Safe in the Earl's Arms(6)

By: Liz Tyner

 ‘No,’ she whispered, closing her fingers over his roughened hand, preventing him from giving her the bag. His knuckles were large in her grasp, startling her, and she knew she didn’t keep them closed by her strength any more than she caused the tides. Confusion flashed behind his eyes and something whispered in her that she had trapped his hand—that he could no more move his fingers than if their grasps had been reversed and his strength held her.

 She could not lose her advantage. ‘I am not a thief. I merely wish to get to the British Museum and find out what my treasure is worth. Then I will be able to sell it.’

 ‘But kidnapped?’ He remained with his face almost at hers. ‘That’s a bit much.’

 She closed her lips and let her breath out through her nose before she answered, ‘I have no choice.’

 ‘I do.’ He kept his words tight and lines appeared at the sides of his eyes and mouth. ‘I am not at ease with purchasing a woman and I certainly wouldn’t steal one.’

 The words pleased her, yet they were not what she wanted to hear.

 She had to convince him. She held his gaze with her own. ‘It is necessary. My sisters can’t be hurt by my actions. The man who rules the island would be enraged at them if he thought they had helped me leave and did not search him out to keep me. They would suffer. They could be starved, or beaten, or forced into marriage or worse. I cannot escape and leave them behind to face torture.’

 She felt his movement and looked down to her hand. She’d tightened her grip on his fingers. He slowly slid his hand from hers.

 ‘You’re leaving behind a man.’ His words were thoughtful.

 She had to make him understand. ‘Our land doesn’t support my sisters. The rocks only grow more rocks. I care nothing for the man who wishes to marry me, yet his mother often sees that we have food. If I stay, I will have no choice but to wed him. She wishes for it. So does he. He is powerful.’

 Stephanos controlled the island and did so easily. But he had other secrets. He often left the island and returned with goods. One of his shirts was mottled with faded brown stains. Blood.

 She could barely keep the kindness in her words when Stephanos called on her and she had to speak to him. Perhaps, as the others whispered, she truly had been tainted by her English heritage.

 ‘I have promised myself to no one,’ she said.

 Warrington shut his eyes.

 She put her palm flat on his chest. When his lids fluttered up, she could feel the change in his gaze. She wouldn’t beg, or ask again. She didn’t think she needed to.

 He spoke harshly under his breath—the words directed at himself.

 His hand closed at her elbow and he turned away, again taking the lead, only this time, his steps were careful and he watched the wooded areas around them.

 She followed, knowing her sisters depended on her and she risked her life to be able to save them. But it wasn’t a choice. It was what she had to do. She was the eldest and that meant sacrifice. If she died at sea, or at the hands of a stranger, then she would know she did it for her family. Her mother’s last words to her had been Take care of your sisters.

 * * *

 Warrington forced himself not to stare at Melina. They stood hidden among the cragged rocks, watching the longboat and waiting for the sailors to return. The hem of her head covering fluttered in the wind and kept calling his attention to her.

 He wished he could see her chest again. Her birthmark did have an interesting curve to it. He remembered the child’s game of imagining wisps of a cloud as objects and tried to recall the exact shape the mark formed.

 He heard the first mate’s voice before he saw him emerging from the road. Once the men reached the longboat, he hurried Melina to them.

 ‘You ready to heave to?’ Gidley gaped at the woman even as he directed the words at Warrington.

 ‘Yes,’ Warrington snapped. ‘Hurry.’

 Gidley’s voice became butler formal. ‘Will his lordship be having a guest?’

 ‘Launch the damn longboat.’

 Gidley put his forefinger to his lips in a silencing motion and then lowered his hand. He mouthed the word lady.

 Warrington mouthed back words for Gidley that neither would repeat in front of the woman. The other seamen beamed as if enjoying a particularly good scene at Drury Lane Theatre.

 ‘Yes, yer lordship.’ Gidley helped the others push the boat into the waves, then scrambled into the boat, and took the seat in front of her, facing the woman. Warrington made a forceful circular motion with his hand, commanding Gidley to twist around. Gidley’s eyelashes gave an innocent blink as he looked at Warrington, then gazed back at the woman, giving a bow of his head as acknowledgement, and turned in his seat. ‘Beautiful day for bein’ at sea.’ He spoke to no one in particular.

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