1816 had already begun to be known as the Year Without a Summer.
A hard, cold rain fell nearly constantly. On the few days when it stopped for an hour or two, the gloomy and overcast skies lingered, and there was a chill in the air more suitable to mid-December than late July. Robert, who had anticipated sitting out in the Rose garden during the summer months, remained confined indoors like everybody else. He sat in the drawing room of his sister’s home, watching the rain run in rivulets down the windowpanes while Maria and her guests played whist.
“I received a letter from Captain Doyle some weeks ago.” Maria’s friend Mrs. Doyle arranged her cards in her hand. “He says there is ice on the rivers in Massachusetts. The Americans were skating on Midsummer’s Day.” There was a round of ladylike laughter. Out of the corner of his eye, Robert saw Maria pick up a card and add it to her hand.
“Robert had a letter from his friend Lieutenant Burgess of the Dauntless,” Maria said. She glanced in Robert’s direction, but he ignored her. “He is off the coast of Ireland, and he said it has poured rain daily since the first of May.” That was the only part of John’s letter Robert had shared with his sister, not that there had been much worth hiding. Robert had not expected reams of love and longing, but he had expected more than the terse note he had received. John had not even mentioned whether Robert’s presence was missed aboard ship. “Isn’t that right, Robert?”
Robert turned away from the window and looked at Maria. Her dress was dark blue, a shade that bordered on marine. That, coupled with the white frill at her collar, put Robert in mind of the naval uniform he’d worn for over a decade. The uniform John Burgess still wore aboard the Dauntless.
“The Irish crops are ruined,” Robert replied, quoting from John’s letter. “There are fears of a great famine. I hardly think that is a topic for drawing room conversation, but clearly you are of a different opinion, madam.”
Maria’s friends, fellow naval wives Mrs. Doyle and Mrs. Hamilton and Maria’s sister-in-law, Mrs. Finch, exchanged uneasy glances. “You must miss being at sea, Mr. Pierce,” Mrs. Doyle finally said. “I know my Alfred is forever restless when he’s forced to be at home.”
“Indeed, Mrs. Doyle.” There was nothing more to be said. Robert rearranged the blanket on his lap and turned back to the rain-soaked window.
Maria Burke-Henry was the wife of a captain, the daughter of a late admiral, the sister of a former second lieutenant, and, most recently, the mother of a fourteen-year-old midshipman. She was well acquainted with the ways of navy men. She left Robert alone for the rest of the day, but that did not lull him into believing it would be a long-term respite.
Sure enough, after supper, as they sat huddled in front of a roaring fire in the drawing room, Maria looked up from her needlework and said, “Have you considered marriage, Robert?”
Robert drew his eyes away from the leaping flames, licking like red tongues at the splintering wood around them. A painted fire screen kept the sparks safely away from the hearth and the carpet. “If I am becoming a burden to you, madam, I am certain I could make a living begging on the streets of Portsmouth. The pity of fellow sailors alone should keep me in bread and beef.” Perhaps. Sailors were nothing if not superstitious, and a “there but for the grace of God” mentality might benefit Robert if it came to that.
Maria shook her head, her curls bouncing. “Don’t be ridiculous, Robert. You know I love to have you with me, particularly now that little Georgie is at sea.” Maria sighed, but the thought of her midshipman son was evidently not enough to turn her mind from the subject at hand. “There is nothing to keep you from taking a wife now.”
“Apart from the minor inconvenience of my infirmity.” The same infirmity had ripped Robert away from the only adult life he’d ever known, away from the sea and the waves and his bosom friend John Burgess, now first lieutenant aboard His Majesty’s frigate Dauntless.
“You have a little money from Father’s will,” Maria explained, as if he did not know it. She smiled. “And you are a handsome man. As much as it pains me to say it of my little brother, the site of your amputation was not high enough to eliminate every woman’s interest.” Robert blinked, shocked that such a saucy implication would come from his refined, well-mannered sister. He should not have been so surprised; a lifetime around sailors had contributed to Maria’s education in more ways than one. “Mrs. Doyle has a younger half-sister,” she went on. “Miss Walker. She’s a pretty little thing, and she has been out for nearly a year. I would be pleased to introduce you at the upcoming masque.”
“I thought the purpose of a masque was to hide one’s identity.” Not that it would be possible for Robert, even if he went to the blasted thing. Mrs. Doyle did not have the acquaintance of many one-legged men.
“Only if you fear rejection in your usual state. Mrs. Doyle and I both feel there is slim chance of that happening to you.”
Robert shook his head. Maria had been good to him since his injury, better than a cantankerous bastard like him deserved, but this was a direction that would not end well for anybody. “I am not interested in marriage.”
“Neither was I,” Maria answered bluntly, pulling her needle through her embroidery hoop. “But Captain Burke-Henry and I have found happiness together. I only want the same for you.” Maria’s happiness, in this case, had been a lifetime of separation from her husband. For the majority of their marriage, Maria had been left in England to raise her children alone and wonder if she would ever see their father again. If that was true bliss, then Robert already possessed it, stuck as he was in his sister’s rain-drenched house, miles away from the sea he craved and the man he loved.
“Leave it be, Maria,” was all Robert could say. Maria pursed her lips, but she said nothing more. They sat in silence, the only sounds the popping of the fire and the rustling of the embroidery, until Maria’s daughter Jane appeared. She was a comely sixteen-year-old with golden hair and a figure any of His Majesty’s swabbies would have been overjoyed to see standing on the Portsmouth docks. At her mother’s urging, Jane sat in front of the harpsichord. As she began to pluck out a sonata, Robert closed his eyes and let his mind drift to warmer times.
Like his father before him, Robert joined the Royal Navy as a boy midshipman, at the height of Bonaparte’s reign of terror. Robert’s early ships, the Clement and the Rose, saw as much action as any boy could want, but that did not make Robert happy. His father the admiral cast a long shadow. While Robert was spared the worst of the shipboard abuses for fear he might report the transgressors to the admiralty, he was also cut out of any camaraderie that took place below decks. He was a competent midshipman, but he was not liked by anyone. The captains and the lieutenants were afraid of Robert’s father, as were the rest of the crew. The other middies spoke to him only when necessary. In the midshipman’s mess, Robert sat alone. On shore leave, he always ended up drinking a few solitary pints in the corner of a tavern, watching his shipmates cavorting with local girls before slipping unnoticed back to the ship.
Robert suffered through six years of this strangely complete isolation at the heart of a crowded, heaving warship before Mr. Midshipman John Burgess arrived and changed his life forever.
It rained the day John came aboard the Rose. Sheets of icy water lashed against the ship, bouncing hard off the rails and the sodden deck. The miserable weather matched Robert’s mood. He stood in his greatcoat and bicorn hat, staring into the grey waters of the Spit and waiting for the newest midshipman to come aboard. Robert had no expectations about this new boy beyond that he would cold-shoulder Robert like all the rest did. A twinge of surprise, along with something else, twisted in Robert’s gut when John Burgess appeared on deck and turned out to be the most beautiful creature Robert had ever seen.
The new midshipman’s hair was a gorgeous sun-kissed gold even under the gloomy skies, tied back in a queue with a thick black ribbon. His eyes were bright blue, the color of the Mediterranean on a warm summer’s day. When he smiled, Robert could have sworn rain-soaked angels sang in the heavens above the Spit. “Midshipman John Hadleigh Burgess.” The boy grinned widely at Robert. Robert found himself curiously unwilling to say his own name, knowing that the smile would disappear as soon as Burgess discovered Robert was related to the great Admiral Sir George Pierce.
In any case, Robert was not offered the opportunity to introduce himself. Lieutenant Hutchins ordered Midshipman Brown to show Midshipman Burgess to his berth. Robert returned to his duties and did not see Burgess again until late that evening, when he was getting ready to retire to his hammock.
“Where have you been all day?” Burgess had removed his shoes and hose and sat in his hammock, berthed between Robert’s and the one belonging to Midshipman Purcell. Apart from Brown, dozing at the far end of the room, Burgess and Robert were alone.
“Doing my duty,” Robert replied. Afterward, as was his custom, he’d taken a book to the relative quiet of the orlop and read.
“I was looking for you,” Burgess went on, inexplicably. “I didn’t catch your name earlier.”
Robert stifled a sigh. “Robert Pierce.” He waited for the recognition to dawn on Burgess’s handsome face, and for him to withdraw like all the others. Instead, Burgess’s smile increased, until it was bright enough to light the dim berth. He leaned forward, as if about to impart a great secret, and said, “I’ve a mind for some mischief, Robert.” Robert blinked. “This ship seems entirely too taciturn for my liking,” Burgess went on. “What say you we liven things up a little?” He glanced over his shoulder at Brown, snoring in his hammock. “I reckon we can have him out of there in a trice without laying a finger on him. What do you think?”
Robert didn’t know what to think, let alone say. “Don’t you know who I am?” The query came out of his mouth before he could properly consider his words. It was an honest question.
Burgess shrugged. “You look like a fellow who enjoys a good time. If I’m mistaken, then I humbly beg your forgiveness and shall have to complete the mission alone.”
As Robert watched, Burgess crept quietly toward Brown’s bunk. The ship rocked and creaked as usual, but after years in the service, Brown was used to sleeping through these everyday noises. When he reached the head of Brown’s hammock, Burgess leaned down beside him, his mouth mere inches from Brown’s head. He looked at Robert with gleaming eyes and bellowed, “All hands to deck!” in a voice that could have easily carried across the gun decks in the heat of battle.
Brown leapt up, springing instantly awake with the habit of one who had been aboard ship for years. He wasn’t quick enough to keep himself from overbalancing. As Burgess predicted, Midshipman Brown flung himself out of his hammock and landed hard on the deck. Brown blinked in confusion for a moment, then caught sight of Burgess sniggering beside his hammock. “Damn you, Burgess!” Brown pulled himself to his feet and rubbed at the back of his neck. The look of affronted outrage on Brown’s face was so amusing, Robert found himself grinning. Burgess caught his eye across the berth and said, “It was Mr. Pierce’s idea, I can assure you.”
Brown turned his scowl on Robert. His face, likened by the other men to an affronted poodle’s when he yelled commands to his gun division in battle, was now screwed up like a bulldog’s. Robert laughed. He couldn’t help himself. Brown shook his head and clamored back into his bed. “Then I fear you both have a sense of humor that leaves much to be desired.” He fixed them with a glare and settled in the swinging hammock.
Robert watched, wondering what Burgess would do next, but evidently, the sport had finished for the moment. Burgess returned to Robert’s side and sat on the hammock. He fixed Robert with his clear blue gaze and said, “I think I shall enjoy serving on this ship very much indeed.”
He certainly seemed to. Mr. Burgess was diligent about his duties and a quick study when it came to the navigation and mathematics lessons. He was popular with the ratings and the officers alike. At nineteen, Burgess was only a year older than Robert, and Robert could tell already that he was destined for a great career in the navy.
“You’ll be taking your lieutenant’s exam soon,” Robert said one evening a few months later, as they sat side-by-side below decks somewhere off the coast of Spain. “The captain will no doubt recommend you for it.”
“Not soon enough,” Midshipman Purcell grumbled from his bunk, but there was a hint of teasing in his voice. “I for one am tired of him showing us up every time Lieutenant Carlisle poses a question of algebra. Don’t you agree, Pierce?” Purcell glanced at Robert. That was no longer an unusual occurrence. Being Burgess’s acknowledged friend seemed to cancel out any effects Robert’s parentage had on the other men. Since John’s arrival, Robert was no longer shunned by the others, but tolerated, and sometimes, as now, even sought out as an ally in jest. Robert was not always able to fulfill the role, but this time he smiled at John.
“It would be nice to have the chance to get a word in edgewise every now and then.”
In all seriousness, Robert knew the Rose wasn’t the ship for a man like John Burgess. He was destined for bigger and better things. As soon as they returned to Portsmouth, Robert was certain John would leave them. Robert wouldn’t blame him, although he would sorely miss him.
John shrugged and leaned back in his hammock. “Plenty of time for that.” He gave a relaxed sigh more suitable to a man reclining on a country estate far away from enemy lines. “I’m content enough here for the moment. Besides, I wouldn’t dream of going anywhere without my good friend Robert.” He winked broadly. Robert felt an inexplicable stirring in the depths of his stomach, something akin to the seasickness he hadn’t felt in six years. John looked away and the nausea subsided, leaving Robert confused and dissatisfied, yet also strangely pleased.
The next day, the Rose was attacked by a Spanish galleon. The crew fought gallantly, but the ship sustained heavy damage. Fourteen lives were lost, including that of Midshipman Harry Brown. As they stood on the deck, consigning Brown’s body and that of the other men to the sea, Robert let his eyes drift over to John Burgess, standing at rigid attention by his side. The sun reflected off the gold buttons on John’s marine blue uniform, and Robert saw a tear slide down the other man’s cheek beneath the shade of his bicorn hat.
If it had been possible, Robert would have reached out to comfort him. It was not, so he made do with sending a small smile his friend’s way. John smiled back, discreetly wiping his face while Midshipman Brown’s body splashed into the sea. Robert felt a surge of sadness; he and Brown had served together for years, and while they had never been friendly, since John had arrived, they had at least been civil to one another. The sadness was nothing, however, compared to the wave of silent relief Robert felt to have John alive and well beside him.
The Rose finally limped into port in Italy. Almost immediately, Robert and John were dispatched into town to find the supplies they needed, while the carpenters worked on the ship. Robert had been in Italy before and had a smattering of the language. John, for all his worldliness and experience, had never been there. Robert had the unique and exquisite pleasure of receiving John’s admiring gaze as he asked a passerby for directions, in Italian more halting than he would have liked to admit. The woman—young and beautiful, with nut-brown skin and thick waves of black hair—laughed musically. She reached out toward Robert.
“English sailors, no?” A ring on her finger glinted in the Mediterranean sun, and she seemed about to lay a hand on Robert’s sweating shoulder. He wasn’t sure what he would have done if that were the case. Fortunately, before she could reach him, a man—a husband or a father, Robert couldn’t tell which—appeared in the doorway behind her. Red-faced and cursing, he grabbed the woman by the arm and pulled her into the house. Gesticulating wildly, he seemed to reach for something behind the door. Neither Robert nor John waited to find out what it was: they took off running, their shoes slapping against the cobblestone street. When they rounded a corner, John darted into an alleyway and leaned, panting, against the wall. Robert felt as if his heart was about to explode, but he couldn’t help but smile at the impish grin on John’s face.
“I take it this is an escape you have made before, sir.”
John laughed aloud, which made Robert smile even wider. “A time or two, Mr. Pierce.” John took off his hat to wipe his brow. He glanced at the tall buildings on either side of the alleyway and at the sun filtering down through the lines of hanging garments. “Although I can’t fault the lady for her taste,” John added. “Were I she, I would most definitely prefer your obvious charms to that hideous old brute.” He leaned back against the brick wall, his eyes lazily moving the length of Robert’s body. The alley smelled of emptied chamber pots and garlic, but Robert’s heart swelled as if they were in the most romantic of circumstances. He turned away, afraid his face was flushing like that of a virginal girl.
“Come along.” Robert’s voice sounded unsteady to his own ears. He cleared his throat and, in a more determined tone, continued, “We have work to do.”
After some negotiation, they found a merchant willing to deliver several dozen casks of fresh water and a quantity of lemons to the Rose as she sat in the harbor. Robert was about to return to the ship when John rested a hand on his elbow.
“Captain Mackenzie does not expect us back before the morning.” It was true. The captain had authorized them to stay away overnight if necessary, but with their business out of the way, it hardly seemed required. John raised an eyebrow. “You can’t tell me you’re so enamored of the ship you can’t bear to spend a night away from her.”
Robert couldn’t. It had been four months since his last leave, and the thought of a night in a comfortable, stable bed held a great deal of appeal. “Perhaps there would be no harm in it.”
John clapped him on the shoulder. “That’s my boy.”
They found a quiet inn. It was old, with timbered ceilings made of weathered wood that looked like the inside of a ship. The elderly woman who ran the place was evidently used to hosting foreign sailors. She sat them on long benches in the kitchen, in front of a roaring fire that filled the already-warm room with an oppressive heat. Robert removed his hat and jacket and loosened the stock around his neck. Across the table, John’s face grew flushed from the heat and from the good brandy the woman provided once she learned they were English.
“Her son was saved from the sea by an English ship,” Robert explained, after a stilted conversation full of hand gestures. “I think that’s what she said, anyway.”
“Most fortunate for all of us, then.” John raised his glass in their hostess’s direction, and then in Robert’s. “To your continued good health, Mr. Pierce.”
“And to yours, Mr. Burgess.” They clinked their glasses together. Robert sipped the brandy, savoring the sensation as it burned down his throat and pooled warmly in his stomach. He looked at the spread the landlady had laid out on the table. It included a rich assortment of spiced meats and thick, delectable sauces, the likes of which Robert had not seen in many months. He was about to tuck into his plate when John said, “It’s a damn shame about Mr. Brown.” Robert nodded. It was a shame when any member of the crew was lost, and Brown had been the most experienced of the midshipmen aboard the Rose. “I don’t believe I will ever get used to it.”
“It is part of the service,” Robert replied. Death was an always unenjoyable, sometimes painful part of naval life, but it was inevitable. He speared a morsel of mutton and brought it to his lips. The sauce was spicier than he had anticipated and more flavorful than his tongue was ready for after months of salt beef and shipboard grog. He coughed and swallowed a mouthful of water to help the food down.
John looked at him over the rim of the brandy glass. “You grew up with this life, Robert. You know nothing else.”
Robert could not deny it. “I have been at sea since I was thirteen years old.” Even before then, Robert always knew where his destiny lay. His earliest memory was of sitting on his nanny’s knee in the nursery, looking at a painting of a ship on a roiling sea. He knew that was where his father lived—aboard a ship—and that it was where he, too, would one day be.
“The sea has been good to me,” John went on. “But I must admit there are times when I desire nothing more than to feel firm ground beneath my feet.” Robert felt the opposite. He could endure it, even enjoy it, for a day or two, but when he was too long on land, his soles fairly itched to be back on the water again. “Of course, there are certain earthly delights I miss more than others.” John wiggled his eyebrows.
Even without the suggestive expression, there was no mistaking his meaning. Unlike the vast majority of His Majesty’s ratings and a good many of His Majesty’s officers, Robert had never been tempted by the dockside doxies they encountered in every port. That did not mean he was without desire. He spent as much time furtively pleasuring himself in the depths of his hammock as any of the other boys. The difference was that before John Burgess’s arrival, Robert’s mind had always been completely blank during this act, too focused on bodily pleasure to provide images to go along with the sensations. In the last few months, however, Robert’s imagination had sprung to life; now when his hand strayed to his prick below his blankets, as often as not, pictures of John’s smiling, beautiful face or lithe body sprung to mind.
Not that he would ever admit it. Robert turned away and fixed his gaze on the delectable delicacies in front of him. He steadfastly ignored the one that sat across the table, sipping his brandy with a smirk on his face.
The old woman had half a dozen rooms to let, but Robert and John seemed to be her only guests. She led them to a small but comfortable bedroom on the back of the house. A fire had been laid in the grate, but it was not lit. There was a washstand against one wall and a window in another that looked out onto leafy trees. Best and most unexpected of all, the cushion atop the wide, wood-framed bed was filled not with straw but with soft feathers. Robert hung up his hat and jacket on a nearby hook and sat, savoring the sensation of a bed that yielded beneath his weight without threatening to knock him over.
Robert lay back and closed his eyes, his belly filled with good food and his head buzzing from good brandy. The bed was not quite long enough for him to stretch out full length. Letting his feet hang off the edge, he kicked off his shoes and wiggled his toes. It was heaven.
A moment later, the bed shifted under John’s weight as the other man sat beside him. Everyone shared beds while on shore leave; no one’s finances allowed them the luxury of a private room. Robert had never thought much about it. Before John, he had always returned to the ship at night, leaving the other mids to their drunken sport. He had shared a bed with various relatives at his father’s house when he was a child, and he expected this to be like that. He was about to jokingly ask whether John talked in his sleep or wet the bed when John leaned over and kissed him.
Robert’s eyes flew open in an instant, but all he could see was a lock of John’s blond hair falling down across his closed eyes. Robert raised his hands to John’s shoulders, but even he was unsure whether it was to push John away or draw him nearer. The question resolved itself the instant Robert’s hands touched the linen of John’s shirt. A bolt of lightning shot through Robert’s body. He pulled his friend closer, kissing back with what he hoped was enough enthusiasm to make up for his woeful lack of experience.
John was clearly experienced. Robert wondered briefly where John might have obtained his extensive knowledge before he was swept up in a fire of lust, stoked ever higher by the feeling of John’s hands on his back and John’s tongue sliding along his lips. The fire faltered a little when John pulled back, his face flushed and his breath coming in short gasps. He reached down to fumble with the buttons of Robert’s trousers, and when his hand touched Robert’s already eager hardness, Robert felt as if a bucket of icy seawater had been thrown over them both. “We can’t do this.” Robert’s voice was as unsteady as if he’d just run full tilt from one end of the deck to the other. “It’s….”
It was illegal. It was forbidden. If they were caught, they would certainly be hanged. Worse than that, it would bring unspeakable disgrace onto Robert’s family. This could ruin not only Robert’s life, but also the one his father had spent decades building. “We’re drunk,” Robert finished. Things would never have gone this far if they weren’t.
“Robert.” John blinked at him. His eyes were clear and focused, and he did not look at all like a man befuddled by liquor. “When they dropped Brown’s body into the sea, I realized that it could just as easily have been you. Or me.” John smiled, but it wasn’t his usual dazzling grin. It was shyer, more uncertain. Robert felt his heart stir at the sight of it. “I don’t want to waste any more of the time we have together. We can’t know when it might come to an end.” Truer words had never been spoken. Robert could not deny them. When John returned to him, dispensing with the buttons and sliding his hand into Robert’s drawers, he allowed it, despite his better judgment. Within seconds, his better judgment had disappeared entirely.
Robert came off with a rapidity he was sure would embarrass him when he was in a fit state to think about it. John’s rough, callused fingers had barely slipped around Robert’s prick when Robert saw a flash of blinding light behind his tightly closed eyelids. The painful happiness seemed to last forever, yet was still over far too quickly. When Robert finally opened his eyes, he saw John lying on the bed beside him, naked and with an impressive erection jutting up like a mountain from his groin. Robert licked his lips, nerves suddenly threatening to impinge on his fuzzyheaded bliss.
“You wouldn’t leave me like this, would you?” John grinned. Robert glanced down, taking in John’s impressive endowment as well as his own state of disheveled semi-undress.
“I should not disrespect the uniform of His Majesty’s Royal Navy in such a manner.” Robert’s father would have been appalled at the sight of it. Among other things.
John said nothing. Breathing deeply, and before he could lose his nerve entirely, Robert removed his wet, sticky trousers and tossed them over the back of a nearby chair. His instinct was to slouch, to hide his body from John’s gaze, but he forced himself to remain upright. He was rewarded by a lustful, longing look in John’s eyes.
Robert wanted to reach out, but he was suddenly uncertain of what to do next. Still smiling, John evidently took pity on him and said, “Let me make it a little easier.” He sat up, his golden body glowing in the dim candlelight. He unfastened his black ribbon, allowing his hair to fall to his shoulders. Then John stood shamelessly beside the bed, allowing Robert to drink in the sight of him as if he were a marble statue or a work of art.
It wasn’t an inaccurate comparison. Robert had seen other men’s bodies before, of course, when dressing or bathing. He had noticed them, surreptitiously casting darting glances in their direction, but none had been as beautiful as this. John’s skin was smooth and tanned, his chest and abdomen well muscled from all his work on the ship. Robert did the same work, but his body seemed most disinclined to improve itself. He was almost as thin and boyish now as he had been when he joined the service.
There were a number of marks on John’s skin, brown sunspots scattered across his stomach and around his hip. Robert was suddenly besieged by the urge to touch, to run his fingers over those marks and feel the firm skin beneath.
“It’s all right,” John said, as if he’d read Robert’s mind. “Go ahead.” His voice was calm and authoritative, the way he spoke to the ratings under his command. Robert was soothed, comforted, to know someone was in control. At the same time, he knew he had been given an order he had no wish to disobey.
Robert reached out. John was warm beneath his hand. As he ran his fingers over the sunspots, John’s prick bobbed between his legs. Robert hesitated for a moment, and then, gathering his courage as if he were about to scale the rigging to the fighting top, he reached over and took it in hand.
He had never touched another man like this. His heart beat so loudly he was certain the landlady could hear it downstairs, but he pressed on. John moaned softly when Robert’s hand closed over his prick, and his eyes slid closed. Taking that as encouragement, Robert began to move gently, remembering everything he liked and hoping John’s tastes were similar.
John lasted longer than Robert, but not much longer. He came with enthusiasm and a muffled cry, spurting erratically into Robert’s hand. What Robert didn’t manage to catch landed on the coverlet, seeping into the fabric. Robert was suddenly seized by panic. “We can’t leave that there. What if someone sees?”
Still panting breathlessly, John opened his eyes. There was a fond smile on his face, and he said, “Get some water.&r