Home > From Rags to Kisses (The Survivors #11)

From Rags to Kisses (The Survivors #11)
Author: Shana Galen


Part One






London 1801

She should have jumped over the body lying in the street. Everyone else was stepping over it, and she was in a hurry. That Charley had spotted her, and he was sure to remember her from last week when she’d managed to escape him after stealing that crust of bread. Jenny didn’t want to be dragged before a magistrate or clapped in the stocks.


The body was barefoot and dressed in coat and trousers. It lay face down in a mud puddle, the wetness on the ground left over from the rain the night before. If horses and carriages ever passed through this dirty, narrow street in Spitalfields, the body would have been trampled. But no one with enough blunt for a horse and carriage ever ventured to this corner of London. There were no gaming hells or painted women or gin houses here. Just hunger, poverty, and despair.

Jenny slowed and looked over her shoulder. The Charley wasn’t behind her. She might have lost him. Or he might have been too much of a coward to come this way alone. A few rough-looking men leaned against buildings, spoiling for a fight, and a Charley would make a nice target for their foul moods.

A couple walking in front of her stepped over the body as if it were a piece of trash. Nearby, a woman hung once-white sheets on a clothesline while a small child—Jenny couldn’t tell if it was a boy or girl—clung to her ragged skirts. Jenny figured the body’s pockets had already been picked clean, but she was starving. No harm in giving them another once-over. She patted it down then rolled it over.

She jumped back in shock and crossed herself when its eyes fluttered open. It was a boy, and he looked up at her with dark eyes, made darker still by large, black pupils. He gazed at her, unseeing, then closed his eyes again. Her heart slowed enough that she stopped fearing it would burst. He wasn’t dead. She hadn’t disturbed his eternal rest. Jenny glanced over at the woman, still hanging her laundry. She hadn’t seen Jenny, but her child was watching. Jenny told herself the child had nothing to do with why she didn’t walk away. It wasn’t up to her to teach that kid some semblance of humanity, but she couldn’t abandon this boy all together. What if he died and haunted her because she didn’t try to help him?

She stood and wiped her hands on her rough trousers. “Oy,” she said and nudged the boy with the toe of her too-small shoe. “Ye better get up now.”

The boy moaned something and didn’t move.

“Oy!” Jenny said louder. “Yer lying in the street. Get up.”

When he still didn’t move, she swore then got an arm around his shoulders, his wet shoulders, and dragged him to the side of the street. She propped him up against a wall and sat down beside him. It annoyed her that her shirt was wet again. She’d been drenched in the downpours the night before. Though it was spring—or so she supposed because green buds had started appearing on the trees again—the morning was still cold enough that she moved closer to him, hoping to steal some of his body heat. Not that he had much of that. He didn’t seem to have much of anything.

A cursory glance at his clothing told her it had once been good quality. It was little more than rags now. He had a black eye, bruises on his jaw, and scraped knuckles. “Looks like ye got into a bit of a tousle,” she said.

He rolled his head to look at her out of his one good eye. “You might say that.”

The way he spoke surprised her. It wasn’t like the people she knew. It sounded like the gentlemen who came to Spitalfields half drunk and stumbled about with their friends looking for cheap gin and whores. They slapped each other on the back for their bravery when everyone could see they carried walking sticks and were followed by burly footmen, keeping anyone with nefarious intentions away.

“ ‘Ave to learn to run faster,” she said. “Me. I can run fast as the wind. Were it the Watch or a group of rogues?”

“I tried to run,” he said, raking a hand through his dark hair. “But two of them were behind me and then two stepped out in front.”

“Oldest trick in the book,” she said. “Two of them ‘erd ye where the others lie in wait.”

He held out a hand. “Aidan Sterling.”

She looked down at his hand.

“You shake it,” he said. “Like this.” He took her hand and pumped it up and down.

“I know wot to do,” she said, pulling her hand back. “I don’t know why ye’d want to do it. I’m Jenny Tate.”

His eyes widened slightly. “Yer a girl?”

“That’s right.” She always felt a little defensive when boys looked at her like that. She was thirteen and skinny and flat as a boy, and she dressed in boys’ clothing to keep anyone from getting ideas—most especially arch rogues who ran the gangs in this part of London. But she still didn’t like when people looked at her like being a girl was a liability. “And I could knock ye down quick as any boy.”

“I don’t doubt it,” he said. “But then that little child over there could knock me down.”

“Ye don’t belong ‘ere,” she said. “Where do ye belong? I’ll make sure ye get ‘ome.” And she might just get a big reward for it too.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “I do belong here. I have nowhere else to go.”

“Yer an orphan?”

“Yes. My mother died...what day is it now?”

Jenny shrugged. She didn’t even know what month it was.

“I suppose it was a month ago now. My father died before that and his lordship hadn’t thought to provide for us.”

His lordship. There was blunt in those words. Jenny knew it. “Who was yer father?” she asked.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” the boy said. Some color had returned to his face, and he looked almost human, except for that swollen eye.

“Try me.”

“The Earl of Cranbourne.”

She laughed. “Yer right. I don’t believe ye.”

“I’m not his legitimate offspring,” he said.

“Wot’s that mean?”

“To be blunt, Jenny—may I call you Jenny?”

She shrugged.

“To be blunt, I’m a bastard. My mother was a chambermaid in the earl’s service. When she bore me, the earl recognized me and gave my mother money for a house and for my schooling, but it seems he made no provision for me in his will.”

“Ye got a lot of fancy words.”

He nodded but didn’t behave as though she were stupid. “It means, once he died, my mother and I received nothing. I’m sure she had a plan. I know she went to the new earl’s chief of staff and his solicitor. But neither of them liked her very much, always thought she was a grasping—well, they wouldn’t help her. Without any money, I couldn’t go to school, we couldn’t pay the rent. My mother became ill, and we couldn’t afford a doctor.”

Jenny knew a hundred stories like this. Half the children on the street had stories of parents who’d become ill and died because there was no blunt for doctors or medicine. The charity hospitals weren’t much better than the street. But not everyone’s story included an earl. Jenny wouldn’t have believed it except the way the boy talked was definitely unusual.

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