Authors: Allyson Jeleyne
“Good idea,” Linley said, looking back at her father. “I worry about him. He’s well into his sixties, but I don’t remember him ever slowing down. He is just the same as he was when I was little, and I wonder how long he can go on pushing himself like he does.”
They slowed their pace to let the others catch up. Schoville tied his bandana around his forehead to keep the sweat from dripping in his eyes, and soon it grew damp with perspiration. Archie and Reginald’s wet shirts clung to their muscular frames. Linley’s father, head shielded from the sun by a wide-brimmed bush hat, still wore his khaki jacket even though it hung from his body wrinkled beyond belief.
“It’s awfully hot, Papa,” Linley said. “Don’t you think we should rest until everything cools off?”
“When it cools off it will be dark,” he replied. “And tigers hunt at night.” Her father patted her shoulder as he passed, refusing to slow his pace for anyone. “Best to keep moving, Button.”
Moving. That was all they did. By the time Linley turned twenty, she’d lived in Calcutta, Cairo, Athens, Hong Kong, and the Holy Land—not counting the six months she spent in Machu Picchu, or their “permanent” home in Malta.
“You look tired,” Patrick said. “Do you want me to carry your pack?”
Linley shook her head. “No, you have your own to worry about.”
“I may not be as strapping as your friend Archie,” he said, “But I assure you I can handle the extra load.”
“Why there is this need for competition between the two of you, I’ll never know. You are not rivals, especially not for my attention.”
“Perhaps for your father’s attention, then. Though I must admit Archie is the clear winner in that respect.”
She smiled at him. “Archie can have my father and you can have me.”
“That is a good compromise,” Patrick said, grinning.
As the sun sank behind the mountains, the Talbot-Martin team set up camp at the edge of the forest. The journey would be almost entirely uphill from that point on. Thankfully, the temperature cooled with the rise in altitude.
Patrick sat at the edge of camp, as it was his turn to be on tiger duty. Somehow, Linley convinced the team he was capable of handling a rifle—something not even his own repeated assurances managed to do. To them, he was incompetent, spoiled, and downright idiotic. Archie slung insults at him. Reginald repeated every blunder Patrick made, much to the team’s amusement. Even Linley, the only person on his side, found his ineptitude endearingly funny.
They wouldn’t be laughing when he saved them from being hauled off by a man-eater. As Patrick sat in the dwindling twilight, rifle across his lap, he fantasized about drawing a bead right between the eyes of a tiger. He’d drop the beast in the nick of time—just after it mauled Archie’s face, but before it took that final, lethal swipe of its razor sharp claws.
No, they wouldn’t be laughing then.
“I brought you some coffee,” Linley said, settling down beside him. “And I slipped a bit of whiskey in when Papa wasn’t looking.”
Patrick took the cup from her. “Thank you.”
“I hope you can actually shoot that thing.” She pointed to the rifle. “I went out on a limb persuading them to let you have your turn at the watch.”
“I can shoot it.”
She smiled. “Not that I think we’ll have any trouble with tigers. For the most part, they stay clear of humans.”
Well, there went Patrick’s chance at glory.
“Shall I sit with you tonight?” Linley asked. “I’d like to, if you don’t mind.”
“I rather hoped you would.”
“You know, Patrick,” she said, picking at a blade of grass. “I’m so glad you came here. Without you, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself.”
“You’d get on. Time and absence have a way of working things out.”
“Why do you think you are so dispensable to me?” she asked. “Am I replaceable in your heart? Will I be that easy to forget about when you go home?”
“Sometimes I forget that I am one of dozens of girls who have passed through your life.”
“Five,” he said.
“You talk to me about memory, yet you forget entire conversations,” Patrick said. “Remember at the Museum? You asked me how many women I’d been with. I told you five. Not dozens. Only five.”
“Did you love any of them?”
“I cared for all of them,” he said.
“That isn’t what I asked.”
Patrick sat silent for a moment. “No. I did not love them.”
“Do you believe in love?”
“I want to.”
Linley resumed picking at the blade of grass. “I want to, too.”
The last rays of the sun disappeared from the sky. Only the glint of moonlight on waving grass moved across the landscape.
“Do you think your sister loves Hereford?”
Patrick swiveled his head to look at her. “I have no idea. Why?”
“It just seems that no one ever expects to marry for love anymore,” she said. “That romance only belongs in fairy tales and spinster novels.”
“People like Hereford, and Georgiana, and myself don’t have the freedom to marry for our hearts. We must wed for practical reasons. To dream of anything more only leads to heartache and disappointment.”
“So you had no problem marrying your sister off to a man she did not love, and who probably would not love her?”
Patrick frowned. “Georgiana wanted to marry Hereford. It was her idea,” he explained. “She was expected to marry a cousin of ours. It was all but arranged. At the last minute, I told her I would not hold her to the agreement if she did not want to go through with it. So she didn’t. She married Hereford instead.”
“Maybe they were in love, after all,” Linley said, smiling.
“You’re awfully romantic for someone who casually talks of taking lovers—or do you not remember that day in the garden either?”
“As I told you, I’ve had five lovers and never loved any of them,” he explained. “The emotion of love and the sexual act are two completely separate things. You’d do good to keep that in mind when the time comes and you want to give yourself over to a man.”
“Is that why you got so upset that afternoon?” Linley asked. “Because you thought I’d go to bed with a man believing it would make him love me?”
“No. I was upset because you should not be discussing sex with me. Just as you should not be doing it now. If I were a gentleman at all, I would end this conversation.”
“I am a gentleman.”
“And this conversation is over?”
Linley smiled in the dark, certain that he was smiling, too.
“Are you asleep?” she asked him.
“You got quiet.”
Patrick shifted against the tree trunk he leaned against. “I’m not asleep.”
Linley looked up at the moon, guessing at the time. “In an hour or two, go and wake Reginald. He will come to relieve you.”
“For the rest of the night?”
“No one told me that,” he said.
“Probably because they wanted you to stay up the entire time.”
Patrick moved the rifle from across his lap and placed it on the grass beside him. “I really hate your friends.”
“Don’t worry,” Linley said, laughing. “They hate you, too.”
“I’m going numb. Would you like to stretch out with me?”
They shifted away from the tree trunk and lay on their backs. The tall grass formed a cocoon around them, leaving only the most beautiful view of the moon above their heads.
Linley rested her head beside Patrick’s. “I want to live up there.”
“On the moon,” she said.
Patrick crossed his hands behind his head, letting Linley use his underarm as a pillow. He watched the clouds move across the sky, thinking it was a perfect night.
“I’d like to kiss you,” he whispered. When Linley did not answer, he thought she might not have heard him. “I would like to kiss you.”
“I know,” she said, her own voice barely above a whisper.
Linley rolled over onto her stomach, her mouth only a breath away from his. “No.”
Patrick tried not to let his disappointment show. Without a word, he turned his focus back to the moon and the stars.
“You cannot kiss me,” she said. “Because this time I want to kiss you first.”
His eyes shot back down to hers. This was turning out not to be a disappointment, after all.
Linley bent down and pressed her mouth to his. She was timid and a little unsure. Their first two kisses had been so different that she did not know which way was best. In the room with Elgin’s Marbles, the kiss had been soft, fast. Upstairs in Kyre House, the kiss was rough and lasted for a very long time.
Because he knew she would never do it on her own, Patrick dipped his tongue into her mouth. Linley pulled away at the sensation, but the warm hand resting on the back of her neck kept her from escaping too far. His fingers danced up and down the skin there, threading loops of brown hair between his knuckles. Gooseflesh traveled in their wake.
As their mouths moved against each other, as his lips slid back and forth over hers, the hand on her neck began to travel. It fluttered across her shoulder blades. Played against the ridges of her spine. Spread out in the shallow space just before the curve of her bottom. And then moved lower.
He pressed his palm hard against her backside, squeezing her. Groping her. At Patrick’s insistence, Linley ground her hips against his. Without her corset on, her breasts rubbed against the thin fabric of her blouse. There was little to protect them from the heat coming off Patrick’s body, which radiated through two layers of cotton and burned against her flesh.
Patrick used the hand clenched to her bottom to push Linley upward. He wriggled beneath her just low enough to find her breasts, and drew one of her nipples into his mouth, fabric and all. Sweat, mingled with jasmine water, combined with the natural taste of her body flooded his mouth. Patrick drank it in, tugging on her nipple with his lips, and teeth, and tongue.
Perhaps a little too roughly, because Linley let out a whimper.
He released that breast and moved to the next one. This time he remembered to be gentle. After all, she had never experienced such things, and Patrick had no idea what was going through her mind at that moment.
For her part, Linley’s mind went blank. As she buried her face in his crisp dark hair, she thought of nothing at all. As if her brain could work at a time like this. As if anything else existed in the world except the pleasure he gave her.
As if she would want anything to.
Linley continued to grind against him, only this time she did it because her body could do nothing else. To writhe on top of him seemed to be its only function. She marveled at the attention he paid to her bosom. What would he want with those little breasts that, up until that night, had been nothing but a disappointment to her?
And then she felt it—something growing hard between his hips and hers. She pulled away from him, shocked at the intrusion. And then she realized what it was.
“Oh!” she gasped, partly embarrassed and partly intrigued.
Patrick moved his hand to cover his erection. “I—I’m sorry.”
She jumped up, dusting off the knees of her skirt. For some reason, she could not help but laugh. Patrick wanted to make love to her! She knew it, and now he could not deny it!
Patrick rose to his feet. His erection subsided, and he felt he could face her now that it was gone. “Linley,” he said, turning her around to face him. “Linley, stop laughing.”
She pursed her lips together to fight off another fit of giggles. “You’re blushing!”
Patrick’s face was indeed hot. “You’ve embarrassed me.”
“I’m sorry,” Linley said, composing herself.
“No, I am sorry. That should never have happened.” He shifted from one foot to another. “I hope I haven’t shocked you.”
She smiled at him. “Honestly, I’m a little flattered.”
Linley took a step forward, sliding her arm around his waist. “I had no idea I had that sort of effect on you.”
“It has been longer than usual since I held a woman. Naturally, I would be a little…overeager.”
She kept smiling, refusing to be dismissed. “Oh, so you are blaming it on your celibacy, and not at all on my feminine powers of seduction?”
Patrick pulled her hand away from his waist. “I’m not going to stand here and stoke your vanity. I’ve already apologized, and I think we should leave it at that.”
Patrick awoke to rain. Not the driving, relentless downpour he experienced in the jungle, but a steady, misting drizzle. As he listened to it spatter against the roof of his tent, he lay there and thought of the night before.
How could he let himself get so carried away? He hadn’t acted like that over a woman’s touch since university.
Well, not quite university, but not long after.
He had been too serious of a youth to trouble with women while at Oxford. Young Patrick preferred to pour over books rather than chase girls, unlike almost all of his schoolmates. Even after he returned to Kyre, his life was too busy for pleasurable pursuits. He had an estate to run, a sister to raise, hundreds of tenants to look after, and somehow between all that, he was expected to find time for politics.
By twenty-one, he was exhausted. He was also lonely. His friends knew he needed a woman, but did not think he needed a true companion. After all, he was young, relatively handsome, and held one of the most respected titles in all of Britain. Why would he want to commit himself to one woman when he could have his pick of the most beautiful ladies in the world?
But Patrick would have none of them. He knew what those women were after—his title, or perhaps the hopes of snaring him with an illegitimate child or two. None of which benefitted him at all, yet his friends could not understand that.
He smirked up at the canvas tent roof. Most of them understood now. Almost all his friends had sacrificed their titles to women they reluctantly call their wives. Some kept secret families hidden away, the greedy mothers looking for cheques every few weeks, threatening to show up on their doorstep if the money didn’t arrive on time.