Matthew Sinclair stood at the helm of the lead ship and watched the wind whip a froth on the ocean’s surface, the grey sky adding an ominous hue to the water. A January storm was coming. He signaled the sailor up in the eagle’s nest. “Raise the storm flag,” he yelled. In this way the two ships behind him would understand his change in course. They travelled these waters year round and they knew every safe haven on the route back to Scotland. A late cargo delivery was better than no delivery at all so they’d seek shelter for the night and continue on when the rough weather had passed. Setting a course for Heron Island, Matt listened to the ropes crackle and creak as they changed the main sail’s direction and swung the boom to the starboard side. His brother Blair wouldn’t be happy with the delay in the schedule but he also trusted Matt to make the correct call in these situations. Blair had started this company but he now ran the business side, while Matt was tasked with keeping the fleet running with the utmost efficiency. It was a job that suited him, though lately, he considered venturing out on his own. He had a nice sum of money set aside. Each of his brothers had made his way in the world on a few coins and a great deal of moral grit. He had every intention of following in their very large footsteps. Well, except for Reginald of course.
His twin brother was no longer in this world, having died while saving their little sister. The memory still gutted him. Reginald had been the best part of this world and now he was gone. They were identical twins, and their bond had been stronger than any of his other brothers. Not that he didn’t love all of his siblings. But Reginald had been the kindest, most understanding person in the entire family. Without him…without him, there was a hole that Matt couldn’t seem to fill. His chest tightened. He didn’t want to fill that void. That was Reginald’s place and reminded Matt daily that his brother had been there.
That his life had mattered. Heron’s Cove came into view as the first drops of rain splattered on the deck. He could smell the scent of the storm in the air. This one would be fierce. Within two hours, he was proven correct. The cove provided a good deal of shelter but even still, their anchored ships rocked violently on the waves. Matt watched the weather for a bit and then descended below deck to get a few hours’ sleep. They were safe enough and the rest would make him all the more prepared for the next day. But he’d no more collapsed in his hammock when he heard the calls of the sailors above. “Ship in distress,” one bellowed.
“They’ve hit the rocks,” another cried. Matt bolted up. It couldn’t be one of his three ships. They were safely harbored. Was another boat attempting to seek shelter? He scaled the ladder up to the deck and immediately noticed a fourth ship in the distance, listing to one side. His gut clenched. The vessel must be taking in a great deal of water. His teeth ground together. Rowing out in the row boats was dangerous in these swells and he’d be putting his men in danger but could he watch the people on that ship drown? Damn his Sinclair need to save the world. His brothers all had it.
Sticking their necks out when it was dangerous. “I’m going to row out to help the men on that ship,” he shouted into the wind. “You are not required to go with me, but any man who is willing to take a boat, you’d be saving lives.” “I’ll go,” First Officer Surrey called, stepping from the ranks. “I’ll go too,” Ship’s Master Hennessey said. Ten men volunteered in all and they set off in five rowboats, struggling through the surf toward the sinking ship. It took them near half an hour, fighting against the tide and the waves to reach the boat. Only the bow stuck out of the water, a crowd of ten or fifteen people clinging to the rails and crowded together. “You’ll have to jump,” Matt called, getting as close as he dared with his row boat. “We’ll fish you out of the water.
” Three men jumped without a look back and the boat behind him picked them up. “Head back,” Matt called to them. Then he turned back to the sinking vessel. “Come on,” he called to those who remained on the deck. Four more hit the water and two other boats scooped them up. Only three people remained on the bow, the captain and what he could now see were two women. One of them began to tentatively climb over the rail but the other clung to the wood. “I can’t,” she shouted. “I can’t swim.” “Then you’ll drown,” he yelled back.
How was he supposed to save someone who wouldn’t even try to save herself? She clutched tighter to the rail as the remaining man attempted to pull her off. “As captain of a sinking vessel, if you stay then I have to stay,” the captain hollered over the wind. Releasing a rumble of frustration, Matt looked over at the other oar man, Surrey. “Get me closer.” Damn his Sinclair sensibilities. He should just leave her. Surrey managed to get within a foot of the ship and Matt didn’t hesitate. In a moment a wave would roll them away again. So he jumped. As he caught the rail, the woman above him screamed.
If the situation weren’t so serious, he might have rolled his eyes. Surrey came closer again and he didn’t hesitate. He plucked the woman over the rail, her large eyes staring at him like a frightened doe. The captain heaved as he pulled and then just as the row boat came under him, he dropped down holding her in his arms and landing with his feet planted in the small boat. She was light as a feather and he kept his balance despite the tossing waves. “Bloody hell that was impressive,” the Captain called as he too scaled the rail and then, grabbing the other woman, jumped into the water. Matt shoved the woman in his arms toward Surrey as he fished the other two from the sea. “We’ll get you to the ship in no time,” he called over the wind as he took an oar and started for his boat. * * * Lady Bridget McDougal sat shivering in the bottom of the dinghy. Poor Mary must be frozen, wet as she was.
Bridget was near soaked through with the rain but Mary had submerged into the icy ocean. They’d been clinging to that rail for what seemed like forever watching the dinghies slowly make their way through the tumultuous water. At least when her eyes hadn’t been squeezed tightly shut. Bridget had never prayed so hard in her life that they’d make it on time. She hadn’t considered as she watched and prayed how she’d get into that dingy but she had silently cursed her father for sending her on this journey in the first place. The man couldn’t even do her the simple courtesy of waiting until spring to ship her off so he could enjoy his new bride. Who was her age, by the by. Did the man have no shame? The new wife was a nice Scottish lass. Not like her mother, who’d been English. Her father hated anyone who wasn’t Scottish and had only married her mother to collect her dowry.
Of course, he’d only been proven right when her mother hadn’t supplied a son but only one half-English daughter. Her father had hated her even more so than her mother. Could barely look at her without sneering. She was small and delicate and decidedly English-looking. Worthless in his eyes. She looked at the man who’d rescued her. She supposed she should be grateful but he’d had that same expression when he looked at her that her father always seemed to wear. Lip curled, brow furrowed as though he couldn’t stand the sight of her. As though her very existence was irritating. Why did he have to judge her so harshly, whoever he was? It wasn’t her fault that she couldn’t swim, that she was petrified of the water.
If anything, her father was to blame for that too. Anger bubbled inside of her as she glared at the man’s back. His rather broad back, she grudgingly noticed as his muscles flexed with the strain of rowing. He wore only a shirt that the driving rain had saturated so that it clung him, revealing every bulging muscle. She forced her breathing to calm as the dingy scraped against the side of the ship. “I’ll go first,” he called to the other oarsmen. The man nodded. “Very good, Captain Sinclair.” Without warning, Sinclair plucked her up again and began climbing the built-in ladder up to the deck. She clung to him, squeezing her eyes tightly shut so as not to see the churning water below as he climbed.
She clutched about his neck, but he seemed to not to even notice her weight. When they reached the deck, he dropped her as suddenly as he’d picked her up, and not expecting it, she didn’t get her feet under her and collapsed to the boards. “Ouch,” she cried as her elbow hit the wood. “That hurt.” At least it distracted her rom the fear. Sinclair gave the look again, the one like her father’s only he added a narrow-eyed glare. “I beg yer pardon. There are nine other people to save but let me spend more time carefully setting ye down.” She let out a loud huff of frustration. “You’ve not time to let me get my feet under me but you’ve all the time in the world to hand out a lecture,” she snapped back, pulling herself off the deck boards.
Several men coughed behind her, as the lines in his face deepened. “Get them below deck,” he bellowed then turned his back to her to help Mary up from the ladder. That was fine with her. If she never saw the ocean again, it would be too soon. Slowly rising to standing, she held her arms out to Mary as the other woman stumbled into her embrace. Clinging to her companion and friend, she followed one of the sailors toward a hatch. Sinclair was still bellowing orders, and Bridget let out another breath, loudly exhaling from her chest. She knew his type and she didn’t like him. Not one bit.