Beguiled by Her Betrayer(10)By: Louise Allen
‘But he was writing over forty years ago, Father,’ Cleo said reasonably. ‘And there are bandits, as Mr Bredon discovered to his cost.’
‘What have I discovered to my cost?’ Quin strolled round the corner, his hair on end from a vigorous towelling, his face shaved clean of the dark week-old beard. His jaw line was as sharp and firm as she had thought it would be.
Cleo tried to read his face. There had been an edge to that question she did not understand. ‘That there really are bandits out there,’ she replied and saw an infinitesimal relaxation around his mouth. ‘How is your arm?’
‘I took the dressing off. It seems to be healing.’
She put down the honey jar and followed him into the tent. ‘Let me look at it. It will need redressing, you cannot take any risks with wounds in this climate.’
He had made his bed. Army-neat, she thought, recalling Thierry’s habits of order, as Quin rolled up the loose sleeve of his galabeeyah to the shoulder.
‘It will not be a tidy scar,’ Cleo observed, more to distract herself as she wrapped a fresh strip of cotton over the wound than to make conversation. It was healing well, she saw.
‘That amuses you?’ Bredon asked and she realised she must have smiled.
‘That you will be scarred? No. But it was an unpleasant task, cleaning that, and I have no liking for causing pain, so I am glad it is healing.’ She secured the knot and began to roll down his sleeve again. ‘I could wish I had made a neater job of it. It is not as though you have a soldier’s collection of scars already.’ And that is what happens when you let your tongue run away with you. He knows you are thinking about his naked body. You know he knows. She took refuge in setting her medicine box in order.
‘I compare badly to your warrior husband, no doubt.’ He picked up the cotton strip and worked it deftly into a turban.
‘Are you fishing for compliments, Mr Bredon?’ Cleo said over her shoulder as she picked up the box and ducked under the flap. ‘There is nothing amiss with your physique, as you are perfectly well aware, and it gives me no pleasure to see the damage one fool man can inflict on another.’
She bundled her father’s letters together and tied them securely into a neat package almost as large as one of the local mud bricks. She dropped it into one of the panniers, added two large goatskins of water, her sharpest kitchen knife, a money pouch and a small sickle for cutting greens. When she bent to lift the two baskets on to the donkey’s saddle Quin Bredon slipped in front of her, hefted them into place one-handed and tightened the straps.
‘Are you certain you do not wish to ride?’ she asked him. ‘It is three miles at least in each direction and we can attach the various objects some other way.’
Quin looked down at the long skirts of his galabeeyah. ‘Side saddle?’ he enquired. ‘Or do I hitch up my petticoats and expose my hairy legs to the alarm of the populace?’
‘I could find you a spare pair of my father’s breeches,’ Cleo offered and bit the inside of her cheek to stop herself laughing. There was something not quite right about Mr Bredon, something that made her uneasy, and she was not going to allow him to charm her into letting her guard down. It would be interesting to see what Capitaine Laurent made of him.
‘I think not. The poor beast is so small that my feet would trail along the ground.’
Cleo shrugged one shoulder and started walking. It was up to him and he would look considerably less dignified if he had to return stuffed in a pannier. ‘We are going now, Father,’ she called as she passed the shaded writing area. He grunted and waved his hand without looking up. ‘There is food under a cloth near the water jars. Please don’t let the fire go out.’ There, that was as much as she could hope he’d take notice of.
‘You do not have to dawdle on my behalf,’ Quin said.
‘Hmm? No, I wasn’t.’ She took a firmer hold on the leading rein and lengthened her stride. ‘We will take the path along the water’s edge, it is easier going than through the sand and there is some shade.’
‘Your father has a wide circle of correspondents, he must be greatly respected,’ Quin said after five minutes of silent walking.
‘His interests are wide-ranging, Mr Bredon. It stimulates him to exchange views with scholars from many countries.’
‘Quin,’ he said. ‘It seems ridiculous to observe drawing-room manners in the middle of the desert.’ Cleo opened her mouth to demur, but he kept talking. ‘And he writes to scholars from both sides in the present conflict and neutral countries, too. I’m amazed that the French authorities are so complacent about assisting him.’