crewed up her face. ‘But that’s not fair. You organised all of this and now you have to stay sober.’
Arlo stared at her in silence, a pulse ticking below his skin. It didn’t matter that most of his crew were experienced sailors, or that it was a beautiful calm day. Alcohol and boats didn’t mix.
But that didn’t mean he was sober. On the contrary, being with Frankie made him feel as if he’d drunk a cellar full of wine. Although probably that was just the ozone. After a day at sea, he often felt that way. It was just a coincidence that he was here with her.
His heart thumped against his ribs.
He couldn’t deny, though, that he liked knowing he could make her happy. That it was in his power to make her happy.
Here, out in the sunlight, basking in Frankie’s smile, it felt suddenly more important than ever to remember that—to remember how it had ended the last time he’d sought out that power.
He felt a twinge of guilt, as he always did when he thought about his blink-and-you’d-miss-it marriage.
His marriage...the divorce.
Harriet was part of a past he’d intentionally buried deep, deep down, so that he didn’t have to think about it. And it had been working just fine until Frankie had arrived with her past, and her questions, and now suddenly memories kept pushing to the surface.
He gritted his teeth. Not just memories. Feelings too. Only it was going to stop now. Whatever it was he was feeling for Frankie had nothing to do with the past.
She needed a friend. It didn’t mean anything. All he was doing was trying to make a few days of her life feel like a picnic. There was nothing more to it than that.
‘I’ve been meaning to ask—what are the other rules?’
He glanced up at her. ‘Rules?’
She waved her fork in the air. ‘The other day you said that when you came home you had to eat real food at a table because that was one of your rules.’
Had he said that? How unbelievably pompous of him. He didn’t have any rules.
Or rather he did. Unfortunately, he had broken both of them for Frankie.
His chest tightened. She wasn’t the first woman he’d dated since Harriet, but with those other women he’d always been, if not happy, then ready and willing to part company after one night. And he’d never taken them home. Those were his unspoken rules.
But not only had he spent more than one night with Frankie, she was also staying at the Hall.
Sleeping in his bed.
An image of her as she’d looked that morning, pale limbs sprawled against the sheets, whipped at his senses and he felt a mix of resentment and relief at his ever-present hunger.
Feeling her gaze on his face, he shrugged. ‘Nothing that exciting, I’m afraid. Just what everyone tells themselves after being on their own in a cold, brutal world. You know...the usual rules about not taking things, people, for granted.’
He’d said the first thing that came into his head but, glancing over at her pale, set face, he suddenly wished he had told her the truth. Silence stretched away from him, sweeping down to the sea like the great, granite cliff, and he swore softly.
‘Frankie...’ Reaching out, he took her hand. ‘I didn’t mean to—’
‘It’s fine.’ Her fingers tightened around his. ‘I know you weren’t talking about me, but you’re right.’ She glanced down, her dark lashes fanning out over her cheeks. ‘We all take so much for granted. I know I did.’
His heart squeezed at the bruised ache in her voice. That was the difference between them. She couldn’t control her pain. She hadn’t learned how to block it out. But then it was all so new for her.
‘It’s a problem most humans have,’ he said slowly.
Before his mother’s illness he had taken so much for granted. He felt his chest tighten, remembering those days out on his great-uncle’s boat. They had been long, tiring days, but being surrounded by his family every hour he had felt magical, blessed. Bulletproof.
It was hard to believe now, but back then he had genuinely thought that they were invulnerable, that his parents’ all-consuming love offered them some magical protection against hurt and injustice—even illness and death.