Safe in the Earl's Arms(5)

By: Liz Tyner

 ‘Very well.’ She could see his thoughts in his eyes. He believed the captain would refuse her. But if the ship’s leader had the same mind as most men, once her foot touched the deck, she would make it difficult for him to say no.

 ‘I will sail with the ship.’ She challenged him with her stare.

 He turned and walked back into the sunlight.

 Melina knew that once she stepped on deck, she’d find a way to stay, no matter what she had to do. Their father had given them enough to live on while their mother lived, but now he’d forgotten his daughters. Without funds, she could no longer escape a forced marriage to a man whose touch made her stomach roil. She could not let her sisters starve, or sell their bodies.

 The arm, and a description of the goddess, would let the museum see what she had and they would tell her what the beauty was worth. The statue was valuable. Her heart told her so. She could support her family by selling the stone woman.

 She ran to the steps of her house and grabbed the small satchel she’d stuffed together after talking with the other sailor. She’d told her sisters her plans. They now watched from the window. Melina waved and then took a step to the path.

 The first footstep was easy. But then she couldn’t move. A hollowness in her heart told her she was leaving her home for ever. She squeezed her eyes tight and planted one foot forward, then the other.

                       Chapter Two

 Melina rushed to keep up with Warrington’s long strides. As she reached the first bend in the path, her satchel strap slipped from her shoulder to her elbow. The weight pulled at her arm, but she kept the stone cradled. The bag bumped against her leg, slowing her pace.

 She paused and he immediately stopped and turned to her. He’d been as aware of her footsteps as his own.

 Warrington reached a hand out to her, gesturing for the bag, and she met his eyes. Reassured, she hefted the rock in one hand and let the errant strap slip into her grasp. He took the weight from her, tossing the leather sling over his shoulder.

 Muffled tones reached her ears. She focused on the sounds. Two men talked as they moved towards the path. Her heart thudded when she recognised the voice of Stephanos, the man who planned to wed her. He was moving in their direction. A few more steps and he would see them. She’d be trapped.

 ‘Skase,’ she whispered, and then remembered her English. ‘Quiet.’

 Warrington studied her, but gave a small lift of his chin in agreement.

 She brushed past him, nodding for him to follow her. Snaking through the gnarled trees, she ran towards a knoll that rose just enough that they couldn’t be seen from the path.

 She reached the hiding place and pulled him beside her, hoping they would not be seen. Listening, she realised the men no longer talked. Stephanos and the other man were silent—unmoving.

 Fear crept into her body, clutching at her insides. If Stephanos saw her with Warrington, the Greek would not ask any questions, but would find his own answers. Stephanos and his friends always carried knives and they were skilled with them.

 After a few moments of nothing, she heard the word, gida, and relaxed. Goat.

 The men continued on. She heard their voices fading away and her breathing returned to normal. Warrington put a hand on her shoulder, the warm grasp somehow reassuring. He tugged her around to him and put his face so near hers that the breath of his whisper touched her cheek. He didn’t release her, but his grip was soft.

 ‘Have you stolen the stone?’ he asked, words quiet, creating a haven around her.

 She would have confessed all if she’d done wrong. ‘No. The man who owns the land where I found the treasure knows what I have planned. We are in agreement and he has said he’ll keep my secret. I trust him.’

 Just the gentlest touch of his hand again, moving over the crest of her shoulder and the merest bit down her back, and the waiting look in his eyes, trapped her in an intriguing web and she could not stop her words. ‘When they are sure I am safely gone a long distance, my sisters are to say I’ve been forced away by a man from a ship.’

 His eyes widened and he stepped back as if she’d prodded him away with a burning stick.

 He opened his mouth to speak, but she closed the distance between them, stopping almost against him. She could not risk him raising his voice.

 ‘You must understand our reasons,’ she said quietly. ‘No one will know who you are. My sisters will not describe the true person.’

 He pulled the satchel from his shoulder and she could tell he meant to leave her there and go on his way.

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