Guarding Danger – Wendy Vella

Harry Sinclair watched the woman walk along the deck of his ship. In her arms she held a little girl. Soon she would disappear into the London streets and he’d never see her again, and that should not be a problem. Strangely, it was. The first time he’d seen her was in Calais. Harry had been watching his cargo being loaded, letting his eyes wander occasionally to see if he knew anyone below, when suddenly unease had gripped him. With eyes that saw more than any other human he’d met, he’d searched and found her seated on a crate, the child in her arms. Her shoulders were back, her posture rigid. But it had been the expression on her face that caught and held his attention. Fierce. Daring anyone to approach. She’d protected the child with a hand on the small head, the other around her body. She wore a faded gray dress but no bonnet, and her hair hung in a braid over the swell of a breast. She was beautiful, but not in the soft, cosseted way Harry usually admired. Slender, whether by nature or circumstance he couldn’t be sure, and her brows arched over golden eyes that were framed with dark lashes.

When she looked his way, he’d seen the desperation she fought to hide. Desperation that had sliced through Harry, forcing him back from the railing. He’d then found Barney, his bosun, and asked him to approach the woman to see if she needed assistance. He’d watched the encounter, wondering what he’d been thinking to do such a thing. Harry never got involved in the lives of people he did not know or trust. He was certainly never spontaneous. The child had woken, weeping as Barney approached, and the pain in Harry’s chest had grown into an inferno. Barney returned to the ship minutes later, telling Harry the woman was seeking passage to England. He’d provided it, much to his bosun’s shock. Harry was not known as an accommodating man, and he was definitely not known for random acts of kindness.

She’d seated herself in the corner of the deck and never moved in the hours it took to cross the channel. He’d sent her food via Barney. The woman had been suspicious, but took the offerings for her child, who played around her with the resilience of youth, happy now her belly was full—but she had not left her mother’s side. With only a shawl to ward off the cold, the woman’s expression never changed, but as the distance between them and France grew, the other emotion he’d seen, fear, eased from her eyes. The only time he’d seen her face change was when the child patted her cheek, and she’d smiled with so much love it had literally rooted him to the spot. Her beauty moved into exquisite in that moment. “The men will begin unloading then, sir?” “Yes, thank you, Deacon,” he said to the ship’s captain, who jolted him back to the present. London lay before Harry. A place he loathed and yet visited for business purposes. France was his home and where he belonged.

London was a place from his past that held nothing but bitterness. His eyes swung back to the woman. She was walking carefully down the gangway, the child clinging to her, a large bag in one hand. He’d acknowledged her once, when their eyes caught, and then she’d looked away after responding to his nod with a small smile. Reaching the bottom, she skirted ropes and men, then lowered her bag to the ground. The hand she rested at her side clenched into a fist. He felt it again, that pain, but this time it was followed by another deep sense of unease. Looking skyward, he saw the day was still clear and blue; she was not in imminent danger of a drenching, so why was he still worried about her? Harry wasn’t a man to worry about things outside his control. He’d raised an empire that way, ruthless and determined. There were not many who would cross Harry Sinclair.

Looking left, then right, Harry searched for something… anything to explain what he was feeling. The panic that was suddenly slithering down his spine. “Christ!” He started running. The woman and child were standing at the base of a small incline, and the barrels that had rolled off the back of a cart were now heading their way. “Move!” he bellowed as he sprinted down the gangway at speed. “Move!” he roared again. She didn’t hear him, couldn’t with the cacophony of noise around them. Heart pounding, Harry leaped off the bottom. People were now fleeing as the barrels picked up speed, but she still hadn’t seen them. Her eyes were focused on the child in her arms.

“Run, woman!” She turned at his words but still did not move. He was too late, she’d be hit. Harry took two huge steps then dived at the woman and child. Lifting them into his arms, he carried them with him and onto a pile of rope, landing on his back, his arms holding them close. No one moved for several seconds, and then everyone seemed to at once. Harry struggled to draw air into his abused lungs, the woman fired off a volley of French, and the child screamed. “Sir! Wh-what are you doing?” She pushed at his arms with her free hand. Harry released her. She scrambled off him. Harry felt the blessed relief of air filling his lungs and was able to regain his feet.

“How dare you touch us that way!” “If you’ll look about you, madam, you’ll realize that in fact I just saved the lives of both you and your child.” She turned, her eyes taking in the barrels. One bobbed in the water, the other had crashed into a crate and splintered into pieces. The pungent aroma of alcohol now filled the air. “You were directly in the path of those barrels,” Harry said. The top of her head came up to his nose. Her eyes were tawny, not gold, and he had never in his lifetime seen a pair like them. The beauty was there in the line of her cheek and soft curve of her jaw. Her mouth, however, now that was made for sin, and as sin was a specialty of Harry’s, he was drawn to it. “I-I don’t know what to say.

” She searched his face as he did hers. “Sssh now, darling.” She tried to quiet the child, but clearly she was still terrified over what just happened. Harry cupped the child’s head, touched her soft brown curls. “Don’t touch her!” The fear was that of a mother protecting her young. “Quiet, please, madam. I will not hurt her.” He continued to stroke the small head that almost fit into his palm. The child’s cries eased to sniffles. “There now, lovely, no need to cry.

” He ran a finger down a damp cheek, and she grabbed it, gripping it tight. He then looked at her mother, who appeared stunned. “My daughter does not usually take easily to people.” “She knows I mean her no harm.” “I don’t know what to say to you.” The words tumbled from her lips in French. “Thank you is a good place to start.” Harry replied in the same tongue. He then smiled down at the little girl who was looking up at him with solemn eyes. She still held his fingers.

“Of course, forgive me. Thank you for saving us.” “You’re welcome. My name is Harry Sinclair, and it was my ship you sailed on from Calais.” “You own that ship?” “I do.” “I saw you but had not realized.” “As I saw you.” She looked away from him, and Harry studied the curve of her jaw. Something about this woman intrigued him, but he couldn’t work out what. She was in no way alluring or flaunting her beauty; in fact her dress suggested the exact opposite.

“Then now I have more to thank you for, Mr. Sinclair.” She spoke in a solemn voice. “I knew that the fare I paid was low, as others had tried to charge more, but I needed to get to London—” “And it was more than enough, madam.” Actually, it had been half what he would normally charge, but he wouldn’t be telling her that. “Thank you again for your kindness. There are not many who would do as you have for us. I’ll say good day to you, as we must go.” “Are you wanting a hackney? Perhaps I could secure one for you?” Her eyes were really rather stunning. They reminded him of a lion he’d got far too close to once.

“Thank you, I have no wish to detain you further, Mr. Sinclair. I will find one.” “Your child is weary, madam. Perhaps it would be better if you stayed here and I located one for you?” “I have no wish to further inconvenience you, Mr. Sinclair. I am more than capable of securing a hackney. Good day.” She bent to pick up the bag, and jiggled the child into a more comfortable position on her hip. She spoke gently in French to the girl, asking her to let Harry’s fingers go.

He felt strangely bereft when the little fingers released his. “Good day, Mr. Sinclair.” She walked away. So small and vulnerable, Harry thought. All around her was noise and movement; at any moment she could be knocked over. Where was her husband? Family? Why was she alone in this crowded city? Looking in the direction she was going, he saw no hackneys nearby. He followed and reached her side in seconds. “I’m sure you are more than capable of finding a hackney, madam, but as I have offered, please allow me to assist you.” Her chin rose.

“There is no need.” Harry ignored her and headed down the street. Minutes later, he raised a hand and waved a hackney to his side. Pulling some money out of his jacket pocket, he handed over enough to take her wherever she wished to go to the driver. “I will return shortly with your fare. Please wait here.” “Right you are.” Harry walked back to where the woman stood, still wondering why he was going to all this trouble for a woman he did not know and would likely not see again. A woman who was exhausted clearly, and her child fretful. “Come, I have secured you a hackney.

” He took her bag and urged her before him. She said nothing, just allowed him to nudge her in the right direction. Harry opened the door and placed her bag inside, then turned to help her in, but she was talking to the driver. He missed the address she gave, and that was a good thing. He didn’t want to know where he could find her. Women did not disturb him or occupy too much of his time. He never allowed it. The course of his life was set; there was no time for messy things such as emotion. “I cannot thank you enough for your kindness to us, Mr. Sinclair.

” Her smile was small but genuine. “There is no need. Everyone needs the help of a stranger at least once in their life.” Her child was nearing sleep again, eyes slits as she struggled to stay awake. Her head now rested on her mother’s shoulder. Harry touched the soft cheek once more, and the child gave him a sleepy smile. “It’s my hope that when you need help, sir, someone will be there for you also.” Their eyes locked, and in that moment for Harry the world stood still. Every noise and sound faded; there was just him and this woman. “I-I must go.

” “Of course.” What the hell was the matter with him? Before he could stop her, she’d risen to her toes and kissed his cheek. It was brief and over in seconds. It felt like she’d branded him. “You are my ange gardien.” He helped her into the carriage, and she settled on the seat. Don’t let her go. “Vivre une vie longue et heureuse.” Harry shut the door and the voice inside his head out after wishing her a long and happy life and nodded to the driver. Standing back, he watched the woman and child roll away from him and wondered if he was ailing for something.

No other explanation was possible for what he had just felt or done. It was as if something monumental had just happened in his life and it was rolling away from him, never to be seen again. Only when the carriage turned the corner at the end of the street did he return to the ship. “It’s this place,” he muttered. Coming to England always made him wary and on edge. Somewhere out there he had family, and he laid the entire blame for what had just occurred on the doorstep of anyone who carried his blood. It wasn’t logical, but in that moment it helped him push aside the madness of what had just happened. Never trust a Sinclair. Remembering his father’s words, he turned and walked back to the familiar. His ship, his livelihood.

Little else mattered.

.

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