Swallowing hard, I slowly raised my arms in a show of surrender. “Your Grace, I don’t—"
“If you so much as flinch again without permission, I will slice you in half and request the help of a real maid to clean up the mess.”
My eyes were so wide that blinking seemed impossible, and the sword at my throat rose and fell with my rapid breathing. The blood rushed in my veins as I stared at the pale duchess’s stern expression.
“I am only going to ask you once more and what happens after that is entirely up to you. Who are you?”
“E-Elizabeth,” I gasped, cringing as the movement made the blade scratch at my flesh, a small river of blood trickling down my chest.
“So you’ve said.”
“I swear, my name is Elizabeth, but I am not a maid.”
“Yes, I gathered that on my own. Henry accused you of being the pirate's harlot. Is he right?”
I didn’t think now was the best time to voice how offended that title made me. “I am not a maid, but I am a member of the court.”
She laughed, the gentle sound so at odds with the strength in her stance. “Do you take me for a fool?”
“I am Elizabeth Gallagher. The man throwing accusations at me is my father.”
Her sapphire eyes narrowed as she dissected each word I said, deciding whether or not I was telling the truth. She observed my slightly trembling form, the rapid beat of my pulse in my throat, the sweat dotting my forehead. When she met my gaze again, she shook her head. “You’re lying.” And she swung the sword.
I shrieked and ducked a moment before she would have lobbed my head off. “No, no, please!”
She kicked out—her foot somehow not tangling in the skirts of her gown—hitting me square in the chest and knocking me against the wall. I grunted as my head cracked against the hard surface, stars dancing across my vision. She pressed the line of the sword against my throat, trapping me in place.
“Okay, okay, yes!” I shouted, squeezing my eyes shut against the pain of the sharp blade pressing harder and harder into my skin. She was actually going to kill me.
“Finally, we are getting somewhere. I suggest you tell me the truth from here on out. Where is the captain?”
“Would the terrible and ferocious Captain Caspian allow his harlot to retrieve something valuable and not be waiting nearby to ensure its safety?”
I took a deep breath in an effort to calm my racing heart. “The captain does not know I am here.”
Suspicion filled her gaze. “You are here alone?”
Not exactly… “Yes.”
She paused a moment. “Why?”
I debated how much I should actually tell her. “I am looking for someone.”
“The captain wants to retrieve someone, and I thought I could help. That is all I want. And then I swear, I will leave.”
“And your captain doesn’t know you are here?”
The pressure of the blade at my throat lessened but she didn’t drop it completely. “The captain knows not of your whereabouts, yet you are doing something that would benefit him. Why keep it hidden?”
I grimaced a smile and my voice was almost a squeak when I said, “As a surprise?”
She snorted slightly and dropped the weapon.
My shoulders relaxed and I breathed a sigh of relief.
She shook her head as she turned away from me. “I will never understand the allure this criminal has over those of my sex.”
I was too afraid to move away from the wall, half expecting her to spin around and stab me if I so much as breathed wrong. I just watched her as she twirled the sword in her hand, using her free hand to push a stray strand of hair back into place.
She continued, “Each one of them damn their souls the moment they board his ship.”
“Uh, could I—may I—"
She sliced her sword through the air, making that terrifying whistling sound again. I flinched. “Where is this person you are searching for?" she asked.
“The person you are trying to find for your captain? Where is he?”
“I don’t…I don’t know, exactly.”
She nodded as if she had expected this response. An amused smile danced across her rosy lips. “But you thought my room was a good place to start your search.”
“Tell me, Elizabeth, what is to stop me from ordering your immediate imprisonment? You are a criminal, after all. It seems to me you would be more at home in a cage than on a ship.”
I looked at this woman, thin and frail, her skin pallid, her hair willowy. Every part of her delicate and yet her face was fierce and unmoving. But there was something about her that told me she wasn’t entirely without feeling. So I took a shot in the dark and didn’t tell her the entire truth. “The person I am searching for is not a man. It is a young girl." Just in case, I added one small lie. "And she is pregnant.”
All amusement left her face and her eyes drilled into me as if she were desperately searching for a deception in my statement. I remained perfectly still, not even blinking, afraid that anything I did would give me away.
“You are serious?”
I nodded, holding my breath.
“And what does Caspian Rogers want with a pregnant girl?”
Carter would kill me if I told the duchess about his sister. And I felt sure Genevieve wouldn’t let me go if she knew that was who I was searching for. “She is his,” I stated. She could take that to mean anything she wanted and it wasn’t entirely a lie.
“Is she?” She turned to stare at herself in the mirror, her brows furrowed and lost in thought as if my simple phrase had resonated with the deepest parts of her.
I tried to recall a Duchess Genevieve from my book but found that I couldn’t so much as remember the picture on the cover. Everything about the novel seemed to be stuck behind a distorted mirror, impossible to see and incomprehensible to read. If there was something within the novel that could help me handle this situation, it was lost to me.
“Very well,” she said, crossing the room and pulling on a rope which had camouflaged as a tassel on her bed.
“What’s that? What do you mean?”
“I am not a cruel woman. I would not allow a pregnant woman to wander the grounds of a massive property alone and in danger of being snatched up by a pirate.”
“So you’re…letting me go?”
She smiled. “Not quite.”
The door opened and Joanna appeared, curtsying immediately, though she threw me a questioning glance. “Yes, Your Grace?”
“Please lead Elizabeth to my men. She will be needing their assistance.”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
The duchess turned her eyes to me, clasping her small hands daintily in front of her, but she continued to speak to Joanna. “And do instruct them that Elizabeth is to remain in their sights at all times. She is in my custody.”