Safe in the Earl's Arms(10)

By: Liz Tyner

 ‘I need to give you a bit of advice for sailing,’ he said.

 She waited, eyes daring him.

 ‘Stay out from under me when I am climbing above. I am not as experienced as the others. If I fell, I could hurt you.’ He paused. ‘But if you decide to go up the ropes, please wear trousers. Otherwise, the men...would find it distracting.’

 He hoped anger might help her forget the newness. Inside, he smiled at the way she ruffled from his words. Talking with her made the water seem smoother. His clothing less rumpled.

 * * *

 Melina saw the spark of humour in his eyes. He jested. She let her shoulders drop and her lips turn down. ‘Then I will merely lose my grip and see how the man below feels about breaking my fall.’

 His lips thinned, but not in anger. ‘I could catch you.’

 ‘But you would not be able to keep your grip. The fall would frighten me so, I am sure my elbows might flail about.’

 ‘Would you like to test that?’

 ‘No.’ She made herself shudder. ‘I need to put my satchel away.’

 He turned to the bunk. ‘Shove the bag under there. Wedge it tight or you will be fighting to keep it from sliding about.’

 She moved, kneeling to be able to see and reach into the space. She lodged the bag inside and a tendril of her hair fell forward, loose from the bun. She finger-combed it back into place as she rose and then took one step to the door. ‘I would like to watch the sails as the ship begins to move.’

 He moved in front of her, blocking her way out, his expression cold and dark. ‘I have to insist you not go about the deck. For the duration of the voyage, your attentions are mine alone.’

 She opened her mouth to protest, then realised what he was saying. He thought her planning to sell herself to the men.

 ‘I—’ Her denial stopped before she could finish the sentence. She had sold her body and to him. It would be hard to convince him she didn’t use her attentions for funds. Every man on the ship thought her a porni.

 Melina didn’t want their eyes on her. She already knew how sailors looked at the women they thought to purchase. She’d known it not safe to get too close. And now she was locked on a vessel with them. Her stomach roiled.

 ‘How many men are on this ship?’ she asked.

 ‘Thirty-three.’ His lips formed each sound of the word quite distinctly.

 She didn’t like where his thoughts were going. ‘Women?’ she asked, her fingers gripping the back of the chair beside her.

 ‘One.’ Nothing in his expression changed.

 She controlled her words. ‘I think I shall stay inside. I would not want one of the men falling from overhead when I am walking below. Nor would I wish to get tangled in the ropes. I have heard how things move about when ships are underway and sometimes mistakes are made.’

 ‘It would be wise of you to keep out of the way.’

 She didn’t ask what he would have done if she’d not agreed to stay inside. From the look in his eyes, he would have been content with locking her in. And she would be able to do nothing about it. She tensed. She had stepped into a world where she was entirely alone.

 ‘Does the door—’ She had to ask. ‘Does it latch from the inside?’

 He shook his head, one very definite movement. ‘No one would dare enter without my permission.’ His words held in the air.

 Relief surged in her, until the next words he said reminded her where she stood.

 ‘And you cannot lock me out.’

 ‘I did not think to do so. I know what I have promised.’

 He indicated the island with a turn of his head. ‘You can go back. Now. Last chance. No rock is worth going from your home. Leaving the people who can care for you.’

 ‘But it is worth leaving for the people I do care about.’

 He stared at her, his eyes disagreeing, and left the room, leaving her alone with the reality of her actions slithering into her body.

                       Chapter Three

 Warrington worked the davit, listening to the creak as it lifted the longboat to be secured on deck. He mustn’t keep thinking of her. This would be a bad time to get himself injured.

 Taking one last look at the shore, he memorised the sight. If the fates were with him, he’d never see Melos again.

 And if he had his way, he’d keep alive until they reached England. He had no sailor’s wish to be buried at sea. When he died, he wished to be boxed and put into a properly marked location.

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