The Brazen Bride(3)

By: Stephanie Laurens



Linnet’s smile fell from her face. “Yes, of course.” Swiping up her skirts—wishing she’d worn her breeches instead—she strode quickly toward the back door, inwardly reviewing the necessary tasks, tasks she’d dealt with often before.

On the southwest tip of Guernsey, dealing with shipwrecks was an inescapable part of life.

Chester trotted at her side, his hand gripping hers—too tightly, but then his father had been lost at sea three years ago. As they neared the kitchen door, it opened to reveal Linnet’s aunt, Muriel.

“Did I hear aright? A wreck?”

Linnet nodded. “Will sent Chester—there’s at least one, survivor. I’ll go straightaway—can you find Edgar and the others? Tell them to bring the old gate, and the pack of bandages and splints.”

“Yes, of course. But where?”

Linnet looked at Chester. “Which cove?”

“West one.”

Grimacing, Linnet met Muriel’s eyes. Of course it would be that one—the rockiest and most dangerous. Especially for whoever had been washed up. “Broken bones, almost certainly.”

Nodding briskly, Muriel waved her off. “Go. I’ll have everything ready here when you get back.”

Linnet met Chester’s eyes. “Let’s race.”

Chester flashed a grin, let go of her hand, turned and ran back around the house.

Both hands now free, Linnet gathered her skirts and set out in pursuit; with her longer legs, she was soon on Chester’s heels. The path cut through the surrounding trees, then out across the rocky expanse that bordered the edge of the low cliffs.

“Hold up!” Linnet called as they rounded the southern headland of the long northwestern side of the island and the west cove opened up below them.

Chester halted at the top of the path—little more than a goat track—that led down to a strip of coarse sand. Beyond the sand lay rocks, exposed now that the tide was mostly out, a tumbled jumble of granite from fist-sized to small boulders that formed the floor of the cove. The cove wasn’t all that wide; two promontories of larger, jagged rocks enclosed it, marching out into the lashing gray waves.

Looking down, Linnet saw three bodies, two flung as if carelessly discarded on the rocks. Those two were dead—had to be, given the contortions of limbs, heads, and spines. The third she could only catch glimpses of; Will and Brandon—another two of her wards—were crouched over the man.

Aware of Chester’s pleading look, Linnet nodded. “All right—let’s go.”

He was off like a hare. Linnet kilted her skirts, then followed, leaping down the familiar path with an abandon almost Chester’s equal. As she descended, she scanned the cove again, noting the flotsam thrown up by the storm; to her educated eyes the evidence suggested that a good-sized merchantman had broken up on the razor-sharp rocks that lurked beneath the waves out to the northwest.

Reaching the sand, Chester bounded toward Will and Brandon. Suppressing the urge to follow, Linnet carefully made her way out onto the rocks and confirmed that the other two men were indeed dead, beyond her help. Two sailors, by the look of them, both swarthy. Spanish?

Leaving them where they lay, she picked her way through the rocks back onto the sand, then walked to where the third body lay close to the cliff.

His back to her, Will looked up and around as she neared, his fifteen-year-old face unusually sober. “He was on the planking, so we lifted it and carried him here.”

Halting, she dropped a hand on Will’s shoulder and answered the question he hadn’t asked. “It was safe to move him if he was already on the planks.”

Shifting her gaze from Will’s face, she got her first look at their survivor. He was lying on his stomach on the section of planking, a wet tangle of black hair screening his face.

He was large. Big. Not a giant, but in any company he would rank as impressive. Broad shoulders, long, heavy limbs. Running her gaze down his spine, she frowned at the bulge distorting his sodden coat. Bending, she reached out and touched it, felt the hardness, traced the odd shape.

“It’s a wooden cylinder in oilskins,” Will told her. “It’s slung in a leather holder with a loop around his belt. We think his arms must go through other loops to hold it in place.”

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