Beguiled by Her Betrayer(9)

By: Louise Allen



We will see who is right, Cleo my lovely, he thought, meeting her cynical grey-green eyes. To his amazement she blushed.

* * *

And do not pretend you don’t know what is the matter with you, my girl, Cleo chided herself and bit so hard on a date that she almost broke a tooth. Lust. An intelligent man with a magnificent body ends up naked in your bed space, at your mercy. And then when he regains his wits he looks at you with those blue eyes and you don’t know whether he is pitying you or mocking you or desiring you.

Or all three, perhaps. Two of those were unwelcome and one was improbable, unless the American had a fancy for skinny, sun-browned widows with calluses on their fingers and not a social grace to their name.

But the widow... Ah, yes, the widow could have a fancy to discover whether those eyes became a darker blue with passion and how those long fingers he was so careful to keep still and inexpressive felt on her body. Quin. She indulged herself by trying out his name in her head. Quintus.

He was looking at her father now, listening politely to another lecture on hieroglyphs and the importance of measuring the monuments. His face in repose, or when he was guarding it, was all straight lines. Level brows, narrowed eyes, that nose with its arrogant jut in silhouette. His lips were straight until he spoke and the lines of cheekbone and jaw showed strong and regular under the growth of beard, a shade darker than his hair. He looked severe and impenetrable—and then he spoke or smiled and the lines shifted, the angles changed and his face was alive and charming. And still just as unreadable, she realised.

But then I am not a very good judge of men. Look at Thierry.

Cleo rose and began to gather up platters. Mr Bredon...Quin...immediately began to clear the table, ignoring her shake of the head. He followed her and dumped the scraped dishes into the pot of water that was sitting in the hot ashes and looked round, for a dishcloth, she supposed.

‘Leave it,’ Cleo said, more sharply than she intended.

‘You are tired. Bone weary.’ He stood there, arm still in the sling, an improbable kitchen lad.

‘I know what I am doing, you will only be in the way.’ Ungracious but true. He made her feel clumsy, off balance.

‘Then promise me you will come to bed as soon as it is done,’ he said softly.

It sounded like an invitation. Oh, my foolish imagination. She bent over the water and felt the brush of his fingertips as he lifted her heavy braid over her shoulder and clear of the surface. His hand lingered a moment at her nape, then was gone, leaving her shivering as though a warm cover had been removed in the chill of the night.

‘You work too hard, Cleo.’

When she turned, he was gone and there was only her father, a book open on the table in front of him amidst the crumbs, taking advantage of the waning light.

* * *

Quin Bredon came out of the tent as soon as Cleo had finished bathing the next day. ‘Good morning!’ He looked well rested, the haggard hollows had gone from beneath his eyes and his arm was not in the sling.

Cleo returned his greeting with less enthusiasm. She had not had a good night, waking every few minutes, it had seemed, listening for Quin’s breathing in the stillness, then cursing herself for a fool and trying to fall asleep again. It was unsettling the way in which he had just appeared, the moment she was dry and dressed and had combed out her hair. He could not have seen her, but it felt uncomfortably as though he had been listening, alert for what she was doing.

‘There is water warming by the fire and a linen towel in there. And my father’s spare razors.’ She gestured towards the makeshift bathing area and went on with preparing a breakfast of coffee, dates, honey and the toasted remains of the flatbread. There would be bread to buy in the village today, and dates and oranges, and the officers might have coffee to spare. With luck she would be able to buy a scrawny chicken to stew into soup with beans and lentils. Another mouth to feed put a strain on supplies.

Her father, dressed in an abeyah tied with a sash, his nightcap still incongruously perched on his head, wandered out of the tent with a book in his hand. ‘Where’s my shaving water?’

‘Mr Bredon is bathing and shaving, Father. I have put on more water to warm for you.’

‘Humph.’ He sat down and reached for a date without taking his eyes from the book. ‘This man is an idiot.’

‘Who, Father?’ The question was automatic. He could reply King George or the Great Chan of China for all she cared, but Cleo had an instinct that, if she stopped responding to every remark, her father would simply cease to communicate altogether. It had been a relief, she realised, to have Quin there to talk to him last night.

‘James Bruce. He let himself be ordered around by his guides, listened to fairy stories and was frightened away by rumours of bandits. This is all nonsense.’ He jabbed a finger at a densely written page of text.

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