Chapter Five

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            "You've gone mad," I said emphatically, shaking my head.

Keith shot me a narrow-eyed look. "I know what I heard," he defended himself.

Incredulous, I said, "There is no possible—"

"If you ladies are done bickering, would you kindly get out of the way?" Raoul grumbled, rapping his knuckles against the desk in impatience. He tossed two drawstring sacks at us. Raoul bent his head to his task, counting coins and doling them out from the pile to the next crewman with his hand outstretched.

Keith and I caught them, him untying it to peer inside. I pocketed my share, moving out of the way of the man behind me.

"Where's the rest?" Keith asked Raoul, dark brows slanting down in suspicion.

Raoul sighed. "If ye'd been listening, you would know." At Keith's glare, he begrudgingly elaborated, "Captain has the rest of the prize. You'll get your share."

Keith, dissatisfied but unwilling to make a fuss, stepped out of line. He turned to me, jingling the sack of coins.

"Shall we spend these coins, Zaina?" he asked me. "I hear Barton's pub has good game."

I arched a brow. "I'll come along. I still think you're mad," I added.

Keith scoffed, leading the way out of Barton's posh office. "I've at least three others who will swear to it that they overheard the same."

"Of course they'll back you," I replied somewhat caustically. "They're your friends."

Keith grinned toothily. "You're my friend, Zaina." He nudged me just a little too hard with his elbow.

"How comforting for me," I quipped.

Keith laughed, and trotted down the polished stairs. "Think of it as a man-to-man union. One that under no circumstances can be broken." He turned heel on the second to last step and gestured vaguely to me. "Obviously, that particular bond of friendship can't apply to you."

Striding past him and through the hall, I crossed my arms over my chest. I spun back around, a thought on the tip of my tongue. "So the others will side with you out of respect for your...man-to-man union," I said the words with more than a hint of mockery. Keith snickered. "But you'll break that same union by telling me something said by another man in confidence?" I asked, spacing my words out to clarify.

Keith shrugged. "Kent's not a part of our crew. The rules don't apply to him."

I shook my head in disbelief. "I'm not sure you pirates understand the concept of rules altogether."

Keith's grin turned into a pout. "That's not true. Very fond of rules, we are. Code and all that."

I snorted. "Your own rules, maybe."

"Well, it's no fun following someone else's..."

As we stepped past the parlor, a slight movement through the open door distracted me, drawing my eye. I peeked in, curious, and nearly startled when I caught sight of a woman's back, bent over a table in the far corner. I only had a glimpse of her before she straightened and exited through a small, half-hidden door: A plain dress, an apron tie at the small of her back, hair wrapped tightly in cloth, a flash of dark eyes.

The strange moment passed, and I remembered myself. Curious, but ushered along by Keith, I left the house with an unsettling feeling in my stomach.

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