Authors: Dilly Court
Tags: #Sagas, #Fiction
Belinda’s breath hitched in her throat. Sensations that she could never have imagined raked through her body and she slid her arms around his neck. ‘Don’t stop, George. I love you so much.’
His kiss was passionate, but George had himself well under control despite the lapse that had just occurred. He had come to the bungalow with a message for the Colonel’s wife but he had allowed his love for Belinda to override everything. He knew he was behaving like the worst possible bounder, but his feelings for her were genuine and overpowering. She was like a beautiful and delicate flower that had been plucked from its homeland to struggle for existence in a hot and sometimes alien environment. All his instincts were to love and cherish her, and to have her for his own, even though that seemed an impossible goal for a man of his lineage. Colonel Phillips might treat him like a son, but George was no fool. He was only too well aware that this would change in an instant the moment he asked for Belinda’s hand in marriage. He stroked the golden curls back from her forehead. She was smiling at him as trusting as a child and almost as helpless. He could take her here and now as his body demanded and she would gladly give herself to him, but he loved her too much to take advantage of her innocence. He held her at arm’s length, fighting the need to comfort her and wipe the stricken look from her eyes. ‘I must go now, sweetheart. I have business with the Colonel but I couldn’t resist the temptation to spend a few precious moments with you.’ The words came out pat, and to his surprise George realised that he meant them. Before he met Belinda he had conquered many fluttering hearts, but she was different.
She smiled but her eyes were bright with unshed tears. ‘I understand, George.’
If she had railed at him it would have hurt less. He felt guilty and ashamed to have taken advantage of her, exciting her desire and then leaving her unsatisfied and wondering what she had done to deserve such cavalier treatment. He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it. ‘Until tonight, my love.’ He strode out of the room before he had a chance to weaken in his resolve. He had come close to dishonouring the girl he adored and he was shaken to the core by the intensity of his passion for her. As he made his way round to the front door of the bungalow, George Lawson knew that his heart was lost forever.
That evening they met again in the formal atmosphere of the Residency. George had intended to keep a cool head on his shoulders and behave like an officer and a gentleman, paying attention to all the unattached young ladies so that he did not give fuel to the matrons who sat around watching the dancers like hawks, ready to exercise their gossiping tongues. But when Belinda walked into the ballroom on her father’s arm, all George’s good intentions flew out of the window. One look at his beloved and he was like a man in a trance. He crossed the floor, pushing past other young hopefuls who wished to have their name written on Belinda’s dance card. He snapped his heels together and bowed from the waist, requesting the first waltz. After that he would have gladly floored any man who dared to claim her as a partner. They whirled around the floor to the strains of a Viennese waltz, a gavotte and a lively polka.
Belinda did not care that they were flouting the unwritten rules of the ballroom. She was happier than she had thought possible. The floor might have been empty of other couples for all she knew or cared. There were only two people in the whole world, herself and the handsome young officer who held her in his arms. The scent of his pomade and the faint musky smell of his body filled her nostrils, and the touch of his hand on her waist kindled a fire in her blood. Belinda could have cried when her father tapped George on the shoulder and claimed her for the schottische, but she made a brave attempt at a smile as he somewhat awkwardly steered her round the room.
‘You’re making a show of yourself, Belle,’ he said gruffly. ‘I’ll have words with young Lawson in the morning. Not that I blame him for wanting to monopolise the most beautiful girl in Simla, but it won’t do, my pet. It just won’t do.’
For the rest of the evening Belinda tried not to catch George’s eyes, and when a young subaltern shyly asked permission to lead her in to supper she wanted to tell him to go to hell, but a stern glance from her father warned her not to do anything so rash. She allowed him to lead her into the dining room ablaze with candles, and the table set with all manner of tempting delicacies, but she had no appetite. She was constantly aware that George was glaring at her escort with a jealous frown, and although it thrilled and excited her, she was anxious for his sake. She managed to move close enough to talk to him having sent her escort to get her a glass of wine. ‘We must be careful, George,’ she whispered. ‘Papa is suspicious.’
‘I can’t bear to see you with that young puppy.’ George covered her hand with his. ‘Every time he looks at you I want to kill him.’
Unfurling her fan, Belinda covered the lower part of her face so that she could answer without being observed. ‘I think that might make Papa very cross, dearest.’
A reluctant smile curved his lips, and his heart swelled with love for her. He wanted to take her in his arms there and then, but he managed to restrain himself. ‘Tomorrow, my darling. I’ll see you at the club. I’m playing in the polo match.’
‘Miss Phillips, I’ve brought you a glass of bubbly.’
Flashing George a brilliant smile behind her fan, Belinda snapped it shut as she turned to the subaltern. ‘Thank you, Bertie. That’s very kind of you.’ She could feel George’s eyes willing her to look round, but she accepted the glass of champagne and took a sip. Bertie was watching her with the eagerness of a young puppy waiting for his master to throw him a ball, and she felt dizzy with power and also slightly ashamed of herself for enjoying the sensation.
Next day at the polo match, Belinda sat between Mrs Arbuthnot, wife of General Sir William Arbuthnot, and her companion Miss Minchin, a scrawny spinster schoolteacher whose father had been an army padre, but was long since deceased. The two ladies were chatting across her but Belinda’s attention was devoted to watching George as he manoeuvred his spirited mount with superb control. It was hot, even though they were fanned by a cool breeze from the mountains, and despite the shade of her parasol Belinda could feel her chemise sticking to her flesh beneath the tight confines of her stays. She wished that she had not urged Mahdu to pull them in quite so tightly, even though her waist was reduced to a minute eighteen inches. There was a shout of approval from someone in the ranks as George scored, and the game ended with his team having triumphed. Until now Belinda had had little interest in polo and she was hazy as to the rules, but she understood winning and she could barely contain her delight when he leapt off his horse and came striding over to them. He doffed his topee to the two older ladies, his teeth flashing white against his dark skin. ‘I hope you enjoyed the game, Mrs Arbuthnot, Miss Minchin.’
Mrs Arbuthnot inclined her head with a tight little smile. ‘Well played, Captain Lawson.’
‘Well done, sir,’ Miss Minchin echoed, eyeing George with distaste. He really was a forward young man, but then what would one expect from a person of mixed blood? She turned to her friend, pursing her lips and raising an eyebrow to show that she was being magnanimous and behaving like a true Christian, as her papa would have urged, even though she disapproved strongly of miscegenation.
Mrs Arbuthnot received the glance with the barest of nods, but she knew what Eulalie Minchin was thinking; it was written all too plainly on her extremely plain face. Mrs Arbuthnot twisted her lips into what she hoped was a convincing smile; after all Captain Lawson was an officer under her husband’s command and despite the shortcomings of his birth, she was well aware of her duty to the regiment.
George had seen that look many times before and whereas once it would have cut him to the quick, it now simply amused him. Having done his duty by the ladies, he turned to Belinda. ‘Will I see you in the club, Miss Phillips?’
She had risen from her seat and she twirled the parasol so that her face was hidden from the two older women. ‘Yes, I think so, Captain. I would dearly love a glass of iced lemonade.’ She pursed her lips to mime a kiss, putting her heart into a smile which was for him alone.
The urge to take her in his arms there and then and part her cherry lips with his tongue, kissing her until she swooned with delight, was almost overwhelming, but George merely inclined his head, tucked his topee beneath his arm and strode off to the changing rooms in the clubhouse.
‘My dear, you ought to be wary of that young man,’ Mrs Arbuthnot said sharply. ‘You know that your papa would disapprove strongly if you were to allow any intimacy to develop between you.’
The bubble of happiness that welled up in Belinda’s breast was burst in an instant. Last night she had been oblivious to everything and everyone while George held her in his arms, but Mrs Arbuthnot’s caustic remark brought her abruptly down to earth. She flinched, staring at the florid face of the Colonel’s wife. Perspiration trickled down the woman’s forehead, running into her pale grey eyes, watery like a sheep’s, Belinda thought angrily. She took a deep breath and forced her lips into a smile. ‘I’m sure I don’t know what you mean, ma’am. Captain Lawson is nothing to me, I assure you.’
Miss Minchin sniffed derisively. ‘That’s not what I heard, young lady. You and he made quite a show of yourselves at the Residency last evening. I was quite embarrassed for you.’
Mrs Arbuthnot heaved herself from her chair, fanning herself energetically. ‘What Eulalie says is quite true, Belinda. You are very young and impressionable, and he’s a handsome devil, but he’s not for you. Your poor mother would turn in her grave if her only child became involved with a half-caste.’
Belinda wanted to slap them both, but she had been well schooled in manners and she knew they were voicing the views held by many people, including her own father. She drew herself up to her full height. ‘I may only be seventeen, ma’am, but I am quite well aware of my duty to my father and to the regiment. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I would really like to go into the clubhouse where I am to meet Papa for tiffin.’
Without waiting for a response, Belinda picked up her skirts and made her way across the grass to the clubhouse. Glancing over her shoulder to make sure she was not being watched she changed course, avoiding the main entrance as she hurried to the rear of the building where the changing rooms were situated. It was, of course, out of bounds to ladies but she was desperate to spend a few moments alone with George, and she needed to tell him that Mrs Arbuthnot was suspicious and that they must be extra careful. She hid in the shadows, praying that he would be one of the first to emerge; it would be dreadfully embarrassing if she were to be spotted by his fellow officers. Two of the opposing team strolled out first but they were too busy chatting about the match to notice Belinda, and she heaved a sigh of relief as they walked off towards the main entrance. To her intense relief it was George who appeared next and she called his name softly. He stopped, turning to her in surprise. ‘Belinda?’
She rushed towards him, throwing herself into his arms. ‘I couldn’t wait another second, George. They know about us. The old tabbies warned me against you.’
He held her briefly, and then gently pushed her away, glancing over his shoulder to make certain they had not been observed. ‘We need to talk, my love,’ he said urgently. ‘I have something to tell you.’
‘What? What is it, George? Oh, you must tell me now; I can’t go in there and behave normally if you won’t tell me what’s wrong.’
He tucked her hand into the crook of his arm. ‘Will you come with me now, or are you supposed to meet Mrs Arbuthnot in the clubhouse?’
‘No, I said I was having tiffin with Papa, but that was a ruse to get away from them.’
‘Do you dare come to my quarters, Belle? The chaps are out on manoeuvres and we’ll be quite alone. Would you risk your reputation just this once, my love?’
‘Of course I will, George. I’d do anything for you.’
He brushed her lips with a kiss. ‘Come on then. It’s quiet at this time of day and we should be able to get there without being seen.’
Inside the wooden bungalow that George shared with two other officers, Belinda looked round the untidy room with a critical eye. ‘It’s not exactly luxurious, George. I thought you would be housed a little better than this.’
‘They don’t pander to us bachelors,’ George said, grinning. ‘Married quarters are much better.’
She turned to him, hands clasped over her breasts as her heartbeats quickened to an alarming rate. ‘Are you proposing to me, Captain Lawson?’
He took her in his arms. ‘Of course I am, my darling. I want to hold you and keep you safe from harm for the rest of my life. Will you marry me, Belle?’
‘I will.’ She raised her face, closing her eyes ready to receive the kiss that would seal their pledge, but although she could feel his breath on her cheek and the scent of him made her go weak at the knees, nothing happened. She opened her eyes, and found him looking at her with an expression of deep concern. ‘What’s the matter, George? What haven’t you told me?’
‘I only found out this morning, sweetheart. I’m to leave tomorrow for the North-West Frontier, and I don’t know how long I’ll be gone. It’s just possible that I might never . . .’
She covered his mouth with hers, kissing him until he responded with equal fervour. Her bonnet fell to the floor as he raked his hand through her hair, releasing her curls so that the pins flew in all directions. There was desperation in their embrace and unbridled passion that would not be denied. He picked her up in his arms and carried her across the living room. Kicking open the door to his bedchamber, he laid her on the unmade bed. He leaned over her without touching her trembling body as he looked deeply into her eyes. ‘I want you, my darling. We may never have this chance again, but if you tell me no, then I respect your wishes. We can be engaged in secret and I’ll carry the memory of you in my heart.’