Authors: Beth White
Tags: #FIC042030, #FIC042040, #FIC027050, #Mail order brides—Fiction, #Huguenots—Fiction, #French—United States—Fiction, #French Canadians—United States—Fiction, #Fort Charlotte (Mobile [Ala.])—Fiction, #Mobile (Ala.)—History—Fiction
© 2014 by Beth White
Published by Revell
a division of Baker Publishing Group
P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287
Ebook edition created 2014
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
Scripture used in this book, whether quoted or paraphrased by the characters, is taken from the King James Version of the Bible.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
The author is represented by MacGregor Literary, Inc.
“Fresh as a gulf breeze,
The Pelican Bride
is the perfect pairing of history and romance. Finely tuned characters and a setting second to none make this a remarkable, memorable story. Beth White’s foray into colonial Louisiana is historical romance of the highest quality.”
, author of
“Not your usual setting, not your usual historical romance—
The Pelican Bride
breaks new ground in the historical genre. Choosing to write a story set in the French colony that became Mobile, Alabama, draws the reader into a new and exciting period. I fell in love with Tristan Lanier just as Geneviève Gaillain did. Who can resist a kind but fearless heroine and a hero who refuses to be molded to fit what others think is right—when he knows what is right and will do it? A winning beginning to a new historical series.”
, author of The Wilderness Brides series
For Robin, Katie, and Kim—my sisters, my best friends.
The fifty-six-gun frigate
lunged as Geneviève Gaillain dropped six feet over its side before the canvas sling jerked her to a stop. Clutching the sodden rope above her head, she looked up at the dark-skinned mariners straining to keep her from plummeting into what they charmingly called “the drink.” The sling swung with the motion of the ship, setting the sky tilting overhead in rhythm with the ocean’s slap-slosh against the hull.
Queasy, she searched among the women still aboard until she found her sister leaning against the rail, cheeks as pale as the belly of a sea bass. If Geneviève yielded to her own terror, Aimée would refuse to get into the sling when her turn came.
And if her sister didn’t get off that pestilential ship soon, she was going to die.
Geneviève looked over her shoulder at the scrawny, wind-twisted pines staggering along the shore like teeth in a broken comb. She’d begun to wonder if she would ever see this Louisiane that she was to call home—the New World, God help her.
She shut her eyes as the jerky, swaying descent resumed.
“Hang on, miss!” shouted the mate in the longboat below. “Almost down.”
The seamen above chose that moment to release the rope, dumping her unceremoniously into a pool of seawater in the bottom of the longboat. Laughter erupted from the ship, but she caught her breath, ignored the merriment at her expense, and began the awkward business of untangling herself from the ropes.
The mate in the longboat reached down to help, grinning. “Welcome to Massacre Island.”
She resisted the urge to jerk from his grasp. “Thank you,” she muttered, recovering her dignity by scooting onto one of three narrow planks crossing the center of the boat. As the sling was hauled up, she looked up and cupped her hands around her mouth. “Aimée! Come on.”
Her sister recoiled from the sailor waiting to help her into the sling. “I can’t.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Geneviève forced sympathy from her voice. “You can and you will!”
The sailors grabbed Aimée, stuffed her into the sling heedless of petticoats and shrieks, and dropped her over the side. Geneviève supposed they had little choice, but it was maddening to see her little sister treated like just another item of goods for sale. Although, essentially, she was.
After swinging through the air like a sack of sugar on a string, Aimée fell into the boat with a solid thump and a muffled squeal. “My skirt’s wet!”
The mate chuckled as he extricated her from the sling. “You’ll get a lot wetter than this before the day’s out,
Aimée’s blue eyes widened as she struggled to keep her balance in the reeling longboat. “What do you mean?”
“Sit down before you pitch us all into the bay.” The sailor shielded his eyes against the sun and gestured for the sling to go up for another passenger.
“Geneviève, what does he—”
“Aimée, sit down.” Geneviève grabbed her sister’s clammy hand. “You’re going to faint.”
Aimée crumpled onto the seat. “I wish we’d never come,” she whispered, leaning against Geneviève. “I want to go home.”
Geneviève put her arms around her sister’s quaking body. There was no home to go back to. Tolerance in France for Huguenots had come to a flaming end. Here in Louisiane there was at least the promise of marriage, a chance of gaining independence, a home and children. The pouch of coins in her pocket pressed against her thigh, reassuring her. So many unknowns about this venture. She had promised to marry one of the Canadians who had already come here to explore and settle, and Aimée, as young as she was, had promised as well.
Yielding herself was inevitable, part of the bargain she had struck, as was hiding her faith. She and Aimée would have to make the best of it.
Another girl landed in the rocking boat, displacing her anxious thoughts, then one by one, with varying degrees of noise and struggle, four more. Finally the mate in charge roared, “No more room! We’ll get the rest on the next trip.”
The sailors hauled up the empty canvas seat, tossed it onto a pile of rigging, and noisily saluted the departure of the longboat.
Thank God she and Aimée had been chosen to depart with the first group. They would have the choice of accommodations for the night—though who knew what that would be like.
She shivered. What a name for their landing place. But at least they would not have to stay here long. Tomorrow they were to travel up the river to their final destination, Fort Louis.
By the time they were halfway to shore, she and Aimée were both soaking wet from salt spray. Still, incredibly, her sister’s cheek against her shoulder burned with fever.
Geneviève anxiously brushed her hand across her sister’s damp,
curly blonde head. Poor baby, she was lucky to be alive. One of the sailors had been buried at sea only yesterday. Geneviève herself still trembled from the fever they’d all picked up in Havana, but at least she was upright.
As the longboat drew closer to the beach, she lifted her hand to block the stark glare of sand as white as spun sugar. She began to make out human figures—male figures—gathered to watch their arrival. Her stomach tightened. Was her future husband among them? Some unknown Canadian with pots of money as they had been promised?
With every stroke of the oars she came closer to meeting him. Would he be like her father, a good man who had failed to protect his daughters? Or would he be like the rude and vicious dragoons who had been quartered in their home? Could she be so lucky, so blessed, as to find a man as kind and resourceful as Father Mathieu? As brave and principled as the great
warrior Jean Cavalier?
Still several yards out from the beach, the boat grounded against sand with a bump. Aimée whimpered and stirred in her arms. Geneviève looked up and found herself encircled by grinning, bearded men standing hip-deep in the water. Her overpowered gaze took in a variety of faded, ragged clothing, sunburnt faces, and twinkling eyes.
The young man closest to her, the only one in uniform—the blue, white, and gold of the French marine—removed his tricorn and bowed, all but baptizing himself in the chopping surf. He rose, plopping his misshapen headgear back into place, and scanned the passengers of the boat as if surveying goods in a market. “Welcome,
. We’ve come to carry you ashore.”
Geneviève stared at the boy. He couldn’t be more than nineteen or twenty years of age, his cleft chin emphasized by a dark beard still thin and fine. Indeed he was broad of shoulder but built on lanky lines.
They were all slender, she realized, looking around at the other men. Gaunt in fact. Another sliver of apprehension needled her
midsection. “I can walk,
. But I would be grateful if you would help my sister. She isn’t well.”
The young man transferred his gaze to Aimée, who lolled against Geneviève like a rag doll. “We’d hoped the fever in Havana would be gone by now.” He slid his arms gently under Aimée’s knees and around her back, lifted her with surprising ease, and turned to slosh toward the beach.
Ignoring the rough voices and equally rough, reaching hands of the men surrounding the boat, Geneviève hauled herself over the side.
And found herself underwater. She thrashed, tried to find footing as she sank under the weight of her skirts. Just when she thought her lungs would burst, a pair of steely hands clamped her around the waist from behind and hauled her into sweet, blessed air. She coughed and vomited.
“Let go!” Choking, she shoved at the sinewy arms around her middle. “You’re squeezing the life out of me!”
“Stop kicking,” the voice rumbled against her back, “or I’ll let you swim.”
“Then relax and enjoy the ride.” He hoisted her over his shoulder and turned toward the beach.
Geneviève shoved a hank of sopping hair out of her eyes. She had lost her cap in the water, and her braid had come loose. All she could see was a rough shirt of a faded, pink-tinged brown, plastered against hard lateral muscles flexing as her rescuer half waded, half swam with her. He gripped the back of her thigh with one large hand to hold her in place and extended the other for balance.
Lifting her head, she peered at the
floating in the distance, sails flapping against the steely sky in a brisk northwest breeze. No more worm-ridden hardtack for breakfast. No more briny bathing and drinking water. No more malodorous cabin shared with three other fractious women.
She realized she had much to be thankful for.
A noise must have escaped her. The man halted. “Pardon. Are you uncomfortable?”
She hung upside down with her hair dragging in the water, her thighs tucked under a strange man’s chin. “Oh, no, monsieur, I was merely wondering what time tea will be served.”
A rusty chuckle erupted against her knees. “Forgive us, mademoiselle. No one thought to warn you about the sinkholes.” He continued slogging his way toward shore.
Sinkholes. What other unexpected dangers awaited her in this alien land? As the water got shallower and clearer, she could see sea creatures swimming amongst bits of brown, foamy algae. The gentle roll of the surf was wholly unlike Rochefort’s rocky, choppy seashore, as were the long-legged, wide-winged white birds swooping in the distance. They were big enough to carry off a small child.
The bay was big, the wildlife was big, the men were big. She and Aimée would be swallowed whole.
The man stopped. “You can walk from here,” he said, shifting her into the cradle of his arms. He held her a moment, looking down into her face.