Dublin, March 1811
Molly Flanagan knew common wisdom gave a woman access to the streets alone after nightfall for only two reasons: whoring or thieving. Neither occupation defined her, or her solitary purpose.
The ancient stone walls surrounding her were glazed with moisture and blackened with soot. At this lamentable hour, the hovering twilight barely penetrated the narrow and crooked passages of the Liberties, making her every step a challenge as she side-stepped foraging rats and pools of slimy, smelly crud.
While other honest folk scurried indoors to seek the comfort and security of a barred door, Molly moved into the streets. She had no other choice since her employer owned her, body and soul, during daylight hours. Dressing herself as a boy was both precautionary and practical, and if anyone did find her presence intriguing, a few well-placed kicks from Molly's unencumbered limbs made short work of this unwanted attention. She eased into a shadowed doorway, her ears searching the gloom for the telltale footfalls of someone following her. She heard footsteps all right, but not from behind. Ahead of her. Around the corner. Out of sight. Multiple sets of boots scuffling against paving stones, then a well-bred baritone demanded, “Who paid you?”
Molly grumbled. The quickest route back to the shop was now blocked, that is … if she remained uninvolved. She was so weary. A deep sigh escaped her lips. Taking a different route would delay getting home and oh how her lumpy mattress was calling to her. She needed sleep, not more trouble. Her eyes snagged on the willow basket slung over her arm that was full of costly pieces of hand-stitched silk embroidery, which she needed to keep safe so the widow would be paid promptly for all her beautiful work.
More scuffling noises.
If I keep to the shadows, perhaps I can sneak past without being drawn in. Squatting down, she pressed her shoulder to the cold stone and peered around the corner.
Three men circled a fourth. The man in trouble appeared relaxed and radiated a confidence that didn’t seem warranted by the situation. He was tall and wore a dark, well-cut coat that encased broad shoulders. He also wore snug-fitted breeches covering powerfully muscled thighs, and tall boots made for riding.
The longer Molly watched, the more she sensed something deft in the way the three maneuvered the gentleman—for that’s what he was, a gentleman. But what was he doing in this part of town, and on foot?