The moment she put her foot down, she regretted it. The moving plate of the escalator pushed her backward, and she tumbled over her suitcase, arms flailing, her shoulder bag swinging around and hitting her in the face.
God, she hated being short sighted.
Vanity, utter vanity, stopped her from wearing her glasses in public. At least with them on she would have noticed people coming toward her. Fellow travellers now staggered around her as she waited for the ringing in her ears to stop and the sting in her cheek to ease. Some uttered apologies as they stepped over or around her. A suitcase caught her ankle, clipping it with a nasty crack before the owner apologised and lifted it clear.
I will not cry. I will not cry.
She sniffed back tears, before crawling out of the way. She fumbled in her handbag for her damn spectacles that looked like the bottom of two wine bottles when she put them on. They enlarged her eyes until they looked like those of a frog. She’d grown up to the taunts of “googly-eye.” Today’s experience might cure her vanity because her present position verged on the ridiculous, baggage and legs strewn about, creating a traffic hazard.
“Sit,” a voice commanded. Surely the man couldn’t mean her?
She wanted to shout, ‘What do you think I’m doing?’ but at that moment a firm hand rested on her shoulder and a voice, as warm as a chocolate liqueur sliding down her throat, asked, “Are you all right, miss? Here, let me help you up.” She gave up looking for her glasses.
With one hand in her bag, and the other reaching out for the handle of her case, she couldn’t refuse the offer. The man cupped her elbow, put an arm around her waist, and lifted her slowly to her feet. He held her until she steadied. Gratitude flooded her, tears welled and she sniffed again, unable to spare a hand to find her handkerchief. A large soft white cloth appeared under her nose and she grabbed it, grateful to be able to wipe her nose and cheeks. It smelled of pine trees after the rain. Without thinking she put it in her sleeve.
“Thank you so much,” she said. “I’m sorry I’ve caused a traffic jam, it’s just I don’t see very well.” What an understatement. She peered at his shape in front of her. Then, realising she was frowning, she straightened her back and smiled. “I really should wear my glasses.” She gestured to where she thought her suitcase might be. “If you could pass me my case I’ll be on my way. Obviously the next escalator is the down one. Silly me.”
Chocolate Voice moved to the side and disappeared, coming back a moment later. She could hear the wonky wheel of her suitcase. “Oh you’ve found it. Great.” She reached to take the handle. It didn’t arrive.
“The down escalator is around the end of the balustrade. This end has two lots of stairs coming up, one moving, the other stationary.”
God, she would have done the same thing all over again, probably falling down the staircase face first if she’d tried the next lot of steps. “Hell’s teeth,” she murmured, still reaching out, her hand waving about seeking her suitcase.
The man’s warm grasp stilled her arm. “I think it might be a good idea if I take your case and go with you down the escalator to the exit. Would you like a taxi or are you catching a bus?”
Bliss—someone prepared to rescue her, guide her to the exit, and find a taxi. Could the airport be hiring porters now? While he grasped her hand, she decided, she might as well introduce herself. His grip hadn’t lessened one bit. “You’re very kind.” She shook his hand. “I’m Kate, Kate Bentley. And you are?”
The shape moved, perhaps bowed. Surely not?
“Are you a porter? I see you have a uniform of some sort.” She touched the gold bands just visible on his sleeve ends.
He laughed, a rolling sort of chuckle, like runny honey dripping down the side of a bowl. “I might as well be, but no, I’m a Customs Officer, Miss Bentley. It is ‘Miss’ isn’t it? One can never tell these days. My apologies if I’m wrong, but you’re not wearing a wedding ring.”
“It’s definitely ‘Miss’, Mr. Winters. And I can’t say how grateful I am. I’m very short sighted. I like to pretend I’m not and today I’m paying for my pride.” What was it about this man that had her telling him her most private feelings? He smelled nice too, although he had a slight doggy odour around him.
By now, with a firm grip of her elbow and a gentle tug he indicated she should walk beside him. Head high, she complied, putting behind her the spectacle she must have made of herself a few moments earlier. At least being short sighted, she never saw the amusement on the faces of people watching—if they were amused, of course. Most hurried past. Sometimes she felt as if she had a case of leprosy, rather than near blindness!
Thank heavens for Thomas Winters, a cold name for such a warm voice.