Looking up at him, she was struck again by his size and his austere, uncompromising features, but most of all by his intense maleness. Other men might be prettier, more symmetrical, more elegant, but Arlo was magnificent. And half a head taller than everyone else.
She felt a slight fluttering pressure against her pelvic bone as he stared down at her, his eyes dark with heat. Taking a breath, she said quickly, ‘So why did he get to be painted on the ceiling?’
Arlo glanced upward. ‘He actually got more than a ceiling. This estate was a gift for his military successes against the French and the Bavarians.’
‘And you followed in his footsteps?’
He met her eyes. ‘Not quite. Although I did get into a fight with a French geologist out at Svalbard a couple of years back.’
‘He was uncomplimentary about my sledge.’
Frankie burst out laughing. Watching some of the tension leave his face, she felt her happiness grow brighter than the light from the polished chandeliers.
‘Oh, there you are!’
It was Serena, glamorous in silver lamé, and the warmth in her voi
ce matched her smile. Beside her, Davey was handsome in his dark suit.
‘Davey was worried you’d got lost. He was about to send a search party.’
Arlo shook his cousin’s hand. ‘As if I’d miss the chance to razz you in public.’ He turned to Serena and kissed her on the cheek. ‘You look lovely as always, Lady Fairfax.’
‘Never mind me.’ Turning, she gazed admiringly at Frankie. ‘Look at you. You look absolutely gorgeous. Doesn’t she, Arlo?’
Frankie felt her blood lighten as his eyes rested on her face, his head tilting slightly towards her. ‘Yes, she does.’
* * *
Frankie was more than gorgeous, Arlo thought, pressing his hand flat on her back to steady himself. She was captivatingly lovely. He literally couldn’t tear his gaze away from her.
The crème de ciel blue silk not only matched her eyes, it seemed to ripple over her body like water, and he had to concentrate hard on keeping his hands from sliding aside those thin straps.
Later, he told himself firmly, as his cousin Arthur bounded up to greet him. Later in their room, when they were alone, he would strip her naked and take her in his arms and let his body flow into hers.
Right now, he had to get through this.
Although with Frankie by his side it was proving less painful than he’d anticipated. Her excitement was infectious and, standing beside her, he was struck by how easily she got on with people. She made it look so effortless. Considering she didn’t know anyone, she was relaxed and natural and warm—in other words, everything he wasn’t. And it was obvious that she accepted people for who they were.
Just as she had accepted him.
But he could see, too, that she loved being part of a family again—and she was a part of it. She fitted into his world like a hand in a glove.
As if sensing his gaze, Frankie glanced over at him and he felt his heartbeat accelerate. The skin was taut over the curves of her cheekbones, her eyes glittering with a curiosity and eagerness for life. For him.
His breath caught. When she looked at him like that it was tempting to think beyond the here and now, beyond this evening, beyond tomorrow...
Tempting, too, to think of choices made and yet to be made, of tantalising possibilities that had nothing to do with cold and danger or hardship and isolation, so that suddenly it was easy to imagine an alternative, hazy, sun-filled world, where the sky was always the colour of curaçao and Frankie was always in his bed.
But he’d chased that dream before, and all he’d succeeded in doing was breaking Harriet’s heart and proving to himself what he had already known. Feelings could not be relied upon.
So why go there? Why ruin what they had?
This was perfection. A flawless moment frozen in time. It was not for everyone, but for him it was the only way.
From across the room, he heard someone call his name. Glancing over, he saw Arthur holding up his wrist and pointing at his watch.