She couldn’t speak. Suddenly her whole body was taut like a bowstring, and even though there was no reason to do so she was holding her breath. The beat of her heart hovered like a diver on the top board as she waited for his next sentence.
‘For other people. Not for me. I could have done something—should have done something...told someone—but I didn’t. I was like a child, watching the fireworks while the house burns down. And I know you’re going to say I was just a child, but—’
‘You were,’ she said hoarsely, watching the tension in the tiny muscles around his mouth.
His jaw was taut, his eyes distant. ‘I don’t expect you to understand.’
But she did. She understood completely.
Love had let him down, failed him. No wonder he had turned his back on the world and chosen to spend his life wandering the icy extremities of the Arctic and Antarctica, putting his trust in science and data and brutal, honest facts.
r /> It all made horrible, painful sense.
He had failed to save his mother so now he was trying to save the world. She understood that feeling. She felt the same the way—felt the same need to do penance and the urge to share that common chord—and her guilt was almost irresistible—
Her chest tightened. Who was she trying to kid? Nothing about her self-interested behaviour that night in France had anything to with the way Arlo had acted. And she wasn’t about to burden him with her guilt.
Reaching up, she stroked his cheek. If she closed her eyes she could barely feel the scar. But scars were like icebergs: the damage ran deep.
‘I do understand,’ she said slowly.
If only that understanding came with some unique power to help his invisible scars heal, but she had nothing to offer him.
* * *
After they’d climbed back aboard The Aeolus Arlo turned towards the deck, but Frankie tightened her grip on his hand.
He frowned. ‘I was just going to check in with the crew. Make sure everyone’s okay.’
‘They can manage without you.’
His eyes fixed on her face. ‘Is this a mutiny?’
‘Yes, it is,’ she said softly and, feeling as if her heart was dropping away from her body, she pulled him to her and kissed him softly.
She had been wrong. There was something that would soothe the pain. His and hers. Something that was in her power to give.
‘You took care of me yesterday.’ Her eyes locked with his and he breathed in sharply as she slid her hand between his thighs. ‘Now it’s my turn to take care of you.’
And, turning, she led him away from the deck and down to their cabin.
ROLLING ONTO HIS SIDE, Arlo stared across the room at the open bathroom door. Frankie was in the shower, and over the sound of the running water he could hear her singing. He couldn’t make out the words of the song, but people only sang in the shower when they were happy and that was what mattered.
His shoulders tensed. Although after his performance yesterday she might be forgiven for not believing that.
Gazing unseeingly across the room, he thought about the things that he’d told Frankie out in the heather on the cliffs.
It shouldn’t have happened. Ordinarily it wouldn’t have. She was by no means the first woman to ask him about his parents, and he’d never had any trouble deflecting questions. But yesterday he hadn’t been able to stop himself talking. And not just talking. It had been practically a full-blown confession. He had talked about everything.
But why would he mention his ex-wife?
It all seemed so long ago now.
He’d met her at university, just weeks after losing his father, when he had been desperate with grief. It shamed him to admit it now, but she had been a shoulder to cry on.