Once a Rake (Drake's Rakes) Online - Eileen Dreyer Page 0,1

him myself, your grace. Pointed that popper right at you.”

Wellington pointed at the body on the deck. “And Simmons here?”

Everyone looked around, as if seeking answers.

“He must have gotten in the way of Ferguson’s bullet,” Stricker said. “I shot the Scot. Where is he?”

Two people pointed over the side of the ship. One of Wellington’s staff pocketed Simmons’s pistol. The bo’sun ran up with several lighted lanterns, which cast an eerie, wavering light over the scene.

“Well, find him,” Wellington demanded. “I’ll be in my cabin.”

All came to attention as he passed, but Wellington didn’t seem to notice. He seemed preoccupied, shaking his head slightly, as if wiping something away. More than one sailor commented that he looked sadder at the news of who his attacker was than the fact that he’d been attacked at all.

“Hard aport!” the captain bellowed, and men scrambled into the rigging. The ship heeled again, more sharply. “Man the halyards! Prepare to shorten sail and come about!”

Beneath the quick little ship, the water of the channel passed in choppy, frothed waves. The wind was stiff this night, ten knots from the northeast. Any man out in that water would be sorry.

Ian Ferguson was damn sorry. Bobbing up like a punctured cork, he shook the water from his eyes and looked up at the slowing ship, a hand pressed to the sharp ache in his chest. He couldn’t figure out what had just happened. He’d come up on deck to share a cigar with Wellington. The next thing he knew, that little riataiche Stricker was pointing a gun at the general.

Ian had reacted instinctively, pulling his own gun and firing at Stricker. Immediately there were guns everywhere, a succession of shots, and suddenly he’d been knocked hard in the chest and catapulted right over the railings. He’d hit the cold channel water with barely a splash.

Did he save Wellington? Had he hit Stricker? God and the Bruce, he hoped so.

Come to think of it, what about that hit to his chest? Kicking hard to stay above the swells, he took a second to look down. He wasn’t sure what he expected to see in the dark water. Blood, maybe. There was a hole in his jacket; he put his finger through it. No injury, though, except for a tender spot over his ribs. He was breathing well and didn’t feel that awful disintegration that came with real injury.

“There he is!” somebody shouted above him.

Ian looked up to see the lighter being hoisted out. A bouquet of heads appeared at the rail, haloed by the thin light of the lanterns. Ian lifted a hand to wave. He heard a sharp snapping sound, and the water near him leapt. Ian froze. Hell and damnation, they were firing at him!

He opened his mouth to shout. Another gun fired.

“Shouldn’t we get him on board?” Ian heard from the first officer.

“And waste time with a court martial?” came the furious answer.

Ian cursed. He hadn’t killed Stricker after all. Now he had to find a way to prove that it was Stricker who had fired the first shot. That Stricker’s cabin was where he’d found the flask. The flask that should have been back at Horse Guards. The flask that he’d . . .

Ian laid his hand back against his chest. He smiled. No wonder he hadn’t been hurt. The silver flask wouldn’t hold a dram anymore, but sure, he bet it held a flattened bullet.

So, Stricker wanted him dead. He’d just see about that.

“Reloaded, sir,” came the faint call.

“Get him before the moon disappears.”

Ian saw the muzzle lowered over the side. A Brown Bess. He sucked in a lungful of air and dove. The pain and the crack came at the same moment. Blast. The bastard had hit him. The air whooshed out of his lung and Ian sank.

This time he didn’t come up.

Chapter 1

Ten days later

Sarah Clarke was not going to let a pig get the best of her. Especially not this pig.

“Willoughby!” she called as she scrambled over the broken fence.

Blast that pig. She had even tied him up this time. But the pen was empty, the wood on one side shattered, and precise little hoof prints marched away through the mud.

Sarah took a brief look at the stone outbuildings that clustered around the old stable. She could hear rustling and creaking, which meant the animals had heard Willoughby escape. But there were no telltale porcine snortings or squeals. If she knew her pig, he was headed due south, straight