by CJ Archer
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"Ha! You lose again," said the pirate with a face as square and weathered as an old brick. He slapped one giant hand down on the cards he'd just thrown onto the table between himself and Benedict Sparks.
Tilda Upton jumped and wished she hadn't insisted her two companions include her on their jaunt into Triton’s Tavern. To be fair, she had no idea it would be so rough. It seemed her companions didn't know either or they wouldn't have allowed her to win the argument and join them.
The big brick-faced pirate grinned, revealing three teeth rotting like old posts in soggy ground. He signaled to the bespectacled fellow behind him who made another mark on his ledger. "Another round?"
"Sure," Benedict said with all the confidence of a man with a fortune to gamble. Only he had no fortune. Indeed, he had no coin to speak of and no possessions worth selling and if her calculations were correct, he already owed Brick-head a significant sum.
Tilda glanced at Captain Black Jack Knight beside her. He merely shrugged one shoulder, not particularly worried. But then he didn't want Benedict on board his brigantine, The Innocent, so was unlikely to help the devil-may-care adventurer out of a potentially dangerous situation.
"Mr. Sparks," she whispered into Benedict's ear. "Do you think this is wise?"
"Probably not," he whispered back so loudly that even the barkeep standing on the far side of Triton's Tavern must have heard. Brick-head certainly would have. "But it could be fun."
Fun! Good grief, men were such children sometimes. "Not if you lose. What will you pay him with?"
"Don't fret, Miss Upton, it causes your guard dog to turn vicious."
"My—." Oh, he meant Jack. On cue, Jack's face darkened and his eyes narrowed at Benedict. He looked like he'd be happy if Brick-head called in the debt.
It seemed he would get his wish. Brick-head stood. His body was just as blocky as his face, square-ish and packed full of dense muscle. "Pay up," he snarled. He jerked his head to the side and his assistant turned his ledger around for Benedict to see. "Now."
Benedict touched his cravat and swallowed audibly. "Uh, well..."
Jack chuckled and crossed his arms. "I agree, Sparks, this could be fun."
Tilda gave him a glare. He simply chuckled harder. He might be an intelligent man, for a pirate, but he was acting the fool. Jack had disliked Benedict ever since the mysterious adventurer boarded The Innocent. She supposed it had something to do with two dominant males occupying the same territory, like lions. But if Jack didn't start taking their current predicament seriously and help then something terrible would happen. Tilda could sense it.
She glanced around the dimly lit room. It wasn't the busiest tavern they'd visited in their travels, or the filthiest, but it was the most colorful. Pirates of all nationalities and descriptions came to Triton's to conduct business, settle scores, start fights and get drunk, not necessarily in that order. As an English gentlewoman, she felt woefully out of place. She might as well have had a sign hanging from her neck that said "Stare at me". Jack and Benedict didn't quite fit either with their good looks and all their own teeth, but they didn't attract nearly as much attention from the tavern's mostly male patrons as Tilda did.
"Pay up!" Brick-head snapped. He slammed a fist down on the table. The wood cracked.
"Uh, let me just defer to my companions," Benedict said, standing. He turned to Jack. "Got any coin on you?"
"Not for you," Jack said.
Brick-head blew on his knuckles then wiped them down his dirty shirt. His mouth twisted in either a smile or a sneer, it was difficult to tell.
"For goodness sake," Tilda hissed at Jack. "If you have any coin, give it to him."
"I don't," he said. "Sorry Sparks, you're on your own."
"Problem?" Brick-head asked. Six men at six different tables surrounding them stood up.
"There is now," Benedict muttered, glancing from one powerful looking man to the next. "Right, you take those ones," he said to Jack, "and I'll take these."
Jack laughed. "I don't see why I have to get my hands dirty on your account. I think I'll sit this one out." He yawned and sat back down.
"Jack!" Tilda rounded on him. "He could get killed!"
"Then we'll have one less mouth to feed."
Surely he wasn't serious. No, he couldn't be. He was simply employing that wicked sense of humor he was known for. He would help Benedict when the need arose.
Jack crossed his ankles and leaned back in the chair. "He hasn't got any money to pay you," he said to Brick-head smugly.
"Don't matter," Brick-head said. He licked his top lip and nodded at Tilda. "I'll take her instead."
Tilda's bones suddenly felt loose inside her. She gripped the back of a chair in a bid to stay upright.
Beside her, Jack stood again, very slowly and deliberately, his body rigid. The twinkle of amusement in his eyes was replaced by a swirl of dark fury. "You don't touch her," he growled.
"Got enough coin to pay what he owes?" Brick-head said with a nod at Benedict.
Jack stepped in front of Tilda. "Get out of here," he said to her.
Brick-head's six thugs closed in, sneering and punching their palms. Tilda was about to ask Jack how she was supposed to get past them when he jumped up on the table. Before Brick-head had a chance to react, he kicked out, hitting him in the jaw. Brick-head's eyes rolled up and he stumbled backwards, knocking over his bespectacled assistant who in turn fell onto another table where three dwarves sat drinking.
"Hoy!" one shouted when their table collapsed, taking their ales with it. "You'll pay for that." He jumped on Brick-head's chest and shook his fist in the dazed pirate's face.
But he apparently wasn't dazed enough. Brick-head got to his feet, picked up the dwarf and threw him at Benedict. Benedict stepped aside and watched the dwarf sail past and land in the lap of a large woman with a red scar running from her right eye to the corner of her mouth. She growled at the dwarf then picked up her tankard and threw it at Brick-head. It was a remarkably accurate throw with a great deal of power in it. Nevertheless, Brick-head ducked and the tankard whacked one of his men in the face instead. Offended, the thug deviated from his course and threw himself at the woman whose companions took offense and blamed Brick-head for starting the fight.
Tilda felt a strong arm circle her middle. She screamed but it was lost in the din of the tavern brawl erupting around her.
"It's me," Jack said, tucking her into his side.
She breathed deeply in an attempt to steady her nerves and her heart. "Let's go while they're occupied," she said.
"My thoughts exactly," Benedict said, suddenly at her other side. He side-stepped to avoid a dwarf careening past him.
Jack ushered Tilda through the throng of flying fists and bodies. Triton’s Tavern had quickly turned into a wrestling pit where there were no rules and no fears.
Jack batted away a flying tankard. Benedict caught it and threw it back into the crowd. Tilda didn't see where it landed. She was too intent on reaching the door.
Benedict pulled it open and the three of them slipped through, out into the night.
Benedict and Jack moved off but Tilda's hem caught on a nail jutting out from the doorframe. She glanced inside and spotted Brick-head charging through the crowd, shoving people aside, heading straight for the door.
"Jack!" she shouted. He spun round but he was too far away and Brick-head was too close, almost upon her. She tore her dress free and hid behind the open door as Jack and Benedict ran back, bleak concern imprinted on their faces.
"You owe me," Brick-head yelled at Benedict from the other side of the open door to Tilda. "Hand her over."
Then he stepped forward into her line of sight. He glanced around, looking for her, just as Tilda stuck out her foot. Brick-head stumbled over it, straight onto the waiting fists of Jack and Benedict. Two solid punches each and Brick-head was on the ground, his eyes closed, his mouth open, blood trickling from his nose.
"You didn't say please," Tilda said to him.
Jack glared at him then punched him in the stomach.
Benedict doubled over, gasping for air. "I suppose I deserved that."
Jack grabbed Tilda's hand and hauled her along the street. The gas lamps lining it glowed like shimmering moons, their light barely reaching the cobblestones. "You also deserve the half-rations and extra duties you'll be assigned," he said.
Benedict grunted but seemed to have recovered enough to keep up with the swift pace. Tilda gave him a sympathetic look but it was probably lost in the darkness.
"Next time gamble with something that's yours," Jack said. He squeezed Tilda's hand and pulled her close. He was warm and she could feel his hard muscles working beneath his shirt. She smiled to herself and squeezed back.
Guest post created for ...and a bottle o'rum event by CJ Archer
© 2011. All rights reserved.
CJ Archer is the author of...
The Adventures of Miss Upton and the Sky Pirate - Amazon | Smashwords
The Mercenary's Price - only 99 cents from Amazon | Smashwords
Honor Bound (The Witchblade Chronicles #1) - Amazon | Smashwords
Kiss Of Ash (The Witchblade Chronicles #2) - Amazon | Smashwords
A Secret Life (Lord Hawkesbury's Players #1) - Amazon | Smashwords
by CJ Archer
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Read more about these characters here...
by CJ Archer