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Authors: Patrice Hannah

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BOOK: Coins and Daggers
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The Madame grasped her by the arm and
appraised her naked body again before meeting her eyes. “Don’t look
so terrified, child. You are yet to understand the world that we
all live in.”

“Madame?” Audelia frowned, trying to find
the right words to ask. “Is there--”


Hush now,” the woman
responded, smiling with glee and running a slender hand down the
girl’s right arm. “They are only two words of consequence which
should be weighing on your mind, darling. And they are:
endless
opportunitie
s.”

 

T
wo

 

March, 1650

 

T
he dark haired girl
shrunk back into the shadows of the wet alleyway, her hand hovering
over the hilt of the dagger at her waist. The provincial guards
would be out soon so she’d best collect as much as she could before
she was forced to move on to the next village. Swallowing tightly,
the aching in her throat worsened to remind her that she hadn’t
much to eat, much less drink, in the last couple of days. It was a
feeling she had grown quite accustomed to over the most recent
months but she supposed it was far better to be free and starving
than to return to the life she had escaped, battered and torn,
from.

Directly outside that alley stood the heart
of Thornea, a tiny district to the east of the barbarous Camden
Village. It did not offer much but it did boast a few merchants now
and then who made a stop at the local inn before continuing their
journey on towards Camden. Traveling merchants meant heavy pockets,
and heavy pockets usually secured her next few meals. Gritting her
teeth, she gazed out at the bustling crowd which always seemed to
grow larger around nightfall. The serf and merchant stalls were
still up, sufficiently lit by burning lanterns. A couple of
carriages passed by quickly, villagers going about their businesses
in all directions. But her gaze never averted from the man who
stood a few meters away, flocked by a couple of men and dressed in
the most decent garb she’d ever seen in these parts.

Decent
, was hardly the
word to describe it but she’d really hadn’t the time to search her
vocabulary either. Surely, he must be a man of some import with the
way he quickly moved through the crowd purposefully just now. She
could barely make out any of their faces but that was just a minor
detail in her eyes. She’d never forget that garb.

Frowning slightly, she watched as the group
headed through the open doors of the inn. She’d sneaked inside that
building countless times to fetch a few coins. Perhaps if she was
successful this time, she’d be lucky the group was well stocked to
afford her a passable ride as far away from Thornea as possibly,
and perchance even a little extra to establish her own stall
somewhere. Smiling, she nodded slowly. This just might be her one
chance at redemption. Glancing away from the crowd, she turned to
creep away when a hand grasped her by the shoulder.

“Audelia, I think we’re going to be
rich.”

Frowning, she
shrugged the slimy hand of her ‘partner’, Mart, off. Well, not
exactly
partner
since she was the one who did all the
hard work anyway. The scraggy whelp was no more than a year or so
older than she was but proved to be a useless leech with every
passing day. She’d entirely forgotten he was there in the alley
with her.


Will you not
lean so close to me just now?” she hissed softly. “I can feel you
breathing down my neck.” Goosebumps ran a nasty course along her
throat and down the middle of her back. “And I
told
you, do
not call me by my name!”

“Well, there’s no need for you to shout,
lass.” She could hear his boots scraping against the pebbled
pavement as he shifted. “What do you think about that group you was
staring after? They sure looked like well-off fellows to me.”

Audelia sighed. Might as well let the fool
in on the plan if she was going to survive the next couple minutes.
Heavens knew she needed some silence to actually think. She just
hoped everything went well because she had every intention of
losing this lunatic before sunrise too. “Did you see how the middle
one dressed?” She didn’t wait for him to answer. “That one had
pockets so full, I could see it in the fabric of his pricey cloak.
All we need is to get inside that inn and I’ll handle the rest. Got
it?”

“I got it.” Mart sucked the tip of his
tongue through the wide gap between his two crooked front teeth and
touched her again. “I say we split the profits fifty five-forty
five, eh?”

Audelia glared over her shoulder even though
all she could see was the thin slits of his eyes. “Seventy-thirty
or else the only thing I’ll be splitting is your throat on my
dagger.”

Her partner swallowed his tongue
momentarily. “S-seventy-thirty, it is.”

 

**

 

A
udelia waited inside
a much darker alleyway which sat in a tightly packed space between
the east side of the inn and a run-down bakeshop. If she’d
calculated correctly, she had been huddled in that same cramped
spot for fours hours now. She was definitely trying her luck here
but Mart had somehow managed to weasel some information out of the
innkeeper which suggested that all his preferred guests normally
shared lodgings on the upper east floor of the building, and there
was only one occupied room on that floor as far as she could see.
She had even waited an extra hour after the lights had been doused
just to ensure that the unfortunate guv would be fast asleep when
she made her attack.

Ignoring the twisting sensations in her
stomach, Audelia took a deep breath and hoped Mart was prepared to
come to her aid if needs me. Although she highly doubted that, one
can never be too sure. Checking for the knife inside her right boot
and her favorite dagger, she crept deeper within the darkness and
reached her fingers between the spaces where the planes of lumber
met in the structure of the wall. Scaling buildings was another
task she’d gotten relatively used to; one she’d first accomplished
upon escaping Madame de Lucci’s despicable claws. But then again,
she was not fond of that subject and it was not a matter she
enjoyed thinking upon either. Audelia was halfway up the wall when
she heard a whispered shout from below.

“I’m right here if you need me!”

Cursing under
her breath, she held on tight despite the burning in her fingers,
and looked down. She couldn’t see a damn thing but Mart had a
distinctly grating voice which had made him seemingly unpopular
amongst the other villagers.
Lucky her
.

“Stay there and be quiet,” she hissed back.
Rolling her eyes to the heavens, she slowly continued on upwards,
sweat beading along her neck and forehead as the pressure in her
arms, legs and back intensified. A couple more meters and she’d be
at the gates of a new tomorrow. She figured it was indeed worth it
all.

Releasing a silent breath, Audelia clenched
her teeth and grasped the ledge of the window leading into the
guv’s room. Pulling herself up slightly, she peered inside to see a
fast-burning candle on the floor towards the door. One large manly
frame lay unmoving on the bed to other side of the room. At the
foot of the bed, she could make out well-polished black boots that
would fetch a hefty price once she got her hands on them. All in
all, the night looked to be a very promising one. Now, all she
needed was to get this window open without waking the prized
occupant of the chamber. Awkwardly reaching for the dagger at her
waist, Audelia then placed it carefully between her teeth as she
eased a bit more upwards so she could better see along the
windowpane. Sliding her fingertips carefully beneath the window,
she prayed it hadn’t been closed on the inside, and lifted slowly.
To her utmost relief, the window slid upwards with not a creak, not
even a murmur. Surely a man like this was not used to a place like
Thornea to leave his chamber so breachable to outsiders. For a
moment, she almost screamed with joy, her heart doing back-flips
inside her chest.

Bracing her
arms on the pane, she eased inside carefully, sucking in her
stomach as she went. Now would not be a proper time at all for it
to make its quarrelsome rants be known. As soon as she managed to
slide inside the chamber undetected, she eased out of her boots and
crawled across the floor slowly, her dagger already poised and
ready to take aim if so necessary. She’d learned a lot over the
past months while chasing pockets; a dagger was
always
necessary. Audelia moved pass the shiny black boots, vowing
that she’d not leave them behind, and headed towards the armchair
where the guv had hung his pricey coat. Promises of silver
glittered like diamonds in her vision and she inched further,
glancing behind her now and then to be certain she hadn’t woken
him. She’d robbed many a men before but she’d never encountered one
so sound a sleeper. It was almost as if he was knocked
out-cold.

Audelia licked her lips and reached for the
coat, hand poised just over the collar of the garment when a
daunting shadow flickered across the wall.

“Release my coat, boy, and I shall spare you
your dignity.”

Heart suddenly
thundering, Audelia jumped at the softly spoken command and turned
to look over her shoulder. Before she could make a mad run for it,
the man shifted in the moonlight now flooding through the window.
Rushing to her feet, she pointed her dagger and scowled as her
vision adjusted on him. The man stood tall and formidable only a
few feet from her and as far as she could see, this one was
definitely of
some
import. The aristocratic nose and the
burning arrogance in his gaze only gave way to the murderous ire
that was emanating off his form. Audelia was in deep waters and she
certainly knew it. But she refused to be bested now, not even by a
giant who looked like he could snap her in halves.


I suggest you
stay your step, sir.” She licked her drying lips, gaze darting
around for any other possible exit. What was she even thinking?
There was
no
other possible exit. But
he
needn’t know that. “I’d sure not like to cut you.” And she
raised her dagger-wielding arm much higher.


Hell’s fire!”
The man cursed and spat at his feet, tossing to the bed the knife
he’d held boldly in his hand. “A damn...
wench
?”

Audelia watched on as the man ran a hand
through his long shoulder length hair. “I say do not move, sir. I
must warn you that I’ve wielded a dagger many times before and am
yet to miss.”


Youuu
cheeky minx. I am going to wring your
scrawny little neck!”

Eyes widening with fright, she ducked across
the room, almost tripping over the blasted leather boots and headed
for the door. Before she could even grab for the knob, one large
hand yanked her by the long straight plait going down her back and
she went flying backwards, connecting hard against one solid statue
of flesh. Everything in her mind went scattering at that point,
hopeless thoughts invading her head.

The door smashed open and a man rushed in,
one of the guv’s men more than likely, holding Mart upright by his
flimsy collar.

“Your Lordship,” he said, breathlessly. “I
found this one beneath your window as if to climb up.”And as if the
man had just noticed the slender wench being held tight around the
arm by his beloved Lordship himself, he gaped openly and swore.
“Bloody hell!”

Three

 

Chastelle Manor

 

B
ryce Ulric St. Rosso was in a
foul disposition. Not only had he been, just mere hours ago, the
potential victim of a madly conceived intrusion but he had moreover
almost been bested by a wily slip of a female who barely even
seemed to be out of the blasted schoolroom. For all that was good
and holy, the chit had dared to hold a knife at him much less have
the audacity to attempt to use it. He’d been shocked straight down
to his toenails if he were truly to admit it and furthermore, he
could scarcely even believe it had he not witnessed it himself. The
slender little thing had even looked as if she’d fall on her ass
had he been to even blow in her direction. God’s teeth, save for
the ounce of propriety that was left inside of him, he would have
knocked a few senses into that obviously thick skull of
hers.

Reaching for his tankard, he took a hefty
swallow and groaned, easing back into his chair and thanking the
heavens for small favors. If he had known the past eve would have
ended in such chaos he would have never left the confines of his
estate in the first place. But business had to be done and who
would have known that he, Lord of Chastelle, would be accosted in
the middle of the night by a feather-brained chit who wore men’s
breeches. Releasing a throaty groan, he took another sip of the
intense liquid. He was certainly getting too old for such dramatic
things. A brief knock sounded on the door to his study and he
sighed. Only one soul would dare interrupt him at this hour. Dawn
had barely even cracked on the horizon.

BOOK: Coins and Daggers
9.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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