May 15 = DAY 4 = Chapter 4

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Maxence didn’t recognize the attacker lying unconscious on the floor as he jumped over him.

Even though it was late January and the sun was barely above the eastern horizon, the Mediterranean sunlight warmed the ship’s metal deck. The metal and rivets were warm under the soles of Maxence’s feet as he sprinted toward the side of the vessel.

It was a container ship, as Max had feared. When he jumped over the side, it was going to be a long way down, like jumping off a bridge.

More shouts rang out behind him.

A gunshot cracked the air.

Maxence dodged around the side of the wheelhouse, an enormous building on the massive ship that must have been eight stories or taller, not including the mainmast that stuck out of the top and held the radar array.

The railing was too high at this part of the ship to leap over. If Maxence had taken the time to climb it, he would’ve been stationary long enough for his kidnappers to shoot him.

He kept running.

Far ahead of him, down at the other corner of the wheelhouse building that must’ve been the distance of half a city block away, more people ran around the deck shouting to each other and waving guns.

With that avenue of escape cut off, Maxence had no choice but to try to scale the railing and jump.

He leaped and caught the top of the wall with his hands, stupidly glad that Casimir had insisted they play all those games of basketball where Max learned to dunk. The rusting metal was sharp and sliced into his palms and the pads of his fingers, but he grabbed harder and hoisted himself up.

Hands grabbed his legs.

Maxence kicked, trying to dislodge the attackers, but more hands clawed his bare skin and dragged him down.

His arms slipped off the rusty railing, then his fingers.

He landed in a heap on the deck, relieved neither of his legs had snapped, and covered his head to protect himself from their impending attack.

One hard blow slammed into Max’s side, crashing into his ribs, but a man’s voice started shouting in the Monegasque language for the others to stop.

No other kicks landed on him.

Maxence parted his arms and looked up.

Michael Rossi, the human bulldog who had assassinated Max’s cousin Nico, stood spread-armed like he was holding the others back. The sun shone on Rossi’s bald white scalp, making it look like a skull. “Stop!”

One of the other guys demanded what the hell Rossi thought he was doing.

“He is a prince of Monaco,” Rossi said. “It is a sin to spill royal blood.”

That argument hadn’t been used for several centuries and certainly hadn’t held up during the French Revolution, but Max was willing to go with it. He wasn’t going to push his luck by agreeing, though.

Some of the other guys laughed, but a few of them looked confused enough that no one else moved forward.

Maxence took his arms away from his head and tried to put a stern but regal expression on his face. He just hoped he didn’t end up looking constipated. He settled for the blandly serene look that Flicka cultivated for times when the paparazzi might be lurking even though it wasn’t an official photo opportunity.

Rossi turned and offered Maxence a hand up.

Max accepted his assistance without allowing his utter shock to register on his face. “Thank you.”

Rossi said, “You landed a respectable punch back at your holding cell. Lopez is still staggering around like he went five rounds with Mike Tyson.”

Maxence nodded. “I did what I had to. I hope he’s okay.”

Rossi clapped his hand on Maxence’s shoulder. “He’ll be fine. You just rang his bell a bit.”

Quentin Sault rushed up and pushed his way through the crowd to stand before Maxence. “What’s he doing out of the storage room?”

Rossi laughed. “He knocked Lopez out with one punch when Lopez was bringing him a sandwich and a bottle of water.”

Quentin Sault said, “Shoot him.”

Rossi’s jaw dropped. “Just because the prisoner got a jump on Lopez doesn’t mean we should shoot him. He’s a crew member!”

Sault glared at Rossi. “I didn’t mean Lopez. I meant Grimaldi. Shoot Maxence Grimaldi in the head and throw his body over the side.”