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Fool's Gold

Fool's Gold, September 2014
by Zana Bell

Choc Lit
Featuring: Guinevere Stanhope; Quinn O'Donnell
320 pages
ISBN: 1781891834
EAN: 9781781891834
Kindle: B00MR1DB10
Paperback / e-Book
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"1866 New Zealand: Plucky heroine and haunted hero..."

Fresh Fiction Review

Fool's Gold
Zana Bell

Reviewed by Dot Dittman
Posted February 25, 2015

Romance Historical

In FOOL'S GOLD, Zana Bell has created characters that are strong, believable, and lovable. Both heroine and hero are chasing after their own specific pot of gold. Gwen (Lady Guinevere Stanhope) is an English lady of the manor trying desperately to earn money to keep her home in England. She is stranded in New Zealand with practically nothing but her skill as a photographer to keep her from starving. Quinn O'Donnell is an Irishman come to New Zealand seeking gold and anonymity. What they find is something that neither is looking for.

As Gwen rushes headlong into situations without a second thought, Quinn tries to save her when she doesn't want saving. It's perplexing to Quinn because he hates the English—especially the aristocracy—and he can't understand why he keeps getting tangled up with Gwen and her troubles. He usually runs away from any trouble in his life. Has he finally found something (and someone) he can't run away from?

Zana Bell has crafted a historical romance with rich details of the New Zealand gold rush days. Add to that some quirky, but realistic characters who have their moments—both heartbreaking and heartwarming—and you have a story worth its weight in gold.

Learn more about Fool's Gold

SUMMARY

Love – is it worth its weight in gold?

It’s 1866 and the gold rush is on. Left to fend for herself in the wilds of New Zealand’s west coast, Lady Guinevere Stanhope is determined to do whatever it takes to rescue her ancestral home and restore her father’s good name.

Forced out of his native Ireland, Quinn O’Donnell dreams of striking gold. His fiercely held prejudices make him loath to help any English person, let alone a lady as haughty and obstinate as Guinevere. But when a flash flood hits, Quinn is compelled to rescue her, and their paths become entwined in this uncharted new world.

Though a most inconvenient attraction forms between them, both remain determined to pursue their dreams, whatever the cost. Will they realise in time that all that glitters is not gold?

Excerpt

Chapter One

1866, West Coast Forests, New Zealand.

Guinevere scarcely dared breathe. The small cluster of weka scratched amongst the leaves, gradually shifting from the dark shadow of the trees to the sun-splashed clearing. Go on she urged the flightless birds silently. Another foot and I’ve got you.

A thread of perspiration ran down her face. It was stifling under the black cloth but she was not to be distracted now as the largest weka strayed into the late afternoon sun, its mottled brown plumage glinting in the light.

Now see it.

He did. The wink of her grandmother’s locket caught his attention and he went to inspect it. Ha! Guinevere felt a surge of triumph. She’d heard weka could not resist glittering objects. The locket was secured to a large stone. That should hold his attention for a minute, surely. Timing was essential, the wet plate would be drying fast. Silently she slid out from under the shroud, then, holding her breath, she removed the lens cap. The almighty explosion shattered the silence and reverberated around the mountains. The family fled in squawking alarm while Guinevere stared dumbfounded at the weka now lying headless in the grass.

Then she saw him, rifle held loosely in one hand, as he sauntered across the clearing towards the weka – her weka.

Those long, long hours of preparation and now all for nothing. Fury, white hot and brighter than any magnesium flash, ignited. Without pausing to think, Guinevere erupted out of the bushes.

‘How dare you.’

The man spun on his heel, his rifle coming up in reflex.

‘You ruined my shot! I took hours setting it all up.’

He fell back a step, lowering his gun. ‘What the—?’

He was very tall, his shoulders broad. She couldn’t see his face, covered as it was in beard and with his hat pulled low. His clothes were battered and shabby. Dried mud coated his boots and trouser cuffs. His shirtsleeves were rolled up and his arms were as brown as a farm labourer’s. Murderer. Bubbling rage engulfed her.

‘You bumbling idiot. Do you have any idea how much the Royal Geographical Society would have paid for a photograph like that? Well, do you?’

‘Photograph? Jaysus, woman! What the hell are you talking about?’ His Irish voice was low and curt with incredulity. At the same time there was something very still, very watchful about him. He’d taken the bird in a single shot.

A cloud came over the sun and the shadows of the forest all around them deepened, making Guinevere shiver. The huge, jagged spine of snowcapped mountains seemed to lean in, more forbidding than ever. She was suddenly conscious that the two of them were all alone in this huge, untamed land and that he had a gun. Then her family’s motto flashed across her mind: courage jusqu’à la mort. Her chin came up and she swept the branch aside to reveal the tripod and black shroud.

‘Look, simpleton! I’ve been preparing this past hour for the perfect shot and then, just as I was about to take it, you had to go and ruin it all.’

His jaw clenched under the thick beard. ‘Simpleton yourself! What man would ever expect to find some silly English girl with a camera squatting under the bushes out here, a day’s walk from the nearest town?’

A tiny voice of reason whispered that he had a point, but in his tone was that dismissive note of male superiority she’d come to hate over the past month.

‘How like a man to take one look at a family of birds and immediately wish to annihilate it!’

‘What? Like the way the English annihilate Irish families?’ His contempt seared. ‘I was hungry, dammit. A lady like yourself wouldn’t know how that feels.’

‘Oh, wouldn’t I?’ She smiled grimly. ‘Why else would I be squatting under a bush a day’s walk from anywhere?’

That seemed to give him pause for thought. He scratched his neck, then pushed the brim of his hat back with the barrel of his rifle.

Guinevere found herself looking up into cool grey eyes that surveyed her with as much curiosity as hostility.

‘Where’s your husband?’

‘I’m not married.’

‘Your father or brother then?’

‘My father died two months ago.’ She glared, defying sympathy. ‘Not that it is any of your business.’

They might be in the middle of the forest at the bottom of the world, but she was not going to tolerate the presumptuous behaviour of strange men. The Irishman, however, continued unabashed in his impertinence.

‘What? So you are here all alone?’ Her silence answered his question. ‘Oh, for the love of Jaysus, have you no sense? You cannot be going about alone in this country.’ His gun made a sweeping motion towards the forest that stretched impenetrably about them. ‘’Tis riddled with adventurers and gold seekers. Finding a woman alone they could—’

He broke off but she knew what he meant and her shoulders stiffened though she couldn’t meet his eyes.

‘Cerberus will protect me. He won’t let anyone near,’ she said grandly.

His lip curled. ‘Guardian of the underworld? And where is this fine hound?’

‘Tied up at my camp.’

‘Let me guess. So as not to spoil your pretty picture?’

Her chin came up again. ‘Don’t you dare condescend to me you, you …’ She searched for a suitable insult and his brows drew together, his lips compressed as he waited for it. ‘You man!’ She spat the word.

The man laughed, surprise and humour chasing away the shadows in his face. ‘Yes, I’m a man. I’ve heard many worse insults from English lips.’

He spoke without his previous curtness, but she’d had her fill of men and was in no mood to acknowledge the lilt of laughter in his deep voice. She tossed her head.

‘And now you’ll tell me that I’ve no business doing a man’s work in a man’s country and that I should go back to my needlework and be a good girl.’ Understanding dawned in his eyes and he smiled. ‘Been meeting a bit of opposition here, have you?’

His smile was lopsided and very disarming.

‘A fair bit,’ she admitted and almost smiled back before suspicion forestalled her. Now she was fatherless, every man she met took it as his God-given right to tell her what to do. Her eyes narrowed. ‘So are you going to start in too?’

He raised his hands, one still holding the gun, in surrender. ‘Not I! I haven’t lived this long without learning never to pick a fight I know I cannot be winning.’

It must have been the release of tension but this time Guinevere couldn’t help smiling.

The man lowered his hands and said, ‘Look, as I ruined your shot, the least I can do is share the bird with you.’ Guinevere hesitated and the man’s eyes cooled again. ‘That is, if an English lady like yourself will accept the help of a common Irishman.’

‘Oh, don’t be ridiculous. It’s just that …’ Guinevere bit her lip, not knowing how to continue.

The man seemed to realise what was troubling her. ‘I’m sorry, I haven’t introduced myself. Quinn O’Donnell.’ He extended his hand and gave her another lopsided smile. ‘Ready to cook you the best meal for miles around. But if you’d rather not, say the word and I’ll be on my way and not disturbing you again.’

She took his hand. It was lean, warm and calloused. ‘Pleased to meet you, Mr O’Donnell. I’m Guinevere Stanhope and I freely admit I’m starving. I never thought I’d be away from civilisation for so long and didn’t bring nearly enough provisions.’

He released her hand and cocked his head. ‘Just how long have you been out here?’

‘It’ll be my third night. I’d only expected to be out for one but these weka proved more difficult to photograph than I’d first imagined. They tend to only come out near dusk so it’s been hard to get them in the sunlight.’

‘And then I came along to ruin it.’ The Irishman’s tone was almost apologetic as he stooped to pick up the bird. Then he spied her locket and squatted down. The sideways look he cast her was amused, but also more attentive. ‘This here to attract the bird?’

She nodded, watching as his fingers deftly undid the lace knotted around the stone. ‘I needed to keep him in the sun and reasonably still for the exposure.’

‘Clever.’ He held out the locket to her and straightened, lifting the bird as he did so. His movements were fluid and economical. ‘Should I cook this here?’

He was giving her the opportunity to keep her camp private. As Guinevere pocketed her locket, her thoughts raced. Men intent on harm did not usually introduce themselves, did they? She wasn’t very conversant with the ways of robbers and rapists – another gap in her upbringing and education. New Zealand, she was discovering, was most adept in presenting her with hitherto unknown situations.

She looked at Mr O’Donnell. He stood quietly, not rushing her. Was that sympathy in his eyes for her predicament? There was a wary stillness about him but deep down she felt she could trust him. Her instincts were all she had to go on these days, and she made her decision.

‘No, I’m camped just up the river and I’d like to get back to Cerberus. He’s been tied up for hours. I’ll lead the way but must get my equipment first. There’ll be no photographs today. The plate will have dried by now and that was the last of the light.’

The Irishman watched as she took several minutes dismantling her equipment.

‘Sorry for spoiling your shot.’ He sounded genuinely remorseful. ‘Must’ve taken some time setting it all up.’

She glanced up and smiled. ‘You weren’t to know I was there. Sorry for attacking you. My temper is my besetting sin – well, one of them at any rate. There, I’m ready.’

‘Fine, I’ll be carrying that for you,’ he said, stepping forward but she forestalled him with a shake of her head.

‘Oh, no! My father always taught me that only a photographer has any business carrying a camera. I never let anyone touch my equipment. Besides,’ she added candidly, ‘I’d rather carry it than a dead bird.’

‘I’ll just get my clobber, then.’

He strode back to a tree where he stooped to swing a battered pack onto his back and she noted the wide shallow pan strapped to the outside. Definitely a miner. The hotelier had told her that the area had been in the grip of madness since the first sighting of gold a year earlier, with men pouring into it from all over the world.

When Mr O’Donnell came back towards her, he nodded and wordlessly she turned to lead the way. As she threaded through the foliage, bushes snagged the skirts of her dark green riding habit, which she twitched impatiently to free herself. Was it her imagination or did she feel his eyes following her movements? Had she made a mistake in encouraging friendliness?

She kept her voice steady as she said, ‘It’s just around this rock. Oh, there’s Cerberus now.’

She took some comfort in the volley of barks and growls that greeted their arrival. Cerberus, large and ungainly, was straining at the rope that tethered him to a tree and she went immediately to free him. Though she felt she could trust Mr O’Donnell, it didn’t hurt to have her faithful hound at her side. The dog was clearly unhappy at having a stranger in the camp and as soon as the last knot was untied, he leapt at the interloper.

‘Cerberus!’ she shouted.

The dog paused in his assault but continued to snarl, lip curled back from long teeth. The Irishman, having held his ground, now proffered an open palm which Cerberus sniffed and considered. The growling ceased and the tail began wagging. Quinn stroked the dog’s head, whereupon the dog promptly rolled on his back so that Quinn might scratch his stomach too. Using the toe of his boot to rub the spot Cerberus wanted, Quinn looked up at his companion.

‘Well now, ’tis relieved I am, ma’am, to know you have this hell hound to protect you. Where did you find him?’

Hands on hips, torn between amusement and exasperation, Guinevere had to laugh. ‘Hopeless animal! On the wharf at Hokitika. He just adopted me – followed me everywhere.’

‘Given encouragement no doubt. And the … er … horse? ’Tis a horse, I take it.’ He gestured to her mount, tethered to nearby bushes.

‘Pegasus? Yes, I think so, though judging from his temperament there must be mule in there too.’

‘Pegasus, is it?’ His tone was distinctly ironic as he eyed the horse with its knobbed back, knock-knees and moth-eaten pelt. ‘Was he also on the wharf?’

‘Not exactly,’ Guinevere said evasively. The Irishman’s eyebrow rose and feeling slightly goaded, she added, ‘He was in the knacker’s yard, if you must know.’ The man’s continuing silence reinforced her defensiveness. ‘He was looking at me with beseeching eyes and I simply couldn’t let him die. You’d have felt the same!’

Mr O’Donnell shook his head. ‘Oh no, I’m not one to be held hostage by a pair of eyes, no matter how beseeching. Besides, a woman alone shouldn’t be burdening herself with a pack of useless animals.’

‘They are not useless!’ she declared, then saw his sceptical glance at her horse. ‘Well, Pegasus was perhaps a bit of a mistake,’ she conceded, ‘but Cerberus wasn’t. Why, only last week he bit the most provoking bank manager I have ever met in my life.’

The corner of his mouth lifted. ‘And just how many bank managers have you met, might I ask?’

She felt herself flush but remained defiant. ‘Well, only one, but that was still one too many!’

He forbore making further comment, though she saw amusement glimmer in his eyes before he turned to look around her camp. No, she had nothing to fear from him, she decided. Yet he was a strange man, alternately grim then amused. She wasn’t sure which was more infuriating.

They were standing quite close together now and she saw a scar curled up from his cheekbone to the corner of his left eye. His nose was slightly angled as though it had been broken and not set quite straight. His smoke-grey eyes were surprisingly light in contrast to his tanned skin, his gaze intent. He had the Celts’ brooding intensity and a strong, somewhat autocratic face above his beard. Arthurian, she thought fancifully, with a hint of Viking about the cheekbones. He’d make a marvellous study for a photograph.

‘An unusual set-up you have here,’ he remarked and as he glanced down, he caught her scrutinising him. Again he went uncannily still, his eyes unreadable. Feeling self-conscious, Guinevere spoke quickly. ‘I know. Now, can I get you a knife or plate?’

‘No, don’t trouble yourself. I have it all right here.’

To her relief, he let the moment pass and swung his pack down onto the ground. It was little more than a blanket rolled about a few belongings, amongst which were a sharp knife and a large tin plate.

‘You just relax,’ he told her as he tossed his hat to one side and, picking up the bird, made his way to the river’s edge where he set about plucking it. Relieved that her assistance was not required for this grisly task, Guinevere tucked her equipment away in the tent, then sat on a nearby log and watched his quick fingers at work. His hair was dark, thick, straight and rather long. It, like his beard, must measure the number of weeks he’d been up here in the mountains, panning for gold. Did he ever get lonely, too?

Mr O’Donnell was like no man of her acquaintance. Squatting on his haunches, he seemed completely at home in the forest, yet he was clearly conversant with Greek mythology. He was swift to take offence over the strangest things, but he was also quick to laugh. Did this indicate a passionate nature? Yet there was that untouchable stillness about him. Was it only the siren song of gold that had drawn this man to these vast, empty forests?

Quinn too was curious as his fingers tore at the feathers. What in the hell did she think she was playing at, camped here all alone at the bottom of the world? Quinn shook his head at himself. What in the hell did he think he was playing at, cooking for an Englishwoman who, to judge by her manner of speaking, was clearly of the class he most loathed? It had been over five years since he’d sworn never to tug a forelock at the English ever again. Even now, that damnable English imperiousness he detected in her voice set his teeth on edge. And yet …

He stole a glance at her now and saw her hand go to her head. At the time she’d been too furious to notice her hair half tumble from its pins as she’d launched like a spitting wild cat from the bushes. He smiled inwardly at the memory. Then she’d seen his gun and though fear had flashed in her brown eyes, her chin had jerked up.

Her dress was the same dark green as the forest, and the white oval of her face stood out in contrast, with its striking cheekbones and wide eyes. She was not beautiful, but there was something delicate yet strong about her – like a tree sprite. This absurd thought made him shake his head at himself again. He remembered how she’d twitched her skirt free from the bushes and in one long slash he sliced open the belly of the weka. It had been far too long since he’d been with a woman.

She gasped at the sight of blood, then laughed as though embarrassed by her shock. ‘You look like you’ve done that before.’

He threw the entrails to Cerberus who wolfed them down. ‘I grew up on a farm and ’twas my job to prepare the birds for the family when I was a child. I hated it then, but it’s proved handy over the years.’

He found it hard not to pause to watch the feminine, almost intimate gestures of the English girl as she wound her abundant hair back up into a knot, which she then skewered into place. It pleased him that one lock had escaped her notice, falling untamed down her back.

‘I never learned anything half so useful when I was young. Which part of Ireland are you from?’

‘Cork,’ he said. ‘Have you been to Ireland?’

She shook her head. ‘No. I’d never been out of England until Father decided to come to New Zealand.’

‘And why did he come?’ asked Quinn, pausing for a second to look at her.

‘To photograph the moa. Have you heard of it, Mr O’Donnell?’

He frowned. ‘What, that bird that looks like an overgrown ostrich?’

She nodded, leaning forward eagerly, her forearms on her knees. ‘Yes, that’s it. Some grow to over nine feet tall, you know.’

‘Grew, you mean,’ he corrected her. ‘Sure, but it’s extinct now. The Maori ate them all, long ago.’

‘There’s no proof of that! There have been recent sightings, you know.’

Quinn shook his head. ‘By men either bored or witless from going too many days without civilisation. ’Tis a wild-goose chase you are on.’

‘Oh, you can scoff, but my father was certain it still exists. A photograph of one would be worth a fortune; both financially and scientifically.’

‘Is that a fact? And just how much would it be worth?’ Quinn neatly split the bird into smaller cuts that would cook quicker over the fire.

She sat back, her voice less confident now, though she was clearly not going to back down. Of course she wouldn’t. She was bloody English.

‘Well, I’m not exactly sure, but Father was convinced it would be a considerable sum.’

Quinn began piling twigs to make a fire and Guinevere passed him some from around her feet. ‘Ah, so your father’s interest was more financial than scientific?’

Her manner assumed a touch of ice. ‘That,’ she said for the second time in their brief acquaintance, ‘is none of your business.’

Quinn struck the match with more force than strictly necessary to control his sudden flare of fury – arrogant, hoity-toity that she was! He wished suddenly that he hadn’t taken pity on her. Irish had no business feeding the English – even in the middle of nowhere. But as he grimly blew on the flame to fan it, she added, ‘I’m sorry, I prefer not to talk of my father, although I intend continuing with his work. Surely you can understand that?’

Damnable female. He didn’t like the way she could pull that lady-of-the-manor act and he didn’t like the way she could disconcert him by promptly dropping it. She didn’t wait for him to reply though, as she changed the subject.

‘And why are you in New Zealand, Mr O’Donnell?’

The way she asked the question with genuine interest, the walls of the forest might have melted away and they could have been in some fancy house sipping tea and he not a servant but a valued guest. He rocked back on his heels and looked at her. ‘The gold.’

‘And you say I’m on a wild-goose chase!’

He bristled, then saw teasing gold lights in her eyes. ‘True,’ he acknowledged with a slow smile. ‘’Tis a hard call to say which of us is the greater fool.’ She laughed but almost immediately fell silent, staring into the flames.

Quinn noted the anxious frown between her eyes and felt an unexpected twinge of guilt. ‘I’m probably wrong,’ he said as he skewered the weka onto a stick. ‘’Tis a huge country and the forests are very deep. There is every chance there are still some of those birdies about.’

‘Yes,’ she said as she prodded the fire, but her bright tone sounded forced. ‘Yes indeed!’

She watched in silence as he fashioned a makeshift spit out of stout sticks. When the meat was cooking over the flames, Quinn relaxed back against a tree. ‘And what photographs have you taken thus far in New Zealand, Miss Stanhope?’

The girl began talking of some of the sights she had photographed since her arrival in Hokitika a few weeks earlier. Quinn knew the town well, for it offered miners respite from the loneliness of the mountains and many diverse ways of losing all their hard-won gold. Like all ports and gold-mining towns, it was a rough and rowdy place and he wondered what the locals had made of this slip of a girl setting up her tripod in the main street. He wouldn’t have thought there was anything worth photographing, but it was clear she had a different way of looking at things – in all sorts of ways. Animation lit her face as she described her shots and the developing processes, revealing a passion surprisingly deep for an Englishwoman.

Quinn watched the small, vivid face under its weight of hair and as he listened to her lively explanations, he realised, with surprise, that he was experiencing an almost forgotten emotion – contentment. The forest about them darkened and the smell of roasting bird spiralled with the white smoke. When he rose to add another branch to the fire and turn the spit, Guinevere’s stomach rumbled. She blushed.

‘Oh, I do beg your pardon, Mr O’Donnell.’

Even as she spoke the words his own stomach complained loudly and they both laughed.

‘We’ll have some water. That’ll take the edge off,’ Quinn said, and went to the river where he filled their cups.

‘Thank you,’ she said, accepting her tin mug from him. ‘Have you noticed how delicious the water is here?’

‘I have. You can’t beat water straight down from the snow,’ he said, indicating with a jerk of his chin the mountain peaks which glowed ghostly against the black night. ‘Plus the constant topping up from the rain, of course.’

‘Isn’t it amazing just how much it rains? I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere that’s as wet as New Zealand.’

‘That’s because we’re on the West Coast. The east has far less rain,’ Quinn told her. ‘Fewer impossibly dense forests and fewer sandflies,’ he added with feeling as he slapped at the tiny insects that were the bane of all new settlers.

‘Fewer moa also, I suppose.’

The corner of his mouth lifted. ‘I fear so. Not so much gold around Christchurch either come to that.’

She heaved a theatrical sigh and leaned forward to stir the flames. ‘Then we are stuck here, are we not, Mr O’Donnell?’

‘’Twould seem so.’ He watched the glow of the flames warm her face, catching the lights in her eyes and suddenly this did not seem quite such a hardship. As she looked up, their looks tangled. Somewhere nearby, an owl hooted.

‘Right! Let’s see if that bird is ready now.’ He knew he’d sounded abrupt.

Guinevere turned away as though the fire was suddenly too hot and said, ‘I do hope so. I’m famished.’

The slight tension dissolved as they devoured the weka and Quinn was surprised at how much a little thing like her could put away.

‘That was heaven,’ said Guinevere at last, licking her fingers and leaning back against a log with a satiated sigh, while he washed his knife and plate and rolled up his pack again. ‘Mr O’Donnell, that was the best meal I’ve ever eaten.’

‘’Tis just hunger.’ He laughed dismissively but was pleased.

‘Oh, no, it is not! I was very hungry last night too but I still noticed the bread was stale and the cheese mouldy.’

She was clearly not used to or prepared for the outdoors. Well, she wouldn’t be, would she? Her camp was crude. There was a strange black tent, but she had also strung up a fly, which was not set right and couldn’t have stopped much of the morning dew. Some bracken had been piled up but it looked ragged and uninviting, even to a man used to sleeping on the hard ground. Worst of all, she didn’t understand the country she was in.

‘You mustn’t be sleeping here tonight, Miss Stanhope,’ he said.

‘Mustn’t?’

He didn’t heed her tone. ‘No. ’Tis coming on to rain.’

She looked purposefully up at the clear, star-studded sky. ‘Indeed?’

Still he did not pay sufficient attention to the underlying edge. ‘These rivers come up to a flood quick as a flash and this morning I saw a dam on the upper reaches of this river – not much is holding it up, just a fallen tree and some bushes. ’Twon’t take much to dislodge them and then all the waters will be pouring down and you’ll be swept away.’

She looked at the wide but shallow river flowing over the stones in the light of the half moon. ‘Hmm.’

‘Best move you up onto higher ground. I’ll camp nearby to see you are safe.’

She tilted her head and looked at him down the length of her small, straight nose. ‘Thank you, Mr O’Donnell, but it simply isn’t necessary or possible. I cannot move my equipment at night. That tent there is the mobile darkroom that my father designed. It’s one of a kind and irreplaceable. What if it should get damaged in the dark? And if I should stumble when carrying the plates or camera, they would break because they are very fragile.’

‘They’ll be a lot more broken if the flood comes.’

‘What makes you so sure it will rain?’

He hesitated for the night was clear. ‘There’s a smell when rain is about to come.’

‘I cannot detect anything beyond the usual smells of the forest.’

He was tempted to tell her that was because she was a pampered young woman, raised in a big house where maids shut the windows at the first hint of rain. However, he was reluctant to destroy the amicable feeling that had grown between them.

‘You haven’t had any experience,’ he said, then tried to placate. ‘’Tis not your fault. I’ve just done more of this sort of thing. Your life has been sheltered and you wouldn’t know …’ he faltered as he saw quite another type of storm gathering in her face. ‘If you’d just listen to reason,’ he added, reasonably enough. Her eyes flashed gold in the firelight. ‘Listen to reason! If you only knew how much I loathe that expression and loathe the men who have applied it to me these past two months since my father died. “Lady Guinevere, you cannot remain alone in New Zealand, listen to reason. You cannot seek the moa alone, listen to reason. Go home and find a nice husband, listen to reason!” It’s eighteen hundred and sixty six for goodness sake, not the Dark Ages! I’ve had my fill of men telling me what to do and where to go and I refuse to have some man laying down the law to me in the middle of nowhere.’

Quinn’s own temper ignited. Hell, she was a real lady. The English were bad; the aristocracy even worse. No wonder she was such a haughty little piece. He rose, damned if he was going to stay for any more insults. ‘I can see you’re quite beyond reasoning with—’ he began with dignity, but she cut in.

‘You aren’t reasoning with me, you’re telling me!’

‘I’m trying to help you for your own good, woman.’

‘That’s what all men say. It’s quite insufferable.’

‘Well, I’ll be on my way then.’ Quinn knew he sounded like an aggrieved child, but Guinevere was just as bad.

‘That’s fine. I can manage perfectly well on my own, thank you.’

Quinn swung his pack on his back and glowered down at her. She glowered back. ‘In that case, m’lady,’ he said, larding the word with contempt, ‘I’ll wish you a good night.’

He gave a little bow that mocked and saw with pleasure her flinch before he turned and disappeared into the trees.


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