“The king’s own guard is likely here. Not to mention parish constables, the Watch, and guards from the prison ship.” But he didn’t really give a damn about that. The only thing he cared about was the most precious bundle of his entire life, her hand trustingly clasped in his. “Don’t worry,” Simeon said fiercely.
The smile she gave him blinded him. “I’m not.”
They walked silently into the ballroom, keeping to the edge of the wall, heading to the doors on the other side of the room, away from the deck. Once through the door, Simeon made his way swiftly through the corridors until he came to the staircase at the very end of the yacht.
“We’ll go up here,” he said in her ear. “We have to go straight over the railing, Isidore. If they see you, they’ll fight to the death to have you.”
She nodded. He wrapped his hands around her and gave her one last, fierce kiss.
“I’ll go off the railing to the left and distract them. I doubt they can swim, and at any rate, I don’t think they’ll bother. But they’ll certainly come to the railing on that side.” His voice was just a thread of sound. “Stay behind this door and count to twenty. Then run through the door and over the railing to the right without pausing to think or listen. Promise?”
She nodded again.
He eased open the door and launched himself through it. Isidore began to count. Don’t listen, she told herself. You said you wouldn’t listen. You just count to twenty, and then run. That’s all—
She couldn’t help it. Ears were made for listening. She heard Simeon’s footsteps and a splash and then shouts. Happy shouts in rough accents. With a leaden feeling of terror, she realized that Simeon had dived overboard but that a ruffian already in the water had grabbed him instantly.
She crept to the door and peered through it. A few ragged men were hanging over the railing, then a head appeared and they were hauling up Simeon, dripping and furious. They had his arms behind his back.
The prisoner who’d caught Simeon climbed over the railing. “Kicked me right good, he did,” the man said, adding a word that Isidore had never heard before. “I’ll have my own back for that.” And before Isidore could draw a breath he pulled back his arm and socked Simeon in the cheek. Simeon fell backward against the deck, pinned by the two men holding his arms.
Isidore almost screamed, but stopped herself. Simeon didn’t deign to say a word in response to the blow. He just looked deliberately from face to face, studying the five men clustered around him.
“Here, what you doing then?” one of the prisoners said, obviously uncomfortable that Simeon didn’t make a sound.
“Memorizing your faces,” he said. The rage so potent in his voice made Isidore shiver.
“I’ll just give him two black eyes, why don’t I?” the man snarled. “That’ll stop him.”
Isidore’s stomach lurched. She couldn’t stay here, hidden, while they beat Simeon. She had to startle them enough so that they would drop his arms, because then he could knock them all out with his kick. Soundlessly, she crept back down the stairs. She needed a weapon. Unfortunately, the king’s yacht didn’t seem to have any weapons. She couldn’t even find a heavy candlestick.
Suddenly, she had an idea, and flew back into the ladies’ salon, retrieving her diamond slippers. These should get their attention. She ran up the stairs again, breathing hard, and found that not much had changed.
The same two ruffians were clutching Simeon’s arms, though thankfully he didn’t seem to have taken any more blows. From what she could understand, they were going to bargain his life for their freedom.
She waited for the right moment, eased open the door, and tossed out the diamond shoe.
It somersaulted in the light of the torches illuminating the deck and landed just in front of the group. For a moment they all stared at it, as if a bird of paradise had landed on the deck. The shoe glistened with jewels.
Then, with a muffled shout, all five men dove for it.
Simeon kicked the man closest to him so hard that the convict flew back against the wall of the yacht. In a swift, swirling circle he sent the other four spinning to the deck, one after another. Isidore wrenched open the door and flew at Simeon. His muscled arms closed around her and he threw himself backward, overboard.
They struck the water with such force that Simeon’s arms spun away from Isidore’s waist. Icy water closed over her face and her heavy skirts pulled her down into the acid-tasting water as effectively as if she had stones in her pockets.
Something brushed her face and she thought of waterlogged corpses rescued by the Dead Watch. Frantically, she beat her arms, trying to rise to the surface, but she couldn’t counteract the plummeting weight of all those diamonds.
Then, like a benediction, like a prayer, Simeon’s strong arms closed around her and he pulled her upward with a strong, smooth stroke. Isidore broke the surface, choking and gasping for breath.
“Easy,” he said, holding her up. “I’ve got you, sweetheart. I’ve got you.”
He gave her a hard, swift kiss. “I want you out of the river.” And without another word he began towing her through the water as if she were no heavier than a babe. Isidore had just enough time to be confusedly grateful for Simeon’s passion for running and the strength it gave him. (Turquoise Coat would have left her to sink or, rather, he would have plummeted down right next to her.)
Then they were at the shore, where a hundred helping hands reached out to them. Simeon was up in a flash, turning around to pull Isidore up the bank. Her skirts seemed ten times heavier than they had been, and the weight of water and jewels made the silk of her overskirts stretch past her feet, tripping her. Finally Simeon just bent down, picked her up in his arms and walked up the slope.
Everyone on the bank was screaming and howling “Hurrah!” The noise was deafening. Isidore felt a sudden breeze, took one appalled glance down, and realized that the diamond-encrusted cloth of her bodice had given up its battle with gravity and had fallen below her nipples. She looked up, horrified, and met Simeon’s eyes. He was laughing.
A second later they were on the bankside, and Simeon wrapped a coat tightly around her. “I can’t let all of London know what they’re missing,” he said into her ear.
“Oh, Simeon,” she said, hiccupping, half-crying. “He struck you, Simeon. He struck you and I couldn’t do anything to stop him.”
“You did stop him,” Simeon said. “I might have died, but for you.”
“And then we were in the water,” Isidore said with another hiccup, “and I was going down, and all I could think of was the Dead Watch and how they would gloat when they were sent to find my body.”
“Never,” he said, his arms tightening around her. “I would never allow that to happen.”
“Don’t ever let them be the ones to rescue my body, Simeon,” she said. “Promise me.”
“You’re not going to drown. Ever.”
She put her head against his chest and listened to the strong beat of his heart. They were safe. Tears slid slowly down her cheeks.
He said something she couldn’t hear.
“Don’t you see how lucky we are, Isidore?”