88. Danger! Explosive Cargo!

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My finger froze in mid-movement. Outside, I could hear footsteps passing the door of our room. Lord Dalgliesh and his cronies had heard nothing, were not coming to investigate. But right now, I couldn't have cared less what they did or did not do. Turning my head to get my face out of the wood wool, I looked up, but saw only darkness. Mr Ambrose must have pulled the lid of the crate shut over us.

Mr Ambrose, who at present was lying right on top of me!

No! Don't think about it! That's not Mr Ambrose on top of you! It can't be! It's a sack of coals, or potatoes, or...

His cool breath tickled my cheek. He moved, in a way no sack of potatoes could ever move. A sack of potatoes wasn't as hard as this. A sack of potatoes didn't have muscles which, even through the fabric between us, pressed forcefully into me. A sack of potatoes most certainly couldn't make me shiver all over like this!

It's the cold, I screamed at myself. You're shivering because it's cold in here! That's all!

But even though it was freezing inside the crate, I didn't feel cold all of a sudden. I had before, while wandering through the damp, dark passageways of the Nemesis. But now, heat was spreading throughout my body. It came from a place deep inside me and climbed upwards, and upwards, until it finally reached my face. Why did my cheeks not light up the crate from inside? They were burning like fire!

Something brushed against my cheek, and my whole body twitched. I could feel him move against me, shifting...

No! Don't think! Don't imagine!

"Mr Linton?" The voice above me was as cool as the winter wind. "Your finger. My ear. Remove. Now, if you please."

My lips moved aimlessly, in search of something to say. Finally, I struck on an intriguing fact that was worth spelling out.

"You said 'if you please'," I whispered, incredulously. "That's almost as bad as 'please' or 'thank you'. Since when do you have the time to spare for civilities?"

He moved closer. I couldn't see a thing, but I felt it. His face was only inches away from mine now, his mouth at my ear.

"At present," he breathed, "I find myself with free time at my disposal. At least until Dalgliesh is far enough away for us to get out of here!"

With my left ear, I could still hear the murmur of voices from the next room – Lord Dalgliesh giving orders to his soldiers. But all my attention was reserved for my right ear – the one which was only separated by a finger's breath from Mr Ambrose lips.

"But you are right," he continued. "One should never deviate from one's principles. Take your finger out of my ear at once!"

My hand jerked away from his ear, touching something soft in the process. A strand of his hair, maybe?

Don't think! Don't think about the fact that he's lying right on top of-

Just don't think!

"Very good," Mr Ambrose said into my ear, his voice still cold and controlled. Didn't he care that we were... that he was practically... "Now be still until they have concluded their business and gone. It shouldn't take long. Then we can continue with our mission here."

He sounded as if he were sitting in his office chair, giving me orders about which file to bring next. But of course he wasn't sitting in his chair. He was lying. Lying on top of...

No! Don't think!

I swallowed. "Very good, Sir."

Just as he had said, footsteps soon left the room next door. They came closer.

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