Safe in the Earl's Arms(9)

By: Liz Tyner

 ‘Follow me,’ Warrington said to her.

 His berth was in the foredeck. The captain and the first mate had quarters in the aft deck, close to the wheel.

 Warrington led Melina to his cabin, opening the door, which barely swung wide enough for his shoulders. He stepped back, letting her inside. He remained in the doorway and saw her survey the surroundings.

 ‘Take the bunk,’ he suggested. ‘I’ll get some other bedding.’

 The hesitancy in her movements made him want to reassure her, but he couldn’t. He stood immobile, looking into the cabin. Everything appeared differently to him than when he’d first decided he would sail. Then, he’d seen the surroundings as an efficient use of space. Now he was not impressed to stand in the centre and be able to touch both walls.

 The berth took no more room than for a man to lie on, with storage above, and below an open cabinet with a railing around it to keep supplies from escaping and a brace midway.

 He could not sit upright on the bed and felt he slept in a casket for a man of slight build. He had a chair cinched to the wall and his sea chest sat underneath a table. He had floor space slightly larger than the length and width of his bed.

 ‘Are you certain you wish to sail with us?’ He spoke the words to her back. ‘This will be the room you and I will share. You can change your mind now and I will see that you are returned to your home. The ship can wait to leave.’

 She didn’t turn to him. ‘I have no choice.’

 As he heard her, his mind knew what her mouth said, but her voice barely touched him. The curve of her shoulders and the delicateness of her skin—those things reached him. And he knew without a doubt in any hidden crevasse of his mind he’d not overcome his weakness. Not even facing his own death had changed him.

 He could never curse a woman as much as he cursed himself for his foolishness.

 At least on Melos she had a home and family. She’d be soon lost among the dockside lightskirts at Wapping docks, trying to entice men. But it wasn’t his concern. He had tried to keep her from the ship.

 Thinking of her on the docks, plying her trade, made him feel angry again. She only thought she moved into a place to improve her circumstance. The stews of London took no prisoners and willingly released no one alive.

 He forced the concern from his mind.

 The seamen could have their abstinence. He didn’t mind so much when solitude was his own choice. But he did prefer to see noses without close proximity to whiskers. Before, he’d not noticed how women’s presence made the world feel differently, until he found himself surrounded by men.

 He missed Whitegate, his true home, but he’d left it well before he boarded the ship.

 He’d left a perfectly sound home behind for the chance to sleep on boards and inhale salt water through his nose. And instead of a crystal decanter, kegs held stale water. The biscuits sometimes had to be broken into pieces and slowly mushed away in his mouth.

 He’d not thought past his wish to keep her from Ben, or his own desires, to realise he was putting himself in such closeness with a woman. He’d never shared a room with a woman. Or awakened with anyone. Not even when he was married.

 The act seemed intimate. More than a quick tumble would be. Sleeping near her, very near her, could be... His breathing increased. Pleasant.

 Or not.

 He examined her carefully, thinking of the rumblings from the ship at night. ‘Do you snore?’

 She stood and looked at him. ‘Do you?’

 ‘No.’ He supposed he didn’t.

 Her eyes opened wide, too wide. ‘If I sleep loud, will you go somewhere else?’

 He smiled. ‘It’s an old sailor’s legend that if a woman snores it’s because she hasn’t had enough bed play to tire her into a sound slumber.’

 Her nose went up. ‘It’s a Greek woman’s legend that if a man ronchalizo it’s because of the air moving about where his mind should be.’

 ‘We’ll have to find something to do together so neither of us sleeps.’

 ‘I do not snore...’ She paused and her gaze narrowed when she realised what she said. Her words were strident. ‘And it has nothing to do with bed play.’

 ‘It could.’ He returned the innocent look she’d given him earlier.

 She huffed, not answering. He preferred the anger over the dread he’d seen on her face earlier. Before he sailed, he’d been concerned about the trip—and he knew his brother was a seaworthy captain and the crew was experienced.

 Even so, he’d not liked the voyage and he’d hated the first climb up the ratlines.

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