Darcy O'Keefe paused on the front porch. The morning air was cool and damp, held close to the city streets by the thick blanket of gray clouds overhead. Around her swirled the sounds and scents of a community awakening to a new day; hawkers' cries were beginning to rise on the next street over, the whiffs of coal smoke not yet strong enough to overpower the aromas of meat pies and pastries. Darcy lifted her face to the meager sunlight and smiled at the feel of the fine mist on her cheeks.
Her mother's voice drifted downward, and she glanced up at the second-story window to her left. They were doing their morning rosaries, her mother and Bridie, the girl who stayed with her each day. Darcy smiled ruefully. Mary O'Keefe couldn't tell you what year it was, but she remembered to begin each day with a rosary, close each day with another. Darcy shook her head. Bridie O'Shaunessy had the patience of a saint and was easily worth twice what Darcy paid her in wages.
The thought of money, as always, shifted Darcy's gaze back to the streets around her. Today was the first true autumn day. The people bustling in the street weren't yet accustomed to wearing an extra layer of clothing. The moisture in the air had their heads down and them focused only on getting their tasks completed so they could find the warmth of a hearth fire. Darcy grinned. It was a fine, fine day for picking pockets.
She checked to be sure her hair was completely tucked into her woolen cap and then pulled the collar of the man's coat up around her neck. The heavy square heels of her boots made little noise as she skipped down the wooden steps into the stream of people moving along the cobblestones. With her hands rammed into the pockets of her trousers, she listened to the voices around her.
Not a one from anywhere but Charlestown and Boston. She reminded herself that wealthy visitors weren't likely to be wandering this street of boardinghouses; that if they were here for the fleecing, they'd be found just around the corner, on the merchants' way. If . . . It was still early in the day. Visitors didn't usually emerge from their lodgings until mid-morning. And if the mist turned into actual rain, they wouldn't come out at all, and the day would be for nothing.
Darcy turned the corner into the bustle of Charlestown's street commerce.
"Eggs! Fresh eggs here!"
Darcy separated herself from the pedestrians. "Good morning, Maisey," she said, slipping behind the young woman's makeshift counter.
Maisey grinned, the expression brightening her copper freckles and lighting up her green eyes. "How are you this mornin', Darce? And your mother?"
"Mother's hoping that Nelson survives the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar. She's saying a rosary for him, I think."
"Poor dear. It must be so terrible to be lost in your own mind."
Darcy shrugged. "Mother doesn't know she's lost, so she isn't the least bit concerned by it. Proof, Maisey, that God is merciful to the simple and the innocent."
"And where did you hear that bit of comfort? Sounds like something Bridie would say."
"Or Mrs. Malone down the hall."
Maisey turned her attention back to the street and shouted, "Eggs! Fresh eggs here!" A quick succession of paying customers kept Maisey busy long enough for Darcy to note the absence of fine tailoring in the crowd moving past her.
"Looks to be a slow day for you, doesn't it?" Maisey observed, pocketing coins. "I suppose that's why we haven't seen Patrick yet. The air's a wee bit thick for the fancies to come out. Might sog up their hat feathers and spot their kid gloves."
Darcy was about to agree with her friend when a splash of mulberry wool caught her attention. "Things just looked up," she said. "Over by Mrs. Boyle's stand. Just to the right of the salted cod. Do you see him?"
Maisey craned her neck for a clear view and then gasped. "Lord, how could a girl not notice that? What do you make of him, Darce?"
Tall, very tall. Massively built. Broad-shouldered and well dressed. Bareheaded; ebony hair, silken and unfashionably long. Patrician features carved in granite by a master. Very much a man of the world, and very self-assured. "Not young, not old," Darcy said aloud. She moved to the end of the counter, her gaze never leaving the stranger. "He's from elsewhere, to be sure. Judging by the finely tailored coat and shiny Hessians, it'd be my guess that his money outweighs his common sense."
"He's a good-looking man, isn't he?"
"Are you asking me or telling me?"
"I'm checking to be sure that you've still got some hope inyou, Darcy O'Keefe. The day you don't recognize a breathtakin' man is the day I truly begin to worry about the end you'll come to." Maisey grinned. "Not that I'm trying to hurry you toward any end in particular, mind you."
Darcy stepped outside the stall. "Well, if he asks me to marry him . . . should I say yea or nay?"
"Are you goin' to fan him? You might as well. Even if he doesn't have much money, it'd be worth the checkin'." Maisey made a soft clicking sound with her tongue. "My, my. If you've a brain in your head, Darce, you'll say yea if he asks. I do believe those are the most wonderful shoulders I've ever seen."
Darcy grinned. "I'll be back in a whistle."
"Be careful, Darcy. He's big."
"But I'm good," she countered, watching the man move away from the fishmonger's stand. "If Patrick shows up, tell the slacker that I started to work without him."
Aiden Terrell stepped into the tide of humanity making its way along the cobbled street. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the tall, thin, fair-skinned youth fall in behind him. Knowing how pickpockets generally worked, Aiden scanned the crowd ahead of him, searching for the one who'd create a pretense for stalling him and allow the other to empty his pockets from behind.
He frowned. Either the boy's accomplices were especially good at blending with the crowd, or he was working the street on his own. Aiden's frown became a scowl. Being alone meant the boy was confident and therefore probably good at his work. Or an overconfident, inexperienced fool. Aiden hoped for the former.
Aiden swore beneath his breath. Time had grown far too short on him. He needed an entree to Charlestown's criminal underworld, and he needed it now. He'd left his hotel room that morning determined to attract the larcenous attention of one of the children who scurried like rats along the edges of Charlestown's streets. The boy coming up on him from behind was older than he would have liked, but desperation made any opportunity acceptable.
Desperation also made him impatient. He stopped in the middle of the street and gawked at his surroundings as though he'd never seen bricks and mortar. The brush was light and quick, on his left side. Because he knew he was supposed to, he turned in that direction, an apology tumbling from his lips.
The touch on his right might have gone unnoticed had he not been expecting it, had he not been hoping for it. The boy was good. Very good.
Aiden whirled to his right, but his hand encountered only the shoulder of a middle-aged woman who censored him with an indignant huff. And then he noticed a quick movement in the pale shadows of an alleyway.
Darcy tossed the empty leather wallet into the first ash bin. The stack of paper was incredibly thick. Her stride faltered. She quickly fanned out the bills to see exactly what she'd netted. Sweet Jesus, Joseph, and Mary. She held three hundred dollars in her hand; more money than she'd ever seen at one time. And all of it American dollars. Not a franc or a pound in the bunch.
"I believe you have something that belongs to me."
Darcy spun about. Her mark stood between her and the entrance to the alleyway, close enough that his shadow fell over her and chilled her blood. She'd been a fool twice over. The first mistake had been to work alone; the second to count the accursed money. The pause had been enough for the mark to catch her.
He took a step forward. Dark brows. Square jaw. His lips would be full when they weren't compressed by anger. Darcy shoved the money into her pocket and took a step back. Judging by the look in the man's gray eyes, her disguise remained intact. There was no leer, no lust in his expression. She could outrun him. Easily. His legs were longer and definitely well muscled, but she knew the twists and turns of Charlestown; he didn't. She just had to get past him and back out into the street.
Excerpted from Daring the Devil by Leslie Lafoy. Copyright © 1999 by Leslie LaFoy. Excerpted by permission of Fanfare, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.