It had taken a few turnings across several streets before Selina was convinced that she and James were being followed.
She looked up at him, brows slightly furrowed. As she was drawing breath to express her observation, James without warning pulled her around a corner and into a small alley and then engulfed her in his arms.
Her mouth opened again, this time with another question on her lips. He shook his head and gently placed one finger to her lips to ask for silence while they waited for their pursuer.
The smell of him was an intoxicating mix of leather, musk and pine. She pressed herself to him as if driven by instinct. James shielded her view of the street and she realised his dark cloak largely hid her and her lavender sprigged muslin gown from passersby.
Within moments, the sound of not one but two pairs of running feet rounded the corner.
“Go down there,” the first voice commanded. “They must be only just out of sight.”
The sound of the second pair of feet faded into the late afternoon.
Still shielded by James, Selina could hear the owner of the first set of feet slow to a walk and head further down the street, before stopping, turning back towards them.
James pushed Selina away and in a swift, sure motion, he stepped out of the alley and grabbed the arm of their shadow. The man swung and landed a lucky strike on James’ cheek.
James reeled from the blow but kept his feet and used the momentum to deftly firm his grasp on the assailant’s arm, twist it behind his back and to shove the man bodily against the opposite red brick wall of the alley.
“Who do you work for?” James demanded.
The man, unremarkably dressed, was a lean, tallish individual with narrow set eyes and a thin, almost emaciated face. He did not respond, only grunting in discomfort. James shoved the man’s arm further up his back.
“Reynold is telling you leave matters alone, Penventen,” he finally gasped.
“And yet he’s too much of a coward to deliver his own message – tell him that from me.”
The man smirked and cast a glance at Selina who stood a few yards away but watching with alarm.
“Pretty girl you’ve got there,” he grunted as James tightened his grip causing the man pain.
James leaned in menacingly. “If Miss Rosewall and her family are harassed in any way there will be no place on earth that you will be safe from me.”
He pulled the man away from the wall and shoved him towards the cross street where the rat-faced man half walked and half staggered over the cobbles to where his companion waited on the corner. He was about the same build as his friend but his features were obscured by a tricorn hat and high collared jacket.
With one long last look at James and Selina, the two disappeared around the next building.
Satisfied that they had gone, James dabbed the back of his hand at his cheek where a small cut had opened from the initial punch. He glanced at Selina who, instead of cowering in fright as he had expected, appeared to be furious.
And she appeared to be furious at him.
“You let that man go! Why James?”
“He didn’t do anything wrong.”
“He hit you!”
James merely shrugged in response. Selina gave a long-suffering sigh as she opened her drawstring purse, withdrawing a handkerchief and wetting it with a small amount of her perfume before handing the linen to him.
He accepted the kerchief with its scent of bergamot and lavender and winced as he put it to his left cheek.
“The alcohol in it will help clean the cut,” she explained, annoyance still plain in her voice.
“He was just an opportunistic bag snatcher,” James offered.
“If you insist,” Selina shrugged.
She raised an eyebrow waiting for James to account for himself.
James sighed, knowing that Selina would not accept anything else but the truth. The problem was he didn’t know the truth for himself although he was going to get to the bottom of this tonight.
“What if I tell you that it’s the best explanation I have for now?”
“Then I suppose that is satisfactory… for now.”