Authors: Gerri Brousseau
A PIRATE’S RANSOM
SOUL MATE PUBLISHING
A PIRATE’S RANSOM
Cover Design by Rae Monet, Inc.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Published in the United States of America by
Soul Mate Publishing
P.O. Box 24
Macedon, New York, 14502
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This book is dedicated to Mark and Sarah.
Thanks for believing in me and helping me
believe in myself.
I would like to thank my mentor and friend, author Susan Hanniford Crowley for all her help with putting the wind in
sails. I could not have done this without her. Thanks for picking me up when I felt deflated, for helping me believe in myself, and especially for pushing me to contact publishers. I also want to thank Peter Andrews. Without your workshop on fast fiction, I would never have written
. I especially want to thank Debby Gilbert for saying “yes” and for helping me polish
“Father, how could you?” I shrieked, slamming my fist down on the wooden kitchen table in our island home.
“Think of it, my dear. You’ll be a Duchess,” he said, leaning back in his chair and giving me that crooked smile of his.
“Yes, and I will also be married to a man I have never met. If mother were alive, this would not be happening. She would never have allowed this.” I paced back and forth in our cramped kitchen, anger boiling in my gut.
“Mind your tongue, girl. Your mother, God rest her sainted soul, would see it for what it is, our salvation. Now stop thinking only of yourself. Think of all the riches. We shall want for nothing.”
“I want for nothing now, Father. I was not brought up in the Courts of London, but here, on this Island, thanks to your indiscretions with the Viceroy’s wife.” I felt the worm of guilt curl in my stomach. I knew it was disrespectful, but my anger gave rise to the outburst. Shock, and something else, maybe a flash of guilt, passed over his handsome aging face.
“You thought I didn’t know? Just because I was only ten when we were forced to leave London? Believe me, I was quite aware of why we were leaving.” He cast his eyes downward. I knew I had crossed the line, but pressed him further. “What were you thinking in agreeing to this match, Father? I have not had the opportunity to master the ways of a fine Lady. You know we live modestly here. We dress plainly. I do not have fancy gowns. I wear simple cotton skirts and blouses, similar to what I have on now. How do you intend to pass me off as a wealthy Countess?”
“Never forget, Catherine, although we no longer possess wealth, you are a Countess. As for your meeting with the duke, we shall use what little coin we have left to purchase a few fancy gowns to make you look the part of the rich Countess that ol’ Duke thinks you to be,” he said with a wink. The same wink he always used when he was up to no good. A shudder ran through me. Here we go again, I thought, only this time, the wager at stake is my future!
Then his words echoed in my mind. “Old?” I bellowed, my heart plummeting. “Exactly how old is the Duke?” My stomach turned at the thought of what my father had gotten me into.
“Just a figure of speech, that. Besides, what does it matter? His wealth will last long beyond his years. I have made a fine match for you. Wentworth Simmons is the Duke of Devonshire and it be told his coffers run deep.”
“Yes, and I am certain you are anxious to be swimming in that deep pool.”
“Why, you ungrateful girl. You should be happy.”
Happy, I thought. He’s signed my death warrant and may as well have sentenced me to prison. Sighing deeply, I drew the drapes closed for the last time on the view of the bay from my bedroom window. We’d had that fateful conversation two months ago, and ever since that time I’d had no success getting Father to change his mind.
“You ‘bout ready to go, Miss?” My maid’s sweet voice broke into my thoughts, her Cockney accent a comforting and familiar song.
“I suppose,” I whispered.
“Don’t be sad, Miss. We’ll be back in London in a fortnight, and you’ll be presented to grand society and attendin’ fancy balls and gay parties, ye will.”
“Yes, and preparing to be married to an old man. Oh, Mary, my life is over,” I said with a sob.
“Oh, now, Miss, don’t be thinkin' on it like that.” The timid maid rushed to my side and rested her hand upon my arm.
“I suppose I should be lucky to have any husband with these rough and calloused hands and my thin form.”
“Ye worked hard keepin’ them horses, Miss.”
“And I have a fine tan and the muscles of a man to show for it. I’ll never fit in with the pale skinned, genteel ladies of the Court in London. I shall be a laughing stock.”
“Don’t ye be talkin’ like that, Miss.”
“We could have afforded to have a proper stable boy if Father could have only stopped his drinking and gaming.”
“Ye loved them horses, and ye took right good care of ‘em, ye did.”
“Thank you, Mary. But it didn’t matter, for in the end Father sold them.” The sting of tears threatened my eyes.
“Aye, Miss, for the coin to buy ye new gowns. I know yer sad, but better to not be thinkin’ on it over much. Things will all work out ... they always do ... you’ll see.”
“Oh Mary, I’m so thankful you are coming to London with me.” I managed a smile.
“I been with ye since ye was a babe. Not likely I would be left behind. Yer father is a kind man. Really, Miss. He’s only thinkin’ on makin’ a fine future for ye.”
She’s right, of course, I thought as I pulled myself together. But she failed to mention the fine future he also planned to enjoy. Dabbing my eyes with a lace handkerchief, I drew myself up tall and reminded myself that I must act according to my station.
Standing outside in the courtyard before our island home, I was grateful to have my maid beside me. Dressed in her gray travel uniform, she took charge of my belongings. I looked around, taking in every detail. Wanting to remember everything, from the lush island flowers with a fragrance like perfume to the slant of the roof and the wide veranda. To the palm trees that surrounded the house and colorful birds that nested in their branches. I wanted to commit everything to memory. The sun shown warm upon my skin, yet a chill ran through me. I felt numb and remained silent watching the servants load the wagon with the trunks holding my belongings. Some grand Countess I am, I thought. My entire life had been summed up in those few trunks. As much as I hated having been forced to leave London in disgrace eight years ago to come here to this strange and beautiful island, I dreaded returning there now even more. Sadness overwhelmed me as I realized I would never return to my home.
“Come now, Catherine,” my father said, taking my arm. “Let us be on our way. They will not hold the ship for us. If we do not take our leave immediately, I fear
will be underway without us.”
Tears stung my eyes when I looked at him, but I refused to allow myself to cry. I knew despite my dread and all my misgivings, I could not ask him to change his mind. As unfair as it was, I knew this was our last hope to resolve our tenuous financial situation.
I cannot disappoint my father. He is counting on me.
The activity of boarding
and getting under way seemed a blur in my memory. Mary kept an appropriate distance as I stood at the rail of the ship gazing out at the expanse of ocean spreading out before me. Watching the seabirds fly freely above, I longed to be among them, but I was trapped, and I was angry. With land now fading into the distance, the briny smell of the sea flowed around me and a strong breeze forced my long, dark hair back and away from my face. The cool sea spray kissed my cheeks, but did little to cool my temper.
How much trouble had I been to Father since Mother’s death that he thought to pawn me off to the first man to petition for my hand?
The burn of anger rushed through me, and I stomped my foot knowing I was powerless to stop my upcoming nuptials, and dreading the wedding night in particular, wed to a stranger Father had referred to as “old”, yet I would never disobey or disgrace him.
Pulling my deep blue cloak more snuggly around me, I whispered into the wind, “I wish something would happen to prevent me from reaching England and from having to marry the old duke.” Closing my eyes, I imagined my words traveling up into the sky, a prayer being carried away on the trade winds.
The ship headed north toward England, and now with no land in sight, the waves grew to enormous heights, causing the ship to pitch and roll, as did my stomach.
Maybe I better head back below deck now, I thought, as my stomach threatened to give my lunch up to the fish. Just when I was about to face away from the rail, a flash of white on the horizon caught my eye. “Another ship?” I whispered, and, holding tightly to the rail, I froze in place and watched the magnificent sight, its sails stark white against the deep blue of the sea and sky. I could not tear my eyes away from the magnificence of the splendid vessel, also being tossed about on the ocean.
Where were they heading? Surely their destination would be preferable to mine.
As I watched the bow glide gracefully across the water I wished I were on that ship going anywhere else.
“I have never seen anything more beautiful than a ship in full sail upon the open ocean,” I said.
“Aye, that it be, but ye an’ yer maid best be ‘eadin’ below deck now, Countess,” a strongly accented male voice warned.
“Why?” I asked, startled, and turned to find one of the crewmen standing behind me. His shaggy gray hair hung from beneath his faded red cap and the lower half of his face sported a bristle of a white beard.
“Until we can figure wot flag that there ship be flyin’, ye best remain unseen, Countess. I don’t be meanin’ to alarm ye, me Lady, but there be talk that pirates roam in these waters.” His strong Cockney accent sounded so similar to Mary’s.
“Pirates?” I faced back to watch the approaching vessel.
And I had expected this would be a boring journey.
“Aye, me Lady.”
“Pirates!” Mary cried, rushing to my side. “Oh Miss, we best take heed to the gentleman’s word ‘n get ourselves below.”
“Nonsense, Mary. Look at the great distance between us. It would surely take a day’s time at least before that ship could travel the distance to where we are now, and by then, we shall be long away from here.”
“Oh, I don’t know Miss. Wot if it truly be Pirates? Mister Smith be likely the one who knows more about these matters and he be tellin’ us to go below. We best heed his words.”
“You go on ahead, Mary. I wish to remain here for just a moment longer. I shall join you below directly.”
“If the Captain o’ that vessel had a mind to, that ship could be upon us in no time. I do believe ye should be listenin’ to yer maid,” Smith put in.
“Thank you, Mister Smith.”
“Ye be certain it be all right to leave ye unattended, Miss?” Mary asked timidly.
“Certainly, Mary. You go ahead. Go to your cabin. I shall be in mine before you have even had the time to remove your cloak. I swear it.”
“As ye wish, Miss. Thank ye, me Lady.” Bobbing her head and drawing her cloak tighter around her, Mary scurried across the deck and down the stairs that led to her cabin.
Turning back to the rail, all thoughts of my beloved maid slipped from my mind. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the sight of the majestic ship, which had now turned and appeared to be heading in our direction.
The beautiful white sails strained in the wind as the great ship drew closer. The bow neared, and I could tell it was a much larger vessel than
, cutting through the water with such swiftness and grace, I found myself mesmerized.
“Miss,” Smith said frantically, taking hold of my arm. “I fear for ye. It ain’t safe. Get yerself below and stay locked in yer cabin, an’ no matter wot, don’t be openin’ that door.”
Grabbing my arm more securely, he dragged me along behind him like I was a rag doll. The entire crew suddenly seemed on high alert, with everyone rushing to their stations and the captain shouting orders.
“Turn it to the wind,” the Captain yelled and in moments, the ship
nged course. And as the wind took greater hold of the sails, the ship tilted slightly and picked up speed.
“Father? Where is my father?” I shouted to Mr. Smith over the raging wind and the loud flapping of the sails as he dragged me toward the hatch leading below deck and down to my cabin.
“He be already locked away in ‘is cabin, if he got any sense to hisself.”
I followed Smith along the narrow passageway as frantic shouts from above deck filled the air. But my heart raced when I heard the dreaded word shouted from above. “Pirates!”
Smith opened the door, shoved me into my cabin, and handing me the key, he said, “Lock it now, Miss, and don’t be openin’ it even if the devil hisself be a knockin’, cuz if we don’t outrun them pirates, and they takes the ship, that be who’ll be at your door.”
“Will you fight them, then?”
“Nay, Miss. Their number likely be too great. Our only hope is to out run ‘em. But, our small size will be to our advantage,” he said with a wink. So like my father. Giving me that wink to assure me of yet another scheme that would never work. A shudder ran down my spine at the thought of it.
“Mister Smith, what will happen if we are not able to outrun them?”
“Do ye know how to use a pistol, Miss?”
“What?” Nerves danced in my stomach.
“A pistol, me Lady.” He shoved the cold firearm into my hand. “If them pirates take this ship, take aim, n’ shoot whoever comes thru the door. Now lock it!”
He hurried out of my cabin, pulled the door closed behind him, and was gone. With trembling fingers, I shoved the key into the lock and turned it. Backing away, my mouth went dry and my eyes frantically scanned the small cabin for another way out, but there was none.
The weight of the pistol was uncomfortable in my hand, and I had no idea how to use it, yet I could not bring myself to lay it aside.
Rushing to the small round window, I peered out, straining to get a glimpse of what was going on.
The crew scurrying around sounded like thunder above me, and I thought the ceiling might cave in. Fear-filled voices shouting from the deck echoed off the walls of the compact cabin, and my heart thundered. I struggled to breathe, yet I was unable to drag myself away from the window.
The ship pitched and turned, forcing me to take a few quick steps to keep from falling. My heartbeat shot up as waves crested the window, and we seemed to pick up even more speed. Books and other items crashed from their shelves down to the cabin floor with the deepened tilt of the ship. Stumbling, I held tight to both the window casing and the pistol, pressing my face against the glass, franticly scanning the sea for the sight of white sails.
A shadow passed across my face and I drew back with a start. The huge pirate ship drew alongside us. On legs that felt like jelly, I slowly backed away from the window and into the shadows of what I felt would surely become my prison. Our diminutive ship, having been easily overtaken, slowed and eventually stood stone still, bobbing like a cork on the tide.