Safe in the Earl's Arms(8)

By: Liz Tyner

 Ben didn’t speak, but his eyes darted up to the heavens in a disgusted manner.

 ‘Explain your request to the captain.’ Warrington spoke to Melina and clasped his hands behind his back. He leaned towards her, challenging them both.

 She looked at Ben as if she stared across a battlefield and saw him as a target in front of her, then took a gentle breath—so small to be almost invisible. But the movement signalled a change in her.

 Her shoulders dropped no more than a hair. She didn’t move her feet forward, but she swayed with the movement of the ship. Warrington was certain she leaned towards Ben as the ship moved and when it rocked back, he did not see her retreat. He locked his jaw and forced himself not to step between them or pull her back.

 ‘I wish taxidi—to travel to England.’ Her voice became lower—her accent turning into a siren’s husky whisper. Her hands reached to grasp the tied ends of her shawl and pull the knot free. ‘I have an agreement with this man.’ She spared a glance at Warrington.

 Warrington commanded himself to remain still. Her voice dripped into him like warm pebbles of desire, bringing back the image of her legs and the spot at her breast. Perhaps he would take her back to her home and work out a true bargain there. The longboat could return him to the ship in the morning. He struggled to attend to the words of the conversation, making his plans for the night.

 She reached up and pulled her scarf from her head, sliding the cloth away from her face, and the movements also caused the shawl to drop completely from her shoulders. Warrington watched two seamen collide in their haste to return the garment to her.

 Ben’s expression glazed over. When Warrington saw that, his eyes followed his brother’s gaze.

 Warrington stared, his mind not working. The scarf had kept drifting across her face before. He hadn’t truly looked beyond the spot on her breast.

 Her eyes, he knew they were brown. And her lips red. And her nose, a normal nose. But somehow the arrangement of them and the curve of her chin, and dusts of her hair falling loose from her bun, swirled themselves around her in such a way as to bring them all into a delight for a man’s senses.

 And that was before even looking lower to a mark that peeked out from the bodice, making one wonder what lay beneath—or making one fill in the imagination of what lay beneath in a stirring way.

 ‘You are in agreement,’ Melina said.

 ‘I would prefer not having a woman aboard...’ Ben’s voice sounded as a kindly father’s ‘...but since we can accommodate you with little effort I’ll allow it.’ Ben touched a flat palm to his chest. ‘I, of course, will be happy to share my quarters with you to make sure you are—’

 Warrington knew too much of his brother’s life. Snaking an arm around Melina, Warrington pulled her close, sweat forming at his temples. ‘She and I have already discussed...the particulars. She will travel with me.’

 ‘Oh?’ Ben challenged, lowering his palm from his shirt. ‘I—’

 ‘Yes,’ Warrington said, feeling her brushing the length of his side. ‘We have discussed it. I will handle any expense she might incur. She will share my quarters.’ He levelled a glare at his brother. ‘I believe you mentioned that it might be best for me to have a woman’s company.’

 ‘Should lessen your growls to snarls, I hope.’ Ben smiled as he spoke. He looked at Melina. ‘If you could do that, miss, the entire ship will be grateful.’

 Warrington could feel her hip through her skirts, pressed at his thigh, and smell the spiced scent again, which hinted at mystical pleasures. He felt nothing like growling.

 He pushed the thoughts away and loosened his grip. Any tighter and he feared she would be gasping for breath. As it was, he felt on the edge of it and she seemed to have lost her words.

 The captain looked at Melina. ‘Are you willing to sail this very night?’

 She nodded.

 Ben turned to Warrington. ‘While you lolled around on the island, the repairs ended. The wind is perfect, and the tide right. We can be at sea as the light fades. Show her your cabin, then get to the foredeck and give a hand.’

 Warrington leaned his head towards Ben and spoke in a low voice. ‘Helping on deck is not what I had in mind.’

 Ben smiled. ‘See the tears on my face.’ He turned and walked away, his boots clattering on the deck louder than before. With every step he shouted a new order to get ready to sail.

 Melina whipped the shawl back around her shoulders. She took the parcel from the man who’d lifted it on board.

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