Season of Desire: Complete Edition (6 page)

BOOK: Season of Desire: Complete Edition
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‘And leave it full of pee?’ I shudder.

‘We’ll cover it up with something.’ He looks at me with something like sympathy for the first time. ‘I know. It’s not what you’re used to. But believe me, it’ll be fine. We all have to do it. I won’t think any the less of you for needing to pee.’

My defiance flares up again. ‘That’s not what I’m afraid of,’ I retort. ‘I’m just used to living like a human being, that’s all. Maybe you’re happy to perform your private bodily functions in public, but I’m not!’

He holds up his hands, laughing softly. ‘Okay, okay! I know – you’re far better than all of this. I’m a peasant and you’re a lady. But even ladies need to answer the call of nature. So I’m going to look for that woodpile now, all right?’

He stands up, picks up the torch and heads for the door. As he opens it, the howl of the storm outside ratchets up several decibels. I feel suddenly deeply relieved that he hasn’t obeyed my orders to go looking for the scarf. My anxiety levels are rocketing just watching him step out into the freezing darkness. He looks back over his shoulder, and his expression is playful as he says, ‘I’m just going out. I may be some time.’

‘What?’ I say, fearful. ‘How long? How long will you be?’

‘It’s a quote . . . Captain Oates. You know, on Captain Scott’s expedition?’ He smiles and shakes his head at my baffled expression. ‘Never mind. I’ll tell you all about it one day. I won’t be long. But you’ve got plenty of time to use the ladies’ room.’

I frown at him, wishing he hadn’t brought that up again. But as soon as he’s shut the door behind him, I get up, slowly because of my chest, and reach into my pocket. My fingers curl around a fresh packet of tissues. Good. Nothing worse than drip-drying. Suddenly, now that relieving myself is a possibility, I’m desperate. I almost hop to the bucket, pull it out into the open and start to undo my jacket. I’m not so cold now, I realise. I’ve stopped shaking quite so violently. The little room has filled with warmth from the fire and it’s been gradually seeping into my bones without my noticing. I revel in the sensation of being liberated from that teeth-chattering cold. My fingers and toes are still numb but I’m warming up gradually and I can imagine being warm again at some point in the future.

I undo my jeans and shove them down to the tops of my boots, then I try and sit over the bucket. It’s difficult to balance and hold my coat out of the way, but somehow I manage and at last I’m able to let go but at once I’m mortified because the noise is truly astounding, like a rainstorm pelting on a tin roof.
Surely he can hear, even outside?
Even though I know rationally that he can’t,
I’m scarlet with embarrassment but there’s no way I can stop, I have to let everything out and it clatters away until I’m finished. I sort myself out with the tissues and pull up my jeans again.

I literally cannot believe I’ve just peed into a bucket that’s sitting on a dirt floor in a terrible hovel. My life isn’t like this. It’s full of luxury and indulgence and absolute comfort. I’ve never suffered like this in my life. But what choice do I have?

By the time the door of the cottage opens some minutes later, the bucket is back in the corner, covered with a piece of old newspaper, and I’m sitting back on the planks, watching the fire dance and feeling simultaneously sleepy and incredibly hungry. The bodyguard comes in, carrying some wet, snow-covered logs under his arms, the torch beaming in one hand. His hair is dotted with snow, as though someone has thrown handfuls of white confetti over him.

‘Success!’ he says, smiling at me. ‘There’s a pile in the area at the side. It’s hard to spot it but I had a feeling it would be there. It’ll need to dry out, of course.’ He looks at me. ‘Everything okay?’

‘Yes, thank you,’ I say a touch primly, embarrassed again. I’m horribly aware of the bucket in the corner, but I try to brazen it out. ‘I’m glad you’ve found some more fuel.’

He walks over to the fire and puts the logs close by on the hearth so that they can begin to dry out. The flames are well established now, and he throws on some more of the dry wood.

‘Time to eat,’ he says. ‘I don’t know about you, but I’m ravenous.’

My stomach rumbles painfully in response but I don’t know if he’s heard it or not. I watch as he takes two tins from the food supply box and empties them into the blackened saucepan. I’m so hungry now that I really don’t care what state the pan is in, and while the brown slop that pours from the tin doesn’t look in the least appealing, the smell of stew that begins to float upwards as the heat hits the bottom of the pan is simply delicious. My mouth is watering hard. I really am hungry.

I am hardly ever this ravenous, I realise. My life is about having every need answered almost before I really feel it. Meals are served without my lifting a finger, and if I’m hungry I give an order and a moment later, whatever I want arrives. It might only be a salad or a dish of fruit, but whatever it is, it’s mine at the merest wish: a tray of oysters, caviar, a plate of smoked salmon, truffle-infused scrambled eggs,
salade niçoise
 . . .

Now I’m slavering over a pan of cheap beef stew!
I know that I would turn my nose up at this stuff in horror if I saw it prepared for me at home. But I’m so anxious for the meal now that I can hardly think of anything else.

‘It’s ready,’ the bodyguard says cheerfully. He pours some of the stew back into the tin and passes it to me. ‘Be careful, it’s hot. But it’ll be an excellent way to warm your hands.’

I take the tin, staring into the dark depths. I need my jacket sleeves over my palms to be able to hold it. ‘How will I eat it?’ I ask. ‘Where’s the cutlery?’

He shrugs. ‘No cutlery. You’ll have to use your fingers.’

I’m silent, aware that I haven’t washed my hands since using the bucket.

‘It’s not perfect, I know.’ He pauses, evidently in thought, and then passes me the lid of the tin. ‘Use this. Watch out for the sharp edges.’

I take it, and start to scoop out the stew, sucking it carefully off the tin lid. It’s gloopy and far too salty but it’s also delicious, the thick meatiness filling my empty stomach and warming me inside. As it cools a little, I begin to wolf it down and it’s gone all too quickly.

The bodyguard is eating too, scooping up the stew from the pan and swallowing it down almost without chewing. He grins over at me. ‘It’s good, isn’t it?’

Maybe it’s the food that has lifted my mood but I feel suddenly full of utter contentment. The bodyguard . . .
Oh what is his name? Yes, that’s it . . . Miles
 . . . Miles is sitting in front of the fire and I can see a hint of steam rising off his jacket where it’s drying out. He’s illuminated by the firelight, his form outlined in gold and an orange glow lighting his straight profile and strong chin with cinematic effect. He is utterly unconscious of it, which makes it all the more beguiling. I can’t help being entranced by the way his features are lit, with the dark shadows beneath his cheeks and over the hoods of his eyes. His eyes glow and when he smiles, his teeth look astonishingly white.

He’s not just good-looking. He’s handsome. Very handsome.

He’s talking now, unaware of what I’m thinking, not realising that every movement of his head is showing off the fine shape of his face and the strong line of his shoulders against the glowing heart of the fire. He seems to fill the small room with the bulk of his body and his strength.

‘I guess that you’re not really accustomed to tinned food but let me tell you, when you get to the end of a long hard day in the open, you’re grateful for anything hot and tasty. Fuck all that organic, yogic, macrobiotic shit.’ He stops, looks at me, and laughs again. ‘Sorry. For all I know, you’re addicted to free-range avocado with a helping of yurt fries and active yoghurt. But trust me, all the body really knows is hunger and satisfaction.’

I stare at him, saying nothing. In the silence we can hear the storm yowling outside. There is a constant patter against the glass of the small window as the wind flings the snow against it. A sudden awkwardness fills the room.

‘Are you all right?’ he asks, frowning. The way the light falls means that I can see the shadows deep in every crease of his skin.

‘Yes,’ I reply. I put down the empty tin. ‘This has been the weirdest day ever.’ I lean back, suddenly aware that when I got dressed this morning, I could not possibly have envisaged where I would be that evening. Now that I’m warm again and I’ve eaten, my fierce anger and resentment is dying down. It’s being replaced by a kind of disbelief at where I am. I feel as though I’ve stepped out of everything I’ve ever known, out of my usual life, and into something utterly different. All the norms have been swiped away, just like that. Here I am with a man who saved my life. And I’ve been little more than a bitch to him. I look over at him. ‘Do you think they’re going to find us?’

He pushes away the saucepan and looks at me, his expression serious. ‘Yes. I do.’

‘Are you just saying that to make me feel better?’

‘I believe it. This storm will blow itself out. We’ll both be missed. I was expected back at the house by mid-afternoon; you didn’t make your flight. It will be noticed. They’ll guess what happened. I bet they’re out looking for us right now.’

‘Really?’ I ask longingly.

‘Of course.’ His voice is firm, comforting. ‘We just need to get through tonight, that’s all. Come on. You must be tired.’

It can’t be six o’clock yet. Not even cocktail hour. And yet, I am tired. Very. I sigh a long, exhausted sigh.

‘You need to sleep.’ His voice is low, buzzing, almost hypnotic. ‘You’ve had a shock. It’ll help if you can get some of your strength back.’

‘Yes.’

‘Come on. Let me help you.’

He gets up and comes towards me. I tense. I can’t help it. ‘Hey . . . hey . . .’ he says. ‘What’s wrong?’

I look up. His shape is silhouetted against the firelight, blocking out most of the light. A shudder of fear convulses me and I can’t hide it.

‘What’s wrong?’ he asks again.

‘Nothing,’ I say wretchedly. ‘Nothing.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes.’

‘Let’s get you comfortable then.’

It’s hard to imagine that I could ever be comfortable on this assemblage of planks, with nothing much to provide softness but I need to sleep so badly now that anything will do. He’s next to me, taking up another of the sleeping bags – I hope vaguely that it’s less greasy than the blue one but I’m beyond caring now – unzips it and lays it on the planks. Then he gently lowers me down so that I’m lying on its fleecy interior, and lifts my legs up on to the bed. I can smell the well-used scent of the bag, but now it doesn’t call to my mind other people’s filth, but seems to symbolise the human need for warmth, sleep and comfort. I’m like other lost travellers now, finding some shelter through the goodwill of others.

‘There,’ Miles says. He sits down on the edge of the planks, like a grown-up checking on a child before turning out the light. ‘That should be okay, shouldn’t it? Will you be able to sleep all right?’

I nod. Then I manage a smile and say, ‘This isn’t my usual bedtime routine. I haven’t even washed my face. And I usually have a herbal tea before I sleep.’

‘You’ll be all right, just this once,’ he says, smiling back. ‘Pretend you’ve given the maid the night off.’

I blink up at him. ‘Do you need to use the bucket?’

He laughs softly. ‘That’s very kind, sweetheart, but I took care of that outside. We men are lucky that way.’

There’s a tiny shimmer of something in the air as it strikes me that he is a man, and I’m a woman, and here we are alone together, about to go to sleep.

Don’t be ridiculous!
I scold myself.
He’s a bodyguard! I’m his employer. It’s completely unthinkable.

His nearness though is causing all sorts of strange sensations to flutter around my body. It’s as if the experience of being virtually frozen and then warmed again has left my nerves in a heightened state, because my skin feels suddenly alive, tingling electricity sweeping over it in response to the extremely attractive male body radiating warmth and power right beside me.

‘Freya,’ he murmurs almost thoughtfully, and my nerves jump again at the sound of his deep voice saying my name. ‘That’s pretty. It’s Scandinavian, isn’t it?’

I nod. ‘She’s a Norse goddess. The one they named “Friday” after. And she’s the goddess of winter.’

He raises an eyebrow at me. ‘Really? Appropriate today, huh? Well, maybe your goddess was looking out for you in her season.’

‘Maybe she was.’ I smile back.

‘Well . . .’ We gaze at one another, awkward again at this intimate moment. We’re virtual strangers, after all, but here we are. Suddenly, we only have each other. ‘Goodnight, goddess Freya.’

‘Goodnight, Miles.’

He looks astonished. ‘That’s the first time you’ve ever said my name.’

‘Is it?’ I’m embarrassed he’s noticed.

‘Yes. You’ve never called me anything before. Just “you”.’

‘I’ve called you by your name now, haven’t I?’ I retort. ‘Is it really a big deal?’

‘Put your fur down, kitten, I don’t want a fight. I’m just glad you feel you can use my name, that’s all. It’s progress.’

My touchiness dies down as quickly as it flared up. ‘I’m . . . sorry. And . . . thank you for today. For what you’ve done for me. I do appreciate it. Really.’

BOOK: Season of Desire: Complete Edition
10.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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