I nudged Mia’s arm with my elbow and nodded at the solitaire man. She followed my gaze and pursed her lips. Her eyes flickered to her brother and she slightly jerked her head toward the stranger. “Is that him?”
He noted where she indicated and studied the man for a moment before he nodded. “That’s him.”
Pennae grasped my arm with both hands and bit her lower lip. “So what do we do now?”
Ethan straightened the collar of his filthy, paint-splattered shirt and offered his arm to me. “Shall we?”
I blinked at him. “Shall we what?”
He nodded at the man. “Go see if he’s willing to talk.”
Mia stepped between us and glared at her brother. “You will not put her in danger.”
“I think that’s for the pretty lady to decide,” he insisted as he leaned to one side and caught my eye. “Besides, isn’t her betrothed in more trouble?”
I stiffened my jaw and held my hand out to his. “Lead the way.”
He grinned at his sister before he skirted around her and grasped my offered hand. Together we strolled through the tables. The other patrons hardly paid us any mind, but a strange itch teased the back of my mind. My heart fluttered a little as we came closer to the hulk of a man. He was even bigger up close, and must have been well over six and a half feet tall with a broad chest.
He hardly looked up at our coming as Ethan bowed his head. “I’m sorry for the intrusion, but we couldn’t help but notice that you were alone.”
The man sneered at us before he returned his attention to his mug. “And I want it to stay that way.”
“Come come, now,” Ethan scolded him as he scooted onto the seat opposite the man and I followed. He swept his arm over the establishment. “We’re all friends here.”
The man scoffed. “You’re no friend of mine.”
Ethan’s grin widened as he drew up his other sleeve and revealed a tattoo in the shape of a seagull. “Aren’t we?”
The man lifted one massive eyebrow and looked up at Ethan’s face. His muscles tensed, and mine responded in kind as the fight-or-flight responses battled inside my head. I breathed out when a broad grin spread across his face, but somehow the tension in my heart didn’t go away. “I guess we are. Never seen anyone with a Gull tattoo before ‘cept me.”
Ethan held out his hand. “Ethan’s the name.”
The man grasped it in a sturdy handshake. “Draven. Now then-” He drew his arm back and nodded at the tattoo on Ethan’s arm. “Where’d you get the idea for that?”
Ethan tapped the side of his nose. “I’m always up for a pint, and there’s no better place than the Gull.”
I tried to focus on the banter between the pair, but my heart captured all my attention. The flutter had become a hard thump, and I felt as though something gave it a squeeze every now and again. My eyes inadvertently fell on the floor some ten feet away from us. The boards were just like the others, and yet I couldn’t look away.
“Dear? Dearest?” Ethan gave my shoulder a shake.
I whipped my head back to him. “Huh?”
Ethan laughed. “We were just talking about the drink here and our new friend wanted to know your favorite.”
I scouted about for an idea and my gaze fell on a nearby drink. “A Bloody Mary.”
Draven frowned. “Never heard of it. What’s in it?”
“Um-” My mind was wandering back to that spot on the floor. “Some tomato juice . . .some vodka. . .and a. . .a lot of salt.” I stood and strolled over to the spot on the floor.
“Dearest?” Ethan called, but I paid him no mind as I furrowed my brow.
The beat of my heart had quickened. I tapped my foot on the floor, and was disappointed when nothing happened.
“What’s she doing?” It was Draven asking the question, and he didn’t sound happy.
“She’s-um, fond of. . .of dancing,” Ethan explained as he slipped out of the booth and walked over to me. He wrapped his arm around my waist and grasped my hand in his other one. I was pulled into a slow dance as he leaned in close and dropped his voice to a whisper. “What are you doing?”
My eyes were glued to the floor as I shook my head. “I-I don’t know. There’s just something about this spot-” I gave it a hard tap with my foot.
That’s when something tapped back.
We both froze and Draven leapt to his feet. “Get away from there!” he snarled as he marched over to us.
He snapped his grimy fingers, and a dozen of the other patrons jumped up. Chairs clattered to the floor and several other clients scuttled back away from the crowd who now surrounded Ethan and me. My only relief was Mia and Pennae hadn’t been roped into the mess.
Draven stopped a few feet in front of us and crossed his arms over his expansive chest. “Who sent you? Was it someone from the castle?”
Ethan shook his head. “Nobody sent us. We-”
“Don’t lie to me!” Draven’s booming voice cut off my companion. A hint of red touched Draven’s cheeks as a few veins popped out of his neck. He nodded at two men close to us. The people strode over and grabbed Ethan’s arms, pinning them behind his back. Draven marched over and wrenched his sleeve up. He swiped his thumb over the gull tattoo and sneered as a faint sparkle of dust flew up. “Magic dust. Just as I figured.”
Ethan sheepishly grinned at him. “Would you look at that.”
Draven’s hand swung out and his fist connected with Ethan’s cheek. His head whipped to one side and a soft ‘oomph’ escaped his lips.
“Stop it!” I shouted as I raced over. One of the men grabbed my arm and yanked me back against the front of his stench-ridden shirt.
Draven’s eyes fell on me and took a more leering appearance. A smile curled onto his lips as he strolled over to me. “Yer a might pretty one for a spy. What say you and I get to know each other a little-”
A hand broke through the floorboards beneath Draven and the fingers wrapped around his ankle. His eyes bulged out of his head and he let out a yelp as he was pulled through the floor, wood and all. That was the cue for the other patrons, and they stampeded out of the room, nearly trampling Mia and Pennae on their way out.
Draven’s cohorts whipped their heads this way and that looking for their leader. Shouts and grunts came from beneath us, and Draven’s voice sounded above the fray.
“Get back in yer cage, you damn animal!”
The reply was a hard crack of bone. The cohorts winced and some even shrank back away from the tell-tale hole.
Then there was silence.
The soundless air reverberated with fear and uncertainty. My own captor’s hand quivered. The next moment it wasn’t there, but the man hadn’t run. A cry of fright came from him and as I felt myself freed I spun around in time to watch him disappear into the floor. The broken boards revealed a subterranean tunnel system lit by oil lamps and smelling of dank dirt and saltwater.
The lamps illuminated two shadows, one my bandanna-wearing former captor and the other a person taller than his short stature. Their shadows danced about the walls, accompanied by the sounds of fists hitting flesh. The stranger captured the upper hand with an upper cut, and the sailor dropped to the floor.
Draven’s other men drew out their cutlasses from their waistbands and threw Ethan to the side. They crept toward the hole as I scuttled back. Their faces showed a mixture of fear and fury. One of the men inched up to the edge and stretched his neck to look into the hole.
A figure shot out and gave him another upper cut that sent him flying into his friends. They crashed to the floor in a clump of panic and anger as the figure landed beside me. My mouth gaped open at Luca. His hands were taloned claws covered in scales, and the green shimmering flakes also covered some of his cheeks. Large white horns grew out of his temple and curved out behind him for a foot. A scaly tale stretched out from his fine butt and slammed against the floor.
The sailors scrambled to their feet and faced Luca with their cutlasses and pale faces. I slipped behind him as those hideous, weather-beaten faces crept toward us, blood in their eyes but their cutlasses slightly shaking in their hands.
Hard footsteps strode across the floor and Miss Smith stopped near the wall between the pirates and us. Her attention lay on our foes. “If you value your lives you will leave this place at once.” The men looked at one another, and in a split second they sprinted out of the room.
We had won. Sort of.