Time of the Temptress 6
When Eve crawled out of her warm nest of plaid robe and netting, she saw that the hut was empty and was about to panic when she breathed a drift of woodsmoke and realised that Wade was just outside, probably getting breakfast. Yawning and stretching, she wandered out into the hazy morning sunlight, to find the kettle on the fire, and Wade busily lathering his chin. He had attached his shaving-mirror to a branch and was stripped of his shirt, his trousers belted against his firm brown body.
Eve caught the scrape of the blade through the strong growth of beard and she had a feeling he was watching her through the mirror.
“You had a good night,” he said. “Slept sound as an infant in its cot, even though the thunder kept on for quite a while.”
“I do feel rested,” she said, and glanced about the compound, where moisture was still dripping from the surrounding trees. Over everything there hung the scent of wet foliage, and there was a busy chattering and whistling in the bush. “What are we having for breakfast?”
“How about smoky bacon, with eggs and toast?” he drawled.
“Don’t torture me,” she groaned. “It looks as if we’ll have to make do with smoky beans straight from the can.
[97-98] “Eve,” he turned to face her with half his face shaven clean, “aren’t you curious that we have water in the kettle? Last night the water-bottle was empty, this morning it’s full.”
He nodded, the sun on the warm coppery gleam of his skin. Eve felt a sudden tumult of her pulses, an awareness of her own scarecrow appearance.
“A river,” she breathed. “That means we can bathe and catch fish and be a little civilised!”
“Later on,” he agreed. “But right after breakfast I want to explore the village for any useful implements, and I want to take a look at the trees around here. There’s also the chance that when the villagers ran off they left behind them a few vegetables in their patches of cultivated ground. Can you see to the tea while I finish off my face?”
“Yes, bwana.” Eve was suddenly optimistic, and she liked the feel of the sunlight on her face as she set about making breakfast for them. Wade was tough and tantalising, and he could be diamond-hard when he chose, but given half a chance he’d make that boat and they’d get away on the water without having to take their chance in the jungle. She felt like singing, and compromised by whistling to herself as she opened the beans, replaced the lift halfway and set the can carefully on the fire stones.
This wasn’t such a bad place to camp in for a while, not if she kept her mind firmly closed to images of wild-eyed rebels through the bush, coming so suddenly that Wade didn’t have time to reach for his Breda. She shot him a look and saw that he was wiping the soap from his face; the shotgun was close at hand, leaning against [98-99] the tree on which his mirror was suspended.
She felt reassured, and then he turned to look at her and as their eyes met across the clearing Eve felt a sudden weakness in her limbs. It was the first time she had seen him clean-shaven and for a moment he was a stranger, the roughneck replaced by a man of lean distinction, who in full officer’s uniform would look . . . dashingly attractive.
Suddenly she felt rather shy of him and could feel an irregularity in her breathing as he swung his Breda on to his bare coppery shoulder and began to stroll across to her. Clad only in his khaki trousers there was a supple rippling of hard muscle under the sun-darkened skin, and Eve felt a stab of physical reaction that made her clench her teeth. She hadn’t known that awareness of a man could be so potent, like a heady gulp of wine followed by an alarming mixture of weakness and elation; added to which was the scared feeling that he was going to guess how she felt.
With an effort of will she managed to sound insouciant. “Tea’s up, and the beans are smoking, and do take a look at those little gold-breasted birds flying about. Are they canaries?”
“Probably a wild species.” He rested the shotgun and gazed down at her, his lip quirking. “Well, do you think I look a trifle more civilised now my bristles are gone?”
“Don’t tantalise me with your manly beauty,” she said demurely. “This isn’t the garden of Eden we’re lost in.”
“Touché.” There was a grating amusement in his drawl. “Glad to see you’re back on form and aren’t letting this situation get you down.”
“Sunshine and bird-calls, and hot sweet tea, can do [99-100] wonders for the morale, Major. I’m making believe I’m on a camping trip with a local scoutmaster.”
He caught her gaze and made an intent search of her eyes, then he added approvingly, “I wouldn’t have taken much of a bet on a high-society gal making much of a companion in adversity, but you’re proving me wrong, aren’t you?”
“So far,” she said, handing him his share of the tea. “Last night I lost a good mark, but the rat took me by surprise. Normally I don’t squeal like that, and I’ve seen plenty of rats and bats at Lake House.”
“The guardian’s country seat, I take it?”
“Yes, in Essex. I’ve boated on the lake, so I should be able to do my share of the paddling when you get the canoe ready for launching.”
On the smooth waters, perhaps.” He leaned down to slide the can of beans off the fire. “But some of these rivers run into rapids–we’ll wait and see how things go. Take care with this sauce, it’s hot.”
They tucked into their beans and only had a couple of biscuits each, for they were fast running out of them and they had to substitute for a longed-for slice of bread.
He had brought back enough water for Eve to be able to wash her face and hands, after which she applied the hateful repellent. Wade washed his shirt in the one-legged iron pot and hung it on a bush to dry in the sun. “Let’s hope a monkey doesn’t run off with it,” he said, and they stood a moment watching the agile chimps flinging themselves about in the high trees, chattering and showing their teeth to the pair of human beings. Suddenly something bounced down hard near Wade’s feet, and he bent to pick up the object. It was a large coconut!
[100-101] “Manna from the monkeys,” Wade said delightedly. He shook the nut and the liquid inside swished about. “Well, if we can find a few more of these, we’ll have coconut meat and milk to supplement our diet. Fancy a piece right now?”
“No, I’ll have some later on, but you go ahead.”
“No, I’ll wait as well. I’m eager to have a look round this place and do some scavenging.” He went into the hut and put the nut away with their dwindling supplies of food, and then together they searched the ruins of the other huts but found nothing that was still usable, but they were lucky enough to find some patches of cultivation where upon scraping with his hands Wade unearthed several large, knobbly-looking yams, some wild spinach, and cobs of corn.
They were congratulating themselves on this little crock of eatables, when to their astonishment they heard a gobbling sound from among the bushes and the next instant a turkey came pecking its way into the yard where they were standing. It cocked an eye at them, and then went on thrusting its yellow beak in and out of the dirt, where there must have been some stray corn seed.
Wade caught Eve’s glance and his eyes cautioned her not to move and startle the bird, which despite its rather scrawney appearance could provide them with a couple of square meals. Eve wasn’t chicken-hearted, but she had never been right on the scene when a bird for the table had had its neck wrung, but she knew from the look on Wade’s face that he was about to do just that the instant he got his hands on the turkey.
He leapt, there was a wild squawk, a flutter of feathers, and Eve turned away as the powerful hands did their work. Why would he hesitate? She had to re-[101-102]member all the time that Wade had killed men just as easily and efficiently; that he had given himself to warfare as a monk to religion.
“You can open your eyes,” he drawled. “And think of it like this, if I’m going to build a boat I need to have my strength built up.”
“It’s just that a minute ago the poor thing was pecking away without a care in the world, and now–” Now the limp body hung from Wade’s hand and there wasn’t even the remotest look of compunction in the steel-grey eyes that met Eve’s.
“We have to eat,” he said curtly. “There isn’t a supermarket round the corner where the frozen poultry is stacked in its container, having come from the battery farm where those poor things never get a chance to peck about in a yard. You’ll enjoy your drumstick as much as I shall, along with baked beans and some of these greens. A solid meal will do wonders for both of us.”
“I know that, but you’re so–”
“Is ruthless the word you’re searching for, Eve?”
“Not quite, but you are unmercifully efficient when it comes to the crunch, aren’t you?”
“I’ve had to be, lady. In Malaya, Cyprus, Belfast–and out here. He who hesitates is a goner. Now let’s take this helpful hoard of food to the hut and then we’ll take a look at some of those trees that fell in the storm last night.”
“Can’t you take me to the river while you have a look round in the jungle?” she asked, carrying greens and corncobs in her arms as they made their way back to the hut. “It will be cooler there and after all that rain there’ll be swarm [sic] of insects among the trees.”
“The trouble is, young Eve, when you get near water [102-103] you’re inclined to lose your head, not to mention your pants. Can I trust you to be good? Sometimes these rivers run an undertow and I don’t want to see you drowned now I’ve got you this far in one piece.”
I’ll be as good as gold,” she promised eagerly. “I can read that book you put in your knapsack, and you can get on with your–work.”
“Don’t we sound domesticated?” he jeered. “Right, if you’re going to behave yourself, then you can sit by the river and read. Are you wearing a watch?”
“Yes, but it’s stopped. I forgot to take it off when I took a bath in the creek.”
“That’s what you get for being too eager.” He marched ahead of her into the hut and proceeded to tear a chunk of the mosquito netting so he could wrap the turkey until he had time to pluck it. They placed the vegetables in the iron pot, and Eve asked him if she might borrow his book.
“You’re welcome,” he said. “It’s a Carter Dickson, but don’t you dare tell me the ending.”
“He’s good, isn’t he? Thanks.” She caught the book as Wade tossed it. Then he came over and thrust something else into her hand–a packet of nuts and raisins.
“They’ll keep up your vitality.” He stood looking down at her, and then, casually, he pushed a stray lock of hair back from her eyes. “You do realise, Eve, that we’re in the middle of a revolt and there may come a moment when I shall have to do to a man what I did to that bird? Out here you do it silently if you can, because a shot can be heard a long way off, and you get the stray rebel who breaks away from the rest, pillaging on his own, or attempting to get back to his family. One of those could come along, so I’m warning you to be [103-104] on the alert. I’d really prefer to have you where I can keep my eye on you–”
“I’ll be all right,” she said quickly. “I’m not going to think about the black side of things, because that only turns my stomach over and makes me feel nervous.”
“Right. I want to spend at least a couple of hours in the bush and get in as much work as possible, for I shall have to make a rope to tow the tree to the river bank. I shall need the panga, so I’m going to trust you with the Breda. Here, take hold of it, it shouldn’t be too heavy.”
Eve hesitated, then took the shotgun and found it warm from Wade’s skin. “Am I supposed to use it?” she asked.
“It will give you a feeling of security. If you see anything move, then you get to me as fast as you can. You’ll know where I am, for you’ll hear me slashing about with the panga, cutting off branches from the tree and chopping down vines to make a rope. Keep alert, Eve. Don’t get too carried away by the thriller.”
She smiled, and again was struck by the feeling of being so far from all the civilised aspects of her life that they seemed impossibly unreal–lunch with a girlfriend in a Sloane Square bistro, a wander around an art gallery, and maybe a spin into the country for tea-time tennis. None of it bore any relation to what was happening here, two people struggling for existence in a jungle full of dangers that could strike at them without warning.
The river wasn’t wide, but it was running at a good pace, and Eve settled down on the plaid robe for a rub, beneath the shade of some canopy banyans. “A little taste of laleia, eh?” Wade said, looking about him with [104-105] keen eyes, though she felt that it wasn’t the flamboyant butterflies he was watching.
“Paradise–Eden.” He spoke quizzically, but when he looked down at her there was something in his eyes she couldn’t quite fathom. “But don’t let it fool you, remember the story of that other Eve and what she found lurking behind a tree.”
He shot a glance at his watch. “You can stay here an hour, and then the sun will be high, right above you, and you’ll come to me, do you hear?”
“Yes, bwana,” she said meekly.
“And keep your ears peeled.”
“Um, now I’ve got to get to work.” He weighed the panga in his hand. “What a stroke of luck they taught me carpentry at that orphanage–carpentry and killing, the requisites of the old pioneers. That’s what I feel like, right now–a pioneer about to tackle a bit of husbandry.”
Eve smiled, but her pulses had given an alarming jump, as if he realised that he had said something a little too meaningful, he turned curtly away from her. “Be careful, be good,” he said, and a few seconds later he had gone among the sombre towering trees and the green curtains of foliage that fell into place behind his tall figure, the big leaves folding together to intensify Eve’s sudden sense of isolation. She chewed a nut and gazed thoughtfully across the river, listening to the sound of birds . . . feeling her drumming heart as it slowly quietened down.
It could have been laleia, she thought, had there been no rebellion to fear, no other woman to remember, [105-106] she and Wade alone, letting nothing matter except that he had become her world, the vital heart of it, where nothing would exist but the excitement, the heaven and hunger of being in his arms.
It was a tumultuous truth she could only face for a moment, and then she pushed it resolutely out of mind and bent over the paperback, glad to find that the story was set in London of the pre-war days, when parts of Holborn had been very mysterious. In a while Eve became absorbed in the story, carried away by the mastery of the storyteller . . . it was a sudden sense of quiet rather than a sound that touched a warning finger to the base of her spine, sending a shiver through her.
She glanced up slowly, her fingers clenching on the book. The tiny hairs on the nape of her neck were prickling and she sensed instantly that something was standing behind her, ominously still for the moment, but poised to come at her. Her nostrils quivered, but there was no catlike aroma to warn her that a leopard was close to her, so that any sudden movement would be fatal. And she had to turn and look . . . she couldn’t just sit here and be pounded upon.
As Eve turned to look, she clutched the Breda and felt the sudden moistness of her hands.
Dark eyes were fixed upon her, raking over her with an intent she understood with sickening clarity . . . then he began to move towards her, and Eve knew she must use the Breda and blast him before he got to her. She raised it and it suddenly felt as heavy as lead . . . he stood still a moment, the thick lips leering back from the white teeth. It was like one of those awful slow-motion dreams, and then she had her finger on the bolt [106-107] and was forcing herself to pull it back and release the lead into his face, for it was his face that was so frightening.
The gun fired and the butt kicked hard against her shoulder, but the bullet had flown wild and before she could fire again he was upon her and was wrenching the Breda away from her. Eve felt a terror beyond anything she had ever known . . . as a scream ripped from her, he had hold of her and she smelled his sour body odour and saw him swinging the butt of the gun at her head, and even as she ducked he gave a strange liquid cry, his eyes seemed to bulge from their sockets, and then he fell as if pole-axed and Eve saw the knife with its steel blade buried deep in his back, high up where his spine was joined to his neck.
“You okay, lady?” Wade was bending over her, helping her to her feet. She swayed from reaction and was caught to Wade’s body, gripped so painfully hard that she almost lost her breath. They stayed like that for several long moments, while the flurried movements of the birds and monkeys settled down until the most persistent sound was that of the flies drawn to that silent form that lay face down on the riverbank, the back of the combat jacket darkly stained where the knife jutted.
“I–I’m a rotten shot,” Eve said shakily. “But thank God you heard the gun going off.”
“I suppose you got lost in that darn thriller.” He pressed her to him, as if to instil some of his warmth and strength into her. “Now forget about it, honey, it’s over and done with–”
“He came up on me like an animal,” she said, shuddering. “He was upon me almost before I could grab the gun, then my shot went wild a–and all I could see [107-108] was that awful, savage face–another second and he’d have split my head open.”
Then, driven beyond a force she couldn’t control, Eve suddenly flung her arms about Wade’s neck and reached for his face with her lips. She felt the tough skin and bone of him, and then he was gripping her hands and forcing her away from him. “There’s no need for that,” he said, roughly. “I’ve got to shift this hog out of the way before every fly in the jungle comes buzzing around.”
“You saved my life,” she said simply.
“It’s what I’m paid to do,” he rejoined, then bending over the dead body of the insurgent he began to go through his pockets. Eve gnawed her knuckles and gazed down at Wade’s dark head . . . there was no way to stop what she was feeling for him, for it was right inside her. She watched as he drew out something from one of the pockets of the stained combat jacket and carefully examined it, then with a smile that slashed lines in his brown face he glanced up at Eve.
“This maverick’s been following the river route to the coast–see, his map! It bears out my feeling that we couldn’t go far wrong if we continued by canoe, but are you still prepared for that? I need time to build the boat, but now we have this map we could trek it, if that’s what you want?”
“It’s for you to decide, Wade.” She wanted to get away from this place right now, and would have been happy had he decided to pack up then and there. “Are you going to be able to build the canoe?”
“Sure, there’s no problem, but I need a few days to do it in, and this nasty customer might have put you off the idea of staying here while I work on the boat.”
[108-109] “I’m not that feeble,” she protested, and pushed down inside her the urge to get away without any delay. “And you know what’s best.”
“It would be best for you, Eve, to travel by canoe. And there’s food around here, and several wild fruit trees. We can stock up on supplies, and if it’s any consolation I’ll let you go bathing later on, when the sun cools down a bit.”
“Thanks,” she said drily, every fly in the jungle and watched as he dragged the rebel into the bush, followed by that gauze of flies. He was gone about ten minutes, and when he returned the knife was back in his belt, and his black hair was damply tousled on his forehead. “I’ve stripped the body and buried the clothes,” he said. “Later on the leopards will make short work of that carcase, and what’s left the smaller animals will devour. Now let’s see about our own lunch–d’you fancy some baked fish and yams roasted in the fire until their skins crackle?”
Eve stared at him, still deeply shaken herself, but aware that for him the business of killing the enemy was an everyday matter, and her gaze followed him to the river, when he haunched down and cleared his hands in the water, resting there a moment while the sun dried them.
“We’ll head back to camp and get the fish basket and I’ll bait it with that piece of pork fat out of the beans. We might be lucky enough to entice a catfish into the trap.”
“Catfish?” she echoed, pulling a face.
“What were you expecting, blue mountain trout?” He swung the Breda on to his shoulder and they entered the dim tunnel of trees that led in the direction of the hut. “A catfish steak can be very tasty, and you’ll [109-110] be asking the head waiter at the Ritz to put it on the menu when you get back to London.”
“London seems a million miles away,” she murmured. “Only this seems real, and I can’t seem to imagine any more what it’s like to sit in a restaurant aimlessly eating a lot of high-priced food and talking a lot of flippant nonsense about life. I don’t think I shall ever be the sort of person that I was–I don’t want to be, not after this experience.”
“You say that now, Eve, but when you get back to civilisation you’ll soon forget your jungle ordeal with a roughneck soldier of fortune.”
“I don’t want to forget a single detail,” she protested. “Nor do I think of you as a roughneck.”
“Come again, lady.” The jeering note came back into his voice. “Don’t go pinning a medal of good conduct on me because I saved your sweet neck. It’s all in the line of duty.”
“You can be cynical about it, Wade, but you can’t stop me from being grateful to you. You’ll never know how frightened I was!”
“Of course I know how you felt, having that brute creep up on you, but don’t let the gratitude get all sugared up with hearts and flowers. We’re alone together in a dicey situation and I can do without a girl your age getting the idea that it might be romantic to live dangerously with a man in the thousand-tree house.”
“The thousand-tree house?” she echoed.
“The jungle, roofed over as it is by the tall trees laced together at their crowns to form almost a solid green ceiling. We aren’t Tarzan and Jane, and don’t you forget it. I’ve made no plans to live in the wilds with a high-society girl.”
[110-111] “What are your future plans, Wade?” Eve was determined not to let him ruffle her feathers. She was alive because of him, and the very way he talked was an indication that he had a code of honour that made him even more of a hero in her eyes. It made her heart beat fast, admitting to herself that he had come to mean so much to her . . . a man whose way of life and commitments to his family meant that he could never be more than her jungle protector. There was nothing beyond Tanga but a parting of their ways.
“I never make plans,” he told her. “A soldier doesn’t go in for that kind of dicing with the gods. He just hopes there isn’t a bullet with his name on it.”
Eve felt a clutch of dismay deep inside her and wished she had the right to hold him fast and be the woman who come stop him from being a soldier.
“Oh, but you must have a dream in your heart,” she said. “Everyone has a longing for something that will give them peace or pleasure or a sense of security. I bet you’d love a farm! A place in the country, with a couple of horses in the stable, some pigs and cows, and a few crop acres. Go on, Wade, tell me I’m wrong.”
“Dreams are for the young,” he rejoined, “and I mean to see that my son gets his dream. He exists because of me. He deserves to have a good life, and it’s what I’ve fought for–killed for.”
Wade looked down suddenly at Eve and his eyes were steely and uncompromising as the knife in his belt. “I’ve waded in slaughter–you just keep remembering that and you’ll soon forget any foolish notion that I could reap and sow and be a farmer.”
“I bet you’d love it,” she argued.
“Love?” His face as hard as nails. “What would a young thing like you know about love? What would a [111-112] mercenary have in common with all the tender delights of loving anything?”
“There’s your son–your wife,” Eve said quietly. “Wouldn’t they like to have you home all the time?”
“What is this?” he demanded. “It’s like some damn interview for True Confessions!”
He marched ahead of her into the rondavel and found the fish basket and the piece of pork fat he had saved for bait. “You can stay here and do some tidying up,” he said. “I shan’t be too long, and this time keep your wits about you and keep the Breda close to hand. I don’t think another insurgent can be hanging about or that gunshot would have flushed him out. I’ll chop you off some of those big rubbery leaves and you can do a spot of sweeping out with them.”
“All right,” she said, and couldn’t stop herself from casting a nervous look around the compound.
“To hell with it.” His hand closed on her shoulder, his fingers pressing into her slight bones. “You can come with me to the river if you promise not to pester me with questions. My private life is none of your business, young lady, and if you’ll bear that in mind, we’ll get along.”
“I’ll stay here,” she shook free of his hand. “The hut does need a sweep out if we’re going to be using it for the next few days.”
“Are you sure now?” He handed her the Breda. “If it gives you the willies to be here alone, then you say so.”
“It’s something I’ve got to get used to.” Eve tilted her chin and gripped the gun. “I can’t be at your elbow all the time you’re working on the boat–men don’t like that, do they? They like to get on with the job.”
“What would you know about men, apart from that [112-113] honourable stick you’re pledged to marry?” He suddenly smiled, a quirk of the lip and eyebrow. “Keep your pecker up and next time shoot straight at the body and don’t hesitate for a second. In this game, honey, it’s them or us. Bye for now.”
He marched off leaving her alone, but for several minutes she was unable to relax and just stood there, letting her eyes search every ruined mound where a hut had stood, every tree that cast a shadow in the sun. She listened to the monkeys chattering away, and to the birds calling and flying in the treetops. While there were animal sounds she could be fairly certain that nothing on two legs was creeping through the bush, but all the same it would be a long time before she banished from her mind that incident by the river.
She set to work on the hut, clearing out everything so she could give the floor and walls a thorough brush-down with the big leaves Wade had cut for her. They had thick stems and made quite serviceable brooms, and by the time she was finished quite a bit of the dirt had been swept outside and she had slaughtered several large insects.
During the course of her housework she would pause every so often and listen for those reassuring squeals and thrashings among the trees, and in a while she was actually laughing as one of the monkeys began to hurl big squashy bananas at her, red-skinned things that she didn’t much like the look of. However, she decided to try one and found it eatable, if a trifle on the syrupy side.
The sun was really high now and she wiped a sleeve across her moist face. She longed for that bathe Wade had promised her, but she knew she must abide by his [113-114] decision that it would be best when the sun began to decline and the benefits of a bathe would be all the sweeter. To take a plunge while the sun was high would only mean that within a short while they’d both be sweating again.
He was an exasperating man, but he knew his way about in this tough, menacing world, and Eve smiled to herself as she sat on the bundle and chewed sweet banana. Sunshine splashed across the compound like hot rain, and she would have loved a drink of water, but knew it had to be boiled first and their fire was dead.
What would have been her reaction to him had they met in normal circumstances? At a party, say, where he strolled in looking dark and distinctive in a dinner-suit, immaculate poplin shirt and cummerbund, casting casual grey eyes around the room and letting them fasten upon her in a dress all frilled and floaty. Would he have noticed her? Would he have liked the Eve of those days, bandbox-fresh and not unattractive with her gay young mouth, and her skin looking creamy against the Titian glint of her hair?
But even had they met like that, there was still his wife in the background . . . the woman he was bound to, whom he seemed to avoid talking about. Had their marriage gone all wrong from the start, as forced marriages so often did? Was he resentful that she had caught him with the oldest trick in the book, inducing him to lose his head over her, letting herself fall for his child so he’d feel obliged to marry her?
Eve decided that Wade would resent being forced into a corner, but all the same he had stood by the woman he had married, and he obviously cared a great deal for his son. Did he carry a picture of Larry? Eve [114-115] longed to know. She longed to find out for herself if Wade’s son resembled him.
She found herself staring at his knapsack, which she had propped against a tree. Had she time to take a look in his crocodile-skin wallet which he kept attached to his pouch of medications and other handy items by means of an elastic band? It seemed a sly thing to do, yet she was driven by a need not only to see a photograph of his son, but possibly one of his wife as well. With a quick-beating pulse she bent over the battered knapsack and undid the straps. Her hand went inside and rapidly located the oilskin pouch and wallet; she detached the wallet and opened the flap, searching inside with fingers that trembled. Her fingertips felt the edge of a snapshot and she drew it out . . . oh yes, this was Larry, and he was good-looking, with a shock of untidy black hair, keen, well-set eyes gazing directly ahead, and the lean, rather serious face of the student.
Wade’s son . . . but much as she searched Eve couldn’t find a snapshot of Wade’s wife.
“What an inquisitive young lady you are, foraging about in a man’s belongings when his back is turned! I’m sure you were brought up to be better-mannered than that.”
Eve crouched by the knapsack and felt the hot embarrassment sweep over her. She was caught out and no mistake, and as she felt Wade take a stride and halt beside her, her nerves fluttered madly. “Did you find what you were looking for?” he drawled. He leaned down and plucked the photograph of Larry from her nerveless fingers. “Curious to find out if he was as good-looking as I said?”
[115-116] “He’s a fine young man,” Eve said huskily. “You must be very proud of him.”
“He’s the best part of me–what else were you searching for, lady? A portrait of my wife?”
Eve quivered as if the tip of a lash had flicked her skin, and involuntarily she glanced up at Wade. His teeth were bared for a moment in a half-savage smile, and as her face grew hot and pink the devil was agitated in his eyes.
“May I have my wallet?” he requested.
Silently she handed it to him and he replaced the snapshot of his son. “I’d have shown it to you had you asked,” he said. “Fathers get a kick out of showing off their offspring to people.”
“I–it was wrong of me to pry into your wallet,” Eve said humbly. “I don’t know what came over me.”
“I think I know.” He tucked the wallet away, and the next instant had hold of Eve by the wrist. “It had something to do with this.” As he spoke he dragged her against him and she could feel his other hand gripping her so that her shirt was drawn up to expose her tingling spine. He plucked her close to him and took her shaking lips in a long punishing kiss . . . a kiss like no other she had ever experienced, so unrelenting that she felt her lips going molten under his mouth . . . felt a tumult of her senses that quickened into an excitement that made her clutch at him.
Hard and hungry grew the lips that searched her face, her neck, the strong hand cupping her head while he moved his mouth over her flushed skin, his other hand roaming her shoulders and moving down her back to where her body was bare.
He clasped her slenderness to every hard line of him [116-117] and seemed careless of all danger now he had her in his arms. Eve was shaken to the core by what she felt, and what she had aroused in him. He suddenly lifted her and seemed to be seeking a place to lay her down–coming to his senses the very next instant, his breath raking hot across her face.
“Get away from me!” He thrust her away from him, not roughly or cruelly, but firmly.
“Oh, Wade–” She just managed his name, and found herself leaning against a tree, while he stood dragging a hand across his face.
The static was still alive in her veins. She had felt a deep falling-through-time into a lush, heady sweetness she had wanted with all her body, every inch of her skin, every throb of her heart. Her lips were still burning as she drew her tongue around them.
“You live up to your name, don’t you?” he growled. “You had to let yourself be tempted, and couldn’t wait to let loose the devil in me. D’you think I’ll let it happen a second time? Not on your sweet life I won’t! If I get you to Tanga, I’ll get you there intact and still innocent enough to fool your bridegroom.”
“Y–you kissed me–” she said weakly.
“You were asking for it, and I’m not made of ironwood. Well, now you know what could happen to you, so from now on lay off being curious about my love life.”
Eve lowered her eyes from his face and couldn’t stop her gaze from dwelling on his hands clenched at his thighs. She had been held to the tempered steel of that lithe, jungle-toughened body . . . her heart was longing for more of him and he was thrusting her away and telling her to keep her distance.
[117-118] The ebbs and flows of passion had swept over her and she felt strangely weak and unlike herself. Her pulses leapt so unsteadily and her heart pounded so furiously, not even when the rebel had crept up on her had she felt this degree of agitation . . . this loss of self-possession, so that she hardly knew what to do with herself.
“What would it matter to anyone,” she heard herself say, “if we made love?”
“It would matter, little one, if in your ineffable innocence you fell for a baby. Grow up, Eve!” His voice hardened. “If I made love to you, I’d go every inch of the way–I couldn’t stop myself, with you!”
His eyes swept her up and down. “You’re made for a youngster, all shining ideals and no dark shadows in his life. A boy you can have fun with, and grow up with eye to eye, without having to wonder about his past. Don’t ask me to rob that boy by taking the frosting off his angel cake–I could do it, Eve, and then you’d learn all about the hell of regret.”
“I’d regret nothing–with you,” she said, her arms flung out at either side of her, her hands gripping the tree, something defenceless and yet enticing in the attitude she had taken, the neck of her green shirt pulled to one side to reveal the whiteness of her skin.
“You don’t know what you’re saying–you’re talking like a foolish, romantic kid on her first date,” he said, taking a deep hard breath and thrusting the black hair from his moist brow. “I saved your neck, so you feel you owe me something–you don’t owe me a thing, Eve, least of all that sweet, innocent body of yours. Stop flaunting it! We’ve got other fish to fry–or should I say bake?”
[118-119] He turned away from her and began taking fish from the basket, which he had already cleaned and gutted down by the river. “Will you collect some dry wood so we can start the fire?” he said casually.
But she couldn’t move, all she could do was say dreamily: “I don’t care about anyone but you.”
“What about my wife?” Wade asked, and it was as if he drove a knife into Eve. “What of my son? Don’t they count when the pretty deb wants a new kind of toy to amuse herself with?”
“Oh, don’t be cruel to me!” She flung out a hand in a gesture of defence against the way he wounded her.
“I’m being realistic. You’re just giving way to a romantic urge. It’s nothing more than that, but it’s dangerous. Were you an experienced woman of the world, I’d probably take you and not care a tinker’s curse, but you’re half my age and you’re in my charge. Sister Mercy knows it. That good nun left you in my keeping and I won’t commit a blasphemy by breaking faith with her. Now collect that wood and stop mooning about. I’m darned hungry!”
Aching, desolate, Eve moved about on the edge of the compound collecting small branches of wood. It couldn’t be true, could it, that she was never going to know again the passionate delight of finding herself in Wade’s fierce embrace?
She wanted it, that sweet shuddering she couldn’t control . . . that swooning into such an acute aliveness. She wanted to give herself to him, for there was no shining youth awaiting her in England, only marriage to James because her guardian wanted it. Why couldn’t she have Wade for this little time that was left, and know at least what it felt like to belong to a real man?
[119-120] But she had come up against something inexorable in that hard, warrior’s nature of his . . . his strange reverence for that big silver cross worn by Sister Mercy.
He’d crucify the pair of them rather than destroy the good nun’s faith in him.
He had admitted that he was a Catholic, part of a faith that didn’t recognise divorce. Eve was certain he didn’t love his wife, but that wouldn’t stop him from remaining her husband, no matter what he might feel for someone else.
Eve thought of the way he had kissed her. Passionately . . . madly. But such passion didn’t have to be meaningful for a man who probably hadn’t been alone with an Englishwoman for some time. She had to face that and couldn’t let herself be carried away by a few mad kisses into the realms of fantasy. Wade was very much a man and the touch of a woman would fire him . . . that was all it had been. That was the bleak truth of the matter and she had to accept it.
“Will this be enough?” She dumped the wood on the ground beside him.
“Fine, thanks.” He shot a glance at her, then slowly lowered his left eyelid in a wink. “Here’s looking at you, kid,” he murmured.
Eve turned away from him, her own eyes flooding with the silly emotional tears. Why did he have to be bound to some other woman, this tough and tantalising man who made James seem like a languid, bloodless shadow?
Eve gave a sorrowful, angry shake of her head so that the tears flew off her cheeks. She was a woman and she knew she could make him lose his head if she tried, but that wouldn’t solve anything … it might make him [120-121] despise her, and she would sooner be his jungle pal and have him wink at her in that matey way than have him regard her as no better than those loose women in garrison towns to whom soldiers turned for brief consolation.
Brushing quickly at her cheek, Eve turned back to him. “Can I do anything to help?” she asked.
“Sure, you can go and get the yams. In just a little while, lady, you’re going to have a tasty meal inside you. How’s that strike you?”
“It couldn’t be better at the Ritz,” she replied, watching a moment as he laid the fish on the fire stones. “All we need is the wine list.”
“You’re forgetting the coconut,” he said. “We’ll open that and make believe it’s a vintage wine–a fine white one.”
She smiled and knew the game had to be played this way . . . the other way was too dangerous, even though it could have been rather heavenly.