Authors: Sher Dillard
Copyright 2016 Sher Dillard
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof in any form. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means. This is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author's imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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My Mother --- She taught me to pursue my dreams. Thank you, Mom. This would not have happened without you. All my love.
Laila knew she’d made a mistake as soon as she ran into the blind alley. An uh-oh moment of gigantic proportion. A girl didn’t last long around here making this kind of mistake, she reminded herself.
A girl from the Fifth Point area should have known better.
A narrow pathway between old brick buildings. A high wooden fence at the end without a gate. No doorways and all the windows too high to reach.
A perfect trap and she’d walked into it like a lost rabbit.
Six years of running, evading, and hiding. Working desperately to become a lost child of the city of Quaster. All thrown away because she chose the wrong alley to turn down.
What did they want? Why her? Why now? She’d spent half her life learning how to hide in plain sight. She didn’t steal from important people. And even then, only enough to survive. She lived in a non-descript hovel behind the baker’s. She made sure to dress like a boy. Long pants, threadbare jacket, hair up under a cap, and a dirty face.
In the past, this had been enough. But recently, she’d caught men looking at her differently, a questioning frown on their face. Was twenty too old to pretend anymore?
No matter how tightly she bound her chest, or how loose her pants were in the hips, something seemed to warn men that she was a woman. It was like they had a sixth sense and could tell when a young female was in the area.
Animals, each and every one of them.
Sighing to herself, she pulled her dagger from her waist band and turned to face her pursuers. She might not win, but she’d make them pay in blood.
Each man looked meaner than a three-headed snake.
There were four of them, big, dirty, and well-armed. The kind of men girls like her avoided at all costs. Unfortunately, it looked like she wasn’t going to get the chance.
Escape was out of the question, and fighting them was a losing proposition. They had her, and they knew it.
The gapped tooth smile on the group’s leader forced a cold chill down her spine. She knew what he wanted, and the thought made her want to throw up.
Maybe that would work. If she was sick all over them, would they leave her alone? She was so desperate that she actually thought about it. Heaven knew it wouldn’t take much to get her to unload her lunch onto all four of them.
She took a deep breath and prepared to scream, then almost laughed at her absurdity. In this part of town? In Fifth Point? People would line up to sell tickets just to watch the mayhem.
This is what happened to orphan waifs. They end up prey to bigger, meaner animals.
Stepping to the side, she placed her back against a brick wall. Shifting her small dagger from one man to the next. Always trying to keep them guessing as to who she would stick first.
The small, beady-eyed punk on the end laughed and shook his head.
“You think that’s a weapon?” he asked, as he sniffed back a glob of snot.
“This is a weapon,” he said, as he pulled a rusty sword with a quick schwing sound that echoed off the alley walls. He’d probably stolen it from a wealthy vizier and wanted to show it off. It was most assuredly the only long, big tool, he had to be proud of.
Laila swallowed hard as her heart raced. A quick thought jumped into her mind. These men didn’t care if they raped her before or after she was dead.
“I might not get you all,” she hissed through gritted teeth. “But, I’ll take somebody’s balls today. Who’s first?”
Both Gap Tooth and Beady Eyes hesitated. The idiotic ginger on the end didn’t look too comfortable, either. But, it was the man between them she worried about the most.
There were stories on the street about this one. She’d seen that lizard look before. Those cold, dead eyes. He wanted to hurt her. Wanted to make her beg for mercy, then hurt her again.
She gulped down a quick swallow before making a short lunge forward with her knife. It wasn’t meant to work. Only meant to stop them. When it failed miserably, she quickly hopped back to keep the brick wall close behind her.
All four of them continued to move in. Slowly advancing like a rising tide. Relentless, and inevitable. Three of them had their swords out. Each pointing roughly in her direction. Only Lizard Eyes kept his sheathed. He wanted to lay his hands on her personally.
“Remember,” Gap Tooth said, “we get the medallion first, then we get to have her.”
Laila frowned with confusion. What the hell was he talking about? She searched their faces, trying to get some clue as to the reason why. But, the effort was fruitless. They were as dumb as kitchen plants and just as informative.
This was definitely a kill or be killed situation. Unfortunately, it appeared as if she would be the one doing most of the dying this day. The thought sent a sense of sadness through her. There had been so much she had wanted for her life. Dreams and hopes.
She should have known they would come to naught. A girl like her, an orphan on the streets, didn’t get to live her dreams.
Swallowing hard again, she gritted her teeth, as she prepared herself for the final outcome.
The four of them took another step closer. The wall behind her felt cold and unyielding.
“Gentleman,” a deep voice from the head of the alley said. “I do believe that is enough.”
All four of them halted and glanced over their shoulder like trained seals. Laila’s heart leapt with hope as she saw her opportunity. Darting to the side, she tried to escape.
Lizard Eyes reacted too fast, his hand shooting out to grab her and throwing her back into the wall.
She snarled with hate, as she lashed out at him with her small blade. He jumped back out of reach and sneered at her.
“I said that was enough,” the voice said more forcefully.
Laila glanced up and gasped with surprise, as a golden god stepped into the alley.
He was well over six feet tall, with large shoulders and a face exquisitely handsome. The kind of face that could make a girl’s knees grow weak if they weren’t being used to hold her up against a wall.
Golden blond hair, and light hazel eyes. The man smiled at her. Actually smiled, as if he were meeting her in the park for a picnic.
“I would suggest you leave now,” he said to the men. “While you have an opportunity. You can tell your employer that you tried, but failed. I’m sure he’ll understand.”
The four of them turned to face this new threat. Lizard Eyes shifted to make sure she was prevented from escaping.
“Screw you,” Beady Eyes yelled, as he charged the stranger.
Faster than a hummingbird’s blink, Golden Boy pulled his sword, twisted to let the beady eyed kid pass, then brought the pommel of his sword crashing down onto the back of the man’s neck.
He dropped like a basket of apples. Hard and fast.
Laila gasped in shock. Golden Boy had made it look too easy. Something didn’t seem right. She’d seen her share of street fights over the years. Hell, she’d even been involved in a few. The man moved too fast. Struck too swiftly.
The stranger shifted and twisted to bring the flat of his sword up against the side of Gap Tooth’s head with a resounding schwack. Laila flinched at the sound. It was like hitting a melon with a piece of lumber. The man crumpled into a ball.
Before anyone else could react, a golden fist jabbed the idiot redhead in the face, and a swift kick to his knee sent him to the alley floor.
Turning once again, he faced Lizard Eyes. Laila had to give the cold eye one credit. At least he had the presence of mind to draw his sword. It probably wasn’t going to help him, but at least he’d tried.
“You, I don’t particularly like,” Golden Boy said with a sneer. “Last chance,” he added with a raised eyebrow.
Laila watched as the cold eyed, lizard looking, worm weighed his options. The smart thing would have been to run. Fortunately, men such as this were not known for their intelligence.
The idiot chose to attack. The idiot died.
Golden Boy parried the thrust to the side, shifted faster than was humanly possible, and stabbed the man through the heart like sticking a knife into warm cheese.
Just like that, it was over. Four men down, one dead. How was this possible, Laila thought? Moments ago she was within seconds of being raped and then killed, or vice versa. Now, her attackers were defeated, and this Golden man stood before her, not even out of breath. Looking as if he’d just stepped into the alley to ask directions.
Her mind whirled, and her skin tingled. What had happened? And, why?
He smiled down at her. A warm, comforting smile that tried to reassure her. “I believe we should leave,” he said gently, as he leaned down and wiped his sword on the dead man’s clothes, “before the City Watch arrives. I so do not want to spend the day answering questions. Do you?”
He smiled at her as he sheathed his sword. Apparently waiting for an answer.
Golden Boy didn’t seem upset at killing the man, Laila thought. Not that she was upset or anything at the dead body lying next to her. That sick feeling deep in the pit of her stomach was not because of the dead eyes staring up at her. No way.
But still, you would have thought Golden Boy would be a little concerned. He looked as cool as a winter snow. How many men had he killed, she wondered? More than you can count, Laila told herself with a shudder.
Her heart jumped. The City Watch. They knew her well. Twice she’d been caught lifting a purse. It was only through luck, and more than a little skill, that she had escaped. The City Watch did not like being thwarted.
Taking a deep breath, she nodded. Yes, they should get away.
The man smiled, and then gestured, for her to lead the way.
When they reached the alley opening, she turned to look at the four men on the ground.
“Why?” she asked, as she shook her head.
“You are a woman with something they wanted,” Golden Boy said, as if that explained everything.
Laila blinked, looking down at her boy clothes. “How’d you know?” she asked, as she checked to make sure her hair was still up under her cap.
The big man scoffed. “You can’t hide the swing in those hips,” he said with an appraising smile. “Their movement is poetic.”
Laila felt her insides flutter like a million butterflies taking wing. This man had been staring at her butt. The thought sent a quick thrill through her. Any other man and she would have thought him a loutish animal. But for some reason, the idea of this particular man finding her hips attractive wasn’t as troubling as it should have been.
He laughed and pointed down the road.
Laila stepped out into the street. The normal activity occurred around them. As if no one was aware of the four men back in the alley. She was willing to bet tomorrow’s lunch that half the people within a block knew every detail. But, everyone avoided acknowledging it. Better quiet and alive, than noisy and dead.
It was the Fifth Point’s motto.
She wove her way through the crowd. Large Golden Boy kept up with her. He moved like a cat she thought. A large, powerful cat. All muscle and grace.
Her stomach clenched up into a ball. Everything about this man was sending her warning signals. He frightened her for some reason. Not a fear for her personal safety. No, something else. Something that she had never experienced before. A fear for her heart.
She was tempted to take off. To get away, melt into the streets and back corners of the city. But, something kept her close.
Besides, she told herself, she needed to learn what was going on. Why had those men attacked her? And, why had this man stepped in to save her?
“This way,” he said, as he pointed around the corner.
She looked back up at him with a deep frown. “I don’t think so,” she said, as she shook her head.
“I just want a moment of your time. I am willing to pay.”
She stepped away from him in shock. Disappointed for some reason. She shouldn’t have been, she thought. Men only thought of one thing.
“I’m not what you’re looking for,” she said. “You can find more than enough willing women on Hook Street. Two blocks over. They will be more than glad to take your money.”
He laughed and shook his head. “Don’t look so judgmental,” he said. “I just want to talk …”
“Sure, that’s what they all say,” she interrupted with her best condescending sneer.
“The fountain. That should be public enough,” he said, as he raised a perfect eyebrow, waiting for an answer.
Every instinct told her to run. To get away from this man before her life changed forever. Who are you kidding, Laila? she said to herself. Your life is in desperate need of changing.
Dipping her head in acceptance, she turned and started for the fountain at the center of the market.
The king had the fountain built years ago as a way to keep the unwashed poor from traipsing into the better parts of town in search of water.
The big man joined her, his eyes scanning the crowd as they walked. Laila noticed several women shooting him smiles and come-hither glances.
A burst of anger flowed through her. Why? she couldn’t say. But, the look on their faces were enough to make her want to scratch their eyes out.