“How very unlike Jack.” She drew on the cigar again. “Did he tell you that I asked him to make you come here?”
“I did. Aren’t you curious why?”
Heleaned against the frameof the lattice. “I’m curious, yes.”
“Thank God for that! I was beginning to think there wasn’t a human feeling in your body.” Her voice was harsh. Sharpe wondered what game she was playing. He watched as she tossed the cigar onto the flagstones of the balcony and, as it landed, it showered sparks like a musket pan fired at night. “Why do you think, Captain?”
“I don’t know why I’m here, Ma’am.”
“Oh!” Her voice was mocking now. “You find me on my own, ignoring all my guests, not to mention the proprieties, and there’s a table set with wine, and you think nothing?”
Sharpe did not like being toyed with. “I’m only a humble soldier, Ma’am, unused to the ways of my betters.”
She laughed, and her face suddenly softened. “You said that with such delicious arrogance. Do I make you uncomfortable?”
“If it pleases you to, yes.”
She nodded. “It pleases me. So tell me what Jack Spears whispered to you?” The inflection of command was back in her voice, as if she talked to her postilion.
Sharpe was tired of her games. He let his own voice be as harsh as hers. “That you had low tastes, Ma’am.”
She went very still and tense. She was leaning forward on the bench, her hands gripping its edge, and Sharpe wondered if she was about to shout for her servants and have him thrown out. Then she leaned back, relaxed, and waved a hand at the elegant balcony. “I thought I had rather high tastes. Poor Jack thinks everyone is like him.” Her voice had changed again, this time she had spoken with a soft sadness. She stood up and walked to the lattice, pushing open one of the doors. “That business tonight was a shambles.”
The previous subject seemed to have been forgotten, as if it had never existed. Sharpe turned to look at her. “Yes.”
“Why did the Peer order the attack? It seemed hopeless.”
Sharpe was tempted to say that she had wanted a battle, almost pleaded with Wellington for one, but this new, crisp woman was not someone he wanted to annoy, not at this moment. “He’s always impetuous at sieges. He likes to get them done.”
“Which means many deaths?” Her fingers were beating a swift tattoo on the frame of the lattice.
“What happens now?” She was staring at the forts and Sharpe was staring at her profile. She was the loveliest thing he had ever seen.
“We’ll have to dig trenches. We’ll have to do everything properly.”
He shrugged. “Probably in the ravine.”
He went to her side, smelling her, feeling her closeness to him and he wondered if she could detect his trembling. He could see a silver comb holding up her piled hair and then he looked away and pointed at the gorge. “Along the right hand side, Ma’am, close to the San Vincente.”
She turned her face to his, just inches away, and her eyes were violet in the moonlight that threw shadows beneath the high cheekbones. “How long will that take?”
“It could be done in two days.”
She kept her face turned up and her eyes stayed on his eyes. He was aware of her body, of the bare shoulders, of dark shadows that promised softness.
She turned abruptly away and crossed to the table. “You haven’t eaten.”
“A little, Ma’am.”
“Come and sit. Pour me some wine.” There were partridges roasted whole, quails stuffed with meat and peppers, and small slices of fruit, that she said were quinces, that had been dipped in syrup and sugar. Sharpe took off his shako, propped his rifle against the wall, and sat. He did not touch the food. He poured her wine, moved the bottle to his own glass, and she stared at him, half smiling, and spoke in a detached, curious voice. “Why didn’t you kiss me just then?”
The bottle clinked dangerously against his glass. He set it down. “I didn’t want to offend you.”