Safe in the Earl's Arms(3)

By: Liz Tyner

 The others snickered. Warrington raised a brow and gave them the glare that hours spent with a fencing master had made him confident to use, and that hinted Swords or pistols and choose your seconds.

 Gidley took a step back and turned away with a disgusted grunt. ‘We be takin’ the longboat back to the boat in an hour or so,’ Gidley muttered. ‘Sun will be settin’ not long after. Ought to give you enough time to meet ’er, fall in love and get yer trousers back on.’ Gidley’s words faded away as he left along the road.

 Warrington pushed through a clump of tree branches over the path and saw the roof of a house. The structure had two storeys and the stairs leading to the upper floor had no railing. He knew from his first day’s visit to the island that the house was made as the others he’d seen. The first level—a barn—held the livestock. He supposed the tradition of making homes in this manner started because of the houses built near the sea. If a low-lying area flooded, the animals could be released and water would be less likely to harm the house’s upper contents. Besides, the structure took fewer materials than if two were built.

 He saw a nanny goat grazing near the corner, a kid at her side. And near the cliffs, a woman sat on one of the boulders overlooking the sea. She turned to him. In the chilled air, her red scarf fluttered around her face and she stood. He didn’t move. Let her approach him. She’d summoned.

 The covering on her head showed scarlet enough to use as a beacon and another garment draped around her shoulders had only a little less colour. She pulled the covering snug as she walked. The wind didn’t warrant bundling so.

 When she strode closer, he caught his breath. Even with the breezes constantly tossing the head covering against her, she drew his attention. Brown eyes with lashes thick enough he half expected them to flutter in the breeze, as well. She held her shawl closed with one hand and with the other brushed back the hair that kept blowing across her face. A waste of effort.

 ‘I’m Melina. Are you the Ascalon captain?’

 Her words shocked him. She spoke King’s English and with only enough accent to give her words an exotic flair. And her voice—it purred into him, causing a jolt in his midsection that reminded him of how tempting a woman could be.

 * * *

 Melina appraised the man before her. She’d expected someone silver-haired. Perhaps scarred a bit. This one—she could see how he kept from being mangled. His body showed strength. She doubted he’d be able to scamper across the rigging as she’d seen French seamen do, but he could probably toss another man up to do the job for him.

 His clothing fit tight over parts that held muscle, and loosely everywhere else. When the wind blew at him, he stood impervious. His stare trapped the breath in her and caused a pleasing quiver in her stomach.

 She’d waited months for an English ship to anchor in the bay because she had to leave the island and discover the truth about the treasure. She had to be right. Her sisters must eat.

 ‘Where did you learn such speech?’ He asked his own question, ignoring hers.

 ‘I wish to go to London.’ She kept the scarf tight around her.

 ‘I wish for a soft bed at night, but the ship doesn’t have one,’ he said. ‘And it has no room for passengers.’

 ‘I’ve payment.’ She raised her chin. She would not give away this chance. Not willingly. Only certainty of death would back her down.

 His shoulders relaxed and he gave her an apologetic smile. ‘We’ve had a fire. Our vessel is near ready for departure and we’re finishing the last repairs, but it might not withstand a storm. Another ship will be along shortly. Bargain with them.’

 She took a step forward, closer than she would normally stand near someone who’d docked on the island. She looked up at him. ‘Before you decide, I must show you something.’

 He gave a tilt of his shoulder and raised one eyebrow. ‘I told you I’m not interested.’ Then she saw his gaze drift to her chest and quickly move back to her face.

 She pulled her shawl tight. ‘In the stable,’ she bit out, taking a step towards the structure.

 He reached for her, trapping her arm, but his grip wasn’t tight.

 She snapped her head in his direction and stood ready to push him back—first with words, then with force if she needed. He had to see her discovery.

 ‘I don’t wish—’ His voice softened, but he didn’t release her arm. His eyes, not true dark but reflecting the same colours as the almost leafless tree he stood near, showed compassion. ‘I can’t take you to London with us. Wait for another ship.’ His voice lowered. ‘Or stay here. The world is not kind for women away from their homes.’

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