Her Gentleman Protector [Secure]
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by Meg Alexander
Description: 18th century: Miss Emma Lynton was stranded in France, in the middle of a revolution, totally alone! Handsome aristocrat Simon Avedon came to her rescue and vowed to escort her home. But Emma began to find Simon's orders rather irksome--until she was told of his past. How could a man who had never been shown love understand how to win her heart? Emma was brave in helping others, and now she would have to be brave for herself--for the prize of Simon's love was worth any risk!
eBook Publisher: Harlequin/Historical,
eBookwise Release Date: September 2007
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Available eBook Formats [Secure - What's this?]: OEBFF Format (IMP) [430 KB]
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Emma shuddered as a series of explosions rocked the port. She clutched at her father's sleeve.
'The guns are so close,' she whispered. 'Will the royalists hold the town?'
'Toulon is lost, my dear.' Frederick Lynton sighed as he closed his book and slipped it into his pocket. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius was proving of little comfort in his present situation. Now his words were intended for Emma's ears alone as he drew her apart from the rest of her family.
'That was not the sound of gunfire,' he said in a low voice. 'The defenders are blowing up the last of the ammunition dumps. They must not fall into enemy hands. You must be brave, my love. We should not distress your mother or the children further…'
Emma nodded. She was tired, hungry, thirsty and very frightened, but she knew that he was right. She slipped an affectionate arm about her mother's shoulders and hugged the older woman close.
'Not long now!' she comforted. 'Then we shall be aboard a British ship and on our way to England…'
Mrs Lynton did not reply, and Emma gave her an anxious look. Her mother was unrecognisable as the calm, efficient person who had run her household with such ease. The fair skin, so characteristic in her family, now had an unbecoming pallor, and beads of sweat were standing upon her upper lip. The long hours of waiting on the quayside had taken their toll, but it was the increasing danger to her family that had sapped her courage.
The threat was all too real. For days the British fleet had ferried thousands of refugees out to the waiting warships, but the numbers did not seem to lessen as crowds streamed from the narrow streets of the old town towards the sea and safety.
The sudden surge proved disastrous. Some of those closest to the harbour wall lost their footing and fell into the water. No attempt was made to save them. The few who could swim managed to regain the jetty. Others tried to climb aboard the already overladen boats, but they were beaten off without mercy.
Emma turned her back upon the scene as she attempted to shield the children from the dreadful sight, but she could not prevent the screams reaching their ears. The twins began to cry, but Julia, her younger sister, was too shocked for tears. Emma glanced at her father in despair, but his attention was elsewhere.
She followed his gaze to see a detachment of Sicilian troops being marched towards a waiting transport. The sight of the ship caused panic in the ranks and a sudden charge towards the gangways. A sharp volley of shots from the British pickets stopped the men in their tracks, forcing them to embark in a more orderly fashion.
Emma turned to her father in surprise. 'These are not wounded men,' she exclaimed. 'They still have their weapons. Could they not defend the town?'
'I'm afraid there is no hope of that, my dear.'
'None whatsoever!' An ironic voice behind them broke into their conversation. 'What hypocrites you are—you British! Do you not claim to rescue women and children first?'
Emma stared at the speaker. He was a well-dressed man, possibly in his late thirties. She was about to fly to the defence of her fellow countrymen when her father laid a restraining hand upon her arm.
'My dear sir, this is distressing for all of us,' he replied without the least trace of irritation. 'Unfortunately, the Allies will have need of every fighting man in the years to come. I expect that Admiral Hood is simply following orders—'
'And we are expendable?' the ironic voice continued.
'I hope not, sir. The evacuation is going well—'
'But will it continue?'
There was no time to reply. Another surge propelled the Lynton family towards the harbour wall. The sight of a waiting boat spurred Frederick into immediate action. Seizing his two young sons, he called to Emma, her sister and his wife to follow him as he hurried down the slippery steps.
The vessel was already crowded, but eager hands took his children from him. The bo'sun frowned as Julia and Mrs Lynton were helped aboard, but he made no demur. Then, as Emma was about to take her place, she was thrust aside.
Three young men had broken from the crowd to jump aboard. The bo'sun took immediate action. 'Stand off!' he shouted to his men. Then he seized an oar and laid about him. The latecomers were beaten off to flounder in the widening gap between the ship's boat and the jetty.
Emma struggled to regain her footing on the steps. She was too close to the water's edge, but she ignored the danger as she waited for the bo'sun to order his men back. Close though he was, he shook his head.
'Durstn't risk it, miss. We're from HMS Reculver. Remember the name and take the next boat…' With that he ordered his crew to row away.
Emma gazed after them in horror. How could they leave her? She could see her father pleading with the bo'sun to return, but to no avail. She caught a last glimpse of her mother's anguished face and then the boat was gone.
She took a few deep breaths. Nothing would be gained by giving way to despair. The next vessel to reach the steps would take her off and this time she would be prepared. She fingered the small pistol in her muff. She'd never fired it, but the weapon might be enough to deter anyone else who tried to take her place.
Copyright © 2005 by Meg Alexander.