Chapter Sixty-Seven

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As she led the way off the beach onto the path that led to the schoolroom, Sally was contemplating the likely problems for the next two days.

The path wound around the inevitable shacks that surrounded the port, and the two guards separated, one taking the lead and the other the trailing, both of them alert for beggars and hawkers.

But as the group left the poorer areas for the cluster of warehouses and offices, a group of half a dozen dirty limping mendicants descended on them, hands out for alms, shrill voices declaiming their worthiness for charity.

The two guards closed on them, telling them to stand back and the lady would give them some alms, but all of a sudden, Lieutenant Bracken was on the ground, his throat gushing blood, and Moxley was falling from a blow to the head. Suddenly, the girls were backing away from men with knives; men who had straightened their hunched backs, removed their eye patches, and put their lame feet to the ground.

Sally opened her mouth to scream, but choked the sound back when one of the men growled, "Shut your gob, mort, or I kill one of these others." He held the knife with the balance of a skilled thrower, and she could not risk it. Instead, she let them herd her, with the others, into an alleyway between two warehouses while she slid her hand surreptitiously into the pocket that gave access to her weapons.

A door opened behind them. Should she and her friends make a stand here in the alley, where they were more likely to attract attention from the street? Yes, because who knew how many thugs might be waiting in the warehouse. She stopped, and the other three stopped with her, taking the cue from Aronui to spread out slightly to give her room.

"Shy, princess?" said a voice from behind her. A familiar and hated voice.

"Crowhurst?" She turned to face him, the man who had tried to destroy her. Her eyes widened and he sneered.

"Like what you see?" He pointed to his crushed nose, the scar that bisected his cheek and split his lip. "Your cousins gave me these, curse them." He touched the patch that hid one eye. "And this I got when I took leave from the navy. Left your cousin St James dead behind me, though, so that was some justice. You owe me more, though, princess. More justice."

One of the thugs spoke from behind Sally, but she did not take her eyes from Crowhurst, trusting Aronui, whom she could see from the corner of her eye, fallen into the relaxed crouch she had learned from the knife fighter on the ship, scanning the alley from Crowhurst to the group behind her.

"We should get these morts inside, duke," the man whined. "Out of sight, like."

"Out of sight of whom, man?" Crowhurst demanded. "You killed the guards, as I ordered?"

Sally kept her face still, but Melody let out a soft whimper.

"Yes, duke," the man agreed. He came up beside Sally, and went to grab the arm she needed to defend herself, but Crowhurst roared.

"Don't touch her," and the man leapt back.

Crowhurst dropped his voice to the same chilling purr he'd been using. "Not until I've finished with her. Shall I explain what is going to happen now, princess? To a little bitch that refused my very respectable offer and whose father sent me into hell? I swore I would make you all pay." He sniggered. "Oh, how I will make you pay."

Sally glanced around, confirming the position of Crowhurst's gang and her own ladies. Crowhurst roared again. "Don't look at them! Look at me! I am the one who is going to make you whimper; make you beg for mercy; make you grovel at my feet and..."

The shot from her hip was not as clean as she would have liked. Either the position put her aim off, or her skirt slightly deflected the bullet. Crowhurst was still howling as he went down, but down he went, and as the thugs gaped, Sally pulled the pistol the rest of the way out of her clothes, set her back to the wall, and gathered her friends to her with a jerk of the head.

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