“No!” She held him again.
“What do you want? To save me money?” He was harsh, feeling his hurt. She was more beautiful than he could have imagined a woman to be.
“No.” She shook her head. “I want you, Captain, to save me from Colonel Leroux.” She said it almost bitterly and then, as if ashamed of the kiss, she turned and walked away from him.
She went on walking, back to the corner and onto the lighted side of the balcony. Once again she had surprised him, but this time he felt there was no game. He followed.
She was standing by the telescope, staring through the lattice, and Sharpe propped his rifle against the wall and went close behind her. “Tell me why?”
“I’m frightened of him.” She stared away from him.
“He’ll kill me.”
There was a silence and it seemed to Sharpe to be like a great abyss over which he was suspended on a single, fine blade-edge. One false move and the moment would be lost, finished, and it was as if he and she were alone high above the dark night and he saw the shadow between her shoulder blades, a dark shadow running down into the intricate lace of her dress, and it seemed to him that there was nothing on this dark earth so mysterious, so frightening, or as fragile as a beautiful woman. “He’ll kill you?”
He put his right hand up, slowly, and put his long finger against her shoulder blade, a touch so gentle that it could have been a strand of her golden hair. He slid the finger down her warm, dry skin and she did not move.
“Why will he kill you?”
His fingertip explored the ridges of her spine. Still she did not move and he let his other fingers down, then pushed them slowly up towards her neck. She was very still.
“You’ve stopped calling me ”Ma’am“.”
“Why will he kill you, Ma’am?”
His fingers were on the nape of her neck where they could feel the wisps of hair that had escaped from the silver combs. He moved his hand right, very slowly, letting his fingers trace and stroke the curve of her long neck. She began to turn and his hand, as if frightened of breaking something very fragile, leaped an inch from her skin. She stopped, waited till she was touched again, and turned to face him.
“Do your friends call you Dick?”
He smiled. “Not for many years.” His arm was tense from the effort of holding it still, hovering on her skin, and he waited for her to speak again, knowing that she had suddenly asked an irrelevant question because she was thinking. She seemed oblivious of his hand, but he knew she was not, and his heart still thumped inside him, and the moment was still there. Her eyes flicked between his.
“I’m frightened of Leroux.” She said it flatly.
He let the palm of his hand drop onto the curve of her neck. Still she seemed to take no notice. His fingers curled onto her back. “Why?”
She gestured at the balcony. “You know what this is?”
He shrugged. “A balcony.”
For a few seconds she said nothing. His hand was feather-light on her neck and he could see the shadows move on her skin as she breathed. He could hear the beat of his heart. She licked her lips. “A balcony, but a special kind of balcony. You can see a long way from here, and it’s built so you can do that.” Her eyes, trusting and serious, were on his. She was speaking simply, as if to a child, so that he would understand her. It was, Sharpe thought, with his hand still on her neck, yet another face of this remarkable woman who changed like lake water, but something in her tone told him that now she was not playing. If there was a true Marquesa, this was she. “You can see the roads over the river, and that’s why it was built. My husband’s great-great-grandfather didn’t want to spy only indoors. He liked to watch his wife when she rode out of the palace, so he built this balcony like a watch-tower. They’re not unusual in Spain, and they have this lattice for a special reason. No one can see in, Mr. Sharpe, but we can see out. It’s a special kind of balcony. In Spanish a balcony is ”balcon“, but this isn’t a ”balcon“. Do you know what it is?”