtain and slipped away while the men smoked their evening cigarettes.
Patrick watched her out of the corner of his eye. He watched her undress and toss her discarded clothing over the line. He watched her bare feet and ankles pad across the grass. And he watched, finally, as water pooled around them.
He rose, unnoticed, and walked toward her.
Behind the curtain, Linley ran the warm flannel over her face, behind her ears, and down her neck. She paused to let water’s heat seep into the stiff muscles of her body.
That was when she saw the shadow, illuminated by the campfire, standing just beyond her canvas panel.
“Who’s there?” She knew before asking who it was.
Patrick took another step closer and cleared his throat. “I was thinking about having a bath myself.”
“You can bathe in the morning,” she said. “Men seem to work up a sweat just sleeping in this heat.”
Linley dipped the cloth into the basin and squeezed water over her arms. He still stood there. She could see him. Why didn’t he say something?
Patrick listened as the water dripped and sloshed on the other side of the sheet. He longed to reach out a hand and caress the space he believed she occupied. Her naked body lay just out of reach.
It was almost painful.
Linley ran her wet, soapy hands over her chest. She remembered the burn of his mouth on her breasts. The feel of his hands, large and warm, as he clutched her to him. Patrick had wanted her then—did he want her now?
He stood there, his body silhouetted against the glow of the fire. Of course, he wanted her. How could he not? It was his principles as a gentleman that stopped him from taking her. And even
Patrick turned and walked away, leaving Linley to watch his shadow grow smaller until it disappeared completely. Back at the campfire, he stood with his hands in his pockets, thinking over the last few moments. Just knowing she was back there tortured his very soul. God, how he wanted her! But he would not—
—let himself have her.
Reginald watched him from across the fire. “I’d better not hear any commotion coming from your tent tonight.” He knew where Patrick had been, and he knew that hungry look on the man’s face all too well.
“Commotion?” Patrick asked, coolly.
Reginald stood up and kicked over a camp chair. “Don’t be coy with me, Kyre,” he said, advancing on the man. “You want her so badly you practically stink with it.”
Patrick almost smiled. Perhaps the man was right.
“I see you slinking around here, waiting to snap her up like a snake in the grass.” Reginald stopped inches away from Patrick. “But I know all about you. Who you
Fresh from her bath, Linley stepped from the shadows.
“It was Lady Wolstanton I first heard your name linked to,” Reginald said.
At the sound of the woman’s name, Patrick stiffened.
Reginald continued, pleased to finally get a reaction from his opponent. “I’ve had her, too, you know. My brother, Harry, takes her to the theatre from time to time. Before we left London, I escorted her in his place.” He smirked at Patrick, who grew more uncomfortable with each passing minute. “She told me all about you.”
Patrick writhed at those words. “She would never do that.”
“No?” Reginald stepped even closer, if that was humanly possible. “How else would I know she was your first? How else would I know the way you grunted and groaned as you slapped against her—”
Patrick shoved him as hard as he could, hoping to get enough space between them to throw a punch. Reginald came back at him with the same idea, and his fist smashed against Patrick’s nose, spattering blood all over his white shirt.