Read A Touch of Camelot Online

Authors: Delynn Royer

Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Romantic Comedy, #Western, #Historical Romance, #Westerns

A Touch of Camelot (8 page)

Cole waited in the narrow aisle for his other charge to get settled. She huddled behind pulled curtains while Cole marked time, his arms folded stiffly. "Are you decent yet?"

Her voice was coy. "Are you saying that I'm usually indecent?"

"I'm very amused out here, Gwin."

"Good. Maybe it'll take that frown off your face."

Cole grasped the edge of the berth to steady himself as the train went into a curve. Sudden turns and bumps were becoming a nuisance, occasionally causing embarrassed passengers to stumble into one another as they passed in the aisles. "Will you hurry, please?"

"They do not make women's garments as simple as men's. You'll just have to wait while I ... " She paused and exclaimed breathily, "There! Oh, that feels so much better! It's so awfully hot in here, don’t you think?"

Cole had to agree, only it wasn't just the summer heat that had him in a sweat. A lot of it had to do with the mental image he was conjuring up of her disrobing behind that flimsy curtain.

"Here!" Her arm popped out from between the curtains, offering him a carpetbag.

"What do you want me to do with that?"

"I don't know. Just don't lose it. All my clothes are in there."

Cole took the bag and slid it beneath the lower berth. He straightened, jingling the handcuffs in his coat pocket. "Now, are you decent?"

"Decent as I'll ever get, I reckon."

Cole parted the curtains to find her lying on her side, a sheet pulled up over her chest, revealing the slim shoulder straps of a white chemise. Her head rested on one hand and her long-lashed eyes glimmered mischievously in the overhead lamplight. "What are you going to do now? Search me for weapons?"

Cole studied the delicate line of her jaw, the curve of her lips. Oh, she knew what she was doing to him, and he didn't doubt for a minute she would try to use it. When Fritz Landis had warned him not to let his guard down, Cole had never foreseen this particular danger. He hadn't known then he would be stuck traveling across the country with a sharp-witted, smart-mouthed, pint-sized temptress.

He took the handcuffs from his pocket and reached for her right hand. She jerked back. "Hey! What's this?”

"Just taking precautions."

"Where in heck do you think I'm going in my underclothes? Do you intend to shackle Arthur, too?"

"No, he's sleeping with me. He can't go anywhere without crawling over me, and, I assure you, I'm a very light sleeper."

She rolled over onto her back and covered her face with her hands. "How am I supposed to sleep all tied up?"

Cole couldn't help but notice that her sheet had slipped down, baring cleavage. That was all his erotic imagination needed. "You won't be tied up. One wrist locked to the berth chain, that's all."

"That's all? Why don't
you
try sleeping that way?"

"I don't have to try sleeping that way. I haven't broken the law lately."

"Which brings us to the subject of charges. No one has actually charged us with anything. What right do you have to kidnap us, shackle us, and drag us halfway across the country?"

Cole was losing his patience. "If you want charges, we could start with horse-stealing."

"I didn't steal your horse!"

"I'm talking about Garden City, Gwin. They sent us a warrant."

She snorted. "Oh, well! If you want to go picking hairs off an egg, we could be here all night."

"All right, Gwin, leaving all egg hairs aside, we could move on to the fact that you and your brother are witnesses in a murder case. Have you ever heard of subpoena powers?"

"Supeena? That sounds like something you'd find on the menu at one of those fancy French restaurants."

"No, it means you have to appear if the court orders you to, and the court, in this case, has ordered you to."

"But, I'll wager it's not the court that's paying you. Who
is
paying you for this?"

"I'm employed by the Agency. You know that."

"Who's paying the Agency?"

"I can't divulge that."

She studied him grimly in the dim light. "It seems to me that I have a right to know."

Cole held up the cuffs. "Give me your hand."

"No."

"Either you give me your hand or I take it."

She frowned. "All right, but do me one favor."

"What's that?"

She offered her left hand. "If you have to do it, do this one instead. I always sleep on my left side."

Cole was exasperated. "What the hell difference does it make which side you sleep on?"

She arched an eyebrow. "You said a bad word, Cole. I'm disappointed in you. Am I asking so much?"

"All right, all right." Cole stepped up onto the lower berth and reached across her supine body to search for an anchor point for the cuffs. His forearm brushed against her breast, and he jerked back.

Rattled, he looked down to see Gwin staring back up him, appearing a little disconcerted herself. She didn't move, however, or open her mouth, for which he was grateful. He averted his eyes and leaned over her more carefully this time.

It was a moment till she spoke. "It sure is a pity that a big strapping fellow like you needs handcuffs to control one small, helpless female."

Small, helpless female?
Cole refused to look at her as he pushed and probed at the wood and metalwork. "I think I've handled you just fine up until now, Gwin."

"If I were you, I wouldn’t go tooting my horn just yet."

Cole tested a corner joint by tugging on it. "Oh, I don't know. I caught you twice already, didn't I? What's that come to? Two out of two?"

"You know what they say."

Cole looked at her. It was a mistake. She was as good as lying flat beneath him. Cleavage seemed to swell over the top of her chemise. Her hair was plaited into a single braid that snaked down over the rise of her right breast. Cole would have liked to see what her hair looked like all loose and spread out. He wondered how it would feel to run strands of it through his fingers.

He tore his eyes from that arousing sight only to see that she wore a knowing smile. He felt a physical stirring, a definite danger signal. "No, what is it that they say?"

"Even a blind pig will find a pea sometimes."

The train suddenly lurched, throwing Cole forward and off balance. He caught himself but not before his groin jammed into the corner of her berth. Pain flashed brightly.

"Ahhhhhh!" Cole bent his head and groaned. His eyes practically crossed behind his clenched lids. He felt her hands at his waist, fumbling to catch at the material on his jacket.

"Are you all right?"

When he was finally able to breathe, he opened his eyes only to find that she was staring up at him, wide-eyed, puzzled, seemingly innocent. He couldn't quite bring himself to believe that she didn't have any idea what had just happened to him.

That jostle, however, painful as it had been, was just what he needed to bring him back to his senses. He removed her hand from his waist. "Yes, I'm all right." He gripped her wrist firmly. She didn't try to pull away.

"Where did you go to school, Shepherd?"

Cole was wary at her change in subject. "I went to college in New Jersey. Why?"

She gave him a sweet smile. "Is that where they taught you to handcuff young ladies to their berths?"

"No." He slipped the open cuff over the slim bones of her wrist. It snapped shut with a click. "They teach us that at the Agency." He attached its twin to the wooden joint in the lower corner of her berth and rammed that one home with finality. "It's a special course. They call it, ‘Know Thy Enemy.’"

*

 

 

Later, Cole dreamed of dining on one of Guinevere Pierce's sleek, succulent legs. Perhaps this shouldn't have come as a surprise. After all, he liked women with nice legs and he had gone to bed hungry.

In the dream, her hair was loose and flowing, framing her pristine face and spread across her pillow. Her eyes were closed, her delectable neck arched just so. Since it was Cole's dream, he knew she wore nothing beneath the blanket that hid her from his ravishing gaze.

He approached the bed and pulled the blanket back to bare one smooth leg. He took one perfectly shaped, naked foot in his hand. She sighed at his touch and her lashes fluttered open. Her gaze settled on him just as he bent to press his lips to the soft skin of her instep.

Cole's dream banquet began there, at her instep, and proceeded on to the delicate point of her ankle. He nibbled his way slowly up one side of her calf. Her skin was like silk and smelled faintly of lilacs. Her flesh tasted salty on his tongue. Cole slid his hand up her thigh as he paused to sink his teeth, ever so gently, into the flesh at the inside of her knee—

"Mr. Shepherd!"

She never called him
Mister
. How odd that she should begin addressing him so formally at a time like this.

"Mr. Shepherd! Cole!"

Cole frowned. That wasn't Gwin's voice, that was Arthur's, and Arthur had
no business whatsoever
in this dream.

"Cole! Wake up! You're having some kind of nightmare!"

Cole opened one groggy eye to find, much to his dismay, he wasn't in bed with Guinevere Pierce at all. He was in bed with her freckle-faced little brother, and that was a bitter disappointment.

The boy leaned over him, wide-eyed and alert, his hair standing up in sleep spikes. "You sounded like you were dying or something. Are you all right?"

Cole groaned and closed his eye again.

"Mr. Shepherd?"

He was too miserable to answer. Ever since Cynthia, he had sworn off women, and he was feeling a little sorry for himself.

"Cole? Was it a bad nightmare?"

"Not too bad."

"I have them sometimes, too. Gwin gets me awake and asks if I want to talk about it. Sometimes that helps. Do you want to talk about it?"

"No, thank you, Arthur. You've done enough already." Cole turned over on his side. "Why don't we go back to—" His right arm was yanked back sharply.

"What? What the …?" He snapped wide awake and tried to pull his arm around again only to have it come up short. Metal cut into the flesh at his wrist.
"Sonofabitch!"
He rolled onto his back and craned his neck to see that he was securely cuffed to the berth.

"Cole, why are you sleeping with handcuffs on?"

"I am
not
going to dignify that stupid question with an answer!" Cole sat up abruptly and slammed his forehead into the bottom of the upper berth. "Ouch! Dammit!"

"Uh-oh. Did Gwin ...?"

Cole finally righted himself. "I don't know how she did it, but she did it! Just wait till I get my hands—" He yanked again on the cuffs, succeeding only in rattling their traveling bed and enraging himself anew. "Hell!"

"I don't think she escaped or anything, Mr., uh, Cole. I think she was just, uh..."

"Just what?"

"I think she was mad at you for something."

Cole grumbled and reached under the bunk to retrieve his coat. "I'm going to strangle her." He found his coat and rifled through his pockets, searching for the key to the handcuffs.

Arthur sounded anxious. "You aren't really going to hurt her, are you?"

Having found his pockets infuriatingly devoid of keys, Cole tossed the garment aside in disgust. "Hurt her? Why would I want to hurt the scheming little—"

"She must've palmed your key."

"She's a woman of many talents, your sister. Where are my pants?"

"She isn't so bad once you get to know her. It's just that she doesn't like being bossed around. It gets her fur up."

Cole struggled to climb into his trousers with the use of only one hand. "Well, she's gotten
my
fur up, and she's going to be woefully sorry that she did." He paused and muttered under his breath, "As soon as I figure a way out of this."

"Gwin will have the key. Don't worry, she doesn't stay mad long, and I know she'll be real sorry."

"Ah, hell, I'm going to have to call the conductor."

"No you won't. She'll be back soon."

Cole knew Arthur was right. She would never leave her brother behind, but he would be damned if he would wait here for her to return and beg her for the key. He thought he'd rather dine on rat meat than be forced that low.

"Or..."

There was a certain wheedling tone in Arthur's voice that caused Cole to raise his head. "What?"

"If you promise you won't be too mad at her, I could maybe—"

Cole grabbed Arthur by his nightshirt and dragged him forward, nose to nose. "Don't give me any of this 'maybe' hogwash. If you know how to get these damn things off, you'd better do it now, or I'll tan your backside, understand?"

"I'm not sure I can do it. I need a lock pick."

"A lock pick?"
Cole realized he was almost yelling and lowered his voice. "Oh, certainly, maybe I'll just ask that nice lady two seats back. She's bound to have an extra one in her traveling bag."

Arthur shrugged as best he could with Cole's fist still entangled in his nightshirt. "Maybe one of Gwin's hatpins?"

Cole released the boy and bent down to feel around for Gwin's valise. It was, of course, not there. He stood and felt blindly on the empty upper berth. He found it immediately and dragged it down with a thump. He released the clasp and started pulling things out haphazardly. His fingers entangled in a lacy thing and he held it up to the dim light. A camisole. He tossed it aside, but not before he caught a distracting whiff of lilac.

Trying to ignore both the scent and the carnal images it conjured, he burrowed deeper and pricked his finger on a pin. He drew it out and gave it to Arthur. "This better work."

The boy inserted the pin into the locking mechanism. "I'll try my best, but I haven't done this since I was eight."

"Don’t you need more light for this?" Cole asked.

"Not light, just quiet."

Cole tried to see what the kid was doing. "Did you learn this trick from your charming sister?"

"No, I learned it from a fella named Fuzzy Garrison who traveled with us for a while."

Cole struggled to remain patient while Arthur picked and probed for another five minutes. Finally, there was an almost imperceptible click.

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