Safe in the Earl's Arms(2)

By: Liz Tyner



 ‘In case you’re unaware, we’re not on English soil. Captain ranks higher—here.’ His brother bit out the commanding words and adopted the cocksure stance he’d perfected by five years old. ‘And my crew does obey me. See to the woman, or I will have you left on the island when we haul anchor.’

 ‘Like hell.’

 Ben smiled. ‘You’re going to have to have a go at another woman some time. You might as well get some use out of your little man as to let it wither up and wash overboard.’ He raised a hand, summoning three other seamen who’d stilled to listen.

 Seven men were ready to toss Warrington on to the longboat should he not go on his own. He stared at his brother’s face. He would kill him.

 ‘So go ashore.’ Ben crossed his arms. ‘Take care of the matter for me—and you might be able to return to England on this vessel.’

 ‘I—’ His hands clenched.

 ‘No. No,’ Ben interrupted, head dropping but his hand still high. ‘Trust me. Once you’ve been called captain by a woman in that breathless moment—you’ll fashion yourself a captain many times over.’ He waved his hand in the air. ‘Correct?’

 Seven male heads quickly gave assent, eyes flashing amusement and watching Warrington.

 ‘Fine,’ Warrington snapped out, moving to give his brother a shove from his path, but Ben moved aside—the man was nimble as an eel—and Warrington strode to the port side, stopping to give Ben a bitter glance.

 He grabbed the railing and turned, scrambling down the woven ladder. He saw the first mate’s boots next on the rope rungs. They would see him to the woman.

 * * *

 When the men reached the bank, the boat’s bottom grated into sand underneath. Warrington jumped from the longboat into the water. He stopped for a moment. The immobile land beneath his feet jarred him. He’d been at sea too long.

 He sloshed to shore. The others splashed behind him, then pulled the boat free of the waves, showing no more effort than moving a child’s toy.

 They started on the path. Water sluiced from Warrington’s boots. Gidley slogged beside him. ‘She’s near the town. Said we’d find her ’fore we reached Castro.’

 The blowing wind pushed whiffs of the tainted egg smell that lingered at the base of the island. The shoreline reeked as badly as a demon’s breath—a scent Warrington supposed left over from volcanic eruptions centuries earlier.

 Warrington nodded sharply, but gave no other acknowledgement. He trudged up the path and soon the sand gave way to a coal-hued surface. Glass-like shards of earth now crunched beneath his feet. The unusual land piqued his interest, but the scent didn’t. Warrington wished they had risked another island to recover from the ship’s fire, which had nearly cost them their lives. This one stank.

 Gidley expounded on what a woman such as the one he’d seen could do for a man’s pleasure. He described the mark at her breast in fifteen different ways and each one included more details of skin than he could possibly have seen.

 The mate spoke so earnestly and with such conviction, he’d convinced at least one of the other seamen the woman was a descendent of some goddess. Warrington wasn’t certain Aphrodite herself would be so free with her charms as Gidley recounted. The sailor loved his mythology—but it was all Gidley’s tales, not the ancients.

 The road disappeared into a growth of olive trees and brush.

 Warrington wondered about the woman—this bold woman who shouldn’t disturb an earl who’d been a month without a decent mattress, longer without a decent night’s sleep and even longer without a deliciously indecent tumble.

 Meeting the woman might be interesting, he decided. He would return and tell his brother what it was like to bed a goddess in the flesh. No matter how the events unfolded, Warrington would manage a supreme tale of unsurpassed passion.

 Gidley stopped where a path shot out from the road. ‘She lives in one of them red-roofed houses up this trail—a home overlookin’ the sea.’

 Warrington stopped and turned to the seamen. ‘I will continue the rest of the way alone.’

 Gidley and six other pairs of feet ceased all movement and their faces weighed Warrington’s words.

 Gidley spoke softly, his downturned lips showing hurt at the exclusion. ‘We want to see yer meet her.’

 ‘I can meet her alone and need no help,’ Warrington said.

 Gidley stepped nearer Warrington, facing him. Gid’s worn cap slid into a jauntier position when he raised his head. He clapped Warrington on the arm. ‘I wager a earl knows a bit about pleasurin’ himself. I mean...’ he paused for effect ‘...with a woman.’

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