Tin Man: Pirates of the Nonestic

Chapter Nineteen

Cain kept DG's arm threaded through his and felt her trembling as they wove through the first floor of the Steward's House. None of the guests spared them a second glance. A few recognized Betsy and asked her where Beth Hematite had been for the last couple of annuals. "Busy with business," was her answer. If anyone was curious about Cain and DG, she said they were her cousins. That was enough of a cover story, so when they got separated, Cain pulled DG toward the refreshments set up in a large dining room.

The electric lights bouncing off the white plaster walls and the gold and ocean-hued blue moldings chased away all shadows. The wooden floors were polished to a mirror-like sheen. But DG still cringed. "Sweetheart, what's wrong?"

"I hate being on display. I hate it!" Her fervent whisper didn't go further than him. "All of the snobs thinking they're better than everyone else because of a title, and they're certainly better than me. And it's so entertaining waiting for me to screw up." She grabbed a flute of wine and drained it in one swallow. The fake stones in the hair net pulling her long black hair off her shoulders glittered as she jerked.

He took the glass. "You don't need liquid courage tonight. No one's paying any attention to you, my darling girl. Just look." She released his arm and turned to the crowd. She faced him again with a relieved twitter of a laugh. He feared messing up the beautiful vision she made in the blue and silver gown, but he pressed his hand into the small of her back and pulled her closer anyway. "See, it's alright."

"I hope the party is better than alright," answered a male voice behind Cain. He faced a young man with close-cropped back hair dressed in a white military uniform. "Commandant Thomas Slate."

"Wyatt Hematite," Cain pumped the offered hand, "and my wife Thea."

"I'm afraid you misheard." A light blush spread across DG's cheeks. "I'm just nervous about our first visit to Kingsport. The party is lovely."

Slate raised DG's hand to his lips. "You shouldn't have any fears about Kingsport, Madame. We're honest folks with simple tastes."

Cain kept his face impassive, but his annuals as a Tin Man made him suspicious of a bunco. So many of them claimed to be honest, too.

"What we've seen of it has been beautiful," DG answered.

"Have we met before, Mrs. Hematite?" Slate's expression was curious, but a predatory gleam filled his hazel eyes. "You seem familiar."

"You sailed with the Navy, right? Not only a desk job over the whole thing? You may have visited our home." Cain offered Slate his widest grin before pulling DG away. "Beth is signaling for a rescue. Pleasure meeting you, Commandant."

"Oh and congratulations," DG called over her shoulder as they entered the press of people again. "Wyatt, did he give you the creeps?"

They turned through an archway and found themselves in the ballroom. "Yes, but let's compare notes later." Betsy waited at the servants' entrance, and they made their way to her around the guests watching the dancers.

"You two are going to make me lose my bet. Come on." She pushed them through the servants' door. "Straight ahead, then a right to the back stairs."

"What bet?" DG asked the brown wavy hair escaping the red hair net similar to DG's white one as Betsy got in front of them.

"Which one? Most involved which room I would find you newlyweds in."

Cain's lips twitched as he begrudgingly gave her credit for an answer to why they were wandering where they shouldn't. "So where are we most notorious for being inappropriate?"

Betsy smirked while DG gaped at his amusement. "The plants in the conservatory suddenly sprouted underwear while a garden party was going on right outside." The second floor's blue carpet runner muffled their footsteps as they went straight to a set of double doors alone at the end of the house. The doors rattled under her grasp. "Locked of course."

DG shooed with her hands. "Locks I can deal with." The glow from her hand spread over the door latch as she opened the door.

Cain touched her arm and DG moved aside so he could enter. It was a people-empty room lined with filled bookshelves. Six display cases marched down the center of the room toward the massive wooden desk to the right, opposite the large fireplace. Two floor-to-ceiling glass doors were closed, but the stone railings of the balconies were visible with the muted light from the lamps on the bookcases, desk, display cases, and the circular meeting table in the corner between the fireplace and the window door.

Betsy and DG hurried in, shutting the door. "The navigation tools are in the display cases." DG headed to the closest glass-topped box of a table while Betsy headed to the desk. Cain's steps sank into the thick blue, black, and gold patterned rug. He frowned at the pirate captain. She scrutinized the papers left on the desk. "Go guard your wife; I've got these."

"I thought we were only taking the pieces of the astrolabe."

Betsy sighed. "I'm not pilfering, Lawman. But if they left something important out, I'm reading it. Oh, Steward Granite's will!" She seized it with a grin.

Cain shook his head and returned to DG's side at the first display case. She ran her golden-glowing hand over the glass without touching it. "Nope, not in this one." She moved to the case behind her.

"The last heir for the Steward's personal money is a fund for taking care of storm victims. I didn't think Bornite had a philanthropic bone in his body."

"No family?"

"His only son disappeared. The Steward still has him listed, along with any children from his loins. Sheesh, nothing worse than a poetic lawyer."

"Found them!" DG opened up the case and held up a whole astrolabe that glowed. "They've been put into this one."

Betsy snorted as she came around the desk. "Pyrite didn't think of that. Otherwise, mine would have been doctored too."

"Did he want you to go after the missing pieces?" Cain frowned.

"Wouldn't put it past him to manipulate all the sides into squabbling with each other while he dives down." Betsy froze mid-step when the door rattled. Cain gripped DG's shoulders and pulled her to him. She dropped the astrolabe into her cleavage before wrapping her arms around his neck. Betsy raised her voice. "I can't take you two anywhere. At least I found you before your clothes are off. Come on."

"Don't stop on my account, Bobbins." Slate said as the door shut with a firm click.

DG sprang back, and Cain watched Slate stalk towards Betsy. She thrust up her chin and her right hand went behind her back. "I am afraid you have confused me with someone else, sir."

"Then you won't mind if I see for myself." Slate seized her left arm, but Betsy didn't fight him off. He pulled loose the lace tying the red sleeve to the bodice. The sleeve fell down. He twirled a small knife before slitting her white chemise sleeve. Cain saw the black ink on her arm when Slate turned it. "I'm insulted you think that I'm too stupid to discover your alias."

"Actually, I thought you'd be too busy accepting the ass kissing to notice me." Betsy freed her arm.

"Still as diplomatic as ever. Do you have any idea what the Steward would do if he caught you in here?"

"I'll venture it wouldn't be to send me on my way with his blessings."

Slate swallowed most of his ire. "I hope you are this amused with your execution, Pirate."

"Please, that's the best you can come up with? Hire a speechwriter if you become Steward."

His thick black eyebrow quirked. "If?"

"If. So don't patronize me with concern about my well-being, we both know you don't give a shit."

Slate glanced over at DG and Cain standing next to the display case. "You have no idea what you're messing with, Bobbins. I'm hardly the worst out on the Nonestic." He put away his knife. "You can see which way the wind blows. If you position correctly, you won't be blown away."

"Like you have?" Betsy swished her skirts, forcing Slate back a step. "You've thrived after the expedition. Does the boy born under the docks appreciate the manor?"

Slate smirked as he shook his head. "You hardly have room to talk about bettering one's station." He stopped smirking with Betsy's glare. "Can't you see this animosity between us is unnecessary? Surely we can reach an accord."

She batted away his reaching hand. "I'm not interested in an accord. And I'm certainly not interested in letting you off the hook."

"You try my patience, woman."

"You turn my stomach, so I guess we're even."

He took a deep breath, but his hazel eyes flashed. "Give me the astrolabe and sail away from this."

"You think you can have everything that was his?" Betsy's brown eyes narrowed. "Granted, you haven't had much opposition."

"Bobbins, I'm not the enemy." Slate leaned in closer with an expression of concern. "The expedition was a tragedy that does not bear repeating. Are you prepared to lose the lives of your men, your own? Give up this hell-bent quest, and make your life here and now."

Betsy tilted her head. "With you?" Slate smiled with hooded eyes, which opened wide when her right hand drew a thin-bladed dagger from behind her back and held it under his chin. Her left hand took his shorter blade and drove it into the desk. Slate stepped back and she followed with a fury-reddened face. "I'm a pirate, not a whore!"

Slate's tan skin darkened as he glowered. "Your way of life is coming to an end; I will see to that!"

"You did enough damage to my life already." Betsy sighed but didn't take her eyes off Slate. "Can one of you find something to restrain him with?"

"You can use my skirts." DG offered with a wicked grin.

"Last resort," Cain muttered. He moved to the desk to see what kind of power cord was on the lamp. It didn't matter what Slate was responsible for; Cain wouldn't put a skirt on another lawman.

One of the doors to the hall swung open. "Slate, no one has seen them for ages." Pyrite stopped inside the doorway and blinked. "Oh, you found them." His voice trailed off as he tugged the caveat away from his neck.

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