Safe in the Earl's Arms(4)

By: Liz Tyner



 Words fled her mind and she couldn’t look away from him. He’d trapped her—not with his hand, but with his gaze. His touch warmed her skin and his gentle grasp had taken her will to move.

 ‘Come with me.’ She thrust the words out, recapturing her strength.

 He shook his head, still not releasing her arm. The grip held her firm, but she didn’t feel imprisoned. She knew a quick tug and she’d be able to slip away.

 ‘I... The ship is no place for a woman—even a...’ He tried again. ‘I’m sure you could have many times your passage back in your pocket in the time it will take us to reach London—but the men don’t need the distraction. They’d be competing for your favours instead of thinking of their duties. You’ll not go with us.’ He put his free hand in his waistcoat pocket, brought out a coin and held it to her. ‘Take it.’

 She stared and didn’t move.

 He kept his hand extended. ‘You may keep it. For getting me from the ship for a few moments and for letting me hear a woman’s voice. I want nothing more.’ His eyes softened. ‘I did not bring more funds or I would give them to you.’

 She jerked her head in refusal of the coin.

 He released her, putting the gold away, and took a step back. She reached out, grasping his sleeve, stopping him.

 He turned, his mouth open, and seemed to struggle for words. ‘Miss. Truly. I do not want... And we cannot take you.’

 He could keep his words—she needed a man who’d free her from the island.

 ‘Let me show you,’ she said.

 ‘As long as you understand you’re not stepping foot on that ship. The men...’ He finished his words with a soft tone. ‘They would not be able to ignore...’

 ‘I must show you my treasure.’ She turned away and strode inside the barn, knowing he would not resist following her.

 They walked over dirt packed solid from goats’ feet, breathing dust from manure the animals kicked about. She moved towards a small stack of firewood branches. She knelt, reaching into the sticks, and pulled out the cloth-wrapped marble she’d hidden there.

 She turned back to him, pulled away the fabric and handed the work to him. Even in the dark interior, the richness of the stone glowed.

 He took the carved marble in his hands. The arm was slightly bigger than a human arm would be and the delicateness of the fingers proved the hand to be a woman’s. ‘It’s a part of some statue.’

 ‘Yes.’ Even as he touched and examined it, she rested her fingertips against the stone. ‘A learned man came here two years ago. He told us the island should have artefacts—worth coin to him—but he found nothing. I uncovered this—and more, after he left.’ She watched this one, noting his study of the arm. He looked at the hand the way a woman might look at a baby.

 ‘Take me to London,’ she said, ‘and you’ll be paid my passage once the British Museum discovers what I have—’

 ‘This is well done. When I get to England, I’ll get someone who understands art to look at it and he can send payment back if this marble is worth something.’

 She jerked the carving from his hands. ‘I have to leave now. Not next week. Not the next ship. I must go.’ Already her neighbours had warned her. The man who led the island was planning to marry her soon. She would have no choice.

 She turned, picking up the cloth she’d used to protect the arm. When she looked up, she caught his eyes on her. Her shawl had opened and her mark showed. He stopped moving. Her clothing fell open a bit more. With her free hand, she brushed the edge of the birthmark, letting her fingers rest a moment. Desire darkened his eyes.

 She took a slow breath. Neither smiled. She stopped the words of caution blowing inside herself, pummelling her with the knowledge she could never turn back if she continued her path. ‘Is that what you want for my passage?’ she asked.

 ‘Yes.’

 ‘Then we’ve a bargain.’

 He shook his head. ‘No. The captain will not let a woman sail with us.’

 ‘You’re not the archigos?’ She pulled the arm into her grasp, cradling it. He didn’t answer, but she could read the truth in his face. She’d just offered her body to a man who could not, or would not, say yes. Her mind hammered in rage. Controlling her desire to hit him across the face with the stone took all her strength, except for the amount she used to keep herself from shouting.

 ‘I’m the Earl of Warrington,’ he said. ‘I own part of the ship, but I don’t sail her. I’ll take you aboard the Ascalon and you may speak to the captain.’ His head moved sideways, indicating the direction of the vessel.

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