Safe in the Earl's Arms(7)

By: Liz Tyner

 Warrington stepped over the side and took the empty plank beside Melina. His shoulder brushed hers. He thought he detected the scent of rosemary about her, but he wasn’t sure he even knew what the herb would smell like.

 The other men thumped into the boat, voicing polite comments on the calmness of the sea and the beauty of the island as if speaking in front of their grandmothers. Gidley continued his teatime reminisces as the men rowed, recounting with the other seamen the polite sights they’d seen in their travels.

 Warrington shut his eyes briefly. He had no idea where these dainty men came from.

 ‘Correct, yer lordship?’ Gidley asked.

 ‘Most certainly, my dear,’ Warrington answered. He heard a smothered snort from someone else, followed by a coughing attempt to disguise the sound into politeness.

 Melina gathered the bundle closer. He hated that she felt discomfort.

 Warrington kept his voice calm. ‘The next one of you who makes a sound before we board is going to let the rest of the crew watch him swimming around Ascalon and the first seaman who can bounce a biscuit off the swimmer’s head can give him orders until we’re home.’

 Silence followed, except for the rhythmic sound of oars slapping the water.

 Her shoulders relaxed and he wished he could retrace his steps. Bringing her on to the longboat had been foolish and she was the one being misled. He’d let himself be blinded by a little spot of skin and now she was on a longboat for no reason. They both should have stayed home.

 He didn’t feel he’d had the option, though. The Foreign Office knew of his ship and had asked him for help. The trip had been a worthwhile diplomatic mission, in that he could tell them the Greeks still planned to rebel against the Ottoman rule. He didn’t know if the Turks suspected or not, but he had the information he’d been sent for.

 When the boat tapped against the hull of the Ascalon, the men tied the longboat. The men closest to the ladder left first. Then Warrington or Melina would go on deck.

 Melina stood and didn’t move forward, still holding her bundle and her satchel strap draped over her arm.

 He touched the small of her back and she turned to him. He reached forward, taking the sculpture. ‘I’ll get it on deck. If you dropped it into the sea going up the ladder, we’d never get it back.’

 She released the bundle and gave her shawl and scarf each a quick knot. She picked her way to the ladder, lifting her skirts to step over the seat in front of them. A simple, everyday movement. His mouth went dry. The image of her legs sealed itself around him. His imagination began to fill in the rest of her body while his mind generously unclothed her. Long limbs, smooth, and welcoming.

 He brought himself back to the moment and saw her at the ladder, staring at the ropes.

 ‘Just go up as if you’ve done it every day, quick, and don’t stop.’

 She took a few deep breaths, pulled at the waistband of her skirt, trying to keep the fabric away from her feet, and grabbed both sides of the ladder. She snatched the hemp in a stranglehold and moved upwards. Arms reached out to help her on board.

 And now he held her parcel. He couldn’t risk dropping the rock.

 Warrington looked up and called out to the man who stood at the side. ‘Toss me the end of a rope. I need you to haul something up for me.’

 In seconds, a rope dropped at his feet and Warrington bound the end around the package. ‘Pull it up,’ he shouted and the arm went aboard ship. He shook his head at the waste of effort. The rock would be returning to the island soon.

 The men were good sailors, but not a one of them was of the clergy and it would take at least that to ignore the woman. He’d send a decent crewman back with her to escort her home safely. No, he’d have to make do with a well-threatened one. All the decent ones were on other ships.

 Stepping on deck, he saw the men assembled as if Ben demanded them for a meeting, but he knew the captain did no such thing. The cook sat on an overturned bucket and the cabin boy tangled himself in the rigging like a prisoner in stocks, waiting to hear what was said.

 Warrington saw Ben’s stare. ‘You brought a woman because—’ Ben spoke, hands on his hips.

 Melina stood, her scarf still knotted tightly and her jaw firm, and stared at Ben. Ben was getting sized up from the tip of his pointy nose to the last thread in his canvas trousers.

 Warrington edged just to the side between them so he could see each face. He confronted his younger brother. ‘Since I am not the captain and do not have authority as such on this ship, she asked to talk to you.’

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