Scene of Philip and Arabella when they first meet…..
“Who goes there?” Philip strained his eyes in the darkness. A shadowy figure lurked behind the corner of the dank hold. He could hear the creature’s rapid breathing. A strong stench of fetid animal dung filled what little air there was. The ship rocked sideways, stirring up the smell. He clutched his handkerchief to his nose. The figure, whether man or beast, he could not tell, stepped into the feeble light. A broken bottle was wielded in its fist.
And then the creature spoke. The voice, though he had not heard it in seventeen years, was all too familiar.
“If you touch me, I will kill you.”
A thousand emotions, all of them disturbing, flowed through him. He blinked hard, adjusting his eyes to the dimness.
The bottle wavered. “Who are you? Did xxxxx send you down here to murder me?” She bit off a sharp laugh. “He need not have bothered, since the stench is enough to fell a bear.” Philip stepped forward, and Arabella faltered back with a gasp. “Stay where you are, sir!”
“Arabella, it’s me – it’s Philip.” And then, as if she wouldn’t have known him otherwise, he added, “Philip Rathbone.”
“I know who you are,” she breathed. The bottle fell to the floor. “What are you doing here?”
Her voice was even, measured, but he heard the falter. His heart leapt a little in his chest.
“Why, you sent for me. I came as quickly as I could, only I met with….” He took a few steps toward her and she stood her ground. In the faint light seeping through the cracks in the deck overhead, he could make out her features. Her brown eyes were dark orbs set against her pale complexion. Her full red lips, one of her most attractive features, looked tight and drawn. She put out her hand to touch him, eyes wide. He remained in place, watching her, fighing back the urge to take her in his arms….
Her fingers brushed his coat and she jumped. “My God, you are real,” she stammered. Her arm dropped to her side. Her eyes narrowed. “What do you mean, I sent for you? I have nothing to say to you, Philip Rathbone. Nothing whatsoever.” She whirled away from him, and he caught the faint whisper of a scent of roses clinging to her tangled dark hair as she walked.
He followed her. He always had. He pulled the torn and crumpled broadsheet from inside his coat, where he’d kept it close to his heart. He shook it in front of her.
“Is not this your writing, Arabella? I beg your pardon, I mean, Countess of Aragon?” The words were bitter in his mouth. How long had she waited to marry his rival, the one man he would sooner spit on than share a casual greeting? The betrayal still cut, even after so many years. But still, she had sent for him, and he’d come running, like a dog, his tail between his legs. Hoping for understanding…an explanation…anything.
She snatched the paper from him and stood under a brighter beam of light. She crushed it in her hand.
“Marguerite,” she said. She stared at him for a moment, her gaze lingering on his mouth. “My daughter,” she added.
He tried to hide his disgust and sorrow and rage. She’d bedded the Count as soon as he, Philip, had turned his back.
“Belated congratulations on the birth of your child,” he said, surprised his voice was so calm. “My regards to the proud father. How is the Count these days?”
Arabella chewed her lip until she tasted blood. How dare he? How could he speak to her after all he’d done to her? She longed to tell him the truth; how she’d been sick with grief, desolate, even, when he’d left her to pursue other adventures. Left her pregnant and alone, and at the mercy of a man such as Cesar, the Count of Aragon, who’d pretended to be her friend.
But years of court life had taught her many things. One was to never show her true feelings, but to wear a mask of indifference. She squared her shoulders and held her head high, as if she were in the Seville court rather than in the rolling bowels of a pirate ship.
“He is superb. I will give him your regards, if we can ever leave this wretched place.” Her cold gaze glanced up at his shoulders and across his chest. “You’re not as thin as you once were. Perhaps you will be useful to me.” She turned on her heel and he snatched her elbow before she could react. His left hand caught her right as she raised it to strike him a blow that would fell any other man. Any other man not severely and utterly in love with her.
She stared into his eyes, her own wide and bright with unshed tears. Philip felt the surging passion rise in him once more, but fought it down as he glanced at her throat, as pale and soft as an apricot’s blush. How many kisses had he placed there? How many nights had he caressed her, enjoying her maidenly blushes and sighs, until she’d given herself, freely and totally, to him?
“How could you do it?” he asked. He dropped her elbow, but his hand still clutched her wrist. It felt fragile and delicate in his hand. His grip eased. “How could you marry that….that….”
“Because I knew it would kill you,” she spat. A single tear slipped down her cheek, like dew on a roseleaf. “After what you did to me, I only wanted vengeance.” A sob tore from her, and she pulled at her arm. “Let go of me.”
He shook his head slowly. “You cannot know what your act of vengeance did to me.”
She gulped and shrugged. “Your cold heart will mend, I’m sure.”
He sneered at her. “And yours can never break, since it’s made of hard iron.” Rage and grief tore through her like a runaway stag. “You know nothing of my torment, of my pain! How quickly did you bed the fair lady xxxx? Was it the week you left me, or did you wait all of a month?”
“I have no children, no reminders of my broken vows, madam.” He finally released her hand. “Does she look like him? Double chin and warts on her ears?” He took a lock of her hair in his hand, meaning to tug on it, but at the familiar softness, he could only run his fingers through it. She stepped away from him and he dropped his arm.
“She is beautiful,” she whispered. Her gaze was on his mouth again. “She looks like your mother. She has her green eyes.” The hardened look around her lips faded, and he thought he was seeing her as he had years before, the night she’d snuck away from her father’s castle to the woodsman’s lodge where he’d waited for her….
“My…mother? How could she look like….”
Had it not been for her hands suddenly gripping his, he would have sunk to the filthy floor. And then she was in his arms, gasping his name and sobbing, her mouth heated softness against his. He tried to kiss her back, but was paralyzed with the stunning realization of her words, of the truth. He had a child…a daughter! Arabella had carried his child….
His hands floated over her middle, the ruined silk gown she wore a hindrance. He tried to imagine her belly large with his daughter, and cursed aloud his youthful xxxx that caused him to miss it. To betray her.
“Tell me,” he breathed, tasting her lips, sweet like honey from the hive. “Tell me about her.”
They were on the floor, and he’d pulled her onto his lap, his arms settling around her tight. He would never release her again.
She choked on a laugh, and pressed her warm cheek to his. “She is the most intelligent girl I have ever seen. She reminds me of your father. You will think so, too. She often baffled all of her tutors, and of course, Ces…” she bit off his name. “He was very indulgent. He treated her well, though he suspected she was not his.”
Philip closed his eyes and inhaled the scent clinging to her hair, her throat….She sucked in a calming breath, and her bosom rose and fell. As if watching in a dream, his hand slid up her waist to cup her breast. His fingers skimmed the rounded fullness peeking through her bodice. She shivered, and he drew her closer. Her gown must have been loose, because his hand could just slip beneath the fabric. The feel of her bare flesh against his palm was more than he could take.