ANNE CLEELAND

Writer

The Bengal Bridegift


Chapter 44

     Juno laid drowsily content after lovemaking, and had to acknowledge that London offered at least one advantage—this roomy bed; it was not an easy thing to share a ship’s berth with her large-framed husband. Her head on his chest, she contemplated the weak light that slanted in through the curtains.  It was gray and misty outside, as usual; when it rained in India, it rained in no uncertain fashion, and then was done with it.  Here, the light never seemed bright enough; the sun never in the right place in the sky. If Mama hadn’t died, I would have lived here all my life, she thought in wonder; how strange life is.

     “You have saved the world, lieve.” Jost lay against the pillows, his right arm cradling his head.

     “Have I? Will they give me a commendation, do you think?” she teased. “Or perhaps a small country?”

     “Me, I am serious. The war, it will be finished for good this time. Napoleon is out of money.”

     “Did the underwriters get their money back?” Juno traced his dragon tattoo with a desultory finger.

     “Not yet; now they buy the bonds from the Treasury, for the war.  The French, they are done.”

     “Napoleon never seems to be done,” Juno noted with some skepticism.  “Will you be needed?” She was thinking about what Aditi had said—that Landon had more work to do.

     He shifted slightly. “Not here; back in Algiers, maybe.”

     Ah, thought Juno.

     Misinterpreting her silence, he leaned to kiss her temple. “Me, I will be careful. I am married, now.”

     “Yes,” agreed Juno with a great deal of irony. “I am certain you will be a pattern-card of caution, now that you are married.”

     “Juno,” he chided. “You do not believe me—I am safe as a house, now.”

     “Except that you will kill that dangerous gentleman, whose name I have forgotten.”

     “Except when I kill Rochon,” he agreed. “But you will not know of it, so you will not worry.”

     “That is excellent; you relieve me no end.” 

     They lay together, content, and listened as the rain began to patter against the window.  “Your father, they will give him—” he searched for the word, holding up his hand to make a circle with his fingers.

     “A medal?” Juno lifted her head in interest. “Like an award?”

     “Yes—a medal. They will give it to Horry.”

     Squeezing her husband’s chest, she pressed her cheek against him, and confessed, “I never should have doubted him—no matter the evidence against him. Horry never did.”

     But he would not allow her to be at fault in any respect, and kissed the top of her head.  “Ach, lieve—the problems, they should not have happened.  I did not understand about the other Juno.” He paused for a moment, then added, “Me, I will give you something, also.”

     “I think you have already given me something,” she teased wickedly.

     “Juno, you must not always think of the bed sport,” he chided.  “I will give you a medal.” He lifted a finger and traced a small circle between her breasts. “A big diamond, you will wear it on a chain, here.”

     “Do you indeed have such a diamond?   It is a rare wonder there were any left to give back to England.”

     “Me, I took the biggest one,” he confessed. “I could not help it.”

     And she could not help but laugh, and he laughed right along with her.  She rationalized, “I suppose they are very pleased with your work, and will not begrudge yet one more diamond.”

     Gingerly, he turned to raise himself on an elbow, so as to look down upon her. “We will need one of the others soon, I think.”

     Juno blushed and laid a hand against his face. “I was going to tell you as soon as I was certain.”

     He leaned in and kissed her gently. “Juno, you have been very busy.”

     She laughed again. “My life was very dull before the day I met you, but events since have more than made up for it.”

     “The finest day.” He kissed her again, not as gently this time.

     “It’s a bit like being in a typhoon,” she teased. “One can only try to keep one’s feet.”

     “You have very pretty feet,” he noted, his mouth traveling to her throat. “You must try to keep them.”

     To reward this sentiment, she lifted her head so as to kiss him, and he responded as she knew he would.  We are well-matched, she thought as she arched against him, and tried to avoid wrenching his shoulder. I can’t get enough of him, and he can’t get enough of me; thank heaven we found each other in Bengal, on that finest day that didn’t really seem so, at the time.  

     Later, she decided they had avoided the subject long enough. “Are you awake?” she whispered.

     “No,” he whispered, sleepy.

     “Can you wake up long enough to tell me of Preya? How does she? I understand she is quite ill.”

     There was a pause, whilst his fingers moved on her back. “Juno, do not die.”

     “All right, then—I won’t,” she promised. “When are you going to tell me about Bala?”

     She could sense his sudden caution. “What of Bala?”

     “That you only pretended she had died, so as to keep her safe from the killers of children, but in reality, you secreted her away on the Dragon and promised Preya that we would raise her as our own.”

     His hand stilled on her back. “Juno, sometimes I think you are the witch.”

     To let him know she was not upset, she nuzzled his throat. “At the trial, she looked upon me with such gratitude—then Aditi told me she was dying. I put two and two together, and decided you had hidden Bala away.”

     His hand under her chin, he gently raised her head to meet his gaze, and said with all sincerity; “You do not need to do this, Juno. Me, I can put her with my overseer’s family on Tortola, and give her a bridegift.”

     Juno shook her head. “No, it is only fitting, Jost—now it is my niyama, too.  And she may be your daughter, after all.”

     “Perhaps not,” he admitted.  “She has the eyes like Aditi.”

     Juno rested her cheek against the broad expanse of tattooed chest. “It doesn’t matter—you are so magnanimous, certainly I can be just as magnanimous.”

     “Me, I do not know what this means,” he confessed.

     “It means I love you,” she explained simply.

     Zeer goed,” he replied, and kissed the top of her head.