It was her punishment not to be heard or understood, for to be understood would mean to be forgiven, and she didn’t deserve that. And that was why she hadn’t told Arlo about the part she’d played in the accident.
‘Bear off a touch.’
Arlo’s level voice came to her across the deck, and she looked over to where he was working the boat with the crew. She knew nothing about sailing, but it hadn’t taken more than ten minutes at sea for her to understand that Arlo knew a lot.
Her pulse beat in her throat.
Like the rest of the crew he was wearing a dark T-shirt and buff-coloured chinos, but he still stood out from everyone.
Partly that was his height and breadth, but the human race had evolved sufficiently not to blindly follow someone simply on account of their strong thighs and wide shoulders. There was something else that drew her gaze. Something not actually visible. A certainty and authority that was both self-contained yet infinitely subtly responsive to those around him. An energy that thrummed from his core...that was tangible with your eyes shut. Or in the darkness of a bedroom.
Her face felt suddenly hot. She stared, dry-mouthed, her heart thumping against her ribs.
His hair was blowing in front of his eyes and her breath caught as he raised his hand and pushed it back from his angular face...
Their skin might be callused, and he might have lost the tips of two of his fingers, but she loved his hands. Their shape, their size, the dark hairs on the back of his wrists... They were so expressive of his mood, moving constantly while he spoke.
Watching them now, as he demo
nstrated something with a rope to one of the crew, she felt almost dizzy with hunger, remembering how they had moved over her body.
As if sensing her gaze, Arlo looked up. She felt her face grow warm as their eyes met, and then her heartbeat accelerated as he excused himself and began walking towards her.
He’d stopped in front of her and, gazing up at him she felt a hum of pleasure. If not for the presence of the crew, she would have reached up and pulled his mouth onto hers.
‘Yes, everything’s fine.’ She glanced past him to where the huge white sails swelled in the wind. ‘Actually, it’s incredible. But then I’ve only ever been on a ferry before, so...’
That morning, when Arlo had rather offhandedly suggested they go out on his boat, she had imagined some kind of dinghy, maybe even something with oars, but certainly nothing like this.
At over sixty metres long, The Aeolus was no rowing boat. She was a single-masted sloop-rigged superyacht. Although, truthfully, the expensively smooth contours reminded her less of a boat and more of a huge white gull—the kind Arlo had sketched out on the ice floes.
The Aeolus moved like a bird too, skimming fluidly and silently over the waves, following some invisible flight path that seemed to have more to do with the natural rhythms of the wind and the sea than the actions of the crew scurrying about the deck or the high-tech navigation system.
His dark gaze rested on her face. ‘Well, they both float,’ he said drily. ‘But it’s a bit like comparing a mule to a steeplechaser.’
She laughed. ‘I wasn’t actually comparing them.’ A warm feeling settled in her stomach. His mood seemed lighter today, his gaze less shuttered, so that without giving it much thought she asked, ‘So who taught you to sail?’
For a moment he didn’t reply, and she wondered why. It wasn’t exactly a contentious question. But then she realised that he wasn’t weighing up his answer, but how much to say.
A bit like me, she thought, confused by this sudden small connection between them.
‘My Great-Uncle Philip,’ he said finally. ‘He was in the navy. He loved sailing and—’ his mouth flicked up into one of those stiff, almost-smiles ‘—he expected his entire family to love it too.’
He glanced past her to where the sails arced, winglike, above the unbelievably dark blue water.
‘He had a beautiful boat. But before he’d let you on board you used to have to go out with him in a dinghy—prove yourself ready and worthy.’
Frankie shuddered. ‘Like a test?’
He gave another of those careful almost-smiles. ‘Exactly. It was pretty stressful. He was exacting, and relentless when it came to attention to detail, but he wanted you to be the best sailor you could be, and he thought that experience was a gift to share. It wasn’t all hard work. We had a lot of good times too,’ he said, almost as an afterthought. ‘We’d sail all day and then we’d go back to the house, and the whole family would be there, and we’d have this huge meal, and me and my cousins would get to stay up late...’
Her throat tightened with a mix of pain and envy. She missed her family so much it felt as if someone was squeezing her chest in a vice. And yet she liked hearing Arlo talk about his family. It made his face change, grow handsome, almost...
Glancing up, she found him watching her and, feeling suddenly self-conscious, she said quickly, ‘I don’t think any boat could be as beautiful as The Aeolus. I feel like I’m in The Great Gatsby, or something, but she’s not vulgar. There’s something organic about how she looks...as if she’s in harmony with the sea.’
He looked pleased, and she felt something wobble inside her. She didn’t know why, but she liked watching his grey eyes lighten at something she’d said.