The Brazen Bride(2)

By: Stephanie Laurens

He saw Death, felt it—tasted ashes as icy fingers pierced his body, reaching for his soul.

He dragged in a last gasp, braced himself. Given his mission, given his occupation for the last several years, Saint Peter ought at least consider letting him into Heaven.

A long-forgotten prayer formed on his lips.

The assassins sprang.


Impact—sudden, sharp, catastrophic—flung him and the assassins overboard. The plunge into turbulent depths, into the churning fury of the sea, separated them.

Tumbling in the icy dark, instinct took hold; righting himself, Logan struck upward. His dirk was still in his left fist; he’d released his saber, but it was tied to his belt by its lanyard—he felt the reassuring tap of the hilt against his leg.

He was a strong swimmer. The assassins almost certainly weren’t—it would be a wonder if they could swim at all. Dismissing them—he had more pressing concerns—he broke the surface and hauled in a huge breath. He shook his head, then peered through the water weighing down his lashes.

The storm was at its height, the seas mountainous. He couldn’t see beyond the next towering wave, while with elemental rage the wind whipped and strafed, shrieking worse than a thousand banshees.

The ship had been in open water in the middle of the Channel when the storm had hit, but he had no idea how far, the tempest had tossed them, nor any clear idea of direction. No idea if land was close, or …

He’d been losing blood when he’d hit the water. How long he would last in the cauldron of icy waves, how soon his already depleted strength would fail—

His hand struck something—wood, a plank. No, even better, a section of planking. Desperate, Logan grabbed it, grimly hung on as the next wave tried to slap him away, then, gritting his teeth, he hauled himself up and onto the makeshift raft.

The cold had numbed his flesh, yet the cut down his side sent burning pain lancing through his entire body.

For a long moment, he lay prone on the planks, gasping, then, gathering his ebbing strength, steeling himself, he inched and edged further onto the planks until he could lock his right hand over the ragged front edge. His feet still dangled in the water, but his body was supported to his knees; it was the best he could do.

The waves surged. His raft pitched, but rode the swell.

Beneath the lashing roar of the storm, waves crashed. Cheek to the wet wood, he listened, concentrating, and confirmed that the waves were smashing against something nearby.

The ship was, he thought, wallowing in the unrelieved blackness to his right. Breaking up. Sinking. Given how he and the assassins had been flung, the impact must have been midship. Whipping up his failing strength, he lifted his head, searched, saw debris but no bodies—no other survivors—but only he and the assassins had been so far forward in the prow.

Lightning cracked again, and showed him the ship’s bare masts silhouetted against the inky sky.

As the simultaneous clap of thunder faded, he heard a sucking, rushing sound. Recognizing the portent, he peered at the ship.

The listing, tipping, capsizing ship.

Out of the night, the main mast came swinging down.…

He didn’t even have time to swear before the top of the mast thumped down across him and the world went black.

“Linnet! Linnet! Come quickly! Come see!”

Linnet Trevission looked up from the old flagstones of the path that ran from the stable to the kitchen door. She’d left the stable and was nearing the kichen garden; directly ahead, the solid bulk of her home, Mon Coeur, sat snug and serene, anchored within the protective embrace of stands of elm and fir bent and twisted into outlandish shapes by the incessant sea winds.

At present, however, in the aftermath of the storm that had raged for half the night, the winds were mild, coyly coquettish, the winter sun casting a honey glow over the house’s pale stone.

“Linnet! Linnet!”

She smiled as Chester, one of her wards—a tow-headed scamp of just seven—came pelting around the side of the house, heading for the back door. “Chester! I’m here.”

The boy looked up, then veered onto the stable path.

“You have to come!” Skidding to a halt, he grabbed her hand and tugged. “There’s been a wreck!” His face alight, excitement and tension straining his voice, he looked up into her eyes. “There are bodies! And Will says one of the men is alive! You have to come!”

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