The Professor and the Smuggler
by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon
Ebook ISBN: B0186H4SQA
[ Historical Romance, MM ]
An explorer at heart, Phillip Singleton’s adventures have only taken place in his imagination—until recently. Exploring the Cornish coast, he encounters a pirate who isn’t pleased to meet him. Yet.
Cornwall, England, 1905
Phillip Bartholomew Singleton tripped over a rock hidden in the tall grass and careened into the ring of standing stones. He threw out an arm to catch his balance and bashed it into one of the erect boulders that had been raised by men thousands of years earlier. His elbow hit quartzite, and the shock reverberated up his arm. He yelped and grabbed at the point of pain, pivoted on his left foot, and fell into another tall pale stone. More than fell. He drove his shoulder into it, and the menhir, no taller than his own gangly six-foot-four frame, rocked on its base. It began to lean.
“No. Oh no, no, no,” Phillip chanted as he grabbed at the slab with both hands, hoping to steady it, the sharp crack on his elbow forgotten. These stones were practically rooted in the earth. They’d stood for thousands of years, maybe more, set in place by an ancient people. It was impossible that a little bump could—
The standing stone slumped to the ground like a gray old man whose legs had finally failed him. There was no powerful whump when boulder hit ground, more of a soft sigh of surrender as stone reclined into grass.
Phillip stared at the felled slab, pushing a hand through his unruly mop of hair.
“No, no, no, no.” If repetition of a mantra could pray the stone back into its proper position, he’d spend the night reciting his incantation. “Dear God in Heaven, NO!”
The stone remained where it lay—where it would continue to lie for the next few thousand years until the Earth slowly covered it over and cradled it again in her bosom of soil.
Phillip plastered his palms over his mouth, holding back his horror as he too slowly sank to the ground. He’d come down from London to Cornwall to research and write about the corner of Britain he most admired, a land of crashing surf, shipwrecks, and smugglers, of dark, dangerous mines riddling the earth, and folk as hard as the very rock they hewed. This was his first day exploring the countryside steeped in sumptuous layers of history and he’d managed to destroy a small archeological marvel.
Small was the operative word, he consoled himself as he gazed around the ring of weather-worn menhir that encircled him and back to their fallen comrade. It wasn’t as if he’d knocked down Stonehenge or anything. There were many modest rings of stone like this all over the British Isles. If he viewed this incident in another light, he had simply become a part of history, leaving his own mark on the stones in the great march of time. That was rather exciting to ponder.
As he continued to sit and sneeze away pollen from the many weeds growing rampant in the clearing, Phillip removed his glasses to wipe his eyes, then rubbed his sore elbow. He should unload the photographic equipment from his vehicle parked on the road and document this moment. If he chose to use the photograph in a travelogue, he never need mention his part in reshaping the standing stones of Par Gwynear.
The sound of some large animal pushing through the trees surrounding this open space seized Phillip’s attention. Just as he’d scrambled to his feet, prepared to run from whatever predator patrolled the countryside, a black-bearded man pushed aside branches and emerged from the woods. He was nearly as tall as Phillip but much bulkier across the shoulders, with the solid build of his mining heritage. His sleeves were rolled to the elbow, baring muscular forearms covered with dark hair, and he wore no cap to hide the sheen of sunlight on his raven hair.
Piercing brown eyes skewered Phillip as the stranger demanded, “What the devil are you doin’ here?”
Phillip had begun this adventure prepared to be given the cold shoulder by the locals. This area was not known for its hospitality, and he’d expected to have to work at gaining the historical stories he craved. He’d come forearmed with excuses.
“Oh, am I trespassing? I had no idea this was private property. I thought this land was unclaimed and free for tourists to wander. I heard about Par Gwynear Circle and came to see the stones for myself and to make a photograph. I was about to head back to my vehicle to get the camera.” He gestured in the general direction of the road.
The surly man continued to glare at him, and Phillip’s skin felt more sunburned than it already was from having left his broad-brimmed hat in the auto. One thick chambray-clad arm lifted, displaying an intriguing flex of muscles in the forearm as the Cornishman pointed in quite a different direction.
“The road’s that way, and while this ain’t private property, it’s not open for anyone to go bumblin’ about. These are wild lands, Mr…?”
“Phillip Singleton, recently a professor at Cambridge, now pursuing my own research project.” Phillip walked toward the stranger through a tangle of thorny undergrowth that snagged his trousers. He reached to pull the fabric free and stabbed his fingers for his efforts. After sucking away blood, he extended his hand.
The man stared for just long enough to be rude before taking it. He gave a firm clasp and hard pump before letting go. “I’m Carne. As I said, these are rough lands, Professor Singleton, full of snakes and other teasy creatures. A fellow might get hurt and no one would find him till it was too late.”
Why did the cautioning sound rather like a threat? Phillip swallowed a flutter of fear that tickled his throat and gave Mr. Carne his most affable smile. “Yes, I can see the sense in what you say. In future, I will find myself a local guide to accompany me on my expeditions.”
One thick, dark eyebrow rose. “In future?”
“I shall be in the area for several weeks at least, but maybe as much as a month, gathering materials for a book I plan to write about your delightful area of the country. In fact,” he lowered his voice confidentially, “I hope to have it published as an illustrated volume with photographs!”
The large man, who’d loomed near enough that Phillip could smell the sweat glistening on his skin, did not appear impressed, so Phillip continued.
“Did you know the average British citizen is unlikely to travel more than a few miles from his home in an entire lifetime? There is so much of our nation that remains unexplored and unknown by the masses. Now that it is possible to include photographic reproductions in a book, I believe this will be a device by which people too poor to take holidays to far-flung places may be able to experience travel vicariously.”
The man’s dark brown eyes continued to sear Phillip like a Sunday roast. “Folks too poor for holidays ain’t likely to buy a costly book. With photographs,” he echoed mockingly.
Phillip might have been hurt if he weren’t so used to others being unable to see his vision. He’d spent most of his academic life dreaming of things his fellow university professors had no interest in, but now he’d freed himself to pursue the project most dear to his heart. A little scoffing wouldn’t deter him.
“Perhaps you’d be willing to escort me to my motorcar and help me carry my equipment here?” Phillip shaded his eyes to check the angle of the sun. “At the moment, the shadows cast by the stones will be stunning, but if I don’t make a picture soon, the light will be gone. If you don’t mind.”
Carne pressed his lips together, and his jaw flexed. The sight of that tiny ripple and the protruding bone under rough beard sent a corresponding ripple through Phillip. He suppressed the slight surge of attraction to the ruggedly handsome Cornishman. He wasn’t here for that, and even if he were, this man would likely beat him senseless if Phillip were to make any indication of interest.
At last, Carne clicked his tongue and nodded curtly. “Aye, I’ll help you get your photograph, but after this, keep away from the wilder lands.” He gazed from under knit brows at Phillip. “’Specially the coves along the seashore. The tide comes in fast, and you might get trapped. Some have drowned that way. ’Tis said their spirits still echo in the rocky chambers.”
With this dire warning and rather eerily romantic image, Carne headed back into the woods. Phillip followed close behind him—too close, as a branch snapped back to deliver a lashing blow across his face.
Phillip wiped away the sting and trudged on, quite satisfied with the initial day of his exploration. By sunset, he’d have the first photographs for his proposed book, and he’d been berated and cautioned by a local man in a quaint accent slathered like thick honey on bread, which made the experience feel even more like an adventure. He grinned in satisfaction. The real world was dirty, sweaty, painful, a little scary, and far away from the safe, quiet rooms where he’d spent far too many hours of his life tinkering with machines and daydreaming.
Now he was on location and actually following his dream. He intended to revel in every minute of this working vacation.
Professor Singleton might be tall, but his scarecrow body seemed cobbled together of poorly joined twigs like a child’s homemade doll. Carne could snap his bones in two with a twist of his fist. Not that he wanted to. It simply occurred to him how fragile the city man with the gold-rimmed glasses was as Carne watched him set up his tripod and camera.
Carne had a fascination for things like that camera and the machine by the road. He’d spent a few minutes looking over the motorcar, which was the first he’d seen up close.
Singleton apparently forgot Carne after he’d carried the tripod back to the clearing. The professor talked to himself and peered down at the equipment, brows raised as if he was surprised to find the camera, as if it had arrived from nowhere. A couple of minutes showed he did seem to know what he was doing as he expertly attached camera to tripod and adjusted the lens.
Carne had come to the stones intending to drive off the stranger, but found himself gazing at the accordion leather, brass, and glass contraption. “What sort of camera is that?”
“A Zeiss. You might be surprised to hear that, because they’re known for their microscopes.”
Carne bit back the retort that certainly he was fair astounded to hear it, though he had no bloody notion of who made microscopes and, truth to tell, wasn’t entirely certain what a microscope did.
“I also have a Kodak, much cheaper, and I could even carry it with no problem, but this is better for my project.” He took a moment to beam at Carne, the sunlight reflecting off his spectacles and hiding those bright gray eyes. As he went back to work, he launched into a long explanation of wet plates, dry plates, and nitrocellulose. He seemed particularly excited about adjustable lenses.
Carne hadn’t known he wanted to hear a history of photography, but it was more interesting than he might have expected. The professor’s enthusiasm and ability to talk made the world of cameras sound downright fascinating.
He stood and watched and listened until he heard the far-off bell that reminded him he had a meeting to get to. “You said weeks, but surely you plan to move along to the next village sooner than that. There’s nothing to do round here. Nothing hardly like entertainment.”
Singleton laughed, showing straight, very white teeth. Could they be false?
“Somethin’ funny?” Carne asked.
“I don’t require entertainment,” he explained and for some reason blushed.
Apparently, the stranger truly didn’t need much to amuse him if he thought Carne’s words were funny.
“Not lingering in Par Gwynear, are you,” he said rather than asked.
“Oh, just some exploration and interviews. I would love to talk to people about local lore and legends.”
“Don’t ask too many questions,” Carne said.
Singleton looked up from adjusting the lens. “How will I find out what I need to know if I don’t ask questions, Mr. Carne?” He brightened and added, “Ha. Cairn, Carne. Is your name derived from ancestors living near a pile of rocks?”
Was that some sort of bizarre insult? Probably not, judging from the earnest look on the professor’s thin face and the way he waited for an answer.
“No idea.” Carne didn’t bother to explain it was his first name. He wasn’t willing to share his surname, Treleaven, with a stranger. “Professor, there’s no inn hereabouts. You won’t find anywhere to lay your head down. Go inland a few miles, you’ll get to—”
Singleton interrupted. “Not a professor any longer. Mr. Singleton will do. And it’s no bother. I have gear in my motorcar. One appreciates sleeping under the stars in weather as fine as this.”
The man was an idiot, though as appealing as a gangly puppy—a large one, perhaps some sort of wolfhound. All right, idiot was the wrong description, for Singleton had a brain jammed into his head. And he certainly had more than enough money if he jolted about the countryside in a motoring car with cameras for company.
Carne had taken a look over the mud-spattered but elegant machine before seeking out the driver. The gear had been piled on the leather seats. Luggage attached to the back of the vehicle had only straps holding it place. A quick slash of a knife, and the fancy brass-and-leather luggage would be gone. Would that be enough to make the man retreat to his own world?
The former professor—why would a man give up such an illustrious title once he’d earned it?—took off his glasses, looked at them, and put them back on. “You seem determined to make me move along. Why is that?”
“I wonder if…” Singleton blushed again and rubbed a bony hand over his chin. He was in need of a shave. A haircut wouldn’t be amiss either. Funny that such a well-heeled sort looked like a vagrant, though, come to think of it, that was what he was, a wanderer. He seemed tongue-tied.
Carne, amused, said, “You’re wondering?”
Singleton started again. “I walked through the village earlier, and everyone stared at me, and I received no greeting, though I said good morning to anyone I saw.”
“Hm.” Carne wondered if this man always went at things sideways or roundabout.
“I think if I had a local guide to pave the way, it might help me secure interviews. I’d pay money for such a position. Perhaps you know someone? Who might…um?” His gaze skittered up and down Carne’s body. “You, perhaps?”
This might serve, Carne thought. He’d keep an eye on the too-wealthy man, keep him out of trouble and make a bit of money, which he sorely needed for food and to make a few minor repairs on his boat, the Magpie—so he could eat later on as well.
He could control this situation and make sure none of the others caused this nosy stranger any harm. “Stay here taking your photographs. I’ll return bye an’ bye.”
The stranger’s white teeth showed in a lovely smile. “That would be perfect. I’m so glad you’re accepting my proposition. All in all, this day is turning out to be remarkable!”
His buoyancy was infectious, and, despite himself, Carne almost returned the smile.