The white hand fluttered downward like a pallid leaf. “Oh, my. Please pardon my presumption, but that hair—those clothes—it’s no wonder I might be mistaken.”
This is what men wanted? This stuck-up, perfumed scrap of humanity that couldn’t take care of herself? She was a parasite, just like Finney’s mother, sucking all the intelligence out of menfolk until they waited on her, hand and foot, and never giving anything back but wan smiles and demure looks under long lashes. A few breathy sobs and a sweet voice, and a man was robbed of his good sense. Finney would be hanged if she were forced to witness all this insanity for the rest of the voyage.
“I don’t know your name, miss, but mine’s Fiona Grace, and I don’t fool easy.”
“Whatever do you mean?” That pale hand lifted to rest against the lacy breast.
“I mean, ma’am, that two men beat each other nigh to death over you, and a young boy's all swoony. Even the captain has a special interest in you.” Finney leaned closer. “A governor’s daughter doesn’t just head into the black on a whim. Nor does she wander about with men. What’s your game?”
“Game?” Now the hand dabbed a transparent handkerchief against the shadowed throat. “I’m afraid I just don’t understand. No well-bred lady turns down an offer of hospitality, lest she offend. By accepting the generosity of your crewmates, I am simply being a gracious guest. As for the ruffian who brought me aboard, I assure you, Miss Grace, I did not come willingly.”
Finney stood upright and turned in a slow circle, surveying the small but comfortable cabin, the Martina Vega’s best. An open trunk displayed neatly folded garments; on the washstand marched a line of toiletries in cut-crystal bottles and jars.
“A considerate ruffian. He gave you time to pack.”
“A man may smile and smile, and be a villain.”
Finney snorted. “Yeah, I read Shakespeare, too.” She crossed her arms and studied the woman. “What’s the story on the other fella?”
“Why all these questions, Miss Grace? In what way have I offended you?”
“Ain’t offended me. This is my ship. I need to know exactly into what kind of space I’m piloting her. I don’t want trouble we can’t afford.”
The soft, cultured voice thinned to a razor’s edge. “If you’re trying to threaten me, Miss Grace, I make a much better friend than an enemy.”
Finney chuckled. “Now, that’s what I call a true threat.”
In the passageway, Kristoff still propped up a wall, the scowl on his face deepening when Finney beamed her best smile up at him. “I hate it when you look at me like that,” he growled. “Means I’m gonna regret something.”
She brushed past him and ascended the stair. He didn’t follow her.
Finney stalked the rest of the way to the wheelhouse.
c. 2008, Keanan Brand