Chapter Eleven

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As Tess hurried to retrieve the birthing powder, her mind stuck on a disturbing detail.

He's lying! That captain made my moon ring change color! But which part of his boast is the untruth?

She didn't have more than the time it took to run a few quick steps over to the room her grandmother used to store provisions in, to ponder it further. She slid to a stop in the wide doorway.

The room beyond was crawling with sailors busy ransacking the supply room.

Focus, she admonished herself.

The powder wouldn't be hard to find.

Her Gram's newly accomplished reading and writing skills had been put to work in the pantry. Tess had only to take note of the pieces of paper tacked to the edges of the shelves that braced the span of the storage pantry's alcove. The hand printed labels identified, in alphabetical order, the contents that each wooden ledge held.

There hadn't been any babies to birth in the past year. The leather birthing powder bag would be at the back of the first shelf to her right.

Tess stepped deeper into the storeroom and was nearly knocked over by a sailor who pushed past with his arms hugging three large bags of sugar to his chest. All around her, sailors swarmed in and out of the storeroom, taking everything that they could carry back to their ship.

Necessary supplies for them? They're just stealing everything! Thieves! All of them! A hot flush streaked up her face as her wrath built. Gram's outrage was contagious.

To hell with discretion.

Tess doubted that many, if any, could read. None would know the contents of the satchel that she had come to fetch.

She pushed her way past two crewmembers, their arms full of sacks and boxes pilfered from the wooden cupboards. Standing on tiptoe, she stretched up to the top shelf in full view of them all. Her hand swept across the rough surface of the wooden shelf in a grasping motion and came up empty.

The bag was gone.

Already taken.

And gone with it, was any chance of sedating the Navy crew, and of giving the Calleberry and those sailing her at least the slimmest chance to escape the Navy's clutches.

I have to find it!

For just a moment, Tess gripped her hands together, and reflexively fidgeted with the tiny tourmaline band, setting it spinning in its track around her finger. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply.

Where is that medicine bag? My God! If they've taken it to the ship already we're lost. We need that sedation powder! Think! Where is the powder? How am I going to get my hands on it?

Heart pounding, Tess tried to keep her fluttering eyelids shut and to ignore the activity going on around her. She concentrated on any pictures or thoughts that might come to her. And ... there it was. A rope, knotted into a noose and weighted down by something swinging at the end of its short length.

No! A hanging! Oh please don't let it be!

Her eyes shot open. She blinked in surprise. The leather pouch, dangling from a piece of rope, swung in front of her.

"Lookin' fer this?" A lecherous grin greeted her.

"In fact, I am," Tess retorted, hoping that she sounded braver than she felt.

The sailor took a step closer and grabbed a handful of her hair with his free hand, tilting her head back, exposing her neck. His eyes traveled down her neck, stopping at the frill of her blouse as it topped her cleavage. "An' what might ya offer me, in exchange fer it?" His hand slid around her waist and he pulled her firmly against his pelvis. A noticeable bulge in his trousers announced his interest and probable intention.

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