Who’s the coward now?
She draped the damp gown and underpinnings over her own built-in bunk to finish drying. She brushed at the thin crust of white salt clinging to the stiffening fabric before turning her attention to Nicholas’s jacket.
Mr. Carter’s jacket.
Something in her snapped. Why was she staying here—because Sophia had ordered her to? She could go up on deck if she liked. She could escape the smell of sickness, the cramped confines of the cabin, take in the fresh sea air and look into the distance. She’d make her own choices in all of this, no matter what Sophia said.
Only…Etta deflated the moment her fingers brushed the handle. He had asked them to stay below while the ship was repaired—and to stay out of the forecastle. It didn’t matter that the request must be partially powered by his desire to keep Sophia away from him. While she wouldn’t take orders from the other girl, Etta couldn’t bring herself to ignore Nicholas’s wishes. Plus, the deck had been littered not only with bodies, but weapons, and shards of metal and glass. Until they cleared it completely, it wasn’t safe, and she wasn’t about to get in the way of their work.
How do I do this without her? Think, think, think.…
Etta breathed in the calming scent of soap and cedar as she sat on the edge of her bunk, and realized with surprise that she was still clutching the jacket. Her hands were still wrapped in its warmth, at odds with the toes freezing in her shoes. With as delicate a touch as she could manage, she polished the line of brass buttons that ran down the front, and draped the large expanse of the jacket over her legs to smooth out the creases she’d left in the fabric.
Her fingers brushed a small line of raised stitching, where someone had mended a tear just below the shoulder. She wondered what had made it—an accident? Carelessness? A weapon?
Ask him. The words rose again and again until she couldn’t ignore them. Ask him for help. They had a common enemy; maybe he wouldn’t be so willing to do Sophia’s bidding when it came down to it.
Nicholas—Mr. Carter—disliked Sophia, but would that be enough to compel him to put her back…where? She still didn’t know the location of the passage she’d come through to get here. But—she sat up straighter, the idea racing from her head to her heart. The crew in the hold—they would know where they’d sailed from, wouldn’t they? Everyone on this ship was bound to know where she and Sophia had boarded from.
I have seen the rotten edges of his soul.
I know him for the deceitful swine he is.
Etta shook her head. The crew members were the key, both the ones working above and the ones below. If they got to know her, knew that she’d essentially been kidnapped, would they help her get away from Sophia? Would they be willing to bring her back?
She could figure out a way to play the perfect eighteenth-century girl, on her own terms. It would just be a matter of convincing the crew to like her.
Which, given her track record of friends…might actually be the most difficult part of this. She had acquaintances on the competition circuit, but she knew more about their technical skills as violinists than about their personal lives. And then there had been Pierce.
Etta’s throat felt thick as something lodged in the base of it. The familiar sting of tears, the pressure behind her eyes—thinking of Pierce now only made her think of Alice.
I’m going to save her.
Her death wasn’t a conclusion. It wasn’t the end.
Etta blanked the thoughts out of her mind by sheer force of will and stood, setting the jacket beside the gown. Her hands itched with the need to be busy, to play the violin until her head emptied and she sank into music. Instead, she dug through the layers of blankets in the trunk, feeling for the silver hairbrush she’d seen somewhere at the bottom.
The bristles felt like they were made of some other, stiffer kind of hair. She examined the fine detailing of leaves and flowers on the silver back, surprised that Sophia had included something so beautiful and nice for her to use—not, say, a small rake that would tear out her hair by the roots.
By the time she’d worked one stroke through the nest of knots, Etta wasn’t so sure a rake would have been less painful. She worked with agonizing care, biting her lip to keep from crying. The hair spray she’d shellacked on before the concert hadn’t been washed out by the salt water, but had only hardened. It might have struck her as sort of impressive, if her scalp hadn’t been on fire, and what hair she could work through the brush hadn’t been standing straight out like a stretched cotton ball. Both the pitcher and the basin in this cabin were empty, and Etta was too proud to steal some water, even if Sophia was asleep.
There was a faint scratch and knock at the door. She held her breath and stayed quiet, hoping whoever it was would assume she was asleep. Instead, after another knock, the door cracked open, and a small face peered inside.
A young boy, the one she’d seen on his hands and knees scrubbing the deck, kept his face turned down, his hands folded in front of him. “Oh! I hate to trouble ye, but—”
His face was an explosion of freckles against pale pink skin, topped off by gorgeous red hair that seemed wasted on a boy. His eyes were a bright, clear blue, and as he looked up, they popped out wide.
Etta had the sudden painful realization that, while her hands had stopped working and returned to her lap, the brush had not made the journey with them. It dangled from the side of her head.
“Miss!” he gasped. “You didn’t—terribly sorry, I only—I just need the captain’s, that is, Mr. Carter’s jacket?”