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He cast his eyes upwards again. Ari was still climbing. She couldn’t really think she could escape the reality of the gorge, could she? But Ivor knew she wasn’t thinking that. She understood the facts of their life as well as he did.
He cupped his hands around his mouth and bellowed, “Ariadne. Stop, now.”
Ariadne heard him, as, indeed, she’d heard his every other call. Those she’d ignored, too locked into her world of furious frustration to pay any heed, but now reason and logic took over, besides which, it was never wise to try Ivor’s patience too far. She stopped on the track, turned carefully to look down at him so many feet below, then sat down on a rocky outcrop to the side of the track, hugging her knees, watching as he began to climb up to her.
His shadow fell over her a few minutes later, blocking out the sun’s warmth. She raised her eyes to look up at him. Ivor stood with his hands on his hips, breathing easily despite the steep climb. He was a tall, well-built man, with the strong, muscular physique of one accustomed to physical labor and life in the outdoors. His deep-set eyes were the astonishing blue of the Aegean Sea, and they surveyed her upturned face from beneath well-shaped russet-brown eyebrows with a mixture of exasperation and wry comprehension.
“There are times, Ari, when I’d happily wring your neck,” he declared, kicking a stone out of the path before sitting down on a large rock.
“You and half the valley,” she returned, looking back down the track to the peaceful scene below. “The elders are ready to burn me at the stake.”
He gave a short crack of laughter. “Not that, exactly, but I wouldn’t put it past them to lock you up and starve you into submission.”
She shrugged slim shoulders beneath a thin white shirt through which the tones of her skin showed delicately pink. “They wouldn’t succeed.”
“Maybe not,” he agreed, lifting his face to the sun, letting it graze his closed eyelids. “But they’re mad as fire, Ariadne, and they don’t understand why, now, you’re refusing to honor the betrothal.”
“I give that for their anger.” She snapped her fingers contemptuously. “I’ll not marry you, Ivor. There’s no point in discussing it.”
Ivor sighed. Ariadne was as stubborn as a mule and always had been. But in this situation, all the obstinacy of a team of mules would not win the day for her. “You may now own half the valley, dear girl, but you are still subject to your grandfather’s will. Our marriage was willed by Lord Daunt before his death . . . for God’s sake, you agreed to the betrothal just a few days ago. Your grandfather’s will is sacrosanct; you know that as well as I do. You have lived by Daunt rules all your life. The elders will make the wedding happen one way or another.”
“Forcible marriage is illegal in the laws of the land.”
“In name, maybe, but not in practice. You have a duty to obey your grandfather’s will, and here in the valley that is the law. Since when,” he added, “did Daunt and Chalfont obey any laws but their own?”
“I’ll run away.”
“How? You have no money, no means of travel. You would never get past the guards on horseback, and you could not bring Sphinx up this goat track. He would break a leg for sure.”
“You could help me.” She didn’t look at him as she said this.
“No,” he stated. “I could not. I would not if I could.”
“You could refuse to marry me.”
“No,” he repeated. “I could not. I would not if I could.”
Ariadne made no response, but a small sigh escaped her, and a little shiver ran across her shoulders. It wasn’t as if she had expected anything else. Ivor had much to gain from the marriage. If only her grandfather had not died so suddenly, just the day after the betrothal. With more time, she knew she could have persuaded him to release her from the engagement. She had always been able to win him over in the end, but it always took time and patience, and she’d agreed to the betrothal to buy herself that time. And then death had just crept in that night and taken him. His servant had found him dead in his bed, when the previous evening he had been hale and hearty, presiding over the Council meeting in his usual sharp and incisive fashion, celebrating his granddaughter’s betrothal with some of the finest wines in his cellar. Wines destined for the cellars of West Country gentry, liberated in the dark of the moon by Daunt raiders from the smugglers’ trains of pack mules going about their deliveries in the narrow Cornish lanes.
Ivor leaned across and took her hands from her lap, holding them in a tight grip. “Face it, Ari. Accept it. We will be married this day week. As soon as Lord Daunt is in his grave, we will be wed.”
Her gray eyes held his deep blue ones in a fierce stare as she tried to free her hands. “You know that I love someone else, Ivor. I cannot marry you. It would be dishonest.”
He dropped her hands with a laugh as mirthless as before. “That’s rich, Ari, coming from one whose entire existence is based on deceit, on thievery, on piracy. Truth and morality mean nothing here in this valley. You were born into this life of dishonesty and trickery. We mock the laws of men and discount the imperatives of ownership. We take what we want, whether it’s ours or not. I will take you to wife, Ariadne Daunt. Your grandfather has willed it; my family has agreed to it. It is for us to unite the two families. You belong to me, not to that poet of yours, scribbling his nonsensical verse in the houses of the gentry.”
Ari’s gray eyes burned with an anger all the more fierce for being impotent. She knew she could not win this argument or, indeed, run from the bitter truth behind it. “The Daunts are of lineage as ancient and proud as any in the counties of Somerset, Devon, or Cornwall,” she retorted. “And my dower will be sufficient to overcome any minor moral scruples. Gabriel’s family will welcome me as a daughter; he has assured me of that.”
Ivor shook his head. “I wouldn’t be so certain. For one, do you really think your family elders would pay your dowry to the Fawcetts? Just hand it over, meek and mild, with their blessings on their precious niece? I had never thought you naïve, Ari.”
Tears stung her eyes, and she blinked them away. “Just leave me alone, Ivor. Go back down. I’m climbing to the top.”
He hesitated, then decided that she was best left alone for the moment. Maybe she was going to meet her precious poet and maybe she wasn’t. But she would not run away. Ari would never run when fighting was an option. She was a Daunt, born and bred.
He got up from his rock, dusting off his hands. “Very well. But you are expected at Council this evening before the feast for your grandfather’s wake. Make sure you’re there. We will both regret it if I have to come and find you.”
There was something about his tone, an authority he had never used with her before, that shook her. Realization slowly dawned. “They have made you my guardian?” It was barely a question; she knew the answer.
“Yes,” Ivor answered curtly. “Your grandfather is dead. Who better to watch over you than your future husband? I will see you at Council.” He turned from her and began the long scramble back to the valley.
Ariadne exhaled slowly. She shouldn’t have expected anything else. She knew the ways of the Daunt world—knew them but didn’t have to accept them. She watched Ivor’s retreating back. He was her friend, but she could never accept him as her governor. Her grandfather’s death had released her from the family’s control; she would not relinquish that independence now.