Beguiled by Her Betrayer(4)By: Louise Allen
There was the sound of cloth being agitated in water, the swish of her skirts as she moved. Quin clung to the edge of his sheet with a prudery that astonished him. With a wet flap that showered his face with droplets the weight of another sodden sheet landed on top of him. ‘Grip the edge of the top one,’ she ordered and yanked the lower sheet away from the foot of the bed with a snap that left him covered even as it administered a sharp slap of wet linen to his wedding tackle in passing.
Quin suppressed the word that leapt to his lips and released his death grip on the sheet. As he squinted down the length of his body he reflected ruefully that with the way it moulded itself to his form he might as well simply be wearing a layer of white paint. And goodness knew what was the matter with him. His experience with women was not such as to leave him blushing like a virgin curate when one ran her eyes over his body.
On the other hand, the woman advancing on him with a beaker in one hand and a bundle of unpleasantly sharp-looking implements in the other, was hardly a cheerful member of the muslin company.
‘You may have some more water and then I will clean up your arm.’ She settled on a stool beside him and Quin, his temper ragged, reached out to take the beaker before she could hold it to his lips.
‘It is merely a graze from a spent bullet.’
‘It is a gouge I could lay my finger in and it is infected. I really do not wish to have to remove your arm.’
‘Over my dead body!’ Quin managed not to choke on a mouthful of water. Damn the female, he could believe she was capable of doing just that, with her screaming victim tied to the bed.
‘Your choice.’ She shrugged.
‘Very well.’ Quin handed her the beaker and pulled the sheet away from his left arm. He’d been about to sit up, but one look at the festering mess left him glad he was flat on his back. This was not going to be amusing and he had no intention of gratifying his tormentor by fainting.
Madame Valsac seemed competent, Quin had to admit. Her array of unpleasant tools were sharp and clean, she had hot water and sponges and torn linen all set out. She turned and studied him, momentarily distracting him with speculation about the colour of her eyes. Grey or green or greenish grey? Greyish green... He took a surreptitious hold on the bed frame with his other hand and gazed upwards past her right ear. It was a nice ear, framed by the hair she had pushed back behind it. Neat and elegantly shaped and—hell’s teeth!
‘What is your name?’
Distracting the patient to keep his mind off things, Quin thought, enduring an exquisite pang in silence. ‘Quintus Bredon,’ he said when he could catch his breath. ‘You can call me Quin.’ Might as well use part of his real name, there was less chance of mistakes that way. ‘And yours?’ He knew perfectly well, there could not be two women of her age with Woodward, but it was necessary to play the game and besides, he had not been told her first name. Given that she had stripped him to the buff, that at least should put them on some sort of intimate footing.
‘Madame Valsac. You may call me madam.’
Thank you, madam!
She did something that made his vision swirl and darken and then, suddenly, the worst of the pain eased. ‘There, that is clean now. How did you do this?’
‘I stood in the way of a bullet from a group of Bedouin raiders.’ Quin matched the indifferent courtesy of her tone. ‘Careless of me, but I woke to find them removing my camels and all my gear.’
‘Careless indeed.’ She began to bandage his arm. ‘You were alone? What is an American doing in Egypt?’
‘I was with a small group of engineers, but I wanted to get back further south to study the way the river flows and they intended to stay another few days. I am interested in building dams.’ There was no way to avoid fabricating the story of how and why he was in Egypt. The books he had studied so carefully on board ship had left his head spinning with pharaohs, weird gods, indecipherable hieroglyphs and wild theories. Trying to fool a scholar about his level of knowledge was impossible, better to pretend something he was at least able to discuss in English.
‘I had no idea the emperor had Americans amongst his savants.’ She tied a competent knot and laid his throbbing arm back down. ‘You will be glad to hear there is a small detachment of troops at Shek Amer, just to the south of us. They will be delighted to meet you, I have no doubt.’
‘No doubt.’ Hell and damnation, that was the last thing he needed. The plan was to warn Woodward and his daughter that the Mamelukes were advancing from the south. It was, in fact, the truth, although he had no intention of adding the rest of the facts, that this was in support of the French, besieged in Cairo by a combined British and Turkish force. No one, French ally or not, would want to be in the path of the lethal mounted Mameluke militias under Murad Bey. He’d intended to persuade the Woodward and Madame Valsac to take a boat north with him, not telling them they were heading straight into the arms of the British.