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Updated: Jun 30, 2020

"Careful, I have a very jealous husband," she warned him with a smile.

British Raj, 1904

James looked up from his paper, startled.

The electric fan was poorly ventilating the humid air where he sat on the patio, the smoke from his thin cigar the only thing warding away the tiny gnats drawn to his coffee. He stared blankly for a moment before he blinked, trying to pull himself away from her eyes.

She gave him a forgiving smile, but the gesture only made her more alluring. “I said, do you mind telling me where the library is?” she repeated.

He finally broke out of his stupor, folding his newspaper before bolting to his feet. “Forgive me, miss, I seem to have lost my manners.”

He took her hand, finding it cool despite the midday heat. She was unusually tall, but he was at least a head taller, which still served his ego as he gave her an exaggerated bow to plant a kiss on hand. He struggled not to gape at her, finally understanding why poets call skin like hers porcelain, while trying to understand how a woman can have such dark hair and light eyes or be so tall and elegant without heels. “I would be happy to accompany you there,” he managed.

“That would be wonderful, thank you,” she nodded, lifting her lace parasol back up to shield her skin from the sun.

James left his smoldering cigar and paper, adjusting his jacket while he thanked the Lord above for sending such an attractive woman his way. She projected youth with her impossibly smooth skin and snake-bitten lips, but the way she carried herself offered up the idea that she was mature beyond her years. She was a far cry from the giggling young waifs who often threw themselves his way, especially before he left for India, attracted to his uniform just as much as they were his thick, black hair and strapping shoulders.

He felt a shiver creep along his neck when she took his arm, but it wasn’t unpleasant, almost giddy as he guided her inside the hotel. “Is there someone meeting you there?” he asked.

“Actually, I’m looking for a specific book,” she replied.

“A woman who reads,” he commented in surprise, a bit turned off by the notion.

She simply smiled as they continued on, drawing a few curious stares from the hotel patrons, including several of his fellow officers. He puffed up his chest as he walked by them, hoping the situation he currently found himself in would lead to a new story to tell over drinks.

“How long have you served in the army?” she interrupted his thoughts.

“Since the ripe ol’ age of eighteen,” James said proudly. “It will be five years, two of which have been spent stationed here.”

“Ah,” she nodded as her eyes took in the hotel, sweeping over the stately columns and potted plants, the richly dyed rugs that matched the punkah fans swinging above.

“So you know why I’m here, but what brings you to Calcutta?” he asked.

“Holiday,” she said simply, before she stopped in her tracks. “Forgive me, I’ve left my notebook up in my room. It has the title of the book I’m to find written down in it.”

“No problem, miss, I can walk you to your room,” he offered immediately. “I have the afternoon free today, so I don’t mind.”

She beamed up at him. “You are so kind. It’s up on the second floor.”

He nodded, now completely transfixed by her and the implications of going upstairs to her room. They climbed up the stairs to another, less populated lobby before traveling down a narrow hallway. He knew she was talking, but he wasn’t listening, overcome by the urge to kiss her, wondering what her lips would taste like. He stopped her as they rounded the corner, leaning in as close to her as he could without their bodies touching. “Has anyone ever told you how ravishing you are?”

“Careful, I have a very jealous husband,” she warned him with a smile, artfully dodging his advance.

“Husband,” he snorted. “I see no ring on your finger.”

“Well, he is technically dead,” she informed him, though the smile never left her lips.