She stared up at him, her blood turning to air, her vision shuddering in and out of focus. He was bare-chested, with a black sweater tied around his waist and, incongruously, a dark sheep, complete with curling horns, draped over his shoulders.
Her mouth felt as if it had been sandpapered.
He looked like someone from another age and he seemed completely at ease—as if he often stripped off to the waist and carried livestock around. Her gaze dropped to his chest...to the acreage of pale muscle.
When he had picked her up on the causeway, and then again when she had kissed him, she’d had a sense not just of physical strength but of a potent, untapped power.
Now she knew why.
He was not just ‘ripped’, there was a kind of organic solidity to his physique—almost as if his upper body was made of stone. And yet there was nothing clumsy about the way he moved. On the contrary, he had the same easy, loping gait as the dark dog that was now trotting beside him.
At that moment Arlo looked up, and her stomach clenched as if it was being squeezed by a giant hand. She watched him come closer, nervously trying out various half-finished sentences in her head. And then he was stopping in front of her, and suddenly it was a struggle to fill her lungs, much less think in sentences. Above them, the sky seemed to shrink back on itself.
He gave her a slight almost-smile and, even though he was the one who was half naked, she felt herself blushing.
‘Are you looking for me or just out for a walk?’
His dark grey eyes rested on her flushed face and, trying to control the hammering of her heart, she said quickly, ‘A walk.’
Dragging her gaze away from the thin line of dark hair that disappeare
d into the waistband of his jeans, she looked up at the sheep. ‘What happened to it?’
His forehead corrugated into a frown. ‘It’s difficult to say. Either she hunkered down in the wrong place or she got blown over by the wind. She doesn’t seem hurt, but she didn’t want to move. She’s probably just winded.’
‘Where did you find her?’
‘Just over there.’
She followed his gaze. The mist had cleared, and she felt a kick of horror. Maybe the slope was less steep when you were standing on it, but from this angle the gradient looked almost vertical.
‘You went down there?’ Her horror morphed into outrage. ‘Imagine if I’d done that.’
His eyes met hers. ‘Why would you? You don’t have anything to prove.’
And he did? She stared at him in confusion. He was a decorated soldier, an expert in his field, and a polar explorer.
‘What do you have to prove?’ she asked.
He tilted his head back, an impossible to read expression on his face.
‘The other day someone told me I wasn’t quite the hero I thought I was.’
She stared at him, her heart suddenly pounding so hard against her ribs she thought the force of it might send her flying down the hillside.
Trying to play it cool, she held his gaze. ‘Is that right?’
He nodded. ‘Unfortunately, there’s a major shortage of damsels in distress on the island, so I had to resort to rescuing sheep.’
* * *
Watching Frankie’s lips curve up into one of those tree-felling smiles she seemed able to produce at will, Arlo felt his stomach go into freefall. He had slept badly again, woken early, and even though he’d felt exhausted his body had been twitchy, his mind too restless to let him even try falling back to sleep.
It was only as he’d walked downstairs that he’d realised why he was finding it so difficult to sleep. The storm was passing, any day now the causeway would be safe to cross, and Frankie Fox would be free to leave.
Yesterday morning he would have greeted that statement with relief. But a lot had changed in the twenty-four hours since he’d found her semi-naked in his bed—not least, his opinion of her.