To the harbor we go? Is that really where Chantal is? Let's find out! Enjoy!
Hustle Into Love
She’d cried. Oh, she hadn’t given Chóngdé the satisfaction of seeing her weep—she’d waited until her enemy had left—but once the woman was gone, Chantal had broken down and wept out all the fear, anger and sadness she’d felt since she’d woke up and found herself in a kind of Hell she never could have imagined.
Sold to white slavers. It was like something out of a nightmare…out of a horrible novel. She couldn’t imagine it happening to anyone, let alone herself, but the evidence was all around her.
She could now tell she was on a large ship of some kind. She could feel the gentle swaying as the waves beat against the sides. She couldn’t tell for sure if they’d left port, but she didn’t think so.
Once her eyes became adjusted to the low light, she saw she was in some sort of hold, a small space filled with crates and barrels. She thanked God Chóngdé hadn’t stuffed her into one of the smaller rooms like the others. Chantal got claustrophobic just thinking about the dank smell and airless space she’d so briefly seen.
That little boy. She couldn’t forget his face. So sad and lonely. So tired and fearful. Remembering was heartbreaking, and the knowledge of what he might face in just a few weeks made her sick to her stomach. Then she thought of her own predicament. And felt just as ill.
But she hadn’t given up. Chantal wasn’t the type to sit and weep for long. Once she had it all out of her system, she sent a prayer winging to Heaven for help. She thought of the women and children in the other room. She thought of Lì and of Mace, and how worried they both must be. She couldn’t count on them for help—they didn’t know where she was or who had taken her—so she’d have to help herself.
And Chóngdé, without knowing it, had given her the tools to do so.
Scrabbling around the floor, she grinned even as she felt the prick of glass cutting into her flesh. Carefully, she picked up the small shard of crystal left from the champagne glass Chóngdé had thrown. If it was sharp enough to cut her hand, it would be sharp enough to cut through the ropes. Just another way the woman’s loss of temper had been of benefit.
It wasn’t easy to maneuver the glass to the right position, but she managed it. “Now we’ll see who really has the last word,” Chantal muttered as she began sawing the ropes around her wrists.
It took some time and Chantal’s hand wasn’t the only thing bleeding by the time she’d severed the first part of the strand. The crystal shard was sharp, but the rope was coated in a tacky substance, and it made the cutting difficult. But she kept gamely on. When she faltered…when she got tired or her fingers cramped, all she had to do was picture Mace’s handsome, loving face, and it gave her the incentive to keep going.
To keep her mind occupied while she worked, she thought of all the ways she’d make Chóngdé pay for what she’d done. Some of the punishments were particularly inventive, and it cheered Chantal to know she was as creative in her ideas of retribution as she was anything else.
But to make any of the ideas reality, she had to get free. So, cursing at the rope’s stubbornness she continued to saw, her heart pounding whenever she thought she felt a change in the ship’s movements or heard a sound at the door.
Chantal wasn’t sure how much time had passed when the last strand around her wrists gave way. She wanted to weep with joy as she pulled her hands free and bent to untie the rope around her ankles.
“Okay,” she whispered as she scrambled to her feet. Wiping her torn and bloody wrists on Mace’s bedraggled bathrobe, she then retied it securely before glancing around. “I’m out of the ropes, but how do I get out of this damn compartment?”
Quickly, she searched the small room for a weapon. If she made it out the door, she’d have to protect herself. Chóngdé’s telling of how the sailors would make use of Chantal had scared her down to her toes.
But other than a short rusted piece of pipe, she came up empty. Chewing her lip, she hefted it. It might be enough to stun someone, but she’d have to rely on another method to do any real damage.
Going to the door, she tried to pull it open, but as she’d half expected, it was locked. She thought again. Was there a guard? If she called for help, would someone come? If she were to get out of this mess, she had to get the door open somehow.
Steeling herself, Chantal hid in the corner near the door and gripped the pipe hard. She sent up another prayer and then clearing her throat, she screamed.
“Help! Help! There’s water coming in. We’re sinking!”
At first there was no response. She waited a minute or two, listening closely, but when she heard nothing, she tried again, this time in Cantonese.
“Help! The boat is sinking. I’m going to drown! Help me, please!”
Her heart raced when this time she heard a shuffling outside the door. With a loud creak, the door was pushed open and a rat-faced sailor came rushing into the room. He paused and blinked, trying to see in the dim light, and that gave Chantal the time she needed.
With all her strength, she cold-cocked him on the back of the head with the pipe.
But as she’d thought, the pipe was too thin to put the man down completely. It bent in her hand as he staggered. She hit him again, but he turned so the pipe came down on his shoulder instead of his head. He looked at her, a mixture of fury and lust in his eyes before he lunged.
Later, when she thought back on it, she couldn’t remember making the decision. It was instinct, pure and simple that had her spinning into the martial arts training that Lì had insisted on and Eric had perpetuated. As the sailor grabbed at her, she sidestepped, spun, and in a graceful motion, kicked the cretin right in the groin.
His look of surprise and pain was almost humorous, but Chantal didn’t stop to enjoy it. Instead, she followed up the kick with two punches. One to the stomach, and a second, even more deadly one to the throat.
Her stomach rolled when she heard the crack of the man’s windpipe. He went down like a ton of bricks, gasping in agony and spitting out blood before going utterly still. In some far away place in her mind, she knew she’d probably killed him, but there was no sadness, no emotion that she’d taken another life. All she had to do was think about the twelve people in the hold and any pity she might have had was gone.
Her heart encased in ice, knowing she wouldn’t get far in Mace’s ripped and torn bathrobe, she battled back her regret and disgust and stripped the man’s clothes from his body. Luckily, they were somewhat clean. Chantal couldn’t imagine what they’d feel and smell like after a few weeks at sea.
Pulling the oversized garments on, she used the belt from the robe to tie her pants around her slim waist. Then, sliding her feet back into the slippers she still wore, she grabbed the firearm the man had been holding. It was probably a small caliber gun, but to her inexperienced eyes it looked huge. Grabbing it in both hands, she backed away from the dying man and headed towards the door.
Yet she stopped before she went through. Whirling around she stared at the hold where the other people where trapped. What should she do? Should she let them out now and hope they all made it off the ship? Or should she get off herself and send help back for them?
But what if Chóngdé decided to cut her losses once she realized Chantal had escaped? What if she killed the other slaves so there would be no evidence of her crime? A sudden picture of the little boy’s lifeless eyes decided her.
They’d all get out together or they’d not get out at all.
Stepping back into the room, she snatched the key out of the lock then carefully shut the door. She hurried over to the hold where the other slaves were imprisoned, and biting her lip, she stared at the padlock on the latch. “Damn it,” she muttered. “I forgot about you.”
Frowning, she gazed down at the gun in her hand. Shooting the lock might work, if she could hit it. But that might bring unwanted company.
Abruptly she remembered Chóngdé hadn’t pulled a key out of her pocket when she’d opened the door. So where was the thing? Where had the other woman gotten it from? Had she put it back?
No sooner had she asked herself the question than she saw it. There, hanging on a short hook to the right and above the door. A shiny silver key, the perfect size to open the padlock. Chantal shook her head. Obviously she’d been so appalled at the sight of the other captives, she hadn’t seen Chóngdé replace the key. But thank God the woman had, or Chantal might have had to try some target practice.
Grabbing it, she quickly unlocked the door. “It’s all right,” she called out in Cantonese as she pulled the big portal open. “I’m a friend.”
There was a stirring as she stepped back and motioned the people inside to come out. But no one moved towards the door. They all just sat, staring at her with empty eyes. It was obvious they were so fearful of reprisal none of them would take the chance to try to escape.
“Please,” Chantal begged, her eyes filling with tears. “We have to get out of here. I’ve killed the guard so there is no one outside. But if we don’t escape right now, it will be too late. The ship is preparing to leave. This may be our only chance.”
The slaves whispered amongst themselves as Chantal shifted from one foot to the other impatiently. “Hurry!” She glanced over her shoulder. “There’s no time to waste. We’ve got to leave now.”
Still no one moved, and Chantal lost her famous temper. “Do you want to be slaves? Sold as prostitutes to some old lecher who’ll do who knows what with you? What about the children? Will you let them be defiled in such a dishonorable way?”
The adults looked startled but no one answered, and for a moment Chantal thought she would have to make her escape alone and pray nothing happened to the captives. But then help came from where she didn’t expect.
“I want to go home.”
It was the little boy. The one with the beautiful doll’s face. Ignoring the hissed warnings from the others, he stepped forward and trustingly put his hand into Chantal’s. He gazed up at her with hope in his almond eyes. “Madam? Will you take me home?”
And a little child shall lead them. Squeezing his hand, her throat tight with emotion, she nodded. “I’ll try, honey. I’ll do everything to keep you safe. I promise.”
Looking at the others, the challenge in her face was unmistakable. “Well? Who else is coming? Or is a little kid braver than the lot of you?”
Wow. This has me on the edge of my seat and I wrote it! LOL What will happen next? Will Chóngdé find out her slaves are escaping? Will Mace ride to the rescue? And what about Hui Sun? Will he ever forgive his daughter for her treachery? Find out more on Thursday's installment!!!
Have an awesome week!