Authors: Allyson Jeleyne
Patrick sat reclined on his elbows, shirtsleeves rolled halfway up his arms, and his eyes closed. He tried to time his breathing to the rhythm of the waves breaking on the shore, unable to remember the last time he felt so relaxed.
“Really,” she continued. “You’re the first normal Englishman I’ve ever talked to.”
He opened one eye to look at her. “Normal?”
“One who’s not an archaeologist, or who wants to be an archaeologist, or whose parents are archaeologists.”
“Ah.” Patrick closed his eye.
“You’re very English. The way you talk, the way you carry yourself. I don’t know how I mistook you for a Frenchman when I first saw you.”
He sighed. “
Wherever I wander, boast of this I can—though banished, yet a trueborn Englishman.
“Shakespeare, of course. Very fitting. I’m sure you read all about him in some grand public school—same as your father and his father before him—reciting
by gaslight with all your best pals.”
“It’s true,” he said. “I probably had the most English upbringing of any man I know.”
“How very fortunate you are to be able to say you were a part of something,” Linley said. “Sometimes, I feel everyone else has some place they can call home, but I belong up in the air somewhere.”
“In the air?”
Linley waved her hands. “Not anywhere in particular, just…around.”
“Do you? Do you really see?” she asked. “Because Archie, and Reginald, and Schoville think I’m ridiculous. They think I should be thankful—and I am, truly—but I can’t help wishing that I felt attached to something.”
Patrick opened both his eyes. “Something…or someone?”
Linley glanced over at him, and then darted her eyes away.
“Are you lonely?” he asked. “Is that your fatal flaw? The one imperfection in your otherwise perfect and exciting life?”
“I—I don’t know.”
Patrick rolled over to face her. “Everyone feels lonely, Miss Talbot-Martin. It will come and go many times throughout your life,” he explained. “But no matter how alone you feel, there is always someone somewhere who feels the same as you. Someone who understands.”
“You understand me.”
He nodded. “Yes, I believe I do.”
“Then I am very glad to have met you, indeed.”
It was after dark when they passed through the
. Patrick carried their packages of souvenirs under his arms while Linley walked with her stockings wadded up in her hands, too lazy to put them back on after going through all the trouble to get them off. The shops lining the narrow alleyways had long been packed up and closed. Only one or two still offered items for sale, usually at heavily discounted prices and questionable quality. The reputable merchants were all home with their families.
The city was quiet, peaceful. A shell of the jostling, bustling creature it became during the day. At night, it filled with shadows, begging to be explored by the glow of the moon.
“Are you sure there is no one out looking for you?” Patrick asked. He too saw the shadows, and the doorways, and the deserted streets. But unlike Linley, he saw them quite differently. “I just cannot imagine your father would allow you to wander the streets alone at night.”
“I’m not alone,” she replied. “I’m with you.”
For a moment, Patrick smiled. “I’d be worried about that too if I were him.”
Linley rolled her eyes. “I am not a child. I do not need a nanny. Nor am I one of those London girls who can’t be trusted to walk out on their own. I am an adult. And my father treats me as one.”
“I did not mean to insinuate that you were a child.”
“Of course you did,” she said, turning on him. “I am a young, unmarried woman and, therefore, must be a child. Because—according to you—I am incapable of taking care of myself.”
“That wasn’t what I meant.”
Linley crossed her arms over her chest. “Then what exactly did you mean?”
“I just meant it was dangerous,” Patrick said, blowing out a breath.
“Dangerous? Really?” She looked around the deserted alley. “I don’t see any danger. In fact, I don’t see another living soul.”
“I am used to dealing with women who have been coddled their whole lives,” Patrick explained. “You are smart, and capable, and clearly not one of those girls. I’m sorry if I insulted you.”
Linley blinked up at him. “I—I’m sorry if I attacked you,” she said. “I’ve never had anyone try to coddle me before.”
“It’s not so bad. You could get a nice electric toaster out of it.”
They both burst out laughing.
“Your poor sister,” Linley said, giggling. “I would have loved to see the look on her face.”
“No, you wouldn’t,” he told her. “The whole situation was humiliating.”
Linley was still laughing. “It serves you right,” she said. “You could have bought your sister something nicer than a toaster.”
“Was that what you meant earlier when you said I looked like a man who owned more than one pair of shoes?”
“I meant that you looked like a man of means. That you could afford more,” she said. “To be honest, I’m rather jealous of you. If I had money, I could do whatever I wanted. My father would never have to take a teaching position, and we could go on expeditions for the rest of our lives.”
“You’re wrong if you think having money solves your problems,” Patrick explained. “It doesn’t. It creates completely new ones. Much, much worse ones that not even money can fix.”
“And now we’ve come to
fatal flaw,” Linley said, studying his face in the moonlight. “The one imperfection in
otherwise perfect life.”
“My life is not perfect,” Patrick said.
“Neither is mine.”
He gave her a sad smile. “You’ve no idea how good you have it, Miss Talbot-Martin. The world is completely open to you—you can go anywhere at the drop of a hat. That sort of freedom is better than wealth.”
“Wise words coming from a rich man.”
“I would gladly trade with you,” Patrick said.
My kingdom for a horse?
Despite everything, he smiled. “My kingdom for packed bag and a steamer ticket to anywhere.”
Linley shook her head. “You couldn’t bear the loneliness, the uncertainty. You’d be a month away from everyone and everything you know, with no guarantee you’d ever see them again. You would be grasping for an anchor before your boots got muddy.”
Alone in the hotel courtyard, Linley eased down into one of the wicker lounge chairs and propped her sandy feet up, wishing she had a brandy and soda water. Or at least a glass of wine, just to take the sting out of it all.
The Morocco trip had not turned out as planned. Her father should have seen the French ambush coming, and, in a rare moment of competence, Schoville turned out to be the one to save the entire expedition. Not Archie, or Reginald, or even herself, who usually came through in a pinch, but Schoville, who could always be counted on to muck something up.
And then there was this business with Mr. Wolford. Very bizarre. The Good Lord did not just drop fascinating, handsome Englishmen into one’s lap every day. Especially not ones claiming to understand her deepest, most private feelings.
But tomorrow Linley was leaving, and she knew she would never see him again. It was almost too cruel. She had never met anyone so unlike herself. Yet she had never met anyone so perfect for her in every way. Linley doubted she would ever make such an immediate connection with anyone else. And in only twenty-four hours since meeting him, she felt like Patrick Wolford had pulled her entire world out from under her feet.
“What-ho,” Archie said, as he and Reginald sank down into two basket chairs beside her. “Where have you been all day?”
, and to the beach for a bit,” she told them. “I met a friend.”
Both Reginald and Archie looked at each other. “A gentleman friend?”
“As a matter of fact, he was a gentleman.”
“English chap?” Reginald asked. “Dark haired? Maybe a little taller than me?”
“That’s the one.”
He shook his head. “You shouldn’t go off with strange men, Lin.”
“I know, but he turned out to be perfectly nice.”
Archie downed the last swallow of the contents of the glass in his hand. “Yes, the hotel clerk assured us he was a very nice fellow, but you’re not a little girl anymore, and you are going to have to start worrying about men and their advances.”
“Not everyone has honorable intentions,” Reginald added.
“Yes, I understand that.”
“Just see that you’re careful,” Archie told her. “Because God help the poor bloke that trifles with your heart while we’re on this Earth.”
“A letter for you, Papa,” Linley said as she stepped out onto the veranda.
Her father sat in his favorite chair, enjoying the view of Malta’s Grand Harbor from their villa. At the sound of his daughter’s voice, Mr. Talbot-Martin turned and smiled.
“Another one from Schoville, I’m sure,” he said.
“No…” Linley turned the envelope over in her hands, studying it. “It’s not from Schoville. This looks like a woman’s handwriting.”
He took it from her and carefully pried it open. His eyes scanned the pages as he read, the look on his face betraying his astonishment at the words.
Linley leaned toward him. “Who is it from? What does it say?”
Mr. Talbot-Martin read and reread the letter again for good measure. “It is from my cousin. Congratulating me on my inclusion in the New Years Honours List,” he explained. “She says I am to be knighted.”
“I don’t know how we could have missed something so momentous,” her father said. “But I suppose when one spends months in French Morocco, one tends to become a bit out of touch with the goings on in London.” He laughed in spite of himself. “I could not tell you the last time I sat down with a copy of The Gazette.”
She stared at the letter in his trembling hands. “Papa, what on earth are we to do?”
“There is only one thing to do, Button. We must go to London straight away.”
Linley grabbed the back of her father’s chair, bracing herself.
He looked up at her. “Naturally, you will accompany me. There is no reason you shouldn’t enjoy the fruits of our labor—everything I will be honored for, we have done together.”
She still could not speak.
“And you are of an age to where you should be presented. I think it would do you good to enjoy the company of other young people,” he continued. “I will write to my cousin immediately. She will know the proper way to go about introducing you to society and securing invitations for the season…”
Her father’s voice trailed off as Linley’s mind reeled at this new development. It all happened so fast. He would be knighted. They would go to London. There would be drawing rooms, dinner parties, operas, and balls. She shook her head to scatter those thoughts. London. The British Museum. She always wanted to go…so why was she so nervous?
“Are we all to go, then?” Reginald asked.
Linley poured them both a cup of tea. Handing one across the table, she explained, “Papa and I will be there for one month. With all the new press about our work, he expects there to be a great deal of interest in funding future expeditions. He thinks the social season will be a perfect place to meet potential investors. It won’t be all fun. There will be work involved.”
“All the more reason for us to come along,” Reginald said. “Between Archie, Schoville, and myself, we could take some of the pressure off of your father so he could actually enjoy himself.”
She gave him a wink across the table and whispered, “You just want to come to London.”
He grinned. “I rarely get a chance to dust off my formal attire—and I do look so good in it.”
Linley took a sip of tea and then placed the cup back onto its saucer. “I will have a word with Papa about it.”
“Wonderful. Now, tell me how you’re getting on.”
“I grow more nervous every day. I started three books on the history of England just last night, and haven’t even scratched the surface. There’s so much to learn and remember that I’m afraid I’ll get there and they’ll think me a complete idiot.”
“No one will think that, Lin. They will all be so distracted by your charm and beauty they won’t remember any of their history lessons either!”
She resisted the urge to reach over and slug him on the arm. Secretly, she hoped he and the others could come along. How on earth would she ever face London society without them?
The sitting room door swept open, revealing Mr. Talbot-Martin holding stationery in one hand and his eyeglasses in another. “Ah, Reginald, my boy! What brings you to Malta?”
Reginald rose to his feet. “Your happy news,” he explained. “I was on my way to Rome when I heard, so I thought I would pop in and offer my congratulations in person.”
“How very kind of you,” Mr. Talbot-Martin said. “But it is an honor I should like the entire team to share.”
Linley took that moment to press their case to her father. “Then, Papa, wouldn’t you agree everyone deserves to come to London for the investiture? No doubt Reginald and the others could increase our fundraising endeavors a hundredfold.”
“I am certain they could,” he replied. “But if they are in London, who will make preparations for the India trip?”
“Surely something can be worked out,” Linley said. “I think it would be awfully unfair of you to deny your hardworking team the opportunity to represent our organization in London.”
Her father looked from one expectant face to the other, and knew he’d been beaten. Of course the others would go to London. If the issue was that important to Linley, there could be no question of it.
Mr. Talbot-Martin enlisted the help of his cousin, Berenice Hastings, who met them at the station. She stood on the platform, searching the faces of passengers disembarking from the latest train. After twenty years, she hoped she could still recognize Bedford. Or that he, at least, would be able to recognize her. She was also curious about this daughter of his, and wondered if something could be made of the girl.