And so the nightmare begins . . .
Did your parents ever tell you a sweet bedtime story that your busy little brain turned into a nightmare the instant you fell asleep? Did Cinderella ever become ten feet tall and carry an axe? Did Little Red Riding Hood actually transform into a werewolf (after she was bitten, of course). Did Scaredy Squirrel really fall out of the tree, land in poison ivy and a nest of tarantulas, and eventually get eaten by sharks, proving that he’d been right to be afraid, all along? Sure, it happened. And then you would wake up, shaking and sweating, wanting to run into their bedroom, scoot between the sheets, and spill. But you knew that if you did, they’d stop telling you stories.
“Sometimes life throws you a curve ball.”
That’s what one of the many doctors who patched me up after the accident said. I think he was the chest guy, in thoracics, or something like that. Of course there was the neuro doc and the plastics lady and the general surg person—you know, the jack-of-all–abdominal organs. Orthopaedics dropped by every other day, waiting for their turn to add more pins to my bones. But no one else called my situation a “curve ball.” Instead, they patted my head and said, “At least you’re not dead.”
Every day I wished I were dead.
The nurses would come in, crank me up, flip me over, redress wounds, and smile, because they couldn’t really see me. I didn’t blame them. If they’d really seen me, I think they would have cried. And you can’t cry every day.
But the day that guy said that life had thrown me a curve ball was the first day I managed to move my casted arm on my own. I don’t think he was ever going to say it again.
But you know what? Maybe it was a curve ball.
Sorry about that, Doc.
A Pirate's Captive
A Pirate's Captive
One of the most difficult tasks in writing this book was to switch from a modern tongue (and a hockey player's, to boot) to a more archaic and formal one. And sometimes to intertwine the two.
The schooner had severed our mainmast with a roar of cannon fire. Men had been shot, split, and disembowelled, and the corvette had listed as water poured into her holes. Now the schooner was coming alongside us. Unkempt, brutish men tossed grappling irons over the side and snagged the rigging. They swarmed onto our ship, landing with heavy boots, their flintlocks exploding, punching holes in the crew.
I scrambled away from the fray, attempting to make myself invisible behind a tattered sail that fluttered in the breeze. Beyond my flimsy refuge, guns barked repeatedly, and men screamed in terror and agony as they lay dying. I shivered and shrank and gripped the sail tightly, hoping the shot would miss me and the pirates would scramble past.
Yet little hope remained. The ship was sinking, and I could not swim. Even if the navy defeated these brigands, would there be time to mend the ship or send longboats over the side before we sank?
A crewman stumbled into my sail, clutching it and falling, tearing the ragged cloth from the rigging, and exposing me fully. He gasped a dying breath as a pirate pulled the cutlass blade free of his belly.
I froze, my heart skipping like a woodland deer. I had no concept of what I should do, or if I should even attempt to flee. The brigand stood stolidly before me, his blade poised for a lethal strike. He loomed over me, nearly two feet taller than I, the wind sweeping fair locks around his sharp cheekbones, the amber stubble on his chin catching the sunlight. Cold blue eyes peeled back my clothing with a single glance. Then, of all things, he chuckled.
“Well, well,” he said. “Bad luck you are, to the navy.”
With casual indifference, he leaned over and wiped the bloody residue from his sword onto the remnants of the sail on the deck.
My gaze tumbled to the short sword still clutched in the crewman’s stiff hand. An idea sprang to mind, a desperate one. As swiftly as a snake strikes, I snapped at the weapon, raised it high, and attacked.
The pirate parried my blow with ease, and sent me stumbling backward with a smirk.
“Bad luck for me, as well?” he asked, advancing toward me.
I stabbed again, clumsily, with the sword, but I possessed no skill with this weapon. I was much more adept with a whip. He struck back with such force that the sword was nearly torn from my grasp, my wrist bent painfully backward. I clutched the sword with both hands, wheeled away from his assault, and charged from the side.
He released his cutlass, to my amazement, and seized my hand before I could inflict even minor injury, driving my sword upward, backward, and drawing me closer. The tip of my own weapon pierced the skin at my throat, but instead of thrusting and ending it for me, he pressed on the nerves in my wrist, eliciting pain, searing pain. The sword clattered to the deck.
“Indeed, I appreciate your courage,” he said. “But I do not appreciate the men with whom you associate.”
“The—the men?” I sputtered. “But you are a pirate.”
“In the past, when we were called “privateers,” we were enthusiastically employed by various governments. Now we are referred to merely as pirates.” He swept his arm in a vast circle to encompass the sinking ship and the array of crewmen who lay dead or dying. “At this point, I think you and your men can refer to me as your better. Now, I will allow you a choice. You may either join your men in death, or you may escape to shore. But I warn you, the community there will not welcome you.”
My breathing quickened. This was no choice at all. He was committing my wellbeing to the tender mercies of the ruffians of the land—the only inhabitants of this outlying region of Florida: a small, struggling remnant of Indians, Spanish men who worked the fishing ranchos, and escaped slaves.
“Would you offer me another choice?” I asked.
The pirate grinned, his eyes sparkling with devilment.
“Perhaps. You are invited, fair maiden, to join my crew. Upon my ship, you may earn your keep.”
Earn my keep? The implications were repulsive and sent shivers throughout my body, but . . . what other option was available to me?
“Very well. I will join you, if you will treat me as a lady. If you will not . . .” I couldn’t even say the words.
His laughter startled the pirates nearby, who were dispatching the crew in the most torturous fashion possible. They stood bewildered and sent long stares in my direction. The pirate laughed as if he found my protests delightful. His grip loosened on my arm, and it appeared he would tumble off the ship. Oh, if only fate would lend me the courtesy! But even as I considered consigning my own body to the sea, since my situation would not improve if he were to shortly meet a well-deserved death, his hand clamped down on my arm again, and he drew me inexorably to his chest. “Do you honestly think that you have any say over how I will treat you? That I shall continue to grant you life is your greatest hope.”
My courage plummeted, along with hopes of any possible leniency. Nevertheless, I thrust out my chin and met his merciless gaze with equal iron.
“I may be your captive, I may be forced to do your will, but if you harm me—if I cannot in this world, then in the next I will make you pay.”
To my astonishment, he seemed even more tickled. “Interesting,” he said. “You have spirit, I’ll give you that. But I have no fear of the next world.” He winked.
Before I had the opportunity to reply, he clapped his hands, and more men poured over the side. Some leaped down into the hold and released the prisoners, assisting them as they stumbled up the steps, where they wobbled on deck with unsteady knees, blinking in the searing midday sun.
He turned to these men and addressed them.
“Good day, gentlemen. I offer you this opportunity. You may join my crew and share equally in our booty, or we will release you on Pine Island, where you may settle in the community. If you throw in your lot with me, you will have ample occasion to improve your situation, since I have freed my ship, my seas, and my settlement from any laws of the land.”
I shuddered. Such lawlessness, such disregard for order. No wonder this wretched land was so uncivilized. No wonder brigands, thieves, and murderers gathered here.
The pirate turned to me and smiled, as if he could read my thoughts.
“Shall we board my ship?” he asked, as if I had a choice.
He shoved me to the railing, looped an arm around my waist, and gripped a rope. Suddenly we were swinging out over open seas and landing smartly on the schooner’s nicely balanced deck. He added a nausea-inducing squeeze and released me, and I found myself face to face with a familiar scarred visage of charcoal hue.
“R–– Reginald,” I sputtered.
“Miss Amelia.” He neither bowed nor backed away. How absurd, how insolent! Nor did he lower his gaze in deference. He clasped a cutlass in his fist in a stranglehold that suggested he’d like nothing better than to carve his name in my flesh.
“Recognize the girl?” asked the pirate captain.
“Yessir,” said Reginald.
“No yessirs, here.”
“What would you have me do with her?”
I gaped, entirely flabbergasted. Would this man, insufferable as he was—albeit a ship’s captain—actually let Reginald decide my fate?
“I’d have her learn the way o’ things,” said Reginald.
The captain grinned most unpleasantly and slapped the wretched slave on the back.
“I would have given you the option of killing her,” he said. “But this may serve our purpose better.”
Their purpose, I thought? What could their purpose possibly be, other than to hijack ships on the high seas, to bloody and bludgeon men, and to capture and rape women? Perhaps it would be better to die. But first, if the opportunity arose, I would do my best to repay the captain for every injury and every indignity he had inflicted. He would rue the day he’d captured me.