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A group of people were coming along the quayside making for
the England-bound ship moored further along. She put
her shoulders back and her chin up. It was important
to look respectable, competent and not at all needy.
One of them, surely, would welcome a willing pair of hands
to help on the voyage in return for her passage? That
did not seem a very certain plan, but it was the only one
she had now.
A tall gentleman with a lady on his arm, a valet and maid,
a stack of baggage: they most certainly had no need of her.
A plainly dressed middle aged man with a valise in one hand,
a clerk at his elbow. A businessman no doubt.
Then more luggage. The porters shoved a loaded cart
to one side to reveal another passenger and shock had her
stepping back in superstitious dread.
Death was striding - no, limping - along the quayside in
the bright Spring sunlight. For goodness sake!
Meg took a grip on her nerves. He was a flesh and blood
human being, of course he was. Just a man.
But very much a man. He seemed to dominate the long
quayside until there was nowhere else to look.
Tall and strongly built, clad in the dark green of the Rifle
Brigade uniform, he was bare-headed, his sword at his side.
His red officer’s sash was stained and blackened and,
unusually for an officer, a rifle was slung over his shoulder.
The right leg of his trousers had been slashed to allow for
the bulge of a bandage just above his knee and flapped around
the long black boot with each stride.
His hair was crow-black, a stubble beard shadowed his jaw
and his dark eyes squinted against the sun beneath heavy brows
as he scanned the quay with the intensity of a man expecting
enemy sniper fire.
His scrutiny found Meg. She forced herself to look
back indifferently, letting her glance slide across him.
Her experience had taught her to size men up fast, a habit
that was no longer one of life and death and which perhaps
she should lose. Not that she had ever had to assess
anyone who looked quite this dangerous.
Not only was this dishevelled officer big, dirty and obviously
wounded, even cleaned up he would not be a handsome man.
His big nose had been broken, his jaw was brutally strong,
his expression grim and those dark eyes had a slant to them
that was positively devilish under the thick brows. No wonder
she had thought of Death when she first saw him.
Then he was past her, a porter following with a trunk and
a few battered bags stacked on his barrow. Meg had heard
yesterday that now that Napoleon had surrendered they were
sending part of the Rifle Brigade straight off to America.
But this man was obviously not fit for the rigours of that
war: like her he was heading back home.
To England, she corrected herself. Was that
home? It was so long since she had seen it that it felt more
alien than Spain. But it was where her sisters were and she
had to find them.