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Henry has just been called into his supervisor's office. There is another man there as well. This is where 'Dash' and Dingo will meet for the first time.
Henry smiled at Diana, and she gave a slightly unprofessional roll of her eyes in return. He left his empty teacup with her and followed Larwood into his office. The dark walnut paneling made the interior seem even darker than the wintry day outside, as much as the bankers’ lamps tried to rebel against it. Henry could make out a dark form slumped comfortably into one of the chairs before Larwood’s desk, with one muscular leg swinging over the arm.
“I have a visitor here,” Larwood said. “Mr. Chambers, this is Henry Percival-Smythe.”
The dark shadow stood and moved into the light. “Christ, Larwood, I told you, Mr. Chambers is my dad.”
Larwood appeared slightly flustered. “Erm, yes. Henry, this is Mr.… uh, Dingo. Mr. Dingo Chambers.”
The oddly named man could now be fully seen in the meager light from the window. “You almost got it there, mate. Dingo Chambers.”
“Dingo” was like a fictional character out of an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel. Tall, broad-shouldered, and bronzed, he was an Antipodean Adonis, and Henry found himself catching his breath. His sand-colored hair was strangely tousled, and Henry immediately found himself searching the chair the man had just vacated; his deduction proved correct, for a hat was propped against the leg. Henry looked back over to the man Diana had dubbed “the foreigner” who was looking back at him with unabashed interest. Henry realized Dingo’s nose was slightly squashed, as if it had been broken and set unevenly, although it only served to give his face character, especially when partnered with the crooked smile beneath it.
“Give us your handle again, mate. I didn’t catch it,” Dingo said around his thick accent.
Henry looked at him in confusion. “Handle?”
“Your moniker, mate. What’s your name?”
“Oh, of course.” Henry offered his hand. “Henry Percival-Smythe.”
“Jesus, that’s a mouthful,” Dingo replied. But as he said it, his gaze passed over the crotch of Henry’s trousers and an almost lascivious smirk spread across his face.
Henry froze. Was that meant to be some sort of double entendre? He looked to Larwood for support; the other man seemed oblivious, and rather in awe of Dingo himself, although it could have been fear of what this strange native from the distant colonies might do next more than anything else.
As if he hadn’t done a thing to unnerve the other man, Dingo continued. “I’ll just call you Dash, okay?”
“But that’s not my name,” Henry said, realizing with each passing second he sounded even more stereotypically prissy and British than before.
“What, do you think my parents christened me Dingo?” The man in question tipped back his head and laughed heartily.
Henry eyed him suspiciously. “Quite frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me.”
“For heaven’s sake, Henry,” Larwood finally spoke up. “You heard me introduce him as Jack Chambers.”
“I’ve been Dingo longer than I’ve been Jack,” Dingo said abruptly.
“Well, no doubt you two have a lot to discuss,” Larwood said hopefully. “Why don’t you take Mr.… er… Dingo, to your office, Henry?”
“Professor Larwood, I was hoping to—” Henry started.
“Right, that we do.” Dingo scooped his hat from the floor and clapped it onto his head. He grabbed Larwood’s hand and pumped it heartily. “Thanks for the nice welcome, mate, and I’ve no doubt we’ll be meeting again as soon as Dash here and I finalize our plans.”
“Wait, we can’t just—” Henry protested.
“Sure we can,” Dingo said cheerfully. He grabbed Henry’s bicep and dragged him to the door. “We should get to know each other better. We’ll be spending a lot time together, and it’s a trial to be out in the bush with a man you can’t get on with.”
Henry looked back pleadingly at Larwood over his shoulder, and the older man shrugged philosophically, but a tiny smile played over his lips. Henry imagined that Larwood was thinking “rather you than me” as Henry was hauled from the room, feeling Dingo’s fingers squeeze his arm as if assessing how much muscle he had.
In the anteroom, Dingo released him to smirk engagingly at Diana, saying, “Thanks for the cuppa earlier, Miss Winton. Warms a man’s bones on these nippy days.”
“Diana, please call me Diana,” the usually unapproachable Miss Winton purred, practically melting under the sun of Dingo’s smile.
“The name of a goddess too,” Dingo said admiringly. “Huntress of the moon. You’ve got the look of her. Saw a statue once, in Rome.”
Henry seethed as Diana’s slender figure seemed to shiver with delight at the broad compliments, although he wasn’t certain what ticked him off more, her reaction or Dingo’s easy confidence in his own powers of attraction.
“Will we be seeing you again, Mr. Chambers?” Diana tried to seem nonchalant as she asked.
Dingo winked at her. “Try and keep me away. Although Dash here,” he clapped Henry on the back, nearly sending him staggering awkwardly toward the door, “and I have a lot to discuss about our expedition.”
Thrilled, Diana’s eyes opened wide. “Where are you going?”
Leaning closer, Dingo confided, “Deep into the wilds of Tasmania. It’s a dangerous country, full of snakes, spiders, and wild animals. And the Aborigines; a savage lot they are. We may never be seen alive again.”
“You—and Henry?” Diana emitted a dainty trill of laughter.
Henry glared at her, clutching his satchel under his arm. What was so funny about the thought of him in Australia? Not that he’d agreed to go anywhere with this crazy colonist, and as soon as he got him alone, he would tell him so. And of course, he didn’t much like the sound of those spiders.
“Why, don’t you think Dash has what it takes?” Dingo turned to glance at Henry and something about his laughing face made Henry want to hit him. And he wasn’t a violent man.
“Why do you keep calling him Dash?” Diana leaned her chin on her hand, prepared to be enthralled with Dingo’s answer.
“Why, it’s that fine, fancy, double-barreled last name of his, isn’t it?” Dingo laughed. “Percival Dash Smythe. Too much to mouth over every time. We Aussies like to cut to the meat of things.”
“Dash.” Diana giggled when she said it, but her gaze was newly speculative when she looked at Henry.
Dingo turned to hoist a well-worn bag to his shoulder from where it leaned against the wall and hooked his arm through Henry’s. “Come on then, Dash. You’re wasting this pretty lady’s time, standing here flirting with her.”
“Me?” Henry sputtered. “I haven’t said a word—”
“Bit shy with the ladies, is our Dash,” Dingo confided to Diana. She giggled again and wiggled in her chair as if she could barely contain her delight. Of course, Diana wiggling was merely the motion of shifting in her chair once or twice. But for Diana, it was practically akin to standing and breaking into a wild, bohemian Charleston.