• Her smile faltered and she said, “Arlyn, forgive me.”


    “I have to tell him,” she said to Arlyn. I was very lost. “I didn’t bring you two here for kicks. It’s a safe place to talk about it – and if anyone can help you, Dagonet Black can!”

    “I don’t want his help,” Arlyn snapped. “I can handle it on my own, Emma.” I realized that what she said next slipped out. She hadn’t meant to say it. “You hired me but we became friends. I told you part of the deal was my problems remain mine! You’re a princess! You can’t be wrapped up in them! What if you got hurt?”

    “Whoa,” I boomed. They both stopped bickering. “What do you mean hired, Arlyn?”

    Obviously, Arlyn had forgotten that I was there and winced. “You weren’t supposed to hear that,” she muttered.

    Emma rose up to her full height and said, “Arlyn Grey, I am a princess. That does not mean I’m helpless! You know that! Furthermore, your problems will only get me hurt if they continue on like this. You said it yourself; he’s involved now anyway. He has a right to be fully informed of things.”

    “If Eric doesn’t see him anymore,” Arlyn bit back, “He won’t be involved anymore! I just need to stay away from him and then it won’t be his problem either! I don’t want help. You’ll just ruin it.”

    Scoffing, Emma snapped, “I’m not an idiot. I wouldn’t even discuss it in front of Dagonet if I thought he’d do anything reckless!”

    “Ladies,” I boomed again. “Someone is going to explain what the ********,” I said with a bit more angrily than I meant, “is going on right now. I am not in the mood to be talked around. I am right here. Tell me what is going on or I’ll figure it out the hard way.”

    Shoulders squared, Arlyn challenged, “What’s the hard way?”

    “I can always go through the servants, the guards, your rooms, and anything else I need to until I find out what you’re talking about. Report me to Tristan if you want. Then I’ll get him on my side,” I warned. “I am not kidding, ladies. I do not like the sound of this and I definitely don’t like sitting here in confusion.” Arlyn glared bloody hell at me but Emma looked pleased. She knew that Arlyn had two choices now; accept help or let me involve everyone until she came out with it. Softer, I said, “I’ll keep this in the dark if you want me to, but let me help. This is my job – it’s what I do, Arlyn. I don’t just chase obvious criminals through swamp water. I’m a bounty hunter only in title,” I said. “I’ve spent years snooping around and hunting for the men who killed my father. I know how to be sneaky.”

    Furious, Arlyn spoke, “If I involve you, he’ll kill him.” She spoke to Emma. “Em, you know it. Eric will kill him – if he even thinks someone knows, he will kill the only thing I have left.”

    “Who is ‘him’?”

    Emma spoke before Arlyn could object. “Eric has her father.”

    “Tell Tristan,” I suggested. While I figured that wasn’t an option, I liked to work through all the options in my head before shooting them down.

    “Eric would have him killed before anything could be done. Besides, her father isn’t squeaky clean,” Emma said. “He’s…broken a few laws.”

    “Try all but rape,” Arlyn scoffed. “He’s a criminal but he’s my father. I can’t just let him die to save my skin.”

    For a long moment, I didn’t say anything, “Is he a good father?”

    She hesitated. “He wasn’t a bad one. My father met my mother when his ship crashed on Source. She nursed him back to health and they fell in love – that whole goopy story. They married and had me. When I was a year old, my mother wanted to travel away from Source. She was a healer,” she said to me. “She wanted to go some place where half of her clients wouldn’t leave because she married a pirate.”

    “Whoa,” I said. “Your father is a pirate?”

    “Yes,” she said a tad irritably. “They got on a boat but a week into the sail, a storm took down the ship. We crashed somewhere – my father didn’t know exactly where. He wasn’t paying attention. They haggled with an innkeeper and got a room for a night. My mother went to bathe in the bathhouse and my father fell asleep with me on his chest,” she said. Her voice was beginning to sound very far away, as if she wasn’t even really aware of talking to anyone anymore.

    “My father woke up hours later and saw that my mother hadn’t come back. He left me in the room and went to find her. She was stabbed just outside the inn. She was dead – murdered for the coin in her pocket. My father went a bit crazy after that. He stole a boat and sailed us to the Lady’s Isle. He left me there. The woman who raised me, Shiera, told me that he planned to come back for me when I was a bit older. He’d told her that where he was going wasn’t safe for a little girl with no mother and he knew that on the island, I’d be taught everything a girl needed. So I stayed there. I was eleven when he came and I went with him.

    “Over the first six months, I learned how to sail and my father did everything he could to make up for the past eleven years. He wasn’t perfect but he tried. When I was nearly twelve, we were attacked. We fought them off but I learned the name of the man who owned the other boat: Scot Dupree. He wanted my father dead. It was some rivalry. I was young and after growing up on an island where women had the right to speak and make their own choices, I hated being the most helpless one on the ship. I could fight well enough, thanks to the women, but I was still treated like a child.

    “I told my father that I wanted to join the Black Hand – which, as it happened, Scot Dupree was a part of. My father didn’t like it but finally let me. I went to see him every summer for two weeks and we’d celebrate my birthday. After my first year, my father asked me what I was training to be.” She looked directly at me as she went on. “I said a thief. He of course asked why. I told him that to kill; I didn’t need to be taught.”

    “You only needed to learn how to get close enough to do it,” I said softly.

    She nodded. “When I turned eighteen, I completed training ahead of schedule. Scot Dupree was my mentor and bragged to everyone about his brilliant pupil at a party he held in my honor.” She smiled a bit darkly and said, “While he was drunk and laughing it up, I spiked his drink with arsenic. It wasn’t enough to kill him. It just made him sleep like a stone.”

    “What happened?”

    Another long silence drew out over the three of us. Emma had sat behind her desk, calmly listening. “My father,” Arlyn went on. “My father used to say the same thing every year when I went home. He never knew Scot was my mentor and I never told him. Every year, he’d tell me how he would love to have Scot Dupree’s skull as a mug for his ale.” Her eyes met mine again as she said in a completely level voice, “So while he slept that night, I decapitated him, put it in a sack, and took it to a friend I’d made while I was training. There, he cleaned the head of skin, hair and blood. Then, as I requested, he melted silver into the eyes and any other open crevice. He cut off the jaw and lined the bottom in iron. He even added a copper handle to top it off. I stayed and played the distraught pupil and cried at his funeral. No one ever knew it was me.”

    She was silent again before saying. “Three weeks after his death, long enough for my father to hear about it, I went home. I took the bag and dropped it on his desk in his cabin. He opened it and saw the cup he’d always wanted.” She looked at me again and said, “That’s the day my father learned a little about how much I hated Scot Dupree. That was the day my father discovered that his little girl wasn’t as sweet as everyone thought.”

    Almost a whisper, she said, “That was when he saw the dark side of who his daughter had become.”