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.The liquid swirled with enchanting pale green clouds.“Come on Duchess,” he said.“It’s brilliant.Taste it.Besides, you know what they say: ‘Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder’.”“You know that’s probably the world’s worst joke.”“Probably?” He leaned over and gave me a kiss.“Can you tell me a worse one?”I took a sip of the now-milky liquid—herbal and anise-flavored—a little cough-mediciney, but not bad.I hoped it didn’t actually make the heart grow fonder.I didn’t need to be fonder of Peter Sherwood.I let him give me another licorice-y kiss, but I needed to talk business before this went any further.“My book—Henry says I have no contract with you.Fangs of Sherwood Forest is supposed to come out next month, and at first they said I could launch my book at the same time, so Rosalee and I could do promotions together, but now Henry and Alan say I have to leave…”Peter wore a half smile as he scanned my face—as if waiting for a signal that I was joking.“Fangs of Sherwood Forest: Is that the new fem-dom title?”He looked truly clueless.I hardly knew where to begin.I took another gulp of absinthe and launched into the story of Rosalee’s book, and its miraculous ascent to the top of the priority list at Sherwood.Peter looked first amused, then shocked, then angry as he shuffled through the foot-high stacks of manuscripts and letters piled on his desk.“This is the Robin Hood manuscript the Baron kept whinging about? That unreadable dreck? By his girlfriend from California with the tits? She’s here in Swynsby?”“Yes.The Professor has suggested some massive rewriting, and she’s hired me to help.It might not be so bad when we’re through…”Peter shook his head.“It’s rubbish.Your book should be printed by now, and ready to ship.I have orders…” As he searched through another pile of papers, manuscript envelopes began slipping off the desk.He rescued them only to have another stack fall.“Henry has no business sense.I thought I was safe leaving him in charge, but…” Something clattered to the floor.Peter picked it up—a tin of rat poison.I shuddered, thinking how close Henry had come to poisoning Much.But it was all right now.Peter was back.The real Peter.Not the one who had been demonized by his enemies and mythologized by his friends.Just Peter.A slightly unorthodox, outrageously charming English businessman.I helped him retrieve the papers and pile them back on the desk.Our hands touched.With a laugh, he grabbed me and pulled me to him.“I’m ashamed of what this company has been doing to you.Please say you’ll forgive me?”I set down my empty glass and took both his hands in mine.“Yes Peter,” I said.“I can forgive everything.Except maybe the hair.” It really was awful in that Alan Greene rat tail.“I think it’s time you let your hair down.Release your inner Fabio.” I reached to pull off the elastic that bound his sun-bleached locks.I fluffed his hair around his shoulders, feeling like a 1950s movie hero romancing the mousy librarian.I giggled.He giggled too, then drew me to him in an intense kiss.With lips locked, we sank onto the futon.His hands moved under my blouse.I let them.The desk phone rang.Peter jumped.As he picked up, I buttoned my top, feeling chilly and embarrassed.I could stop this right now.I could plead sleepiness and make my bed in the canteen.Except I couldn’t.Peter was too dazzling, with his glowing tan, and his gilded hair flowing.The absinthe dazzled me, too.When I finished my sweet green drink, Peter held up the bottle, offering a refill.I let him fill my glass and went back to studying Tom’s painting.Tom hadn’t painted the inside of the tree as it really looked—decaying and empty.The opening in his Major Oak was a dark, mysterious void—a spooky portal to another realm.Peter finally hung up the phone, and with great drama, unplugged its cord.“Business is done for the day, Duchess.” He turned to give me a deep, lingering kiss.As he enveloped me in his arms, I felt the solid muscle of his body under his sweatshirt.A month at sea had made his slim body fit and sinewy.I felt a primal urge to give myself to him—this alpha male, strong enough to fight off danger with his bare hands.A man who could protect me.All right—he was a criminal.So was Robin Hood, after all.And there I was, in Sherwood.In the arms of a merry outlaw.Under the spell of a green fairy.I couldn’t help myself.Chapter 51—The Third ManI woke to a sunny morning, smelling the yummy toast aroma from the maltings.From out in the street came the music of a calliope, playing a familiar tune, oddly menacing, although it tinkled away like a children’s melody—plink plink PLINK, plink plinkity plink… drifting from out on Threadneedle Street.Moving slowly.An ice cream truck maybe.I watched Peter’s chest move up and down in sleep and realized that for the first time since I’d arrived in England—maybe for the first time since my divorce—I was happy to be where I was.I didn’t want to budge.I only wanted to be here: with him.Peter made me feel thrilled and safe at the same time—like a ride in Disneyland.All the disasters in my life had led me to this man.I remembered the double rainbow we’d seen on our day of exploring Swynsby.It had felt like such a joyous sign.Maybe it had been.The things Gordon Trask said couldn’t be true.I was angry with myself for believing him.Maybe his stories had sounded more reasonable to me because he was an American, talking to me in the accents of home.But the man had to be paranoid—a “nutter” as Peter called him.The self-admitted dog-poisoner had tried to poison my mind as well.And my fears had made me ripe for poisoning.But now I knew Peter was kind and rational.Maybe the only rational person at Sherwood.The sort of man I could love, if he let me.I pushed all of Trask’s nonsense from my mind as just more of the craziness that had taken over the company.I wondered how Peter would react when I told him the details of the past two months: how I’d been literally starving.He still didn’t know I hadn’t been paid the promised advance, or even the few pounds for my reader job.I wished talking about money didn’t embarrass me so much.I’d have to think of a non-whiny way to bring it up in conversation.But when Peter woke, he wasn’t in a conversational mood.“Bollocks!” he said, looking at his watch.He jumped to his feet and glowered at me.“Why didn’t you wake me, Duchess?” He scrambled into a pair of trousers.“It’s half ten.My meeting is at noon.In Hull.I can only pray there won’t be hordes of Sunday beach-goers clogging the motorway.” He buttoned up a cream-colored shirt.“Sorry to run, lass.” He pulled his hair back into its elastic band, slipped into a well-cut blazer I hadn’t seen before, and zipped his duffle.I sat up and tried to ask him when he’d be back, but he stopped me with a kiss.“You’re beautiful in the morning, Duchess.”He grabbed his duffle and briefcase, and was gone with a slam of the door.I lay on the futon, listening to the plinky melody, which had started up again out on the street.Now I recognized it: the theme from The Third Man: the old Orson Welles film about an evil Englishman named Harry Lime—a con artist and cold blooded killer who sold fake pharmaceuticals to war-ravaged Berlin.Fake pharmaceuticals.Isn’t that what Gordon Trask said Barnacle Bill had been smuggling?No.I wasn’t going to let my mind go there.I was glad the weather was sunny.That helped mitigate the creepiness of being alone in the Maidenette Building, with out even Much around for protection.Without access to my Wendy house, I had to dress in the serviceable, but now rather grimy suit I’d been wearing since Friday, washing up with the few necessities I’d taken to Puddlethorpe in my tote bag [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]