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A Minor Disaster

 
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Eleanor Marshall
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2018 4:33 pm    Post subject: A Minor Disaster Reply with quote

Hiking through the Amazon Basin was at once amazing and awful, Eleanor had decided. Amazing, in that it was a beautiful place, filled with plants and animals she had never even thought to see in person; awful, in that she was not used to hiking for several hours in a day while carrying almost her own weight on her back. She had insisted on taking a fair share of the burden of supplies and, just as she had promised, had not complained aloud once since they had landed at what Estevo insisted on calling the Old Mother Weeping. She was thoroughly miserable, though, her spirits definitely falling with each hour that passed ... and now the heavens had opened. Rain poured down from the sky, gathering on the leaves above them to drip heavily from the canopy and soak them all to the skin as they continued through the trees to the tune of lightning and thunder high above. The ground beneath her feet had turned to thick mud, easy to slip in, and, for the first time, she was slowing them down, struggling to lift her feet out of the thick slime to take another step.

No one had bothered to come to her rescue, so to speak. She had insisted, rather vehemently, on pulling her own weight, after all, but that was before the terrain had become more difficult and the heavens had opened up, making the hike even more treacherous. It was Captain Marshall who picked his way down the line toward her, not without some effort or some grumbling from the men who accompanied them. To her credit, Eleanor hadn't complained once or asked for help, but Jay knew as well as she did that she wasn't made for this, no matter how hard she tried to be brave.

"I've often wondered how Heaven can so quickly turn to Hell," he murmured at his approach. The Amazon wasn't the place to have loud, boisterous conversations, so he kept his voice low, just loud enough for her to hear him.

Breathless, disheveled, and trying very hard not to cry in frustration at her own inability to keep up, Eleanor took a deep breath before even acknowledging his presence, swiping her bedraggled hair out of her eyes. "How long will this storm last, do you think?"

Though there was no point in looking up at the sky, since he couldn't really see much of it through the trees, his glance darted momentarily skyward, the rain beating against the brim of his hat, so that it didn't run into his eyes. Thankfully, they'd come prepared for the weather, but that didn't make it any easier to bear.

"No idea," he replied, looking far more cheerful than he should, given the circumstances. Then again, he'd been through worse. "Might be a few minutes; might be a few days," he admitted, without apology and without sugar-coating his answer. He had warned her, after all. "Let me at least take some of the supplies. I'm used to this, and you're not, and you're going to need to focus on your footing." He wasn't asking exactly, but he wasn't making any demands either. He didn't think she should refuse his offer for help, when she was clearly having difficulty.

"Days?" Eleanor looked horrified, resting her hands on her hips as she stared at him through the rain. "I don't need to be coddled, James," she reminded him, wanting to be sure he wasn't offering to take some of her burden just because she was a woman.

"As you have so often reminded me," he replied, looking as serious as she was. "Eleanor, please. You put me in charge of this expedition, and it's my job to make sure everyone is keeping up. You are clearly having difficulty and falling behind. I am willing and able to help, so let me. It does not make you weak to accept a little help when you need it. On the contrary, isn't it wiser to admit when you need help than to suffer in silence?"

She sighed, disappointed in herself for needing the help at all. "All right," she conceded, dragging her left foot painfully out of the mud she was sinking into. She pulled one arm out of her bag's straps, heaving it around to begin the process of transferring a few pieces from it to his.

He was tempted to reach for her, to steady her arm, but knew better. He was a gentleman at heart, after all. It was in his blood, part of his makeup, who he was, and though he respected her need for independence, he made sure he was close-by and alert to jump in and help at any moment. But while they tarried behind, the rest of the expedition continued on, leaving them lagging even farther behind.

That had not yet occurred to Eleanor, though it did when she pulled the pack onto her back once again, peering at the trail ahead in alarm. "Where did they go? Have they left us?"

"They'll stop ahead," he told her, not seeming too concerned about it. Enough of the men had seen him fall behind to look to the slowest member of their party to know where he'd gone, and he'd left orders to come to a halt up ahead, as soon as they found a place more conducive to shelter. He took as much of her load as she was willing to give him, hoping it was enough to lighten her burden enough that the going would be a little easier for her. "Eleanor," he started, as gently as he could. "You are the strongest woman I know, but there is nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it. Especially when there are those who are willing to help you."

"I know that you do not want me here," she countered. "I do not want to give you any reason to regret allowing me to come in the first place. I'll get stronger." This was offered in a hopeful tone, but she wasn't entirely convinced she was going to be able to feel her legs in the morning.

"It is not that I don't want you here, so much as I worry for your safety. Really, that is all it is," he argued, once again as gently as he could. He paused a moment as he readjusted his own pack, now a little heavier, though he showed no sign of noticing. There was more he wanted to say, but he didn't think this was the time or place for it. "Better?" he asked instead.

She nodded, looking down as she made the effort to pull her feet out of the mud once again. It was the mud that was giving her the difficulty, unused to the ground attempting to swallow her feet whenever she put one down.

He knew he was risking her anger by doing so, and yet, he offered an arm to steady herself while she pulled her feet out of the muck. There was never an "I told you so" or an "I warned you." He would never hold her decision over her and ridicule her for it. If anything, she had gained his respect for her determination and inner strength, even if she wasn't as physically capable as the men around her. And why should she be? She was, after all, a woman, unaccustomed to such things as this, but determined to carry on.

Perhaps the struggle of the day had broken her a little, but Eleanor took the arm he offered without a word, keeping her face turned away as she felt herself cry just a little in frustration. And that, too, annoyed her - it was such a terribly weak thing to do, to cry because she was having trouble walking and needed help. But she didn't want any of them to know she was struggling quite that much.

He had been honest when he'd told her she was the strongest woman he knew. In light of that, he hoped she wouldn't hold it against him for helping her, just as he wouldn't have blamed her for crying, had he noticed. "You should have seen me the first time I went into the jungle," he said, trying to comfort her a little with idle conversation. "I was convinced I wasn't going to make it out alive, and yet, here I am."

Despite everything, she smiled, not entirely sure she believed him. "I find it difficult to believe you have ever not overcome a challenge set before you," she answered, grateful for his arm to lean on despite her objections. "You do not seem to be a man easily cowed."

"It depends on the challenge, I suppose," he replied, the hint of a smile on his face. She was a challenge, to be sure, and one he was not yet sure he'd overcome. They were still moving too slowly to catch up with the others, but hopefully, they hadn't gone too far ahead. "This way," he said, leading the way through the jungle, where there was no real path to follow, except for the one they'd made for themselves in the trees and brush.

"How do you know your way?" she asked, unable to tell through the rain what was a game trail and what was the trail left in the wake of their party gone on ahead. She knew Alex would realize sooner or later that they'd been left behind, but would the party retrace their steps to seek them out?
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Eleanor Marshall
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2018 4:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"There are ways to tell," he replied, though he wasn't sure this was the time or the place for a lesson in tracking either. He paused for a moment to point out two separate trails, though the untrained eye would have a hard time distinguishing which was which. "See, here? Where the bush has been hacked away by a machete? And if you look closely enough, you can just make out footprints in the mud," he said, pointing out the trail they were currently following. "But here," he continued, gesturing another way. "The way isn't so trampled. The leaves aren't cut away, and the branches aren't broken. It's as if something passed through here, but didn't force its way through. Do you see?" he asked, indicating his meaning by physically pointing out the difference in the marks on the trail.

"O-oh ..." Eleanor peered through the rain, following his gesture with curious eyes. Concentrating on something other than her own misery was raising her spirits, at the very least. "I suppose it is rather obvious when you know what you are looking for," she mused with a smile, glancing down at the sensation of something brushing her ankles. The mud was moving, flowing thickly underneath the bushes and brush, but at least she could lift her feet out of it without difficulty now. "I think this is getting easier."

He chuckled a little at her optimism. It was an improvement anyway. "It will get easier when it stops raining," he said, though it would take some time for the mud to dry and the rain would only add to the humidity, rather than relieve it. "I told the others to find a place to rest up ahead," he assured her so that she wouldn't worry about the rest of the party getting too far ahead.

"Ah, so I haven't separated you irrevocably from your team. I'm glad of that, at least."

Feeling a little more secure on her feet, she released his arm, her smile brightening now that her footing was better. She took a couple of steps forward ... and the entire section of the trail beneath her slipped sideways, the water mixing with the earth to make it decidedly treacherous underfoot. Eleanor actually screamed as she was borne sideways, off the trail and almost to the edge of the precipice they were walking along side, hands flailing for something to grasp.

There was no time to think about what to do next, only to act, instinct and training taking the place of careful and calculated thought. He was there in an instant, reaching for her hand to pull her to safety, relieved for a split second, before the ground seemed to slide out from beneath his feet, and they were both borne away with the mud clear off the precipice and down the side of the hill.

It was not the nicest way to travel, though thankfully the mudslide was thick enough to keep them from scraping over the ground that remained solid. Eleanor clung to Jay's hand as they slithered through the undergrowth, unable to still their slide until the ground leveled out some hundred meters or more from the beginning of their fall. She sprawled in the mud, spitting out a mouthful of the stuff as they came to an undignified halt very close to one of the many tributaries of the main river.

It was only a matter of luck that they hadn't ended up in the river, as that would have taken them even farther away from the trail and the main group. Even so, though they had only fallen a hundred meters or so downhill, it would take hours, maybe even days, to find their way back without help. It was nothing short of a miracle they had landed together, his hand still clutching hers, both of them startled and covered in mud. Jay had echoed her scream with a shriek of his own, as he was taken off balance. He laid there stunned for a moment before pulling himself out of the muck and clearing the mud from his face - eyes, nose, and mouth. He didn't think anything was injured other than his pride, but before he could be bothered to make sure, he cast a panicked look around for her.

"Eleanor!" he called, relieved to see her sprawled in the mud, but afraid she might be hurt or worse. "Are you alright?" he asked, pushing through the mud to her side and reaching to ease her upwards.

Shaking, breathless, and this time not even trying to hide her tears, Eleanor was only too happy to be eased up and out of the clinging mud. She was filthy - they both were - but right now, dirt was the furthest thing from her mind. "I-I'm, I'm fine," she managed. "I just ... oh, James, I'm so sorry!"

"Are you apologizing for the mud now?" he asked, the hint of a smirk evidenced mostly by the flash of white teeth amidst a mud-covered face. He wasn't blaming her in the least; the mudslide was just another of the many dangers of traveling through the jungle. "Are you sure you're not hurt?" he asked, the concern she could only just barely make out on his face apparent in his voice.

"N-no, everything seems to be -" As she spoke, she looked down, testing her weight on her ankles, and let out a hiss of pain. "Oh! Oh, for heaven's sake ... I think I've sprained my ankle. How on earth am I supposed to convince you I'm not a liability if I can't even fall down a hill without hurting myself?"

He frowned, obviously concerned about the ankle. She'd already been having trouble keeping up, and now this was sure to slow her down even further. "It's not your fault. These things happen sometimes," he said, trying not to seem overly concerned, even if it did worry him. "Um ..." he murmured, casting a quick glance around. Thankfully, they were close to the riverbank and not only a source of water but some boulders and fallen trees to rest on. "Let's get you off your feet, so I can check that ankle," he said, sliding an arm around her waist to take the weight off the injured foot and lead her toward the river.

"I'm so sorry, James," she apologized again, wincing as he drew her to his side to guide her to the stream. "I should have been paying better attention to where I was putting my feet." Eleanor, it seemed, wasn't aware that a mudslide was not set off by putting your foot in the wrong place.

"It's not your fault," he repeated. "It's the rain and the mud. These things happen so suddenly, there's nothing either of us could have done," he explained, hoping she believed him, but his first concern was that ankle, and then he'd have to sort out where they were exactly and what their next move would be. He took his time getting her there, before carefully lowering her onto a boulder, which would have to serve as a makeshift chair.

Settled onto the boulder, she shrugged the pack off her back, reaching down to unlace her boot. "I don't think I have ever been this dirty in my life," she muttered, rolling her eyes at the state of herself. "And the rain could continue for days, you say? This could get worse?"

"It could, but it's not the season for it, so it should let up before long," he assured her, though there was no guarantee. It was hard to tell from the cloud cover overhead, but the weather here was as changeable as a woman's mind. Once she was seated, he shrugged off his pack and set it on the ground near hers, in a place where it wasn't likely to be carried away by mud or water. "Now, let's have a look at that ankle, shall we?"

"What of you, are you hurt at all?" she asked, grimacing as she pulled her boot free. It was disconcerting to see a clean silk sock at the end of a very muddy leg.

"Nothing hurt but my pride, I think," he assured her with a smile. He'd have to make sure to wash the mud from their faces before it dried, but first things first. Kneeling down in front of her, he very gingerly took her foot in his hands, carefully examining it for broken bones or other injuries. He didn't bother to remove her sock, slightly amused to find a silk stocking adorning her very-feminine looking foot. "Tell me if this hurts," he asked, carefully moving her ankle this way and that.

She blushed as he touched her foot, unused to that kind of contact with anyone, especially not with a man she rather liked. She did make the effort to relax, only wincing once as he gently turned her ankle to the left. "That ... that hurt," she admitted. "Not a sharp pain, more of a dull ache growing heavier at the turn."

"Mmm," he murmured thoughtfully. "Well, it's definitely sprained. I can wrap it up, but it would be best if you stayed off it for at least a few days, until the swelling goes down," he told her, once again not bothering to sugar-coat it. He glanced over at the clouds with a grim frown on his face. "We're not going anywhere for a few days anyway," he told her.
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Eleanor Marshall
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2018 4:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Oh, wonderful." She sighed, glancing up at the hill they had slithered down so recently. "What will happen now?" she asked worriedly. "I assume they won't be able to even start looking for us until the rain passes."

"They might backtrack and see where the mud's taken us, but I doubt it," he said, preferring to be realistic in his expectations than provide her with false hope. "In any case, between the rain and your foot, we aren't going anywhere, so we might as well make camp here and wait for the weather to clear. Then we'll get our bearings and head for the rendezvous site." It sounded simple enough, though he knew it wouldn't be quite so simple.

She bit her lip, unable to keep herself from worrying about the mess she was now blaming herself for. "Will you at least allow me to help you make camp?" she asked hopefully, though it was reasonably clear that he would say no. She had to stay off that ankle for a while.

"Do you know how to fish?" he asked, hoping to be able to give her something she'd be able to do without causing more injury to her ankle.

"With a line and net, yes," she admitted, a faint smile crossing her face as she realized what he was going to get her to do. "Will we be able to cook anything we catch in this rain?"

"Not unless I can find us a little shelter from the rain and some dry wood," he replied with a further frown, refusing to admit defeat. He'd been through worse circumstances and conditions than this, after all, but the rain was going to be a problem.

"We have rations," she reminded him. "That is partly why we're all carrying some food, isn't it? In case we became separated. We have the gear we need, don't we?"

He leaned back against his heels, her foot still in his lap. "It's not the end of the world, Ellie," Jay assured her. "I promise you, we're going to be all right. I've survived worse." And with his help, she would, too.

Her expression softened, a smile making itself known through the worry and the mud. "I am glad you are here to look after me," she said, finally admitting that she needed looking after. "Shall we get to it, then?"

"I think we shall," he replied, a smile on his face, despite the situation. They weren't going to die out here, so long as he had anything to say about it. She was right - they had everything they needed to survive in their packs and what they didn't have, they could find in the wild. He wasn't going to let a little thing like rain and mud defeat them.

The rain did not let up for another couple of hours, but in that time, they managed to set up a bivouac of sorts by bending taller bushes into a form of skeleton shelter and draping one of the two tarpaulins over the top of it. Other bushes were sacrificed to make a floor inside the small shelter to keep the second tarpaulin raised off the ground. It was a very small space, but frankly, Eleanor did not have any objections to being pressed close to Jay. She was finally beginning to be a little frightened of the Amazon and the dangers her father had so foolishly dismissed.

It wasn't much of a shelter, but at least it would keep the rain off them. Jay knew that as the sun sank lower in the sky, the wetter their clothes were, the greater the chance of catching a chill, even this deep into the rainforest. But what really worried him wasn't the weather so much as Eleanor's ankle, as Jay wasn't sure he'd be able to get her out of here alone, if she was unable to walk on it. He'd had her soak the ankle in the stream for as long as she could manage it, and now he was carefully examining her foot again for any improvement.

Of course, that silk stocking had finally come off, and with her pants rolled to the knee, it was no wonder she was blushing fiercely with his hands confident on her skin. "It doesn't hurt so much now," she offered, more as a means to soften her own embarrassment than anything.

"It's only been a few hours," he reminded her, with a worried frown he hoped she wouldn't notice. "It does look a little better though," he admitted, wanting to give her a little hope. He'd meant it when he'd said it wasn't the end of the world - not yet, anyway. "With luck, it will look even better in the morning," he said, hoping it was a mild sprain and nothing too serious.

"We'll be able to make a crutch," she suggested hopefully. "Even if I can't put weight on it, I will be able to make some progress tomorrow." She hesitated, reaching out to lay one muddy hand on his arm. "I truly am sorry, Jay."

"We'll figure it out, Ellie," he assured her with a warm smile, covering her hand with his. "Are you hungry?" he asked, knowing she had to be by now.

Her answering smile was shy, as though only now realising that he was using the familiar diminuitive of her name, that they were truly alone together. "A little, yes," she admitted, glancing toward their packs. If she was honest, she didn't actually want to move, or for him to move; some part of her was enjoying the illicit intimacy of sitting this close, her foot in his lap.

He hardly realized the fact that he was actually stroking her foot, as though that might bring her some comfort - or maybe he was a little bit nervous, too. Odd for a man who'd never before been nervous with a woman in his entire life, but she wasn't just any woman. "How do you feel about dining by firelight?" he asked, with the tiniest hint of mischief in his eyes. "It's not exactly the ritz, but we'll just have to make due."

She giggled softly, scratching the dried mud on her cheek with the sudden realization that she must look a dreadful fright and he was still teasing her and talking to her normally. "I think we shall simply have to take the concept of alfresco dining a little further than high society would like us to."

"Perhaps Madame would like to clean up a little before dinner?" he asked, almost as if he was reading her mind. They'd managed to scrub some of the mud off their faces in the stream, but setting up camp and tending to her ankle had taken priority.

Eleanor rolled her eyes, swatting him lightly with her fingers. "I am not quite so delicate or proper as all that," she assured him. "I will wash properly later. Right now, we both need to eat, captain."

He laughed, despite the circumstances. Neither of them was fatally injured, and the rain had to stop sometime. They had enough rations to last them a while, and so long as they stayed close to the stream, they had plenty of water. There were other dangers in the jungle that worried him, but they were as safe as they could be for now. "Very well. As Madame desires," he said, carefully lowering her foot to rest upon a fallen log he'd found just for that purpose.

She sighed, missing the warmth of his touch on her skin with a fervor she had not expected. But her ankle was throbbing gently, proof positive that it needed to be rested for at least twelve hours or so. "And what is on the menu tonight, monsieur?"

"Oh, a little of this and a little of that. How does Madame feel about ragout?" he asked, as he rummaged in his pack for a couple tins of stew. "I may even be able to manage some cafe," he added, using the French pronunciation to make it sound a little less gauche.

"Oh, monsieur, you are spoiling me," she teased, pulling open her own pack to retrieve the packet of coffee. Their little fire might not be able to manage much in the way of cooking, but they could at least boil water.

Thankfully, this wasn't the first time he'd been stuck in the wild somewhere having to depend on his own wits to survive. "Do you know what the first thing I'm going to do is when we get back to Georgetown?" he asked, as he got the coffee going.
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Eleanor Marshall
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2018 4:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Have a bath?" she guessed, though this was her own intention on returning to civilisation. She was working on opening the tins - a unique challenge for a woman who, until a few weeks ago, had never even seen food being prepared.

"After that," he replied with a chuckle. He watched her struggle with the tin for about half a minute before reaching to take it from her. "Like this, see?" he said, demonstrating on how to open the tin with the crude can opener he'd dug out of his pack. "I'm going to take you to dinner. A proper dinner, for a proper lady."

"Oh, I see." Concentrating, she applied the opener to the second of the tins. "It is the company that makes a good dinner, more than the food," she said, glancing up at him with a shy smile. "Although a steak is sounding rather delicious 'round about now."

He chuckled again at her answer. "Shall I not bother wining and dining you then?" he asked, a teasing gleam in his eyes. He'd really had his fill of tinned stews and dehydrated rations to last him a lifetime, though he never complained.

"My dear James, the purpose of wining and dining is to get to know a lady while also impressing her with your taste and wealth," she pointed out sweetly. "I should imagine we will be well beyond having got to know one another by the time we return to Georgetown."

"My dear Eleanor, the purpose of wining and dining a lady is not to impress her with my taste and wealth, but to provide her with a pleasant meal and companionship, so that she might wish to repeat the experience should I wish to dine with her again," he pointed out, giving her a slightly different point of view.

"Oh, well then, I bow to your superior understanding of the intricacies of courtship," she teased, handing him an open tin and a fork. "Dinner is served."

"Mmm, yum," Jay murmured as he took the tin and fork from her, trying to keep his expression neutral. Food was food, after all, and he'd been through situations where he'd eaten worse meals than this. "I imagine this is not quite what you had in mind when we set off," he said, though he wasn't throwing it in her face. Rather, he was wiling to commiserate a little.

Grimacing around her own cold slimy mouthful, Eleanor shrugged, shaking her head. "No, I must admit this is not the adventure I had thought it would be," she confessed. "I grew up on my father's stories of exploring exotic lands. He never mentioned cold rations, mudslides, or having to dig your own privy every night."

He frowned, partially blaming himself, though he doubted anything he might have said or warned her about would have discouraged her or caused her to change her mind. "I did try to warn you," he pointed out, though again, without the tone of voice that said he was trying to lord it over her.

"I know. But I am incredibly stubborn." She smiled at him. "I'm sure this is all very character-building and I will be a better person by the end of it, but I have to admit that walking in the rain is possibly the most miserable I have ever been."

"There are worse things, believe me," he said, though it was unlikely she'd ever experience them. He was mostly referring to the war - something he rarely, if ever, talked about.

Her smile faded, aware that her struggles were nothing in comparison with many others. "I must seem very spoiled to you," she said quietly, stirring the contents of her tin with her own fork as she looked down. "I have not lived a difficult life. I suppose admitting that I am struggling on this expedition is rather annoying for you, and the others. You have all experienced far worse."

"Not spoiled, no. We have very different lives, Eleanor. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for you with your father missing and your cousin eager for marriage," he said, choosing his words carefully so as not to be too harsh, though he had very little regard for her cousin.

She sighed, her gaze flickering toward him. "He'll do his best to destroy me when I convince him I won't marry him," she admitted ruefully. "Thankfully, my mother's inheritance is safe from him, but I will likely lose my home, no matter what happens. And even that is not such a hardship as others face. I know I am in a privileged position, James. You do not need to soften your judgment on me."

Jay's expression hardened, not because he was annoyed or angry with her, but because it angered him how society had made it possible for her cousin to treat her more like a possession than a person. "Tell me, what would it take for your cousin to leave you alone - short of killing him?"

"To leave me alone?" Eleanor rolled her eyes. "Proof of my father's death; ceding my right to the Howard inheritance ... but even those may not make him leave me be entirely. I may have to put myself absolutely out of his reach, likely by marrying someone else."

"Hmm," he murmured, setting his tin aside to check on the coffee. "And I suppose you would prefer to marry for love," he said, avoiding her gaze for the moment as he filled a tin cup for each of them of the bitter black liquid.

"I would like to," she murmured. "But as I have only ever met one man whom I could possibly consider loving, and he seems acutely focused on the difference in our social status, I do not hold much hope there."

He couldn't help but twitch a smirk at her words, both of them knowing she was referring to him. "There would be those who would assume the marriage was based on false pretenses and that the man was a fortune hunter, marrying you only for your money," he pointed out, though that seemed to be the case with her cousin.

"But the opinions of ill-mannered others do not matter to me," she said vehemently. "The only opinions that matter in such a case should be mine and his, no others." She caught his smirk, and blushed crimson, looking away hurriedly.

He moved back to her, carefully handing her one of the cups of the murky black stuff, the smirk gone and replaced with a serious expression. There was no one there to eavesdrop on their conversation, but the birds and the beasts, allowing them both to speak freely. "There is much you don't know about me, Ellie. I am not proud of the man I've become," he admitted quietly.

Her fingers curled about the cup, but her other hand reached out to catch his before he could move away. "Your life is not yet over," she said in a soft voice. "And for all that you may not feel pride in where you are at present, I like the man I can see in you. You have time to fix what you feel needs fixing, James."

"You sound like my sister," he said, though from the tone of his voice, that was not necessarily a bad thing. He was touched by her words though, knowing she meant them. He looked at the hand with which she had grasped his, but made no move to pull away. "I'm not sure what you see in me, El."

She hesitated, glancing down at her hand in his for a moment. "I see a good man," she said quietly. "The man you seem to think you are would never have taken my offer in Georgetown. He certainly wouldn't have befriended me, or allowed me to be such an inconvenience. You have gone out of your way for me, Jay. You are a good man."

"You'd be safer back in Georgetown," he pointed out. "How do you know I didn't just accept your offer because of the money?" he countered, needing to know what she really thought of him before he offered his own assessment.

She laughed softly. "Because you allowed me to come along," she told him. "You have made me a part of this expedition, not simply a burden to it. And while, yes, you may have accepted the commission because of the money, I would like to think that you have come to like me for who I am, as I like you."
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2018 4:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

He made no remark just yet on whether or not he was fond of her; he thought actions spoke louder than words where that was concerned anyway. He was quick to point something else out though. "It wasn't just the money."

"Do you think I do not trust you on that score?" she asked curiously. "I know you didn't accept simply for the money. If you had, you would have haggled for more, because I started at a stupidly high offer."

"I didn't know your father personally, but I heard of him. I was away on another expedition when he came to Georgetown looking for a guide. If I'd known he was lost ..." He trailed off. Whatever he might have done, it seemed he was doing now.

Eleanor's surprise was palpable, her fingers reflexively releasing his hand as she stared at him. "Why didn't you tell me?" she asked him in a low voice. "What did you hear of him?"

"Nothing much," he replied with a small shrug. "But if I'd been his guide, I'd have made sure he made it where he was going, no matter what," he said, with a hint of guilt in his voice, though none of it had been his fault. He hadn't even been there when her father had been looking for a guide. "There are more important things than money, Eleanor," he said, trying to make his point. And maybe he'd have died trying to get him there, but it was too late to worry about that now.

"If you had been his guide, you might be dead at his side," she said gently. "I would likely not have found anyone who would have taken me this far." She reached out to him again, closing her fingers over his arm. "Why did you agree to do this, James? It seems you have a need to tell me."

Jay sighed, unsure he knew the answer to the question himself. At first, it had been the money, but then it had become more than that. "There were too many lives lost in the war, Ellie, and for what? What did we accomplish exactly? I don't know how many men I killed. I lost count. Some of them no more than boys really. And what did I get for it? They gave me the Military Cross," he said, staring into his coffee, as if he might find some answers there. "I'm done with war, done with killing. I accepted your offer because you deserve to know what happened to your father. You deserve to know whether he's dead or alive."

Eleanor was silent for a long moment, studying him with compassionate eyes. Then ... "Like I said," she murmured gently, leaning close to touch a soft kiss to his cheek. "You're a good man, James Marshall."

He turned to her, brows arching upwards at the kiss, which was chaste but warm and affectionate. She'd said he was the only man she could ever consider loving, but could she really love a man like him? "I drink too much," he confessed. "And I lack virtue. I'm a shadow of the man I could have been. But I'm honest enough, I suppose, and I have my morals. I would not have left your father alone in the jungle, and I will not leave you."

"You haven't been drunk since I met you," she countered, "and if you lack virtue, it is not to your detriment. There is such a thing as being too virtuous." She smiled at him. "Finish eating, Jay. You'll be good for nothing if you don't take care of yourself."

It didn't miss his notice that she'd called him Jay, when up until now, she had always referred to him by the more formal Captain or James. In fact, her admonishment made him smile. "Now, you really do sound like my sister," he said, though he didn't want another sister and certainly didn't think of her that way. "I swear to you, I'm taking you out for a proper dinner when all this is over," he promised. "Perhaps even Paris," he added, with a smirk as he dug into his stew.

"You already promised to introduce me to your sister," she reminded him, more than prepared to hold him to that. "Paris is definitely on the cards." Her eyes sparkled, glad to know he had not changed his mind about taking her to dinner, courting her, despite his low opinion of himself.

"I'm sure you two will get along splendidly," he assured her, finishing off the stew. Instead of tossing the tin into the fire, he set it aside to wash it out in the stream and save it for possible later use. He took a sip of the coffee, wincing a little at the bitterness of it, but it would have to do. "Remind me to take you for a proper tea, as well."

"Cream tea or bust," she murmured rather teasingly, scraping the last of her own stew from the tin in her hand before raising her own coffee to her lips. "With luck, my ankle should not take more than a day or two to heal enough to make good progress."

"I'll carry you if I have to, but we are getting out of here," he told her, adding, "That's a promise, and I never break a promise." Just one more trait to add to his collection of a positive attributes. "Now, if we are finished with our fine meal here, I should probably gather more wood for the fire and make sure we have enough water to last the night."

"You will not be carrying me and two people's worth of supplies, you silly man," she informed him. "We'll make a crutch, I'll hobble. I am just as stubborn as you are, if not more so." She smiled at him, glancing toward the canopy above. "You are probably right. A good night's sleep will do us the world of good."

He chuckled again. "I may just have met my match," he said, smiling in amusement at the irony of that statement. He had to admit, he'd never met anyone as stubborn or as beautiful as her. He moved to his full height once again to gather the tins and the forks and the cups to wash in the stream, hesitating a moment in thought. He left the remains of their dinner where they were and reached instead for his pack, to pull out the handgun that was never far from his side. "I need to gather some wood. I won't be far, but you should take this, just in case," he said. It wasn't people he was worried so much about out here, as it was animals who might view them as either a threat or a meal.

"Thank you." Taking the gun, she smiled at him, glancing down at the unwashed bits and pieces beside her. "Try not to get lost or eaten, I am rather sure I would miss you."

"I'll be fine," he assured her. Though there were dangers in the jungle, he wasn't likely to run into any of them. Those dangers were more afraid of humans than humans were of them, but it didn't hurt to be prepared, at least where her safety was concerned. "I assume you know how to use one," he said, regarding his sidearm.

"Alex gave me a crash course," she assured him confidently. "You won't find wood standing over me like a protective colossus, you know."

He chuckled. "I'm not sure I'm quite a colossus." He was taller than most, to be sure, but he thought that was going a bit far. "Call if you need me," he said, not going so far that he wouldn't hear if she called his name.

"I will." Eleanor smiled up at him, hoping she looked innocent enough for him to feel confident in walking away for a little while. The mud on her skin really was becoming very annoying.

Off he went in a direction that might seem random, but wasn't to him, in search of wood that was dry enough to burn and to last through the night. He wasn't happy about leaving her alone, but he promised himself he wouldn't go far or be gone long. What was the worst that could happen?

He probably wasn't expecting her to take certain matters into her own hands. As soon as he was reasonably out of sight, Eleanor took up her pack and rummaged through it for clean clothing and soap, bundling it carefully so she wouldn't cover it in mud just getting to the stream. Careful not to put too much weight on her injured ankle, she hobbled in that direction, plunging into the water fully clothed in an attempt to wash all the mud off without too much trouble. By the time Jay returned, she was sitting on the bank of the stream in nothing but clean, dry underwear, combing the wet, muddied knots out of her hair.
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2018 4:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

If there was anything Jay was expecting when he got back from gathering wood, it wasn't that. He called a sort of warning when he got close. "Well, I managed to find a little dry wood. Hopefully, it's enough to ..." He broke off upon the sight of her half-clad, in her underwear, combing her unbound hair, like a mermaid washed up on shore. "I, uh ...."

Startled, Eleanor squeaked in shock at the sudden realization that he was back, scrabbling for the blanket to cover herself with as her skin flushed deep pink. She stared at Jay, eyes wide. "I-I didn't hear you come back!"

Well, that much was obvious. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to intrude. I'll, uh, just put the wood near the fire and wait there," he said, after quickly turning his back so that he didn't see more than he already had and didn't stare with his mouth hanging open.

Mortified, embarrassed - and if she would only admit it, a little disappointed that he hadn't done more than look, apologize and leave - Eleanor waited until he was back by the shelter before dragging her clean shirt and pants on, ignoring the twinge from her ankle at her less-than-gentle way with herself. "Well, what did you expect?" she muttered to herself, ripping the comb through her hair quickly to untangle the knots. "He probably forgot you even had breasts, and then you went and hid them again, you ridiculous woman."

Oh, he'd noticed a lot more than she thought, but despite his over-inflated reputation, he was a gentleman, first and foremost, and he knew how he'd embarrassed her by stumbling on her half-naked. Or was it half-dressed? Maybe it was the same thing. He wasn't sure. Now he couldn't think straight, struggling as he was not to let his body think for him.

She couldn't hide by the stream all night, however. Forcing herself to be braver than she really wanted to be, she bundled her wet clean clothes under one arm and hoisted herself onto her feet, biting down on a yelp as she inadvertantly put weight on her sore ankle.

He heard the yelp and felt bad about leaving her there, but he didn't want to embarrass her or himself further by intruding on her again. "Eleanor?" he called to her from where he stood, a short distance away. "Are you all right?" he asked, debating whether to go check on her or not.

"Oh!" He called me Eleanor again. What happened to Ellie? But that disappointment faded in the face of trying to walk back to the shelter without help. "I'm decent," she called back to him. "I wonder ... could you help me a moment? It's a little difficult to hobble while holding an armful of clothing."

"Of course," he replied, as easily as if she was asking him to fetch a cup of tea, which she clearly was not. He had already piled the wood on the ground, turning around and clearing his throat as he wiped his hands on his pants. She had said she was decent, and he was obliged to believe her. He wasted no time in picking his way back toward her, thankful she was dressed again, but finding himself a little disappointed, too. "You should have waited for me," he told her, not scolding, but not happy she'd tried to walk on the foot without his help.

"Surely that would have been more mortifying than what just happened?" she suggested, her cheeks coloring once again as she wobbled, leaning heavily against the nearest tree. "At least it has stopped raining?"

"It has, hasn't it?" he asked, making awkward small talk like a lovesick schoolboy with a crush. He cleared his throat again. "Well, we aren't going to get any sleep this way, are we?" he said, realizing how silly they were both being. He stepped closer, hesitating only a moment, before scooping her up in his arms, as easily as if she weighed nothing. "Better?"

She gasped as he swept her up, her armful of wet cloth landing in her lap as her arms wrapped about his shoulders. Nose to nose, she found herself blushing yet again, but this time with a soft giggle. "Oh ... much better."

Though he might not be a hero in a romance novel, he was tall, dark, handsome, and something of a gentleman. And as much as he might try to fight it, he was starting to have feelings for her, like he hadn't felt in a very long time. "You really shouldn't be on that ankle," he said, a mild admonishment as he carried her back toward the fire and the makeshift encampment.

"I didn't want to inconvenience you any further," Eleanor apologized, seemingly unaware of the way her fingertips were playing into the hair at his nape as he bore her away from the stream. "I had thought I might be done before you returned."

He was all too aware of the way her fingers were playing with his hair and all too aware of what it was doing to his body; not to mention the fact that she was right there in his arms, a little too close for comfort - close enough to kiss, if he'd only dare. "Don't be silly. You are not inconveniencing me," he insisted, carefully settling her back on the makeshift chair that was really a boulder. He didn't bother to point out the fact that she was paying him to keep her safe and alive or how seriously he took that responsibility. This seemed to go deeper than that somehow.

Her hands lingered as he set her down, drawing away only when to remain on him would mean holding him bent over her uncomfortably. She looked down at her lapful of wet cloth. "Oh ... I really should hang these up to dry."

"I can do that," he volunteered, though he didn't know much about women's clothing. How hard could it be to hang a few things on a tree branch to dry? He took the wet things from her and laid them down on the log that had been serving as his chair. He knew she probably felt useless, but there wasn't much help for it at the moment.

"Thank you, but -" But he already had hold of them, and there was nothing she could do to save him from the fact that within seconds he would be holding a silk bra, panties, and stockings in his bare hands.

"Oh," he said, a frown on his face that would probably be hysterical if he weren't so embarrassed by the fact that he found himself in charge of her very female underthings. "Um ... Do I need to do anything, um, special with these?" he asked, holding her bra by a strap, as if he was afraid it might bite him.

To her credit, she did try not laugh. She failed, erupting with a peal of giggles at the look on his face as he held up her bra. "Oh, Jay ..." Gasping for breath, she made the effort to calm down. "No. No, they just need to hang for a while to dry."

It wasn't the first brassiere he'd ever seen or touched, but it was the first time he'd ever been called upon to hang one to dry. He couldn't help but smirk back at her, even if he was feeling a little flummoxed. "Well, how would I know? I don't wear one!" he pointed out with a grin, as he carefully went about hanging her lingerie on a tree branch. He wouldn't be to blame if some monkey wandered by in the night and stole it though.

"Well, that makes us even, then," Eleanor commented impishly. "You've seen what I wear under my clothes, and have just told me what you wear under yours." Her cheeks might still be warm, but she was beginning to relax again. After all, she could not possibly be any safer than she was in his company.

"No, I have told you what I don't wear under mine," he pointed out, as he hung the rest of her clothes on various tree limbs, creating a sort of canopy of women's clothing surrounding their makeshift campsite. "Now that it's stopped raining, I should probably do the same," he murmured, wondering if he could trust her not to peek.

"Yes, you should," she agreed. "I can lay out the bedrolls and tamp down the fire." That, at least, she had learned to do fairly quickly when they had first landed in this jungle.

"You need to stay off that foot," he reminded her. As much as he wanted - no, needed - to clean up, he didn't want her putting any undue weight on her foot.

She rolled her eyes. "Then put me in the shelter before you go and wash, if you're that determined to make sure I never stand up alone again."

"Not never. Just until the swelling goes down," he said, trying not to get annoyed with her when he was only trying to help. "You don't want me to have to carry you out of the jungle, do you?" he asked, half-joking, though he'd make good on that threat if he had to.
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2018 4:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"James, you are hovering and being unnecessarily over-protective," Eleanor pointed out. "The shelter is barely two steps to my left. I can make it there without putting any weight on my ankle. And you still need to wash."

"You'll call if you need me?" he asked, hovering a moment longer, despite the need to wash the mud off him. He knew what she'd say to that, and he knew he was being a little over-protective, but he wasn't taking any chances with her safety.

"Of course I will, James," she promised. "Now go and wash yourself and your clothes before you come to bed." Odd, that she didn't seem to notice how intimate that turn of phrase was.

And now he was James again. Well, he supposed that was better than Captain. He arched a brow at the way she'd phrased that, sounding more like a wife than she probably realized. "Um, I'll just get a change of clothes," he told her, moving to rummage in his pack.

She smiled at him, her expression still warm despite their near argument, bending over her own pack to pull out the bedroll tucked into it. The shelter was just big enough for both of them, but it was definitely going to be an awkward squeeze before they settled.

"Don't go anywhere," he told her with a wink, since she was obviously not going anywhere without his help. And then he was stomping off toward the stream to try and scrub dried mud from his body. Of course, he'd have to strip down to do that, and though he wasn't shy about the way he looked, he was modest.

Eleanor was true to her word, though. As much as she privately entertained the idea of peeking at him, she was too much of a lady to actually go through with it. Instead, she crawled into the shelter to unroll the bedrolls, stretching out on the one furthest from the entrance. "Good grief," she muttered, noting the space. "Well, hopefully he won't mind having to touch you just to get a good night's sleep."

It took a little longer and a little more effort to get the mud off than he'd have liked. He did the best he could, but the stuff was everywhere. By the time he returned to the campsite, he was wearing a half-way clean shirt, pants tucked into his boots, hair damp and curling in the humidity. He didn't really look much different than he had before they'd tumbled down the hill, but hopefully, he at least smelled better.

He found his companion pressed into a deeply uncomfortable position deep into the shelter in an attempt to give him as much space as possible to stretch out and sleep in. Eleanor had never slept with anyone; even during this journey, the men had been very careful to keep a respectful distance after dark.

He made quick work of hanging his wet clothes to dry before venturing toward the shelter to take a peek. He wasn't sure if she was asleep yet and wouldn't blame her if she was, after all the excitement. He hesitated a moment as he took in the small space, frowning at the realization that there wasn't much room. He had two choices - he could either join her and hope he didn't embarrass her, or chance the rain and sleep under the trees. He knew which choice he preferred, but it was getting dark, and he needed to decide.

"Are you asleep?" he whispered quietly, as if he was afraid to wake her.

"No," she whispered back, opening her eyes in the gloom. "I'm trying to take up as little room as possible." There was the suggestion of whiteness as she smiled at her own ridiculous comment.

"I don't want you to be uncomfortable," he told her, sizing the space up with his eyes. It was going to be a tight fit, but he supposed they'd have to make the best of it. It was either that or sleep propped against a tree.

She sighed. "Jay, I think we can both swallow our pride and actually dare to touch one another in order to both make use of this shelter tonight," was her response. "I won't have you being noble and self-sacrificing when there is no need."

"We do both need to get some rest," he said, as if he was trying to convince himself. "Let me just put some more wood on the fire," he added, though it would likely burn down in a few hours' time anyway. It was more for light and to keep the animals at bay than for warmth. Hopefully, he'd wake in time to keep the fire going all night.

There was no mistaking the frisson of heat Eleanor felt as he agreed with her, a quiet hope that he wasn't being forced into this chaste intimacy with her. She knew she was being rather bold for a woman of her rank and breeding, but out here, what did that truly matter?

Once he had stoked the fire, which was close enough to lend some light but far enough away that they wouldn't roast, he carefully climbed into the shelter, claiming the bedroll closest the opening. Sometime after he'd returned from the stream, he'd reclaimed his sidearm and now, he tucked it safely within the shelter, close at hand, but not so close that it would accidentally go off. It was better to be safe than sorry, after all, and one never knew when one might need it. "Comfortable?" he asked, blinking at her in the darkness.

She wriggled awkwardly in the tight space. "Not particularly," she admitted. "Are you a back or a side sleeper?" She knew he would want to sleep closest to the opening, for safety's sake, but was there any reason why they shouldn't both be comfortable?

"You needn't worry for my comfort. I've slept in far more cramped and uncomfortable places than this and with far less attractive companions," he added for good measure. He didn't bother to mention the war, but it went without saying there had been few creature comforts then.

She giggled softly in the stillness. "Thank you. But I should like you to be comfortable as well, if possible. We both need to sleep, after all."

"I believe we will both take up less room if we sleep on our sides," he suggested. It was also less likely he'd risk waking her with any snoring.

"I think you are right," she agreed softly. "You won't want your back to the opening, though, will you?"

"If it starts to rain again, I'd rather it was my back than my face. Then again, it would probably be best if I faced the other way, in case any animals poke about," he reasoned. He'd have to turn away from her pretty face, but there was something about having his back exposed that bothered him.

Eleanor's expression softened, what he could see of her face in the gloom smiling gently as he reasoned his way through what he was going to do. "I am sure I am very safe with you, Jay," she murmured.

"I promised to do my best to keep you safe, and I intend to keep that promise," he assured her, not for the first time. There in the moonlight, with the light from the fire flickering nearby and no one around for miles and miles, he was very tempted to kiss her. What did one say to a win the heart of a woman like her that wouldn't sound like so much rubbish?

"I do trust you, Jay." Her hand twitched between them, tempted to reach out and touch him, to lay her palm over his heart, but she knew that would be crossing the line that still existed between them. Not that she had any objection to crossing it, but he seemed so very aware of the differences between their states.
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2018 4:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The more he got to know her, the less it was about the difference in their social status, and the more it was about treating her like the lady she was and earning her friendship and respect. "Tell me, Eleanor. What did you mean earlier when you said there was only one man you ever met who you could possibly consider loving?" Now that it was dark, it seemed easier to ask her these things, and he needed to know.

She was silent for a moment, shy of answering him even in this gently anonymous darkness. "Do you really not know?" she asked him in turn, her fingers gripping the bedroll between them tightly. "Is it so very difficult to believe that I might find you the most attractive man of my acquaintance, not merely in looks but in mind and heart as well?"

"It is not so hard to believe, but I am not sure what you see in me," he said quietly, intimately, though there was no one there to hear but the two of them. Though she might not dare to touch him, perhaps it was the darkness that made him brave, lifting a hand to brush his fingers against her cheek in a soft caress. "I have never met anyone like you, Ellie."

She trembled at his touch - not afraid, but overcome with unexpectedly amazed delight at this sudden change in him. Was it really the darkness that made him bold at last? "I do not know how to tell you what I see in you, Jay," she murmured softly, letting her palm touch his chest at last. "Only that I very much like what I see. My good opinion, once formed, is difficult to lose without extreme treachery."

"You didn't have such a good opinion of me when you first sought me out," he reminded her, though that seemed to amuse him more than anything else now. She had come on this expedition, despite his warnings, and she had earned not only his respect, but the respect of everyone who'd come along. He withdrew his hand from her cheek and wrapped his fingers around hers instead, holding her hand against his heart. "I hope I do nothing to lose your faith in me."

"You were excessively presumptuous when we first met," she reminded him in amusement of her own, her body tilting just that little bit closer to him as he claimed her hand in his own. "First impressions are never entirely accurate. I do not believe you will disappoint me, Jay."

"Was I?" he asked, furrowing his brows in the dark. He remembered that first meeting, but he probably not the same way that she did. "How was presumptuous?" he asked, curiously, unwilling to let go of her hand so long as she allowed him to hold it.

She giggled softly, shaking her head in the darkness. "Assuming that I was incapable of looking after myself," she pointed out. "Laying hands on me without even introducing yourself first. Terribly presumptuous. And, if I am honest with myself, rather attractive in your boldness, too."

"Oh, really?" he asked, chuckling in the darkness. "And what do you think of me now? Still too presumptuous?" he asked further, though she had already told him what she thought of him, for the most part.

Not presumptuous enough. But she wasn't going to say that out loud, her manners far too ingrained to allow her to be quite so bluntly honest with a man she liked far more than she had openly admitted. "Jay ... I am lying with you in an enclosed space, almost in your arms," she pointed out instead. "Willingly, I might add. I think you may safely assume I am content with your presumption."

Though she might not discern it in the dim light, one brow arched upwards at her statement. "Would it be too presumptuous of me to put my arms around you then?" he asked, almost as if he was asking permission, but then he prided himself on being a gentleman, at least where women were concerned.

"Do-do you want to?" she breathed back to him. It was the strangest sensation - she had never wanted anything so much as she wanted to be held by him in that moment, yet she did not want it if he was not as willing as she for it to happen.

"I wouldn't have asked if I didn't," he replied without hesitation. He actually wanted more than that, but he knew better than to push his luck. Besides, a woman like her deserved to be properly romanced, though the jungle might not be the time or place for it.

"Oh." She blushed in the gloom, her smile audible in her voice as she inched just a little closer. "No, I do not think it would be presumptuous at all to put your arms about me."

"It is a little cramped, after all," he said, as he let go of her hand so that he could wind his arms around her. He didn't have to pull her close, as she was close enough already, but the small space was just a convenient excuse.

There was no way to disguise the tremble in her limbs as he wrapped his arms about her, or the tension that rippled through her before she began to relax. She had never been held by anyone who was not family; it was a very different sensation to be held by a man she liked very much indeed. "I don't think you need an excuse to hold me, Jay."

She wasn't the first woman he'd ever held in his arms or even the first woman he'd ever had feelings for, but she was the first woman he'd let get this close in as long as he could remember. "I wonder if Alex would agree," he said, though it hardly mattered what the man thought of their burgeoning romance, so long as Eleanor was willing.

"Whatever he thinks, he will do well to keep it to himself," Eleanor muttered darkly. She was well-prepared to swat her friend into agreeing with her choices, especially when it came to romance. Not that they were likely to need to convince Alex - he was the one who had locked them together in a private dining room on the boat to solve their issue with communication.

"Do you really think you could love a man like me?" he asked, uncertainly again. It wasn't that he was uncertain of his growing feelings for her so much as his uncertainty about her feelings for him.

She frowned worriedly. "Do you not want me to?" she asked him in answer. "Each time you ask, it seems less as though you might like me to love you and more as though you would rather I did not."

"It's not that," he assured her, frowning in thought. What was it then exactly? "It's just ... I'm not sure I'm worthy of your love." It wasn't the first time he'd confessed that to her, but what worried him was that she'd change her mind about him once she got to know him better.

"Jay ... people don't fall in love because someone is worthy of them," she murmured in answer. "I have known some matches where one party clearly did not deserve the other's love, yet they had it unequivocably. I have no intention of stopping myself from falling in love with you, if you have no objection to my doing so. And by objection, I mean an honest reason why I should not. Your worthiness is not in dispute."

"An honest reason," Jay murmured to himself. He couldn't really think of any except for the differences in their social status and his lack of money, the majority of which was going to support his sister in Paris. "I snore?" he said, though there was a definite hint of amusement in his voice and his eyes.

She giggled, her hand turning in his to squeeze his fingers. "Go to sleep, Jay," she suggested, a note of fondness in her voice. "I daresay we will talk more about this tomorrow."

"I daresay we will," he echoed, a soft smile on his face. "Good-night, Ellie," he told her softly, daring to touch a tender kiss to her forehead. It might seem silly to some that he hadn't yet kissed her lips when they'd been talking about falling in love, but he didn't want her to think he was taking advantage of her or the situation.

She smiled in the darkness, daring herself to nestle closer to him, tucking her head into the crook of his neck as she sighed contentedly. It was a bit of a squeeze in their little shelter, but a lot roomier when she was in his arms. She would have to convince him to do it again sometime.

He couldn't help smiling himself, surprised to realize how content he felt there with her in his arms. This was something he could easily get used to. Did he dare hope? He closed his eyes with her nestled close, feeling at peace with the world for the first time in as long as he could remember. Perhaps it was time to undo some of the locks on his heart.
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