“Look if you let me go in the next three minutes, I promise not to skin you alive.”
The brute of a guard standing in the front of Izzabella Ruzziano’s cell grunted but made no other reaction to Izzabella’s threat. Sighing, she braced herself against the iron bars, giving up on the threat tactic. She needed to come up with another way to get herself out of this cell. She wrapped her slender fingers that were made for lock picking around the cold bars, and clicked her tongue quietly to herself. She racked her brain, trying to come up with the perfect solution to her little predicament.
A few hours ago, Izzabella was arrested on a card counting charge. The guard a few feet away from her hasn’t so much as moved an inch since she was thrown down here and he was not helping her escape scheme.
Izzabella looked around her dark cell, her face screwing up in disgust. There was not much to the cell and what little there was did not make her feel any better. Three brick walls, a wall of iron bars, a small bucket in the corner that she refused to acknowledge, a small window about twenty feet up and some hay in the other corner that she would guess was meant to act as a bed. Izzabella was beginning to go crazy.
If you’re going to throw me in a cage like an animal, the least you could do is entertain me.
An idle mind is the Devil’s workshop and Izzabella’s mind was more than idle.
“You know,” Izzabella bat her eyelashes as soon as the guard’s eyes slid her way. A new tactic formed into her mind and she grinned. She relaxed her face into an innocent expression and softly bit down on her bottom lip. She had to wait a second longer than she expected for the guard’s pupils to dilate but never the less, they did. She continued in a much softer voice. “it’s quite unfair if you ask me.”
The guard rose a thick, crooked eyebrow at her. “What is?”
“Someone as handsome as yourself shouldn’t be stuck in this dank dungeon. You should be guarding the royal family.”
The guard grunted but fully turned towards her. Izzabella looked down and forced a blush to creep up to her porcelain cheeks. She doubted he could see it with the cell being so dark but it was still good for the effect. She flickered her eyes up at him and offered him a small, embarrassed smile. “I wasn’t trying to… proposition you. I just- I just thought-“ she cut herself off and looked away.
The guard’s gaze slid up and down her body. She forced her shoulders to slacken and turned her back to him. Dressed in a snug emerald tunic that brought out the green flecks in her blue eyes and tight, coal colored trousers, she knew she was giving the guard a great view of her backside. Izzabella was not thick by any means. In fact, she had more muscle on her than fat and was more skinny than curvy. But, the little curves that she did have come in handy with times like these.
Still playing the part, Izzabella forced a small, sad sigh out of her lips and glided into the corner of the cell, opposite of the wretched bucket.
The guard cleared his throat a moment later. “Your charge… It’s just a mistake, correct?”
“Yes!” she spun around to face the guard and forced out a delicate laugh. She shook her head and her unruly, rust-colored hair flowed with the movement. She had the urge to smack her hair out of her face but resisted it. “If I can be openly honest with you, I don’t even know how to pay cards.”
“What were you doing in Hell’s Kitchen then?”
Making money. “I am just so incredibly lonely… I thought…” She sighed and cast her eyes downward. “My husband… I’m a widow and I just thought that… a little male attention would do my mind some good. Pitiful, isn’t it?”
The guard took two large steps forward and wrapped his beefy hands around the cell bars. An image began to create itself inside of her mind but she quickly cast it away. Smashing his face with the bucket in the corner would only manage to knock him out. That would do nothing for hire still being locked inside of the cell. She needed to be on the outside of this cell.
“A delicate girl like you shouldn’t be looking for male companionship with the likes of those men who frequent Hell’s Kitchen.”
A delicate girl? Izzabella has been called just about every name in the book, but delicate was never one of them. “I know,” she murmured. “It was a horrible idea.”
“And those threats?” The guard narrowed his eyes on her. “What of those?”
“I heard those men inside Hell’s Kitchen speaking that way and it seems to get them what they want…” she trailed off with a shrug.
The guard glanced up the stone steps leading out of the dungeon then glanced back down to Izzabella. A small, devious smile spread over his face. Izzabella did not know if she could keep this act up for much longer. The disgusting thoughts swarming inside of the guards head were all too transparent on his face.
“I thought so,” he grumbled. “But like I said, a girl like you shouldn’t be hanging around the likes of those men.”
Izzabella shook her head. “But I have no one. I haven’t felt a man’s touch in months. Nobody pays me a single glance. I thought that a little male attention would do my soul good.”
“Oh, come on. I do not believe that for one single second.” The guard looked Izzabella up and down for emphasis. His smile grew wider. “A pretty little thing like yourself must get all the attention one could ask for.”
“Not from anybody worthy,” Izzabella insisted. “Nobody like you.”
The guard looked towards the long-deserted corridor, lips pursed. As he jingled the set of keys attached to his belt, Izzabella sighed heavily. If you could hurry up that’d be great. “It’s a man’s touch that you crave?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
After ten long seconds, the guard unhooked the key ring from his belt and put a long, rusted key into the lock on Izzabella’s cell. The sound of the cell creaking open was a sweet melody that Izzabella knew she would never forget. Grasping the hilt of the sword at his hip, he pulled the cell doors apart and stepping in, his dark eyes roaming over her body. Izzabella needed him as deep into the cell as she could get him so she slowly backed up until her back was pressed against the cold brick wall behind her. As he stepped closer and closer, she imagined grabbing his thick skull and slamming into the bricks at her back until it concaved on itself. Not yet, she told herself. Patience.
The guard’s beefy hands shot out and grabbed Izzabella around her waist, making her go as still as the brick behind her. Izzabella’s vision turned black and before she could think, she had the guards dagger that was strapped to his hip, in her hand. She rammed the hilt of it into the guards head, sending him stumbling backward. As soon as the guard’s hands left her body, she was on the move.
Jumping up, she shoved her boot covered feet into the guard’s chest. The sound of his back hitting the cell doors echoed loudly in the dungeon. She used the heel of her boot and kicked the guard in kneecap as hard as she could. The sound of it snapping in two and concaving in on itself was grotesque enough to make even Izzabella sick. Add the guards deep, painful howl and she almost felt bad.
The guard fell to the floor. He reached out as he did and grabbed the neck of her tunic. He flicked his wrist, sending her flying into the wall. Izzabella only had enough time to slightly bend and take the force of the impact with her shoulder instead of her head. Red hot pain raced up and down the side of her body. She stumbled, her teeth clanking together and her vision swimming. Izzabella blindly lashed out with the stolen dagger in her hand. She heard a deep howl and her vision cleared in time to see blood gushing out of his forearm. Wanting nothing more than to lie down and rest, she knew that she needed to hurry up and finish. Izzabella grabbed the guards head and threw it backward. In an awful crack, the guards head slammed into the bars and he slumped to the ground, unconscious.
With her shoulder throbbing and her head still swimming in pain, Izzabella fumbled with the guard’s key ring and sword. She finally managed to relieve him of his keys and sword and stumbled out into the hallway. She shut and locked the cell with the guard still inside. Somebody would come around to rotate rounds, see him locked inside of her cell, notice that the prisoner was missing and sound the alert, By then, Izzabella would be long gone. She crept down the deserted dungeon.
When they first brought her in, she made a mental layout of the prison. There were two guards stationed at the entrance of the dungeon, three scattered in the stairwell beyond that and five guards positioned outside. Not the most secure place considering it was used as a prison.
Izzabella quietly slipped behind the first two guards and smashed both of their heads against the brick wall. She caught the first guard and lowered him the stone ground. Unfortunately for the other guard, he fell to the ground and thumped down all the stone stairs. As his body fell, the thumping echoed extremely loudly. She snapped her head to the door ahead of her. She strained her ears for the sound of pounding boots or shouting voices and when she heard nothing but her heavy breathing, she relaxed a bit.
She looked back down at the two guards, an idea shooting to the front of her brain. The guard who fell down the steps was an inch taller than she but essentially had the same muscle tone and body type. As quickly as she could, she stripped him out of his uniform, leaving him in only his underwear and boots. She slipped the guards uniform over her own clothes and tried to copy the look of the other guards still in uniform.
Izzabella snatched the black cap off of the guard’s head and shoved her hair into the cap. She blended into the shadows as she crept back up the stone steps. There were fourteen steps in total and as she neared the top, an alarm was sounded. It was loud and earsplitting. A bright red light flashed overhead. Izzabella clamped her hands over her ears, grimacing. The sound of pounding feet sounded above her. Dirt fell from the ceiling and onto her head. She could hear shouts in front of her.
Izzabella looked up and cursed. A small army of guards stood atop the stairs, their weapons drawn and pointed straight at her. Her hand flew to the stolen sword at her belt. She has faced worse options before. Once she singled handily took down an army of twenty men and this was only half that. Shouts behind her caught her attention.
She cursed again. Another small army of guards stood at the bottom of the stairs. She had no idea how they got there. There must be a secret entrance that she didn’t know about.
One of the guards below her caught sight of the naked guard on the floor. “We’ve caught the intruder!”
Her eyebrows flew into her hairline. She couldn’t believe her luck.
The guards above her stormed past her, not sparing her a single glance. Izzabella stopped that the top of the stairs and watched as all of the guards surrounded the naked guard, bombarding him with questions despite his unconscious condition.
With the guards preoccupied, Izzabella strolled out of the dungeon and into the open air. The sky was dark, only a few bright stars glistening in the night. Her boots were silent as a shadow on the soft grass as made her way back. She wanted nothing more than to ditch the guards uniform but she knew that it wouldn’t be wise to ditch her disguise so close to the scene of her crime. There was a soft breeze and Izzabella had just reached up to take her cap off when a commanding voice called out behind her.
“You there! Stop at once!” The voice was old and young. Demanding and questioning. It wanted to be powerful but… wasn’t.
She slowly turned, her hand going to the stolen sword. She couldn’t make out the precise features of the man walking towards her but she knew that he was a part of the royal family. It was obvious in the way that he carried himself. Izzabella could practically smell the richness pouring off him.
“Where are you going? Where is your commanding post?”
As the man approached closer, Izzabella could make out his face. He was a walking contradiction. Sharp features with a set of soft, kind eyes. A very prominent jawline and a strong nose. His hair blended into the midnight sky and his eyes were as bright as the stars up above. Izzabella squinted at him as he stood a few feet from her. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. This man’s eyes were gray. The color of storm clouds. They stood out against his midnight eyebrows and slightly golden skin.
His stature wasn’t much bigger than Izzabella’s herself. From what she could see, he was a good four inches taller than she and just as skinny. He didn’t have much muscle tone but someone linked to royalty like she suspected he was, usually did not need to have much muscle. They paid someone for that. His hands were shoved deep into the pockets of his trousers and he walked with a slight limp. She couldn’t tell which leg was injured and she got the distinct filling that it wasn’t his legs that were injured at all. It was his back. He stood slightly bent as if it hurt too much to fully straighten it.
“Sir, I have asked you a question.”
Izzabella blinked out of her own mind. She cleared her throat and mimicked her best man voice. “I have been relieved of my duties.”
“is that so?”
Izzabella nodded her head. The more he stood in front of her, the more boyish this man seemed. He wasn’t much older than she. “I’ll be leaving now.”
The man-boy pursed his lips but eventually nodded his head. “Very well. Have a good evening.”
The man smiled and her gut twisted. She has seen that smile before. As Izzabella watched the man-boy walk back towards the little prison, she couldn’t place his face but she knew that she has seen it before. She was sure of that.
As Izzabella began her long trek back, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she would be seeing that smile again.