Elizabeth slid off the wing with the help of a wide-eyed young lieutenant. It had been a long journey with many discomforts: storms at sea, delays caused by train derailments, and now by far the worst - a near plane crash. Adrenalin still fizzed in her veins. Next to her, Fiona was busy brushing the dust off her flying suit and combing her fingers through her hopelessly knotted bright red hair. Elizabeth knew she didn't look her best either and was in no mood to face a battalion of swarming men and a screaming fire engine.
The lieutenant enquired as to any injuries and been assured that they were only a bit rattled. Another, older officer strode through the gathering crowd.
How exotic looking, Elizabeth thought, and suddenly wished she wasn't so dishevelled. He had a tall, muscled physique, with very broad shoulders and was deeply tanned. Wavy black hair and a mustache graced features seemed carved from stone. His high cheekbones and aquiline nose conveyed a slightly Asian impression that was curiously belied by what were now angry blue eyes.
"Have you lost any sense you might have been born with? The airstrip is twelve miles due north. This is a military parade ground, not your private landing strip. Any number of my men could have been killed."
Instead of shrinking from his anger the lovely, delicate girl before him lifted her chin answering his challenge.
"But they weren't because the ground was empty. I chose it for that reason. Not that I was presented much choice Major-" Elizabeth caught sight of the name badge attached to his khaki uniform shirt, "Covington-Singh. The engine cut out and Miss MacKay and I were lucky to find anywhere to land safely. And aside from the harrowing experience of falling out of the sky, it's rather convenient as this is our destination. We've come to visit my father. Col. Mainwarring."
Nigel felt his stomach clench. This gorgeous creature was the daughter of the commanding officer of the regiment. He mentally shrugged his shoulders. Not that he'd be allowed near her anyway.
Stepping forward, Fiona said, "Perhaps some of your men could unstrap our baggage, Major, and escort us to the Colonel's bungalow. We're quite tired, and not at our best at the moment. Our aeroplane must be towed, of course. I'm sure a mechanic must be somewhere about to right the engine. Then you shan't have to worry about us--"
"Buggering up your precious parade ground again," finished Elizabeth with a twist of her lips.
"Ladies, I should be happy - with your permission of course, Major - to accompany you to the Colonel's quarters. Newly commissioned Capt. Woodford at your service."
"They're all yours Captain." Nigel turned and began organising the clearing of the ground.
Harry held out an arm for each girl. "Pay no attention to him Miss Mainwarring, Miss MacKay, he's endured a particularly trying week."
Elizabeth noticed the good Captain gazing at Fiona's generous chest. Men did that. Fiona was very small, barely five feet, in fact, and slender except for what Fiona termed her 'oversized bust'. The poor girl was quite self conscious about it and did what she could to hide it, but it was really quite impossible. Already she was blushing hotly.
Elizabeth unrepentantly interrupted the Captain's muse. "One would hope he's not such a boor everyday. I do hope Father received my letter. With all the delays encountered in travelling I'd not be surprised to find we had beaten it here because of our little flying short cut."
"He couldn't fail to be overjoyed at such lovely visitors. And do please call me Harry," he said, giving Fiona an especially warm look. He arranged a staff car for transportation and apologised for his lack of talent as tour guide once they were on their way.
"Just arrived m'self, you see. However, I know enough to point out this area of the cantonment as the family sector. Bachelor officers live on the other side of the regimental buildings in smaller bungalows."
The avenue was wide and paved, unlike the smaller hard packed dirt side roads. A few tamarind and palm trees bordered the road and the mostly one story houses were set well back from them on generous fenced lots. It was really quite beautiful in a foreign sort of way.
Arriving at their destination, Harry excused himself and took off in a cloud of dust.Elizabeth stood looking at her father's imposing stone bungalow with its steep eaves and large immaculately kept garden. Blooming tropical flowers and roses shared equal space and plenty of shade was provided by palm, citrus, and banana trees. It hadn't changed. But she'd been only a child when she'd seen it last. She brushed her suddenly moist palms on her flight suit.
"Oh Fi, have we done the right thing? I haven't seen him since I was 12. It's been nine years and I barely know him. I'm not sure I do want to know him. He was always so authoritarian, no room for any opinion save his own. It's no wonder Mum left him."
"You never would have forgiven yourself if you simply sailed on to New Zealand without giving your relationship with him a chance. He could be different now you are adult. He certainly can't tell you what to do anymore."
Elizabeth smiled and headed for the garden gate. "He always made fun of Uncle Charlie for dirtying his hands on a filthy sheep station. Yes, Uncle dirtied his hands alright. Right into black gold. It's just too bad neither he nor Mum lived very long to enjoy it."
"But you can." Fi followed her up the verandah stair.
The doorbell was rung and they were let in by a turbaned butler. He expressed no surprise at the unexpected arrival, merely informed them the Sahib had not arrived home for the evening and offered to show them to guest rooms and provide refreshment.
The girls revived themselves with tea and biscuits while their baths were drawn. By the time they finished bathing, their baggage arrived and they were shaking out the creases. Elizabeth chose a shimmery gold bias cut dinner frock and her mother's pearls. After applying powder, mascara, lip rouge, and a touch of her favourite Arpegé perfume she met her friend in the drawing room.
Fi was studying a collection of ivory carvings on the mantelpiece. Surveying the room, Elizabeth shook off the clinging feeling of Deja Vu. Bronze statues of Indian deities resided on carved dark wood tables and the old remembered Oriental carpets covered the teak floor. The room was smaller through adult eyes. She made straight for the drinks table and poured two sherries.
"Do let's fortify ourselves before the dragon arrives breathing fire, old girl.""I think you are making too much of it. He'll be overjoyed to see you, I'm sure. You are his daughter, after all." Fi sipped from her crystal glass and made herself comfortable on the settee.
"I'm not so sure. Mum never admitted to leaving him, but blamed the re-current malaria for sending her home to Devon. She maintained she couldn't survive another season in India and England did do wonders for her health. Father only visited once, nine years ago. They got on horribly and he left early. He may think me disloyal as well."
"That's ridiculous! You were a child! Besides, you were sent home for your schooling. You couldn't very well trot on back to India on holidays."
Elizabeth poured herself a second sherry. "Yes, well, I have mentioned that Father has rather peculiar ideas. Doesn't he keep anything stronger than sherry?"
"And what might you prefer instead, Daughter? The infamous pink gin that sends more British soldiers home in a box than malaria? Or perhaps you'd like the direction of the nearest opium den?"