Henrynodded. "Aye. And that meanswe would havetostart over."
"Start over!"Valoree glared at him. "Eight years it took my brother toacquire thatmoney. Donot tell meyou now want to wasteanother eightyears."
The man hesitated at that, then cleared histhroat. "Well, now, I been thinkin’ on that, too. It occurs to me that out there somewhereis a Spanishgalleon with yer brother’s treasureon it – or someonewhoknows where it is. If we could just manage to find that – "
"The Spaniard with the scar!" Valoree exclaimed. Henry noddedsolemnly.
"We could kill two birds with one stone. We could have revenge and settle down in England allnice and proper, too."
"For life and vengeance, " she murmured thoughtfully.
"Aye, "thequartermaster agreed. "Forour life, and Jeremy’s vengeance."
Five years later
"I’m thinkin’ pink’d benice."
"Pink? " Valoree glaredatOne-Eyeas he walked beside her, then glanced toward Skully as he added his thoughts on the subject.
"Redheads don’t wearpink. It don’tlookgood."
"Aye, but the captain’s in need of some real feminine-type colors tomake her look less.. ." Another glare from Valoree made the manhesitate, then murmurdiplomatically, "To make her look lesscaptainlike. ‘Sides, her hair’skind ofa brown-red. It might work."
"Forgetit, " Valoreesnapped. "I amnotwearing pink. It’s bad enough I have to put on a damn dress. It willnot be a pink one."
The two men traversing the dark London streetswith her fell silentfor a moment; thenOne-Eye murmured, "Well, whatabout yellow then? Yellow’s real feminine. Maybe – "
"One-Eye, " Skullyinterrupted, then paused in hiswalking.
"What? " One-Eye asked irritably. Heand Valoree paused, too.
"Ain’t this the place? "
One-Eye andValoree both turned to peer up at the building they now stood before. It was small, two levels, squeezed in between two other storefronts. The building’s lower windows were dark, but the upper ones were filledwith the soft glow of candlelight.
"Aye, this is it. Them lights upstairs is where they live, "
One-Eye announced unnecessarily.
Nodding, Valoree gestured toward the door and waited. Her two crewmen glanced ateach other, shrugged, then charged like twobulls spotting a red cape. Herangrycry of realization was lost in thesound of splinteringwood.The doorcaved in under their combined weight, fragments flying in every direction.
Grimacing, Valoree glanced quicklyupand downthe street to be sureno one had witnessed the deed then followed the men into the dark interior. Inside, shefound thetwo lying in atangled heap on the floor.
"You were supposed to knock, you blathering idiots."
"Well, how wasweto know? "One-Eye sputtered, jumping to hisfeet andreachingup to besure the patch thatcovered his missingeyewas still in place.
"Aye, " Skullyadded, regaining hisfeetnearly as quicklyas his friend, despite his peg leg. "Andif that wasall ye were wantin’, why didn’t ye doit yerself? "
"Why, indeed? " Valoree sighed as the sound of feet pounding down the stairs somewhereatthebackof the building echoed through the quiet shop. The bright light of a lantern appeared a moment later, and Valoree stepped forward to stop hermenfrom drawing their swords as the man carrying it paused in the entranceto the room. He wasdressed in a long nightshirt.
For amoment itlooked as if the man might swallow his own tongueashe took inthe scenebefore him, and Valoree couldn’t blamehim. Hisshopwasa shambles. Not only was there a great gaping hole where thedoorhad once stood, but whenthat door had given way, Valoree’smen hadfallen inward, crashing into a tableholding piles offabric. All of these were now strewn across the floor. Added to that, the intimidating presence of three disreputable-looking characters now filled up the little space therewas left in his smallshop.The fellow took all this in, and swayed slightlyas if he might swoon.
The man’s reaction was understandable, Valoreesupposedwith a wrygrimace, her gaze moving over her men. She herself was small and not very intimidating.She wore a billowing white shirt, black breeches and waistcoat, boots, and a wide belt. But One-Eyeand Skully more thanmadeupforher, whatwith their owndirty, less respectable clothes, Skully’s oft-broken nose and peg leg, andOne-Eye’s patch.
"There was a bit of a mishap with your knocker, " she said pleasantly in aneffort to calm the man.Hewas shaking so hard that the light from hislantern was wavering, makingshadows dance onthewall.One-Eyegave aguffaw at that, and sheturned to glare at him briefly, then glanced back to the shopkeeper.
Rather than appearing reassured, the man had merely stepped warily back theway he had come, looking fit to burst into a run at any moment. And most likely he’d be screaming for the authorities at the top of his lungs.
Shifting impatiently, Valoreeheldout ahand toward One-Eye, whoimmediately unhooked the bag that hung from his belt and dropped it intoher hand.She promptly sent it sailing acrossthe room. The coins inthe bag jangled merrily as they sailedthrough the air, and the man’s backward motions stoppedabruptly.
Nearly dropping his lantern, the shopkeeper reached instinctively to catch the purse.
"Iam in need of some dresses, "Valoree announceddryly.
The little tailor looked startled at that announcement, then weighed the bagin his hand, eyeing his guests a little lesswarily.
"Ye brokeme door."
"My menwill fix it."
Themanshiftedon his feet, a calculating lookcoming into his eyes."Decentfolk cometome shopduring the day;they don’t drag abody out of his bed in the middle of thenight."
There was a tense silence during which One-Eye reached for his cutlass, butValoree stopped him witha gesture. Instead, she held a handout toward Skully.The cadaverous man muttered something about people disrespecting their betters, but he unhooked the bag at his own waist andhanded it over.She sent that hurtling toward the greedy shopkeeper aswell.
Amazingly enough, the man managedto catch the secondbag without losingeither the first orthe lantern. Holdingmoregoldin his handsthan he had probably seen atonetime in hislife, he nodded accommodatingly. "Ye’ll have to be bringingthe wench here ye want gowned. Iffen ye don’t, I cain’t guarantee the dresses’ll fit."
"The dressesarefor me, " Valoree announced grimly.
The shopkeeper froze at that announcement, amazement covering his face.The expression was followedby a sneer, and hebegan toshake his head.
"Now, that there is another situation altogether. I’ll not be dressing aman in – " His words died asOne-Eyedrew his sword.
Sighing, Valoree caught her crewman’s arm as he started forward. "Leave off, " she muttered. "You men thought me a man for years, too."
"Aye, but we knew you as a boy. I mean, we thought we did.
We just thought youwas kind of a fey anddelicate type."
Valoree rolled her eyes. She supposedshe should be flattered that they had at least thoughther fey and delicate.
"’Sides, wewouldn’thavethought that if Henry hadtoldusthe truth instead of keepingit allto himself fer so long."
"Henrydidwhat he had todo, " Valoree snapped, then drew off thehat She had been wearing lowon her brow. Stepping forward sothat the light couldreach her face, she calmlyaddressedthe shopkeeper. "I amnot a man."
Herface hadbeen castin shadow by the brim of her hat, but wasnow revealed. As she felt her hair spill down from where it hadbeenpiled, Valoree caught the dressmaker leering slightly before he saw the expressions of the men accompanying her.
Swallowing anycomment, he forced a blank expression to his face and nodded beforeturning his eyesupward."Wife!Wife, there’s work to bedone!"
Valoree turned then to take in Skully and One-Eye with a glance. "Fix that door and – " Herwords were cut off in surprise when the gaping hole in question was suddenly filled by a behemoth ofaman.He was taller eventhanSkully, and much wider.There was a kerchief onhisbald head, an earring in his ear, and he wore tighttan pants anda billowingwhite shirt that contrasted with his dark skin. "Bull, " Valoree said.
The man’s dark eyes swept overthe peoplein the room;then hesteppedaside, revealing anoldhaghe had in tow.
"Yeraunt, "thegiant rumbled, pushing the reluctant woman forward.
Valoree, One-Eye, andSkullywere all silent as they staredat the woman. She looked to be in herfifties.
Herdress was torn andfilthy, andher hairwas thecolor of a dirtyLondon street. The woman looked like an aging prostitute.
Cometo that, she mostlikely wasone. Valoree shookherhead grimly, turning ontheman holdingthecreature still with one arm.
"Isaidsomeone decent, Bull, " she chided.
"Thisisas decent as it gets at the docksatnight, " came his answer. "She’ll clean up good."
Sighing, Valoree took a step toward the woman, then paused, stepping back as she got a whiff of her. The action didn’t go unnoticedby Bull’s captive, who immediately drew her shoulders up defiantly. The action touched something in Valoree.
Turning to One-Eye, she held out her hand. A third bag of coins hit her palm. Valoree tossed it across the room to the already weighed-down tailor. None of them were terribly surprised whenhe managed to catchit without difficulty, though it required some deftreadjustments. They hadbeen told the man loved gold better than anything in the world, and itappearedthe rumors were true. Good. Honestly, those rumors were why Valoree had chosen to use this tailor’s services. That andthe fact that themanwasas crookedas Skully’s nose.A man who would take customers whovisited in the wee hours of the night, and were accompanied by such a rough lot, would be unlikely to gossip – oratleast to bebelieved.
"The old woman will need dresses as well, " Valoree announced."And a bath."
The shop ownerstiffened indignantly. "This ain’tno inn."
Skully had more gold out before Valoree could signal. Thistime she tossed the bagat theman’s feet. Cursing, hejumped quickly back, then bent to retrieve it. Straightening then, he raised his head, and bellowed again. "Wife! Get yerarse out ofbed! Now!"
**** Three hours later the shopkeeper’s bellows had mellowed to tired sighsashe and his wife finished measuring Valoreeforthe three gowns upon which she had decided. It had taken sometime to dealwith the old woman, so they had done that first; dumping herina tub, scrubbing her to a shining glow, then taking the measurements they needed before dressing her in one of the shopkeeper’swife’s old gowns. Valoree was pleasedto see she didn’t look nearly as cheap cleanedupand in aborrowedgown.
In fact, ifit weren’t for her surly manner, Valoree was surethe woman would be perfect for the role ofher aunt. Perhaps she was not apoor choice after all.
"Arms up, please, " the shopkeeper’s wife instructed, smiling with gentle sympathy at Valoree’s impatient frown. "This isthe last measurement, " the woman added quietly as she drew the tape around herchest.
Valoreesighed in relief. She was exhausted, so tiredshe felt sure she could sleep for a week, and it wasn’t thehour. She was more than usedto late nights – it was impossibleto run a boat full of pirates without half your nights beinglate ones. It was this task she’d been busywiththat hadworn herout. There was nothing so boring to hermind asfussing over gownsand cloaks and just which material went withwhat. Itwas alla lot of bother, and a task she would have been more than happy to hand over to One-Eye or Skully … if she hadn’t feared being stuck in something pink andfrilly. "Very good, " the tailorannouncedwith relief as he wrote down thenumber his wife spoke. He looked tired himself, and was likely eager tohave Valoree and herburly companions depart. But before she went, she needed to clear things up.
"I’llneedone day gownfor each of us bytomorrow. I wantthe other gowns thedayafter.The menwillreturn forthem. Make sure they are ready by noon."
"Noon tomorrow? " the mansquawkedat oncein horror. "But that is mere hoursaway! I cannot possibly – "
"You can and you will, " Valoree interrupted mildly as she began to walk towardthefront of the building.
"You don’t understand – " the shopkeeper began, following closelybehind her.
"Aye, I do." Valoree paused andturnedto glowerathim."I understandthat I have paidyouwell, and that I wish for two of the gowns to bedone by noon tomorrow."
"Aye, my lady, butI cannot – "
"Did I not giveyou enough coins foratleast ten times that many garments? "
"Well, aye, "he admitted reluctantly.
"Exactly.Now, ifyou cannot have the gowns done when I wish, I can takemybusiness, and my coins, elsewhere."
The threat got the reaction she’d expected. The shopkeeper took a stepback, abject horror on his face.He began to stutter.
"N-nay. I-I w-will have them done. I-I w-willhire extrawomen tosew."
"Good." Turningback, Valoree glancedaround the frontroom of the man’s shop. Hersailors wereplayingcards on the table they’d crashed into when they’d busted the door down.
Apparently they hadfixedthat, too, though she hadn’t thought to order it. In addition, all the fabric that had originally rested on it andbeenstrewn onthefloorhad been gathered and restacked on the tableadjacent. Theold hag, her soon-to-be aunt, was sound asleep on anoldmat in a corner of the room.
Though Valoreebriefly wondered howthe woman couldbear to sleep on the hard wooden floor with only a thin rug for cushioning, she quickly pushed the questionaside. Thewoman had likely sleptinworse places – places and situations Valoree did notevencare tothink about.
Her glance slid fromthe oldwoman to Bull, whoimmediately straightened.Without a word from her the immense pirate bent to liftValoree’s "aunt" in his arms, then headedfor the door.
Skully scooped the cards they’d been playing with into his pocket, then hurriedto open thedoorforhis comrade.One-Eye stood too, but moved to Valoree’s side. Taking a small but painfully sharp knife from his boot, he slammed it into the counter beside the tailor.
Valoree glanced at the shopkeeperandhiswife meaningfully.
"One-Eye’s leaving thatas a gift. And a reminder."
"A reminder? " The shopkeeper was beginning to get the nervous look he’d had when he’d first comedownstairs.