Virginia Bound : Excerpt

Chapter One

Night was drawing in, a February evening with frost on its breath. As London fell into darkness, fingers of fog crept over the banks of the Thames. Soon the only light was candlelight, which flickered and danced in diamond-paned windows.

Beneath one of those windows, in a narrow alley not far from the docks, sat Rob Brackett, counting his money. He piled the coins atop one another, then spread them out in his hand. Two farthings and a battered ha'penny. A paltry sum, however you looked at it, in this year of our Lord, 1627 — hardly enough to buy a bun loaf, let alone supper for two.

"Hope Nell had more luck," he muttered to himself.

But Nell was late, and that had him worried. He slipped the small coins into his ragged doublet. Perhaps he ought to go looking for her.

She was only nine, was Nell, and too trusting by half. Rob minded the day he'd found her huddled in an alley, tears streaming down her grimy face. He'd tried to ignore her, of course. It was hard enough to look out for himself, without taking on a weepy young 'un as well. But the sight of her had plagued him something terrible, and in the end he'd asked her what was wrong. Her aunt had died that morning, she'd told him, leaving her alone in the world. The next thing he knew, he was offering to look out for her until she learned to survive on her own.

She was a slow learner. Three months now, he'd been saddled with her. Not that she'd been such a terrible trial, when all was said and done. In fact, he had to admit that sometimes he rather liked having her about.

Not worth the worry, though, he told himself. Be good when she's gone.

Scowling, he peered into the darkness. Where was she?

Footsteps pattered at the head of the alley. Rob rose warily to his feet. Was it Nell? Or was it a beggarman, searching for a place to sleep? Rob hoped not. Only thirteen, and small for his age, he was no match for a full-grown man. But at least he'd have surprise on his side. With his dark hair and sooty clothes, he'd be hard to spot till the very last second. He tensed his muscles, ready to spring....