Safe in the Earl's Arms(97)

By: Liz Tyner

 ‘What if my parentage is discovered? My father was married to another woman at the time he lived with my mother.’

 ‘Your father’s wife knows and I don’t wish to cause her any embarrassment. I am quite happy with letting the world know you’re a descendent of Aphrodite. Who’s to say it isn’t true? Certainly not me. I believe it.’

 She stood and her eyes softened. ‘My mother often claimed she had the spirit of a goddess. So I have heard that nonsense before.’

 He took his forefinger and touched her mark, tracing a heart over it. ‘Do you think Aphrodite will marry a mere mortal like me?’

 She thrust herself into his arms, knocking him back a step, holding him tight.

 He held her close, shutting his eyes, and feeling freedom, as if a thousand years of curses had left him.

 ‘I will stay,’ she said, ‘but I’ll give you my answer to the marriage later,’ she said. ‘I am in no hurry.’

 ‘I’ll have to correct that.’ He put his cheek against her hair and inhaled the holiday scent of her, and hoped she never lost the trace of all the best parts of the island that clung to her.

 * * *

 Warrington watched Willa and Jacob arguing over her doll while he waited for Melina to return from her walk in the Whitegate gardens. She searched for the perfect spot for her statue. In a few days, Ben should return with the sculpture and with Melina’s sisters, and his wife could hardly wait.

 Movement beside him caught his eye. ‘You do not want the doll, Jacob,’ Warrington commanded. ‘Give it back to your sister.’

 The moment Jacob handed it back, Warrington saw Willa’s arm flex. ‘Do not hit your brother.’

 She looked at Warrington, smiled and said, ‘Watface.’

 Jacob snickered.

 ‘Jacob.’ He glared at his son. ‘If you ever teach her anything like that again, you will be forbidden from riding Nero for a fortnight.’

 Jacob’s body sagged. ‘Paapaa...’ He dragged out the word.

 Willa looked at Warrington. ‘Paapaaa...’ she copied Jacob’s speech and ran to Warrington. He picked her up. Now when he looked into her eyes, he saw sunshine, and when he looked at Jacob, he saw Ben. That was not so pleasing.

 ‘Warrington.’ He heard Melina’s voice behind him. She never called him by anything but his title, except when they were alone. Then she often whispered to him in her mother’s language. Some day he would tell her that his childhood tutor had schooled him quite well in other languages—and his skill with one in particular had persuaded the Foreign Office to ask his assistance with the Greece mission.

 ‘You must be firm with Willa,’ Melina continued speaking to him. ‘She knows ratface isn’t a kind word.’

 He felt little arms cling more tightly around his neck and a soft cheek snuggled against him.

 ‘Willa,’ he said, ‘you cannot ride Jacob’s horse for a fortnight.’

 ‘Warrington...’ Melina put her hands on her hips.

 He forced himself not to smile. He was not besotted. He was in love. Totally, truly. And this time, nothing about it felt the same as before. His past wasn’t buried. It had vanished. Just like a myth.

 ‘Willa,’ he said to her, ‘your mana and your papa must insist that you only say nice words.’

 ‘Until you are married,’ Melina added. ‘Then you may speak as you wish to your husband.’

 ‘As you do.’ He used his free hand to clasp her waist and pull her close enough to kiss her nose. ‘And as I do to you. My Aphrodite. Not a mythological goddess. But better. I recovered the true treasure from Melos.’

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