He felt his shoulders tense. That, though, was all he could give her.
What stopped him going further—what made it impossible for him even to indulge in thinking about going further—was Frankie herself.
She needed more than he could give. No, it was more than that. She needed more than he’d shown her he could give.
Talking to her last night in the bath, he’d made it sound as if hurting her was a risk. But ‘risk’ implied that there was another option where he didn’t end up hurting her, and that wasn’t true.
Memories of his short, unhappy marriage stirred and shivered inside his head.
Had he felt this way with Harriet?
Definitely not. He’d been too young, too desperate.
This time, though, he had no excuse to ruin a young woman’s life.
And Frankie deserved better. After everything she’d already been through, she needed someone who could complete her life, not cause it to unravel.
His chest tightened.
And yet he couldn’t seem to stop himself from wanting to rearrange the world so that it would offer up a space where he and Frankie could be together. Although at the same time he needed it not to involve any kind of contract or commitment that could be broken.
In other words, he wanted something that didn’t exist. Only he didn’t have the first idea how to explain any of that to Frankie—which was why he’d ended up telling her about Harriet.
He’d never had to do that before. In the past, with other women, he’d found it easy to stick to his rules without needing to justify or explain himself. But right from the start Frankie had been different. Somehow she had sneaked under the tripwire, and before he had known what was happening she’d upended everything that had previously seemed so certain and inviolable.
Yesterday, she’d left him with no option. He’d had to tell her about his marriage to prove to her once and for all that it didn’t matter what worked for other people. It hadn’t worked for him.
‘What is it?’
Frankie was looking up at him. She felt soft and warm against him, but it was the questioning look in her blue eyes that made his fingers still against her hair.
‘Nothing.’ He forced a smile as her gaze travelled over his face.
He had to stop this pointless back and forth. It was like trying to move forward in a whiteout.
But probably he was only feeling this way because he’d churned up the past, muddying the waters of the present.
‘I was just thinking about maybe going for a dip.’
‘You mean, in the sea?’
She wriggled upright, her eyes bright with the adventure of it. Leaning forward, she looped her hands around his neck so that he could feel the tips of her small pointed breasts against his chest.
‘But won’t it be freezing?’
‘It’ll be bracing.’ He smiled. ‘Don’t worry. I’m not expecting you to come with me.’
She frowned. ‘But I want to. Unless you’re planning on swimming around the island or to Denmark?’
’t occurred to him that she would want to join him. He thought she’d opt to stay by the fire. But now, gazing down at her eager face, it seemed blindingly obvious she would never do that.
He shook his head. ‘I wasn’t planning on being in for more than a couple of minutes,’ he lied.
He’d actually been planning on swimming up to the rocks. But he was used to swimming in chilly seas. Frankie wasn’t. And without a wetsuit it would be just too dangerous for her to do anything more than take a quick dip.
‘Did you bring a costume with you?’ he asked.