To None But Me

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A Blue Eyed Knight

Brigid awoke, head pounding something fierce and cheek stinging as though a swarm of bees had given chase and won. Pressing a hand to the mighty lump near her temple, she used her other arm to push herself up. Nausea followed, but she knew this pain well—knew it was nothing she could not handle. She took steady, even breaths, before peeling open one eye, testing her sight.

She was in that same rose-colored room, with nothing covering her but a thin sheet. A few kind prostitutes swept up the broken vase near the door, silent, eyes tight with worry. Brigid frowned, attempting to remember what had happened. With a startling realization, her free hand darted between her thighs, wondering if that repulsive boy had received what he’d paid for while she had been unconscious.

She sighed in relief once no evidence of that type of assault was found. Anger, then replaced her fear. Fury, more accurately.

Her time in Paris had been nothing but another nightmare. Her devilish late husband’s aunt was just as vile, though Brigid had tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, at least for the first few months. The pudgy, ugly woman had taken what little wealth had been left to Brian O’Sullivan’s young wife, saying it was payment for room and board. Brigid thought that fair enough, at first, until his aunt continued her extravagant shopping sprees while the rest of Paris clamored for measly portions of bread or soup.

Brigid had always been rather compassionate, down to earth, so to speak, because of her family upbringing. And so, the woman swindled every last pound from Brigid’s pocket. But that was the least of the young girl’s worries, now.

Everywhere the aunt took Brigid, she would watch with keen eyes as men gawked at her beauty, and her plan began to take shape. It wasn’t long before she told Brigid her money had run out, to which Brigid had no argument; abused as she’d been by her husband, retaliation against such a similar foe felt impossible.

The aunt then sold Brigid, against her knowledge and then her pleas, to the most elite of brothels in Paris, promising them a virgin. The owner of the establishment had taken one look at her and saw what he desired—saw what all men desired. The transaction complete, Brigid was damned to a life of revolving scoundrels, the first of which had already attempted to beat her senseless for his sick pleasure.

She knew, now, that some sort of trouble would rain down upon her. She didn’t care. If her life was resigned to this place, she was just as happy to die.

“Are you alright, ma cherie?” a kind, quiet voice asked from above. Brigid glanced up, the motion and brightness of the flames flickering above doing nothing to stave her nausea. She nodded, though, for she’d endured worse.

The woman, a bit older than Brigid with stringy blond hair and rouge caked over her pox scars, smiled, but it was pained.

“What will happen?” Brigid asked, cutting to the point. There was no sense in hiding from the truth. The woman frowned before shrugging and taking her leave. Brigid couldn’t bring herself to blame the prostitute for her cold demeanor; she had her own worries and didn’t need to get mixed up in some new girl’s drama.

Brigid stood on shaky legs, swaying and unsteady as she reached for her shift and tugged it back on, wishing she had a full dress to cover herself. With a sigh of resignation, she sat on the lounge and awaited the punishment she was sure would follow.

***

Erik stood aside, keeping his attention focused on the blubbering fool of a boy, hiding his smirk as best he could. The Duke, furious at such an interruption, had slapped young Simon across the face before dragging him to a more private area of the brothel, if such areas did indeed exist. The whore in question, though, had done her own damages to the boy. He sported a gash along his palm from the shards of the vase; she’d allegedly wielded a particularly sharp piece in defense, which impressed Erik all the more, but continued to add layers to the mystery of her actions.

Bulging arms crossed over his broad chest, Erik waited, listening to their heated argument, spoken in broken French and English. The Duke sighed, stepping back and pinching the bridge of his nose, before gesturing to Erik.

“Go and fetch the inspector,” he said, an air of exasperation to his tone. Erik’s blood froze in his veins, for he knew that the young woman’s fate was now sealed. He’d heard of the horrors done upon whores in the prisons and hospitals, instances that would haunt even the bravest of men. When Erik made no move, the Duke’s face reddened in anger.

“Go!” he shouted, pointing to the door. Jaw clenched, eyes falling to the despicable, smirking boy, Erik gave a shake of his head.

“I will not have further harm come to her,” he said, standing tall. The Duke, enraged, turned on Simon, but Erik was surprised when his vehemency wasn’t directed at himself.

“This, boy, is the fortitude of a true man. If you want your accusations brought to trial, do it yourself,” he spat. Simon’s eyes bulged, his jaw dropping. It was now Erik’s turn to smirk.

“You’ve been a spoiled shit since I’ve taken you under my care. I’m dismissing you back to your mother after this month. If you wish to suck on her teet for the rest of your pathetic life, you’re now free do to so.”

The Duke turned, nodding to Erik, before he stalked off and returned to his meeting. Simon turned and fled, shoving men and women aside as he took to the streets, wishing to find anyone who’d take his side in this perceived injustice.

***

L’ inspecteur! L’ inspecteur!” Feminine and masculine shouts erupted in the hall, but Brigid sat, calm as ever, awaiting her fate. Three men in uniform burst over the threshold and into the rose-room, dragging her up by her arm as though she were a rag doll, before shoving her down the many stairs and into the main room of Maison de L’amour. The putrid scent of thick incense coated her throat and made her gag.

Her head pounded, and she fought the urge to vomit multiple times, but she refused to show any sign of pain or fear. Her eyes fell to that boy, the sight of his curly hair repulsive to her now. He stood, arms crossed and hand bandaged, as he threw a malicious smirk her way. She glared back, her arms deadening under the vice grip of the man holding her.

“Is this the one?” he asked, voice terse. Simon nodded. A man approached behind the boy, powdered wig slightly askew as he gave shove to his nephew before berating him in heated French. Another man approached, too, his hulking frame taking up the entire doorway and dwarfing anyone that dared come near. His icy blue eyes locked on Brigid’s face, and a chill ran through her. She knew who he was, for he’d interrupted her beating. Had saved her, if she could let herself imagine a man being capable of such a selfless act. There may have been a time, once, where that idea wasn’t as far away as it was now. But she’d learned to never expect a man to dole out kindness to her, without at least warranting some form of repayment.

Setting her jaw, she glared at the big man, wondering if he’d helped retrieve the inspectors. Through the melee of French and harried voices, the two kept their eyes locked. She hated him already, as she hated all men, but for once she had no good reason to wish any ills on this one. In fact, he was quite handsome, like one of the knights she used to read about in her books as a girl.

Yes, his size was intimidating, and yes, those eyes held a coldness to them reserved for those he sought to end, but there was something else Brigid wasn’t accustom to; a gentleness, a softness. His face and jaw were strong, covered in a thick, close-trimmed beard that was a few shades darker than his long, dark blond hair. There was an air about him of steady confidence, but he exuded power as well, the kind that she knew proved him capable of terrible violence. Her brow furrowed, her lips parting as she swayed toward him, as though he were the sun and she were some celestial body pulled by his vigorous gravity.

The man who held her gave her a slight shake, snapping her focus away from her handsome rescuer. All eyes focused on her, an unanswered question hanging in the air that she’d heard but not understood.

“I don’t speak frog-eater,” she hissed, eyes falling to the loathsome boy as thoughts of knights and damsels once more faded from her reality. Provoked to an outburst again, the boy lunged at her. She made no move to back away, instead gathering enough saliva in her mouth to spit in his face as he came closer. The brutish, blond man gripped the boy’s arms, but everyone ceased their movements as Brigid’s wad of spit oozed down his ashen face.

“Take her away! She is far more trouble than she has been worth!” the proprietor called, waving his hand around in the air to demand attention. Brigid smiled at the group of astonished men, though it was a bleak, mocking smile. She wished they’d all meet their deaths in the worst of ways.

She remembered how her husband had choked, in the end, how his eyes had bulged and his hands had curled, and how she’d grinned down at him as he died. She had wanted his last view of his earthly home to be her smiling face, for him to know she had won by outliving him.

Now, though, Brigid’s fate would suffer much more dire consequences, and she would wish for death again before the end.

John Law watched the spectacle from afar, his plans with the Duke already set in motion, a giddiness trilling through his humming body. Wanting no more trouble, the Scotsman slunk past the shouting group and into the night, not once intending to go home to a warm bed. Coins clinked together in his pocket, and he knew just how to spend the Duke’s money.

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