Duke of Pleasure(2)By: Elizabeth Hoyt
Hugh slashed the man and shouldered past him. Got a blow upside the head for his trouble and saw stars. Hugh shook his head and elbowed the next—hard—in the face, and kicked the third in the belly. Suddenly he could see the light at the end of the alley.
Hugh knew men who felt that gentlemen should never run from a fight. Of course many of these same men had never been in a real fight.
Besides, he had those three very good reasons.
Actually, now that he thought of it, there was a fourth reason he did not want to die tonight.
Hugh ran to the end of the alley, his bottle of fine Viennese wine cradled in the crook of his left arm, his sword in the other fist. The cobblestones were iced over and his momentum was such that he slid into the lit street.
Where he found another half-dozen men bearing down on him from his left.
Fourthly, he hadn’t had a woman in his bed in over nine months, and to die in such a drought would be a particularly unkind blow from fate, goddamn it.
Hugh nearly dropped the blasted wine as he scrambled to turn to the right. He could hear the men he’d left in the alley rallying even as he sprinted straight into the worst part of London: the stews of St Giles. They were right on his heels, a veritable army of assassins. The streets here were narrow, ill lit, and cobbled badly, if at all. If he fell because of ice or a missing cobblestone, he’d never get up again.
He turned down a smaller alley and then immediately down another.
Behind him he heard a shout. Christ, if they split up, they would corner him again.
He hadn’t enough of a lead, even if a man of his size could easily hide in a place like St Giles. Hugh glanced up as he entered a small courtyard, the buildings on all four sides leaning in. Overhead the moon was veiled in clouds, and it almost looked as if a boy were silhouetted, jumping from one rooftop to another…
Think. If he could circle and come back the way he’d entered St Giles, he could slip their noose.
A narrow passage.
Another cramped courtyard.
They were already here, blocking the two other exits.
Hugh spun, but the passage he’d just run from was crowded with more men, almost a dozen in all.
He put his back to the only wall left to him and straightened.
He rather wished he’d tasted the wine. He was fond of Viennese wine.
A tall man in a ragged brown coat and a filthy red neckcloth stepped forward. Hugh half-expected him to make some sort of a speech, he looked that full of himself. Instead he drew a knife the size of a man’s forearm, grinned, and licked the blade.
Hugh didn’t wait for whatever other disgusting preliminaries Knife Licker might feel were appropriate to the occasion. He stepped forward and smashed the bottle of very fine Viennese wine over the man’s head.
Then they were on him.
He slashed and felt the jolt to his arm as he hit flesh.
Swung and raked the sword across another’s face.
Staggered as two men slammed into him.
Another hit him hard in the jaw.
And then someone clubbed him behind the knees.
He fell to his knees on the icy ground, growling like a bleeding, baited bear.
Raised an arm to defend his head…
Someone dropped from the sky right in front of him.
Facing his attackers.
Darting, wheeling, spinning.
Defending him so gracefully.
With two swords.
Hugh staggered upright again, blinking blood out of his eyes—when had he been cut?
And saw—a boy? No, a slight man in a grotesque half mask, motley, floppy hat, and boots, battling fiercely with his attackers. Hugh just had time to think: Insane, before his defender was thrown back against him.
Hugh caught the man and had another thought, which was: Tits?
And then he set the woman—most definitely a woman although in a man’s clothing—on her feet and put his back to hers and fought as if their lives depended on it.