‘You like her?’ he asked.
‘I do.’ She nodded slowly, then frowned. ‘Why are boats always female?’
He thought for a moment. ‘Historically, I think it’s because a lot of boats used to be named after women. The Aeolus isn’t, so I don’t know why I say “she” and “her”. I suppose I’m a little traditional.’
Tilting her head to make his eyes meet hers, she smiled slightly. ‘I wouldn’t say that.’
There was a beat of silence as their gazes locked and she felt a shiver run over her skin, knowing that he, like her, was picturing the many and various ways they had made love last night—some of which she hadn’t even known existed, all of which had made her forget how to breathe.
Her breath caught now as he took a step forward, moving behind her so that she could feel the press of his body, slipping his hands past her waist to close over her hands.
‘What are you doing?’
‘You were drifting,’ he said softly.
His skin and the bristles of his beard were cold against her heated face and she felt her heartbeat lose its rhythm.
‘I’m just correcting your course.’
It wasn’t just the boat that was drifting, she thought helplessly. She could feel her body melting, her insides turning liquid and hot, limbs softening and if he hadn’t been holding her she would have slid to the floor.
‘I don’t know where we’re heading,’ she said hoarsely.
In her head, she’d meant literally—as in their destination—only it had sounded different when she’d said the words out loud.
Her heart bumped against her ribs.
It was something they hadn’t discussed—how and when this would end. When they were in bed, with her body still ringing like a tuning fork and his body so warm and solid next to hers, it had been easy to do as he said and not ‘overthink’ things.
So don’t start now, she told herself. Stop thinking about what you told him yesterday and just enjoy the ride.
‘I meant with the boat,’ she said quickly.
There was a short, pulsing silence, and then slowly he raised his head and drew her chin around, so that she was looking at him. His face was completely expressionless.
‘We’re going to drop anchor just up the coast. Constance has fixed us some lunch, and I thought you might enjoy a picnic on dry land. Or we can just stay on The Aeolus.’ His fingers softened against her skin. ‘But it’s your call. Just tell me what you want, and I’ll make it happen.’
* * *
Frankie had chosen a picnic, as he’d known she would, Arlo thought, glancing up at the flawless forget-me-not-blue sky.
Who wouldn’t want a picnic on a day like this?
As if trying to make amends for the storm-force winds and slanting rain of a few days ago, the weather was perfect. Just the shimmering sun and a soft, Gulf-Stream-warmed breeze that barely lifted Frankie’s dark red curls from her face.
A part of him was still reeling from her revelation yesterday. He hated to think that she’d been so hurt and lost, that she was still hurting.
That was what today was about.
Distracting her from the pain and hoping that it eased a little in the meantime—just like when Johnny had been teething and Arlo had carried him around the Hall, showing him the paintings in the early hours of the morning.
They had dropped anchor near one of the small uninhabited islands on the outer Firth of Forth. They’d taken the tender between the jagged rocks, and now they were sprawled on rugs on the heather-topped cliffs, picking through Constance’s peerless picnic.
A loaf of homemade bread and a simple cold dish of thinly sliced slivers of chicken breast, dressed with a refreshing yoghurt sauce, were joined by baby beetroot with chutney, spiced aubergines, and some superb cheeses. To follow there was a rhubarb fool and a fruit and marzipan panforte, accompanied by a chilled bottle of Mâcon Blanc.
‘I can’t...’ Frankie protested as he leaned forward and filled up her glass.
‘On the contrary—you can. I’m the one who can’t.’ He dropped the bottle back in the ice bucket.