Not Long Now...
For those who are still waiting, here’s a little taster of what’s to come in His Forbidden Liaison.
They quickened their pace along the side of the harbour. The ship that had brought them from Genoa was still lying at anchor, waiting for the tide. Her decks were swarming with Italian sailors. One or two of them shouted a greeting. Jack waved a hand, but did not pause. There was too much to do. ‘We should be able to—’
A loud shout stopped them in their tracks. Jack spun on his heel. A group of burly men had appeared from the inn where they had lodged overnight. Two of them had dirty grey bandages round their heads, and they were pointing at Jack and Ben. Jack gasped. ‘Those are the two ruffians from last night.’
Ben looked back. ‘The men with them don’t look anything like constables, either.’
As they watched, the group of Frenchmen split into two. The two bandaged men remained by the inn door, but their fellows were striding up the quayside towards Jack and Ben. A sudden shaft of watery sunlight caught the gleam of knife blades against dark clothing.
‘Dear God! The landlord must have been in league with them, and now they’re after us. I don’t like the odds, with five of them and two of us.’
‘We’d better run for it.’ Valise in hand, Ben started for the end of the harbour.
‘You go on. I’ll follow.’ Jack was digging into his pocket as Ben took to his heels. Then he yelled at the sailors on the Genoese ship. ‘Hey, you fellows! This is for you, with our thanks.’ He flung the handful of coins high in the air, right into the path of their pursuers. Without waiting to see the reaction from the ship, he turned and hared after Ben.
Behind him, Jack heard shouts in a mixture of languages. The sailors must be scrambling on to the quayside and fighting the Frenchmen for the coins. He and Ben had time to escape. They would—
Ahead of him, Ben had stopped and turned, foolishly waiting for Jack to catch up with him. A moment later, the sharp crack of a pistol echoed round the harbour. Ben cried out and fell to the ground. He had been shot!
In seconds, Jack had caught up with Ben and was hauling him back to his feet. He was conscious, though very pale. He had dropped his valise and was clutching at his shoulder. Jack put an arm round his waist. ‘Come on. Let me take your weight. We can get away.’
Ben gritted his teeth and did his best to run.
‘I will mind the horses, Guillaume, if you fetch the provisions.’
‘But, mistress, it’s not safe to leave you here alone with the coach and all the silk. You know what happened last night.’
Marguerite shook her head. ‘It will not happen again. Look.’ She took a step forward so that the folds of her skirt moved. They had been concealing her hand, and the pistol she had taken from the coach. ‘No one will try anything. If anyone should accost me, I will shoot him. Now, fetch the provisions, Guillaume, and be as quick as you can. We will have precious little time to stop on the road, and even you cannot manage without food.’
He nodded and hurried across the Place du Cul de Boeuf to the baker’s on the corner of the Canebière, the long, wide street leading up from the port to the main part of the city.
Marguerite sighed and buried the pistol more deeply among her skirts. She refused to be afraid, even though they were still all too close to the port and the ruffians who frequented it. Last night had been dangerous, terrifying even, but it had been her own fault for sleeping without a guard. She would not make such a mistake again. On another occasion, she might not be lucky enough to have a gentleman come to her aid. He had been most courageous, launching himself into the fray with no thought for his own safety. And covered by only a thin bed sheet, to boot! She should have been embarrassed, of course, but she had been too intent on dealing with the attackers.
Now she remembered that her rescuer’s naked torso had seemed shapely and well muscled, like a classical statue. She fancied his hair had been dark. And he was tall, too. But what she remembered most clearly was his voice, its strong, rich tone inspiring confidence and helping her to overcome her terror. She would treasure the memory of that voice.
It was a pity she had not had a chance to thank him properly, or even to ask his name. Everything had happened so quickly. As soon as both men were securely bound, he had disappeared to arrange for them to be taken to gaol. Marguerite had been left alone to sleep, if she could. And she had, soothed by the memory of that remarkable voice.
This morning she had rid herself of such missish fancies. As a matter of courtesy, she would have liked to seek him out, but it had been much too early. She had not left a note. How could she, for a man with no name? But she now felt more than a little guilty. It was a breach of good manners to have failed to thank him. If she ever saw him again, she would remedy that, but the chances were extremely slim. She walked thoughtfully to the leader’s head and raised her free hand to stroke his neck.
And then she heard the sound of running feet.
She tightened her hold on the butt of the pistol, and turned. Two men had rounded the corner from the Quai du Port. One, a fair-haired stranger, was leaning heavily on his darker fellow. Why, it was the gentleman who had come to her rescue just hours before! She stepped quickly away from the horses. What was happening? What should she do? The men looked to be in some distress. The fair-haired one seemed to be struggling to stay upright. Without the support of his friend, he would probably have fallen to the ground.
Marguerite knew she had to help her rescuer as he had helped her. It was a matter of honour.
And if you’d like to know what Marguerite did to discharge her debt of honour, there’s a bit more of this extract on my website here.