London Docks, England
Someone was behind her. Awareness prickled the back of her neck. Fiona Grey
peered through the darkness and the thick pea-soup fog, searching the alley for
a place to hide.
There. Perhaps the doorway…
Before she could move, a hand covered her mouth. The unmistakable odor
of male assaulted her nose as a forearm pressed against her chest and another
hand closed around her upper arm. Fiona’s heart picked up tempo as the man’s
hard body pressed against the length of hers. She stiffened in his arms. In all
her twenty-one years, she’d never been treated this way.
She twisted in his hold. How dare he!
“Shh…” Ale-scented breath hissed past her ear seconds before his hold
A moment later, her boot heels bumped over the cobblestones. Merciful
heavens, where was he taking her?
Instead of anger and fear from his grip, a pleasant tingle raced through her.
Most peculiar. Sure, she craved a bit of excitement, but she preferred to experience
a kidnapping within the covers of a book, not in person.
The restless spirit of her dead fiancé, Milton Davis, hovered near the center
of the alley. His opaque form appeared in shades of gray against the yellowish
fog and glow of gaslight.
— I say, he’s being a bit rough, isn’t he?
Rough? The stranger’s grasp exuded determination, not cruelty or punishment.
Of course, given her wealth, he wouldn’t want harm to befall her and
risk his ransom. No, he presented only a minor annoyance. As for the other
presence in the alley…
Fiona glared at her not-so-dearly departed fiancé. Did he truly think such
an observation would help her? Of course she didn’t precisely need his assistance.
She had looked after herself for two years.
Wiggling a bit in her captor’s hold, she brushed her weapons with her fingertips.
The stranger held her only because she allowed it.
Milton adjusted the cuffs of his gray burial suit.
— Don’t look at me like I’m infested with beetles, Fi. I did not encourage this
midnight jaunt. I thought London to be a civilized place, not some godforsaken
den of iniquity.
Fiona cast her gaze upwards. Milton hadn’t encouraged her escape from
the Revere, but he had urged her to walk slowly so she might see who followed
her. Had he known she would be grabbed? No, she refused to believe he would
endanger her life just to prove the dockyards were no place for a lady.
She wiggled. And just what manner of man was this stranger? Granted,
this was her first kidnapping, but he seemed to be going about it in a rather
peculiar manner. Instead of carrying her off to a waiting carriage, he appeared
to be manhandling her into the very doorway she’d planned to hide in. She
inhaled sharply. The scents of sea and soap filled her lungs. Alarm rippled
through her—something did not ring true.
“I mean you no harm, madam.” The man’s breath was hot against her ear
and tart with the smell of alcohol. “I must have your compliance and silence if
we are to escape the docks.”
Compliance and silence. This man was no common sailor. Indeed, his
speech was refined, his vocabulary educated. A captain, then? Fiona struggled
to fit the facts to her conclusion. In her experience running her family’s shipping
company, captains swaggered not skulked, and few wished to escape their
— Ha, I believe you owe me an apology, Fi. Milton smoothed the lapels of
his burial suit. I surmised a sailor to be the perfect guide out of this place. He
wishes to escape just as much as you.
“Mmoo uph pht.” Her jaw moved against the man’s palm, felt the rasp of
skin against her lips. The calluses were wrong, and the hand was soft—too soft
for a salt, young or old. She waited for fear to ice her skin. Instead, a sense of
protection warmed her.
“Do you understand?” the stranger whispered.
“Umph.” Fiona jerked her head once then stilled.
“Your complete silence, please.” He gave her arm a little shake. “I can assure
you those who lurk in the mist would not grant you safe passage.”
Her shoulders straightened. Safe passage. So, he was no kidnapper. She
fought the tendril of disappointment. Ah, well, she’d had enough adventure
for one night.
Clearing her throat, she sighed then jerked her head to indicate her compliance.
“I will release you now.”
His hand lifted off her mouth, but he kept it near her head. She remained
still. Would he bolt down the alley if she turned to look at him? She counted
to twenty. Thirty. At forty, he hadn’t moved.
Milton fingered the dark spot where the cleft in his chin had been.
— Are you well, Fi? You seem rather quiet.
Quiet? She was silent, as requested, and stared at the wooden door in
front of her face.
Fiona cleared her throat and tapped her rescuer’s shoe with the toe of her
boot. He remained a statue by her side. She turned slightly. He was taller than
Milton had been, with a straight profile and strong chin.
“Pardon my ignorance,” she whispered when he still hadn’t moved, “but
isn’t haste a virtue at present?”
“Indeed, madam, indeed.” He slid his hand down her arm and laced his
fingers with her gloved ones.
Shock coursed through her. She fixated on their clasped hands. How
could the press of a stranger’s palm against hers seem more intimate than Milton’s
“Where is your child?”
In the murky lamplight, she watched his dark brows meet in a V above his
Child? Fiona glanced around her. Milton. He had heard her talking to
Milton and thought her companion to be a child. Fortunately, Milton didn’t
seem to make the connection.
She stepped away from the stranger then turned to face him. Her gaze
flicked over his shadowy features. She doubted he would accept her denial, so
she must find another means to distract him. Fortunately, most men possessed
vanity and pride.
“Is a child pivotal to your rather, um, theatrical assistance?”
He stiffened. “Theatrical assistance?”
“Lurking in the shadows, sneaking across the clearing and tossing stones in
every direction.” She tugged her hand from his grasp. Three fingers waved at
him, one for each of his actions.
“See here, Madam, I am a…” He swallowed hard. “…an Englishman. My
actions were dictated by reason not…not by a pampered Parisienne.” He
flicked the velvet collar of her cape.
What kind of sailor knew about fashions, Parisian or otherwise? This man
was not as he seemed. Had he heard of her or her family? Faith, Fiona, this is
another country. The Greys’ membership in the First Four Hundred probably
meant nothing to the English.
“Monsieur Worth designed my wardrobe, not—”
“Yet another point of honor succumbs to the folly of fashion,” he growled.
“Honor!” She tried to make the connection between her cape and her
He placed a finger to her lips, stilling her shout but not quelling the outrage
shaking her frame.
“You agreed to keep your silence.”
Her teeth clicked near his finger. She tossed her head and stepped back.
“You offered to guide me through this maze.” She drilled his chest with her
“I cannot allow you to leave your child behind.”
Child. Affronted pride would not dissuade the man from his topic. Interesting.
If only she had more time to consider the puzzle he presented.
“You cannot—” She swallowed her rising voice. A close version of the
truth would assuage his concerns and, more important, get her off these docks.
“Precisely. Furthermore, I insist you collect the infant immediately.” He
glanced over his shoulder. “Time is of the essence.”
Cursing drifted down the alley.
— Make up something, Fi. Milton flitted toward the voices. I’d recognize
Bosson’s voice anywhere.
Bosson. Fiona’s heart kicked up-tempo. She didn’t want to meet Bosson in
a drawing room, let alone in a dark alley.
“Madam, please.” Her rescuer plowed his fingers through his hair. His
seaman’s cap rolled down his back and plopped onto the ground.
“I have no child, and my traveling companion is dead.” She tried to ease
around the stranger’s bulk, but he blocked her way.
— But not forgotten. Milton winked at her. Now, urge the fellow in that
direction. He pointed the way she had been traveling before the man had
“Then with whom were you conversing?” Confusion thickened the man’s
“My companion.” Fiona shifted to the other side. The man filled the
doorway. How was she to urge someone that large to move in any direction?
— Perhaps you should not mention me, Fi. Milton drifted close and stuck
his face near the stranger’s. His kind aren’t exactly known for their intelligence.
Fiona shook her head. Outside of her family, she had yet to meet a man
The stranger cocked his head to the side.
“You just said—”
A loud banging from the direction of the railyard interrupted him.
“Sir, may I remind you that I am a lady standing on a decrepit dock in the
wee hours of the morning? I have no baggage, unless you count the menace
lurking in the shadows.”
She glanced at Milton. He crossed his arms.
— That’s a fine way to treat your protector.
Fiona resisted the urge to roll her eyes. She carried her protectors on her
“Perhaps we might quibble another time?”
“Just so.” The stranger offered her his hand. Warmth surrounded hers as
she accepted. He tugged her out of the doorway and down the alley, taking the
right lane when the path forked. “This way.”
“Are you quite certain?” Fiona glanced at the buildings towering above
her. “I believe I followed this path before.” And ended up back where she had
“I can assure you, I have my bearings.”
For a while, silence reigned as they rushed down the narrow lanes. Dawn
pushed back the darkness and the fog thinned, allowing her a better look at
the buildings. Fiona eyed the mortar and pestle visible through the cracked
paint on the building’s swinging wooden sign.
“Didn’t we pass the apothecary’s shop before? I only ask because it appears
quite familiar. And look at those golden balls.” She pointed to the next placard.
“I’m certain that is the same pawnshop.”
His fingers tightened around hers. “Madam, I am fulfilling my part of the
bargain. Do you not think you could reciprocate?”
“If you need to concentrate–”
— Must you provoke the man, Fi? Milton huffed. Do you wish to arrive at
your uncle’s house tonight?
How had she forgotten how sore men became when questioned?
“Very well.” She pressed her lips tightly together. She would be compliant
Gradually, the crowded lanes and alleys of Wapping gave way to more
modern buildings and somewhat cleaner streets. Conversation drifted out of
the fog. Grunting filtered from a nearby alley. The acrid air burned her lungs.
Her guide coughed.
“Commercial Road is ahead. I’ve a cab waiting.”
Fiona nodded once, opened her mouth then shut it with a click. A group
of men emerged from the mist—dockers with meaty fists swinging at their
sides. Her rescuer looped an arm around her shoulders.
Fiona resisted the urge to stiffen at his intimate liberties. The territorial
move protected her from the workers’ leers. Determined to help in this ruse,
she leaned against his side, rested her hand on his chest. Funny, she hadn’t realized
how cold she was until she felt his body heat. His heart thudded against
her palm. It beat almost as fast as hers. Guess he wasn’t accustomed to the excitement,
The crooked street emptied onto a wide lane. A hansom cab wavered like a
phantom in a yellow arc of light. Disappointment pulled on her, and she
pushed out of his hold.
“Your coach, I believe.” Relief weakened her knees. They had made it.
“’Ere now, ye didn’t think the likes of you could escape us?”
Fiona pivoted. Behind her, two men stepped from the thinning fog onto
the cobbled street. The smaller one tossed a knife from hand to hand. Bosson,
the Revere’s first mate, pointed a rusted revolver at her rescuer’s heart.
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