Genre: Young Adult Dark Fantasy
Jennica shoved the captive forward. With his arms bound behind his back, he wasn't able to stop his forward momentum. He whimpered as his body sank into the thick mud of the stable yard.
When he made no attempt to stand, she looked past the grey stone wall surrounding the stable yard at the dark clouds and pulled her hood tighter against the rain. Even now, having returned to the keep, the man was nothing but trouble. Irritation surged through her. She preferred killing her marks to taking them captive. It was efficient. Captives meant listening to them beg for their worthless lives.
"Whatever Matthew wants with him had best be worth it." The irritation in William's voice mirrored her own feelings.
She glanced sideways at him. His coat clung to his lanky frame and water dripped from his dark hair. He'd done nothing but complain since the moment they'd set out to retrieve the man. Her lips curled as she studied him, wondering how much of her ire stemmed from being stuck with his company for the past five days.
He grabbed the man's arm and hauled him to his feet. Their prisoner shivered. He hadn't been dressed for the weather when they'd taken him and Matthew never said anything about delivering him unharmed.
The mud sucked at their boots as they navigated the rest of the filthy yard. Jennica pulled open a door and William guided the man inside. She followed, a grey wolf slipping in beside her.
The wolf stepped closer to William and shook, sending water droplets flying from his thick pelt.
"Keep your damn mutt away from me," William growled.
Nakama snapped his jaws in William's direction and Jennica gave a half-hearted laugh. She appreciated her familiar's humor, but she was too tired to care. The rain, William's complaints, and the prisoner's incessant pleading had worn on her. All she wanted was to curl up in her own bed, warm and dry.
Brushing back her hood, Jennica ran a hand over her damp braid. She took several steps down the hall before she realized William wasn't following her. She looked over her shoulder, raising an impatient eyebrow.
Will gave the man a gentle push. "Surely you can handle him from here? You don't need me to keep him subdued, do you?"
Jennica whirled, her fingers tightening into fists. "You're the one who nearly let him escape."
"And I'm the one who caught him." He placed a hand over the man's wounded shoulder and squeezed. The prisoner winced, his knees trembling.
"If you were any good at doing your job, you wouldn't have needed to put an arrow in him," Jennica snapped. She backtracked and grabbed the prisoner's arm.
William shrugged and gave a mocking grin as he started in the opposite direction.
Wind and rain rattled against the windows as she guided the prisoner through the narrow halls toward Matthew's study. The keep had been restructured over the years, becoming a hybrid of a fortress and manor house. William's departure fed her frustration. He'd barely raised a hand over the past five days.
I hope Matthew's interrogation is quick, she spoke silently to her Familiar. I want be done with this.
Nakama didn't respond, but she sensed his disapproval. The prisoner wasn't the sort of mark she usually went after. Most were criminals in their own right, not a principled businessman. Truth be told, the man's pleading had gotten under her skin. Two days had been enough time to learn more about him than she'd ever wanted to know. He had a family--two children with a third due in another month. It took her threatening to cut out his tongue to silence him.
The door to Matthew's study was open and she guided the man through, pausing to close it before pushing him towards the desk at the far end of the room. Matthew stood as they approached, a look of disgust on his face as he took in the man's soiled clothing.
Jennica dug her fingers into the tender flesh of the man's wounded shoulder. He moaned and collapsed, his knees striking the stone floor with a satisfying crack.
"I expected you back last night." Matthew's assessing gaze turned to her. Dark hair framed an intelligent face and he was impeccably dressed, looking more a noble than the charlatan he was. He prowled around the massive mahogany desk with animal grace.
Jennica unbuttoned her coat, peeling it away from her lithe frame as she strode towards the hearth. Her familiar trailed after her and settled near the fire. She stepped nearer to the flames, appreciating the warmth as it traveled across her skin, soothing her annoyance.
"Blame Will," she shrugged.
Matthew's pale blue eyes were colder than the wind outside as he studied the prisoner. "Do you know why you're here?"
The man shook his head.
"Your brother-in-law wants you dead. Something about taking over the shares you own in a shipping company."
The man blanched. "He wouldn't--"
"But he does."
Jennica untied a leather purse from her belt and tossed it to Matthew. "His brother in-law's payment."
Matthew caught it and weighed it in his palm. "However, it seemed only fair to offer you the chance to outbid him."
Jennica raised her eyebrows. Matthew didn't need the wealth. What could the prisoner possibly offer that would justify this ruse?
The man's expression glimmered with hope. "Name your price. Anything."
"What do you have to offer me?" A quiet smile tugged at Matthew's lips.
Jennica bit back a warning. The man didn't know Matthew well enough to recognize the malice in his eyes. To know that the kinder he became, the more cruel his intentions.
"I can give you double whatever he paid."
"It's going to take more than money. What else?"
The man licked his lips. "I have ships."
"How many?" Matthew considered.
"Fif-fifteen. I'll sign them over to you."
Jennica raised an eyebrow and glanced sideways at Nakama. When did Matthew decide to take up piracy?
Why not? Her familiar's voice rumbled through her mind like thunder.
Unless... She crossed her arms. Matthew didn't need to move cargo. He wanted warships. Commissioning fifteen ships would take years and it would never go unnoticed. Stealing them however could be done quietly, quickly. Fifteen ships, crewed with his men would be enough to block the harbor.
He's going to try and overthrow his father. Nakama's lips curled back, revealing razor sharp fangs.
Matthew had never hidden his jealousy of his legitimate siblings. He hated that they'd inherit the empire he'd built by doing their father's dirty work. But she never expected him to actually act on his resentment.
The man hesitated, as though realizing the flaws in his bargain. He would be alive, but penniless. He could return to his family and if he were lucky, he could rebuild. He squeezed his eyes shut, perhaps wishing he would open them and this would all be a bad dream.
"Or, if you'd rather, I'll allow Jennica to finish what she started." Matthew gestured in her direction.
In a heartbeat, Jennica was behind the man. She grabbed his hair, pulling his head back, and pressed the edge of her knife to his throat. His pulse hammered against her wrist. Rich brown eyes, filled with terror, stared up at her. Satisfaction thrilled through her.