Shakespeare's Dark Lady
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CHAPTER TEN


BEROWNE: A whitely wanton with a velvet brow,
With two pitch-balls stuck in her face for eyes;

Ay, and, by heaven, one that will do the deed,
Though Argus were her eunuch and her guard.

Love's Labour's Lost, Act III, Scene 1
William Shakespeare



Sunyata Ku lay hidden from view at the end of Cliffside Drive, a cul-de-sac at Little Dume, five miles north of the Colony in Malibu. The Japanese-style house with its moat, curling tiles, and ceramic fishtail at every gable stood in the center, surrounded by a criss-cross of paths, bridges, and waterways. To most visitors it probably conjured up images of Japanese Samurai in their ancient strongholds. The moat at the front gave the place the appearance of a castle keep.

On summer evenings, Marcus had told him, a local Buddhist group came to sit zazen before a shrine in the grounds, where a variety of trees and shrubs flourished, never so profusely on the seaward side that they blocked the view of the ocean. A cedar that grew close to the northwest corner of the house held a solid balcony in its branches.

Daniel looked down at the place from the window of the executive helicopter that had brought him from Mendocino. Then the deck of the helipad came up to meet them, and they touched down in a circle of light studs. He straightened his tie and combed his hair with the fingers of one hand. He had to nab Marcus and talk about Polly Ann.

As the blades came to a standstill a Japanese valet appeared and opened the door, releasing the folding steps. Marcus stepped forward to grip his hand while the valet bowed and relieved him of his bag.

"Good to see you, Daniel. Welcome to Sunyata Ku."

The landing lights went off, and he saw a rooftop lit by particolored lanterns, red and green.

"I've got a surprise for you," Marcus said as Daniel stood watching the lantern show.

He turned--and looked into Amelia's shining eyes. She stood there in a sleeveless white dress, heart-rendingly beautiful against the backdrop of the Pacific. The lights spread a glow over her skin. He wrapped his arms around her.

"I'll leave you two alone for a minute." Marcus was already heading for a flight of stairs. "Feel free to come and join the party--separately. The papers may have linked you but it still isn't official."

"I'm only here for the weekend," she said. "I've got to be back Monday."

He took a step back. Looking into her green eyes, he wanted to ask her to marry him there and then.

"I want to fly with you," he said, "anywhere."

"You will," she said in a half-whisper that turned into a blown kiss. "You'd better go meet the media."

He willed himself to go, but not a muscle in his body obeyed. She was there right in front of him, and he could not leave.

"God, I love you," he said in a choked voice.

She stood on tiptoe and touched her lips to his. "Only you," she said into his mouth.

Down the stairs he found himself on a terrace between two streams. Marcus appeared from the shadows and guided him over a willow-pattern bridge in the direction of the sea.

"I asked Amelia to fly out for the party-thought you deserved it. Take my advice and stick to her like glue. They don't come any closer to perfection."

Was that a hint or a warning? He wanted to bring up the subject of Polly Ann, but Marcus was reeling off the names of top journalists in attendance. A delicious aroma was wafting in from the terrace. He followed Marcus in the direction of the house.

Steam rose from the pools of an indoor cascade and disappeared through a suction vent hidden in foliage. In the atrium that surrounded the pool at the bottom, guests dressed upscale-casual were drinking and nibbling sushi against the drone of cocktail flummery.

Amelia was talking over her glass. She glanced in Daniel's direction, then returned her attention to a small bearded man who looked as though he were trying to bury his nose in her bosom. No one noticed Daniel's arrival, but then no recent photos of him--so far as he knew--had been published. Marcus introduced him to Jody Javitts of the San Francisco Chronicle. A few heads turned, and from the heightened ripple of conversation he knew he'd been identified.

In the next half-hour he was presented to each of the guests, many of them staff from the two arms of Marcus's empire. On meeting the third Rostrum employee from the Santa Monica office, a Wharton MBA, he marveled at the way the Shakespeare Search had taken off so smoothly in so short a space of time. This one was Belgian Eurotrash with all the airs and graces of a smarmy investment banker.

People had begun to drift outside to the hibachi barbecues. He followed but was buttonholed by a woman who introduced herself as Debbie Armitage, a medical reporter from ABC Television.

"Are the rumors true about you and Lawrence Hungerford's daughter? I see she's here tonight."

"Do I look the type?" His face gave nothing away except a smile.

Immediately he found himself in the firing line of four more reporters. The questions ranged from trivial to searching, but mostly they were aimed at his personal life or the contents of Shakespeare's grave. He sidestepped them all.

Some time later Marcus rescued him and took him off in search of another drink.

"How's it going?"

"For a bunch of medical reporters they seem to want to know a lot about my love life."

"That's journalism."

"Marcus, there's something I need to talk to you about. And I'd also like to talk to Amelia at some point, if that's possible?"

"So long as it's in private, feel free. I've put you in adjoining rooms. One word of caution, though--stay here, where the security's good. There's a lot of muscle around Sunyata Ku, but I can't guarantee your safety outside these walls."

"You always talk about security as though my life depended on it."

"Daniel, this isn't England. You see those reporters in there? They're the civilized ones. So what do you think the guys from the other end of the media world might do to you?" He looked into his glass of Aqua Libra and swizzled the ice cubes with a finger. "Besides, God only knows who else might like a word with you in private apart from the FBI and Scotland Yard. The big biotech corporations? Some sicko with AIDS? Do you think you can be as famous as you've become and walk down Main Street unrecognized?"

Daniel gulped down the remains of his drink and lifted a glass of champagne from a passing tray. The picture behind the patter might be blurred, but he was beginning to see where Marcus was headed.

"Okay, I get the message--step outside and I could upset the Rostrum's money-making applecart. You know, Marcus, I don't scare easy. And I'm going to find that vaccine. Without your help if necessary."

"Jesus Christ thought he'd save the world, and look how he spent his Easter vacation."

Was this quicksilver reply some kind of Jewish joke? He was about to laugh when he realized the next day was Good Friday.

"Listen, Daniel, Lawrence agrees with me it's better if you don't take any chances. We can look after you, yes, but only up to a point. . . ."

"I'm glad to know Lawrence is still alive."

He wished like hell he hadn't said it. He should be bringing up Polly Ann, not antagonizing the one man who could help. . He wished he hadn't been drinking champagne for over an hour. Everything was happening at once: Polly Ann pleading to come with him before the verdict of negativity could be pronounced on her, Amelia showing up, the relentless reporters. . . .

They reached a statue of a dragon that stood guarding the end of the path, and he steadied himself against its tail. The heavy scent of mimosa filled the air and choked him up with some childhood memory he couldn't lay hold of.

He took a deep breath. He would bring up Polly Ann. Now.

"Marcus, there's something. . ."

He turned to make eye contact. Not possible-at least, not now. Marcus was nowhere in sight.

It was a short distance back to the atrium. His hand trembled, spilling a little of the remaining champagne. Inside, the first person to catch his attention was Amelia. He could hardly miss her. She was standing on a staircase that seemed to sway beside the top of the cascade, a glass in each outstretched hand. Her hair was a mess.

"Jesus, she's pisseder than I am."

At first she eyed him blearily, then she waved. He started toward the stairs and felt a restraining hand on his sleeve. Marcus, of course. Where'd he come from?

"Leave her to herself for a while," Marcus said. "Remember, you're not supposed to be with her."

Amelia tossed her empty glasses into the waterfall and blew a double-handed kiss in Daniel's direction. A few guests glanced at her and then quickly away. A woman laughed nervously.

He stood rocking back and forth, looking helplessly at Marcus. Then came the dispensary of oblivion: the champagne tray. He switched his empty glass for a full one and glanced back at Amelia.

Her white dress was stained, no doubt from spilled liquor . The staircase had no banister, and she looked as if she might trip into the water at any moment.

"Stop her, Marcus." His tongue was thick.

"Let her do her number. It'll burn out. I've seen it before."

"The woman's mad, you know." The words came without bidding, from the back of his throat.

"Not necessarily. Just mad enough about something to get really drunk. You go outside and talk to people and leave her to me. I'll get her to her room."

With a last look at Amelia--sitting legs parted on the top step with her dress high enough to reveal her panties--he headed for open air, miserably drunk. A woman in a kimono passed with a tray of champagne, and he helped himself to another.

"How does it feel to be a wanted man?"

The owner of the voice was a cute-faced brunette in jeans and a white sweatshirt on which, emblazoned in red, were the words Honi soit qui Malibu.

"Are you one of the journalists?"

"No, I'm on staff at the Rostrum office. I liaise with the Cherubs at the temple on public relations. My name's Charlene, but my friends call me Charlie." She wrapped one hand around his . "I feel as though I know you already, my work connects so much with yours. Mind if I call you Daniel?"

"Why not?"

"I like you, Daniel, and I've done you a favor. I let Amelia know about your relationship with Polly Ann."

He choked over his drink. "You what?"

"Martha called me today and asked me to do it. She and I talk on the phone most every day."

With that she struck off in the direction of the tree balcony. He stumbled after her and caught up with her, ten feet above ground, leaning on the railing. The mellow fog in his head was dissolving slowly.

"Why the hell should Martha want Amelia to know--even if it was true, which it isn't?"

"Listen, Daniel , I know when something like that is true. If you don't understand women better than that by now, you're never going to understand them. I like you. I thought I'd tell you and give you time to think things over before your fine lady tells you herself."

She gave him a cheery smile from halfway down the ladder. "Marcus knows, of course. He understands these things. Oh, by the way. . . I was Joshua's disciple once."

He lurched along the path to the atrium as he tried to work it out. His head wasn't so furred with alcohol that he couldn't think. Marcus must have set him up. Charlie and her big mouth were Marcus's doing. No doubt he'd even set up Polly Ann to try to get him laid in Mendocino. Did Marcus fancy Amelia; did he want to break them up? He was glad he'd resisted the urge to sleep with Polly Ann, but what use was that if no one believed him?

Christ, what a shit heap he'd landed himself in. Time to bail out. He seized the arm of a valet. People drifting by looked like actors in a 30s Technicolor movie. Seen pie-eyed, the colors weren't quite right. Another kimono offered him yet another glass of champagne. He put his empty glass on the tray and shook his head.

The elderly Japanese showed him to his room. He found his bag on a stand, the door through to Amelia's room unlocked. She lay naked on the bed, out for the count. Had Marcus undressed her?

A sprig of pink cherry blossom was on the night table. He picked up the matching card and read the message, penned neatly in black ink:

Tare ka Shiru toki enro ni

Betsu ni koshiryo dru Koto o?

Who can know that far off in the misty waves

Another more excellent realm of thought exists?

He turned the card over and read a second message: The Gates of Dharma are open.

More of Marcus's mystic bullshit? He dropped the card.

"Amelia, wake up."

When she didn't stir, he shook her gently by the shoulders. "Jesus, woman, wake up, will you?"

She groaned and half opened her eyes. They focused on him.

"You bastard." The effort to speak made her cough.

He grabbed her dress from a chair and threw it on the bed. "It's all a pack of lies."

"What're you doing?"

"Don't ask, just get up and get your clothes on."

He helped her unsteadily into her dress. No panties. Her shoes she managed for herself.

"Quick, tell me how you got here."

"Rented a car at the airport."

"Where is it? And where are the keys?"

"It's outside, I guess. The keys are. . . "

She managed to open her overnight bag, rummaged inside and nodded. He paused only to pick up his bag before heading through the French windows to the balcony. Amelia weaved after him.

The noise of the party came from around the corner of the house. He leaned against a rail to get his bearings, took her free hand, and guided her down the spiral staircase to the garden. Angling in and out between shrubs and along a flagstoned path, he half led, half dragged her in the direction of the wall. The climb looked impossible until he found a tree.

"This is an asshole thing to be doing in the middle of the night," she mumbled from a distance of two inches, lying face to face with him along the top of the wall.

"Shhhhh."

He pointed in the direction of a guard in a black jacket following a German Shepherd. When man and dog disappeared he breathed freely again. Amelia was already lowering herself to the ground.

"You drive, you lying son of a bitch." She delved into her bag and tossed him a key attached to a Hertz tag.

He threw the bags into the back of the Chrysler and sank into the driver's seat. Amelia was already bundled in. Her dress was filthy.

"Where to?" she said. "I just want to sleep."

"Mendocino." He revved the engine. "Then England."

He checked the clock. His head was slightly clearer now but he still had to fight to stay awake at the wheel. And what could be the mother of all headaches was starting to build. By the time they reached Oxnard he had attained a modicum of sobriety, and by Santa Barbara he was getting some perspective on what had happened.

He pulled into an all-night station and filled the gas tank.

Amelia slept on, twisting fitfully in her seat from time to time. He checked and rechecked his rearview mirror: still no one in pursuit.

Thank you, Janey.

The only noise was the rumble of tires and the hum of the engine. The dials in front of him were easier to see. The clock said 11:40. A car coming the other way blinded him, sending a sharp pain to his head. At least the headache had gone into retreat.

What did he have in common with Lawrence, Marcus and Joshua? Chutzpah, maybe; that and an articulate sense of his own destiny, however mercurial the twists and turns it followed. He wiped his lips and rechecked the mirror. Never mind William bloody Shakespeare. If he could just get out of this mess in one piece. . . .

Amelia hadn't found the Dark Lady yet. That much he'd gathered on the phone the week before. Now he conjured up a beautiful woman with penetrating black eyes . . . Black Jenny . . . an aristocrat, if Amelia was on the right track. Who was the Friend in the sonnets who stole the Dark Lady from Shakespeare and bedded her? Who was the Rival Poet who competed in verse for her favors? Who was Mr. W.H. in the sonnets' weird dedication if not Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, with his initials reversed? These thoughts flashed by like the odd car heading the other way.

Santa Barbara was far behind, and there was no sign of pursuit. The speedometer read seventy. So he had been set up. And poor sweet Polly Ann. . . . Maybe he could get into the holy bloody city over the wall. . . .

Amelia was still asleep when they reached San Luis Obispo, at 1:05. He swung off, following the signs for Morro Bay, where surely he could pick up the coast road. A car in the slow lane blared its horn when he cut in front of it. Must have been in his blind spot.

A sign: San Simeon. The road had been following the coast for some miles. Lights to the left identified a Holiday Inn among a group of motels. The highway climbed, enshrouding them in mist one minute and releasing them the next.

He slowed down. Everything was ghostly. Killer curve, huge bright eyes looming out of the fog, headed straight for him. He pulled the wheel over. The other car swerved and was gone, but the Chrysler fish-tailed and he had to fight for control.

It wasn't the first time he struggled to master the serpentine chicanes of the road linking San Luis Obispo with Monterey. Amelia slept on. At 2:20 the fog cleared abruptly. He gasped at the sight of faintly moon-lit rock walls tumbling into the sea, sheer from the lip of the highway.

Mist closed in again. He kept his speed down. It was getting chilly, and he switched on the heat. With the touch of warm air Amelia stirred and opened her eyes.

"Where are we?"

"Monterey's coming up next."

"That's dumb. You've taken the slow way."

"Why don't you drive, then?"

Another tailspin. The car shimmied and slewed and almost ended up crashing against the steep bank on his right.

He blanched and concentrated on his driving. He knew why he hated to see her drunk--it brought out something of Lawrence in her, something tough and unpleasant. . . almost masculine. Yes, that was it, uncaring and masculine. As if she were entitled to anything she wanted by some kind of divine right.

He asked himself whether he could spend the rest of his life with this woman. With soft Amelia, yes. Only just. With hard unfeeling Amelia the answer was a categorical no, unless he wanted to end up ball-broken, forever battling for her commitment in a war that couldn't be won

A sign showed out of the mist on the left: Esalen Institute.

She sat up, rubbed her eyes and yawned. "Marcus picked up a lot of his ideas there."

"When was that?" Anything to try and repair the broken bridge.

"Way back after he threw in Scientology. Alan Watts rescued him and turned him on to Zen." Then she added, "I had a relationship with Marcus, in case you wondered.

All he could say was, "Is it over?"

She hesitated. "Yes."

Sure.

"Who ended it?"

"I did. Maybe it fulfilled his need for rejection. No one ever seemed to reject him."

"Was he a good lover?"

"That's classified."

"You've got to tell me." He shut his eyes for two seconds, gripping the wheel harder. He made his voice even. "Isn't he supposed to have a reputation as a lover?"

"The performance is even better."

"I'm totally awestruck," he managed to say as he swerved across the road.

"Why don't you shut the hell up?"

For a moment he had no qualms about hurting her. That woman Charlie was trying to bust them up for Marcus.

"Do you think you could tell me where you think we're driving to right now?"

"To see Joshua." No mention of Polly Ann.

"I probably know Joshua as well as you do--or better," she said.

"You didn't tell me you knew him." He was going hoarse.

"Do I have to tell you everything?"

"How do you know him?"

A pause. "Marcus took me there last summer."

"After you met me?" He glanced over at her and saw tears running down her cheeks. "After you met me, goddammit?"

"Yes, goddammit. And no, goddammit, I didn't go to bed with Joshua. Or Marcus, after I met you" She was crying too hard to talk. She got a tissue from her bag, blew her nose and mopped at her eyes. "Nobody, goddammit, after I met you! Nobody for the last goddamn six weeks while you and that bimbo from Berkeley . . .Oh, shit, what's the use?"

"Listen to me, Amelia. She isn't some bimbo, she's a very sweet very young girl. Marcus set me up to-oh, hell, it's too complicated to explain right now. But my relationship with the nonbimbo is platonic."

She didn't say she believed him, but a few minutes later she had stopped crying. She laid a hand on his knee, lightly, just as he caught sight of lights and a sign off to the right: Deetjen's Big Sur Inn. The car had already passed the redwood cabins lurking in the mist. He suddenly felt too exhausted to go another mile. He found a place to turn at a sweeping bend, and the car crunched to a halt facing a wooden sign at the side of the road. He peered at the inscription: NEPENTHE LUNCH COCKTAILS DINNER

THE PHOENIX SHOP

He backed up a few yards and completed his turn.

"Going somewhere?" She took her hand from his knee.

"Not tonight."

He drove back to the inn and parked out of sight of the highway, behind a one-light cabin that looked like the reception.

A girl with fuzzy auburn hair stirred in an armchair behind the desk.

"Hi, I'm Lisa. Are you checking in?"

She looked about Amelia's age.

"Had a no-show last night, you can have the Antique Room. Ninety-four dollars--cash, no cards. Checkout time's noon."

Amelia was huddled against the car, shivering despite the sweater she wore on top of her dress. When the girl and Daniel stepped out of the office, she followed them to a cabin with a Scandinavian-style interior. Above a double bed was a book-filled shelf. The girl held open the door to a second bedroom, then went over to a wood-burning stove laid with kindling and struck a match. In half a minute the flicker of fire brightened the room.

"May your fire burn forever," the girl said and was gone.

He went to the car and retrieved their baggage. When he returned, Amelia's shoes were scattered across the floor. She lay sprawled over the double bed as if staking claim to sole occupancy for what was left of the night.

There seemed little choice but to take the single bed next door. Pinned above the headboard was a picture of Blanchard, the French balloonist. Much of the cramped room's space was filled by the standing-room-only bathroom that could only have been added as a guilty afterthought.

Despite his exhaustion he was awake for a few minutes in the too-short bed, imagining Marcus and Amelia going at it like rabbits. . . .She had once said something about Othello. Was that him? Insanely jealous? In Cissy, didn't he damned well have his own private Iago?

The real question was: Did he believe his sweet Desdemona?

Or was the real question: Who else had she screwed since she met him?

Daniel woke up first the next morning. It was just after sun-up, and though his head was thick as mud he felt ready to go along with what he assumed was his unspoken agreement with Amelia: he wouldn't ask questions about Marcus, she wouldn't ask about Polly Ann. He went through to the other room, shook Amelia and opened the back window to let in fresh air. She rolled over with a groan as he disappeared to take what turned out to be a gnat's piss of a shower.

Ten minutes later, having popped six P's, he was back in clean clothes, feeling sluggish but alive. Amelia sat at the edge of the bed, head in hands. He was about to ask if she'd like some of the make-your-own coffee by the stove when he noticed her eyelids, red-rimmed and drooping.

Somehow he'd come to think of her as impervious to hangovers. She looked like nothing on earth, her hair a lifeless mop, her eyes lusterless. He forgot about coffee, reached out and wiped a fleck of dirt from her cheek.

She made a listless attempt to stand, then sank back down. He went to the front window and peeped from behind the curtains. A red Chevy Blazer was parked next to the Chrysler. It hadn't been there when they arrived. Not a human being in sight. Five minutes later he was still there when he felt something hot at his shoulder-a cup of strong black coffee Amelia then urged into his hands like a peace offering.

"Let's take a walk," she said. "The air will clear our heads. Maybe we can figure out how to get out of this mess."

She sipped away at her coffee, then put it down to go wash and change out of the wreck of her dress. He watched her naked through the bathroom door--the quick wobble of her breasts as she brushed her teeth up and down in a finishing frenzy. She put on a khaki shirt and slacks, added a crimson sweatshirt, and gratefully accepted his help in putting on a pair of Reeboks she pulled from her bag.

They stepped outside. Ahead of them lay a trail up into the redwoods with a stream trickling past. After a hundred yards they stopped and looked around, Amelia explaining the geography of Big Sur as if to remind him she'd been in the area before. If Marcus had sent anyone after them, there was no sign. He trekked on, Amelia a few paces behind. Whenever he glanced back she was looking up, down, to the left, anywhere but at him. .

They stopped at a sign: Drawe Canyon Trail. Already the way was steeper. Against the bird calls and running water, the only sound was their footsteps, solid on the morning earth, as they zig-zagged through the redwoods that filled both sides of the canyon. He was already covered in a film of sweat. Amelia, who had fallen back, caught up with him beside a sign marked "Trail Happy."

When they reached a redwood that lay fallen over the gully, he went first and turned on the far side to watch her cross. Almost up with him, she slipped. His arm shot out to grab her and she slid onto her knees, clutching his sweater.

The other side was a scramble up a gradient of damp earth coated with rotting leaves. Beyond the redwoods at the outer edge of the canyon grew bay laurels and tanbarks. From somewhere came a rasping sound: the staccato call of a pair of black-crested stellar jays. The trees were thinning out but the rich undergrowth made the going slow. Amelia was some yards behind, covered in dirt.

While he waited for her he tugged off his sweater and tied it by the sleeves around his waist. The air had an aromatic texture not just from the trees but from clumps of gray-green sagebrush that began where the tree line petered out, a rich scent that grew stronger as they climbed. When they reached a barbed-wire fence that blocked their way, he held two strands wide apart for her to wriggle through, then followed unaided. As he scrambled under the wire she turned and laughed until she coughed at the sight of him strung out horizontal. He made it through, though not without a long tear in his shirtsleeve, and hurried to catch up with her.

Behind them the hazy ocean filled the horizon beyond the trees and the invisible highway. He felt exhilarated. His watch showed they'd been on the move forty minutes. Ahead lay a scrubby hillside patched with sagebrush and, here and there, rocky outcrops. One hand waved her on, indicating the ridge a few hundred yards above.

She spoke for the first time in twenty minutes. "You go ahead. I'm going to answer a call of nature first tree off the trail."

"I'll wait for you at the top."

He pushed on, grappling with gnarled sagebrush, using it as handhold or foothold. He looked back down for Amelia, but she hadn't yet made it into view. He was soaking with sweat. He traversed the slope to make the going easier, panting toward a ridge that never seemed to materialize. When he looked behind him he lost his footing, stumbled, grabbed a clump of sagebrush. He spun on its axis, and his head hit a spur of rock.

Slightly stunned, he waited to catch his breath before picking himself up. Still no sign of Amelia. It was an effort just to look around.

There were more outcrops of rock, lichen-covered. He dropped to all fours, clawing his way across those last yards to the ridge that staggered against the sky. His chest knotted. He prayed for Janey to keep him going and make everything all right, but he couldn't feel her presence.

There was a moment when he thought he was going to black out, then he saw that the finishing line was just ahead. He mustered a final sprint forward, tripped on a stone that sent him sprawling on his belly.

When he raised his face from the grass he heard the chirping of a cricket and the plangent cries of birds. He could taste the smell of the sagebrush and the trees, even the ocean air.

He pulled himself to a sitting position and struggled to unknot his sweater. The sun was high. He had the impression that Amelia put an arm around his neck and laid a drowsy head on his shoulder, her hair faintly redolent of the shampoo he could never name. He looked down at his earth-stained shoes and fancied his feet belonged to someone else. The rush of adrenaline and the clean air were invigorating, and he tethered himself to the grass with stiff fingers lest he float away.

The real Amelia was nowhere in evidence. A cabin stood off to the right along the ridge. A tree-filled valley stretched beyond where he sat with what had to be the Ventana Wilderness for a backdrop. Marcus was right. It wasn't England.

He crawled back a few yards the way he'd come. No sight or sound of Amelia.

In the distance he heard a branch breaking and spun around. Nothing. The stillness was disturbed only by the jays' cries and squawks. He got to his knees, breathing hard, then to his feet and advanced on buckling legs toward a solitary tree. With a groan he flopped down at the foot of the trunk and rolled onto his back.

Where in God's name was she? He stared up at the sun streaming overhead between the leaves, a dancing blur. When he raised his right hand to blot out the flickering light, his fingers were crawling with red ants. Without dropping his hand he flicked it backward and forward to shake them off.

Was he spinning or was it the sun?

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