Read The Wild Belle Online

Authors: Lora Thomas

The Wild Belle

The Wild Belle

 

By Lora Thomas

 

Copyright 2015 Lora Perkins

Ebook Edition

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please go to an online retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

* * * *

 

This is a word of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locals, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

* * * *

 

Edited by Laurel Heidtman

 

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Cover Design: SelfPubBookCovers.com/michelleleedesigns 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

For my mother, who has battled and will defeat cancer.

 

Also to Jeff. You will be missed. I have always heard that when it rains, the drops are the tears of angels. However, with you in heaven, we know those are not tears of sadness but laughter, for your humor will keep the angles laughing continuously.

 

 

NOTE

 

The characters of Ott and Amanda Craycraft are based after my actual great-grandparents with the same names, demeanors and personalities. And yes. . .she did shoot at her roosters

Chapter One

 

May 1795 . . .

 

The Emerald Jewell
pulled into port at Beaufort, South Carolina ahead of schedule. She had been due to dock the day after tomorrow, but the winds were good, and with the lack of cargo, the speed of the large three-mast vessel had been enhanced substantially.
The Emerald Jewell
was the first ship acquired for Emerald Shipping. She was only occasionally used for cargo, so her main purpose now was as a beacon of the successfulness of Emerald Shipping.

Emerald Shipping was founded thirty-five years earlier by Lord Robert St. John, Earl of Hyndington, along with his business partner Jonathan Sinclair, now governor of Eleuthera in the Caribbean. The lord and governor had started their business with nothing and turned it into one of the most influential shipping companies in the West Indies. Their shipping company was known for always making deliveries, even those confiscated by pirates. The confiscated shipments always seem to miraculously reappear several weeks later.

The Earl made certain his business would be well taken care of upon his retirement. He had nine children—eight boys and one girl. All of his sons knew how to run the business as well as how to captain their ships, when needed. As for his daughter, she married Jonathan Sinclair’s son, Nicholas. Nicholas managed their Nassau office for several years before returning to Governor’s Harbour to manage the affairs there.

Michael St. John, the Earl’s fourth child, was the representative for Emerald Shipping. He was a natural born tradesman. Michael’s mother, Elizabeth, always joked that Michael could sell a drop of water to the sea. Which was why Michael was here now in Beaufort, to acquire a shipping agreement with a Mr. Ott Craycraft to ship Sea Island cotton from South Carolina to England.

Michael’s father had met a man from a place called Edisto Island located not far from Beaufort. The man had a sample of the luxurious cotton. It was the finest quality that Robert had ever seen or felt, even better than the Egyptian cotton he had transported in the past. The fibers were long with a silky texture. When the Earl noticed the quality of the Sea Island cotton, he knew this was a business opportunity that he could not pass up. Shipping the cotton to England would bring in a fortune. He had an acquaintance in London, Phillip Hollingsworth, who ran a textile plant that would turn the unprocessed cotton into the most sought after material England would ever see.

Michael took a slow, deep breath as the ship docked. He looked about the deck and watched the crew preparing the ship to make berth. Some tossed ropes over the railing to the dockworkers below so the ship could be tethered. Others were climbing the tall masts to tether the sails against the mast.

It had been a long four days on
The Emerald Jewell
. Normally, Michael didn’t mind traveling, loved it in fact. It was just that this time he wanted to stay home. His father had made a very disturbing confession the night before Michael departed. Robert announced that Nicholas’s friend, Maxwell Hart, was his illegitimate son. The memories of that night flooded Michael’s mind, causing his jaw to clench.

The Earl had called everyone to their eldest brother Eli’s home. Eli was ever so bitter after the death of his wife several years earlier, and the announcement that their father sprang on them just soured Eli’s disposition even further. Their sister, Madison, was thrilled with the announcement since Max’s wife, Kristina, was her best friend.

After the announcement, Eli stormed out the door and headed towards the beach. While he walked along the sand, he found a woman who had washed ashore. There were rumors running rampant that pirates had attacked a passenger vessel, but no one knew for certain. The only thing that they knew was that the mysterious figure had no clue who she was. Michael saw the woman only briefly and was unable to tell much about her due to the severity of her sunburned flesh and the welt marks covering her face and body from jellyfish stings. He would have loved to stay to help unravel this mystery; however, he was scheduled to make this journey and had to leave early the following morning.

Michael had mixed feelings about the announcement. He was still in denial even though Max looked more like the Earl than any of his legitimate children. For the past three years Max had been handling the Nassau office of Emerald Shipping, thanks to his father’s and Nicholas’s instance. Somehow, Max had acquired a former pirate ship,
The Abyss
, to act as an escort vessel for ships with valuable cargo. Max was a valuable business asset—that much was certain. He had connections and could locate missing cargo quickly. But Michael could not shake the feeling that he had met Max before, under more illegal conditions. For some reason, the thought that Max had been a pirate kept entering his mind.

A small jolt of the ship hitting the berth brought Michael’s thoughts back to the present. Rubbing the back of his neck and the week’s growth of facial hair he took a deep breath. He needed a shave, but first he needed a drink and a woman.

“The ship is fully docked now, Mr. St. John,” the captain informed Michael.

“Thank you, Captain Armitage. Have my belongings delivered to the hotel. I will be there shortly.”

“Yes, sir.”

Michael watched the captain leave. If ever one looked like his title, it was Captain Josiah Armitage. He was slightly shorter than Michael, but he had a broad, barrel chest that allowed his deep baritone voice to travel over the ship easily. His round face was covered in a curly full gray beard and he kept a pipe clenched tightly in his teeth at all times. The dark navy clothing he wore was well laundered and pressed. Even the brass buttons on his jacket were highly polished to a glimmering shine.

Michael looked down at his own disheveled clothing. As usual he looked just like one of the deck hands. He normally traveled
The Emerald Jewell
with his older brother, Jacob, as the captain. Jacob was used to Michael’s unusual manner when traveling. Unfortunately, Jacob had to travel to Kingstown to retrieve a damaged ship. Mr. Armitage was somewhat shocked and mortified that Lord St. John’s son insisted on working on the vessel, doing whatever needed to be done. Michael enjoyed the work; it made the long voyages pass quicker.

Once the gangplank was lowered, Michael quickly departed the ship. He had no trouble locating an establishment to meet his needs. The dockside taverns always had plenty of liquor and women for the weary sailors and travelers who made port.

Michael walked up to the bar and ordered a drink. He downed several glasses before he turned to examine his surroundings. His dark blue eyes took in all aspects of the bar. An old sailor pulled a barmaid into his lap and she squealed with delight. There was a game of cards going on at a table in the back corner. Two shady looking men at a table by the door looked nervously about before beginning their conversation. Two other men were about to get into a fight, but it stopped quickly when the bartender fired his pistol at the ground.

Michael took a deep, calming breath as a barmaid approached him. The auburn-haired wench smiled coyly at him taking in his appearance. His dark brown hair had grown somewhat long which made it curl up slightly at the ends. She could see sun-lightened copper streaks running through the sides. His dark blue eyes never seemed to miss anything. She could sense him taking in every noise and sight in the bar.

The doxy took her hand and ran it along his wide, muscular chest and then allowed her finger to run up along his strong jaw. She licked her lips and batted her eyes flirtatiously at the handsome man before her.

Michael watched the barmaid examine him. He set down his drink, turned to face her completely, and nodded his head at the woman. She grabbed his hand and led him up the stairs. As they climbed, he watched her small hips sway back and forth in a come-hither fashion. She led him to the last room on the left and opened the door. Pulling him inside, she licked her red painted lips with anticipation of seeing this man’s muscular body. She could sense his sexual need and excitement entered her. The look in his eyes let her know she would be busy for the remainder of the evening and he would line her pockets well.

Chapter Two

 

Andrea stretched lazily. She had been sleeping so soundly until her cat decided she wanted attention. The gray cat nuzzled Andrea’s hand again and she mindlessly began rubbing the cat’s head. “You know, Pepper, I could think of a better thing to be doing right now other than petting your head.” The cat just purred louder and she began licking the thin sheet covering Andrea.

Andrea sleepily stood up and walked over to her bedroom window. She closed her eyes as the warm morning breeze blew around her face. The birds were waking and their cheerful song echoed throughout her room. Andrea pulled back the sheer curtain and stepped onto the veranda. The cool wood felt refreshing to her feet. The breeze caught the edge of Andrea’s nightgown and lifted the hem, exposing her calves.

The sounds of the slaves making their morning rounds carried to her. Several were humming a cheerful tune. She watched Ruth Ann, her sister Alyssa’s maid, take a long-handled broom and shoo the chickens out of the garden and back towards the fields. She heard Old Amos yell at another man and smiled. Old Amos came off as being rough and aggressive, when deep down he was just a big old pussycat. He was a caring man. He took it upon himself to make sure everyone was well cared for. He was their leader so to speak. If any of the other slaves needed something, Old Amos would make sure they acquired it. He was not afraid to ask the overseer or her father for their needs.

Andrea’s father, Ott Craycraft, was a kind, gentle man. Andrea didn’t think there was a cruel or vicious bone in his short-statured body. She rarely ever saw him lose his temper. His gray eyes were always filled with kindness. He worried constantly about everyone, and it was apparent by the amount of white hair upon his head and the wrinkles that surrounded his eyes.

Ott’s personality was the opposite of her mother’s. Amanda was a feisty hellcat. She was loud, abrasive and not afraid to speak her mind. If you didn’t like what she had to say, too bad, she told you anyway. Amanda never minced her words; she got right to the point and consequences be damned. Fire was constantly shooting from her dark green eyes. Her blond hair matched her temper—untamed. It was long and wavy. Amanda kept it pulled up in a bun on the back of her head, but the locks refused to be tamed and stray strands would constantly escape their confines.

Old Amos yelled again at a younger man. Andrea frowned remembering the story her father told her of how he acquired Old Amos. One day Ott was at a plantation in Georgia and saw Old Amos being fiercely beaten. Her father stopped the man and offered to pay for Amos on the spot. The man refused, so Ott made him an offer he could not refuse. He offered half the price and informed the man that he would not unleash Amanda’s temper on him. The man looked at the buggy Ott was traveling in and found Amanda with both of her pistols pointed at his head. The man readily agreed in order to keep his head intact. Ott and Amanda got more than they bargained for when Old Amos was sold to them. Old Amos was eternally grateful for their help, but he had a family that he refused to leave. So nothing would do Ott but he had to purchase Old Amos’s wife, Sally, and their three sons: Young Amos, Hezekiah, and Joseph. That had been twenty-five years ago. Andrea furrowed her brow in thought, wondering just how old Old Amos was. His hair was completely white but there was hardly a wrinkle to be found on his face. His eyes made her think he was older than her father for they had yellowed substantially compared to the eyes of his oldest son, Young Amos.

Andrea walked back into the house and drew her brow together again. It was hot in the house, even with the windows opened. She stripped off her thin nightgown and stood in the middle of the room naked, enjoying the feel of the breeze on her body. Pepper’s meow reminded her of her present task. She needed to dress, make her morning rounds with her family, and then be off to enjoy the day. This was the last day for her rambunctious nature to be allowed freedom. Tomorrow, a man was coming from some shipping company to speak with her father, and she was warned to be on her best behavior. If the deal went well, it would bring in a substantial amount of money to her father, which in turn would increase her dowry.

The thought of increasing her dowry soured her stomach. Her face puckered at the thought. No matter how much her dowry increased no man wanted to marry her, which was fine with Andrea. She didn’t want to be married to anyone around here. Her outspoken nature made the men around Beaufort weary of her, and she was weary of them because she knew the majority had visited her sister Ashton . . . frequently . . . and she did not want any of Ashton’s snippets. Add to the mix that she occasionally dressed like a boy and all marriageable men in her social class avoided her like she had the pox.

Andrea walked to the cedar wardrobe and pulled out a pale yellow gown along with her chemise and petticoat. As she pulled on the chemise, her maid, Sally, burst into the room.

“I thought I heard you up and about already,” her maid scolded. Andrea just smiled tiredly but said nothing. “Hmmp. Most young ladies yer age are still a sleepin’ at this hour. Not fittin’ to be up so early. Not fittin’ at all. Why the birds are still sleepin’.”

“Now, Sally, you know I have always been an early riser.”

“Yes, Miss Andi, but this is even early for
you
.”

Andrea looked at her lifelong maid who was like a mother to her. If Amanda hadn’t become ill after her birth, Andi wondered if Sally and she would be as close. As it happened Old Amos and Sally had one more child after they arrived at Ott’s plantation, the
Double Oasis
. Their youngest daughter, Mary, was Ashton’s maid. Just after Mary was born, Amanda discovered she was expecting. After the birth, Amanda grew gravely ill and was unable to nurse the newborn Andi. Sally moved in with her infant daughter and began nursing both children.

Almost all refined southern women had their slaves as nursemaids, but not Amanda. She cherished the time she had with her children during this intimate encounter. She loved the bonding experience. It nearly destroyed her knowing she could not feed her child. But it allowed her time to recover from her ailment. When Amanda had fully recovered, her milk had dried. Sally continued nursing both children until Andi turned one. Andi could not help but think this is why Sally and she were so close.

Sally had been her nursemaid and then took on the role of personal maid when Andrea outgrew her frock dresses. Sally was overly outspoken for a slave, but Andrea didn’t mind. She liked Sally’s direct point of view.

Sally gave her a dark scowl and headed towards the dressing table. “Well, watch ya waitin’ for, Miss Andi? These clothes ain’t gonna put themselves on ya and yer hair ain’t gonna fix itself now, is it?”

Andrea gave an unladylike snort. “I ought to have you placed in the fields for such disrespect.”

“And I’d turn you over my knee if’n ya did.”

Andi gave a small laugh. “Oh, Sally, what am I to do with you? You know if I ever am forced to marry, my husband will never put up with your outspokenness.”

“I’ll just stay right here with Miss Mandy,” she said in reference to Andrea’s mother.

Andrea walked to the dressing table. She held up her hand when Sally picked up the stays. “I am
not
wearing those awful things . . . ever.”

“Now, Miss Andi—”

“Don’t ‘Miss Andi’ me. I hate those things. I can’t breathe wearing that horrid contraption. If you like it, you wear it.”

Sally gave Andrea an exasperated look and tossed the whalebone stays onto the bed. She helped Andrea dress in her gown and tied Andrea’s long wavy blond hair back into a loose braid. Andrea stood up and turned towards her maid.

“What’s wrong, Sally?”

Sally looked at Andrea. She knew what Andrea’s parents had planned, but she couldn’t say a word. It wasn’t her place. But she wanted to warn this young lady in front of her, whom she loved like her own child.

“Nothing, Andi, child. Just be warned that your parents want to speak with ya.”

Andrea rolled her eyes and groaned. “I hope they aren’t going to speak of marriage again.”

“Go on now, child. Don’t keep ‘em waitin’.”

Andrea proceeded out the door with a knot in her stomach. She was so exhausted with the weekly lecture she received from her parents about acting like “a proper young lady” and her need to “find a suitable husband.” Andrea believed she would die if marriage were mentioned again. She made her way down the long staircase used by the slaves and located in the back of the house. She was hoping to avoid her weekly lecture. As she stepped around the corner her arm was grabbed causing her to give a soft scream as she jumped with fright.

“Come now, Andrea. Your father and I want to have a word with you.”

“Oh, Mammy. Not again. How many times must we have this same discussion?”

“Oh, this is a totally different discussion.”

Amanda locked arms with her daughter and walked into the small sitting room off the main dining room. She escorted Andrea over to the couch and sat down, pulling her daughter down with her. Andrea eyed her mother suspiciously. Amanda was acting strange, even for her. Before Andrea could open her mouth to ask what was going on, her father entered the room with a somber expression on his face.

Andrea looked at her father, then back to her mother, then back to her father again. She could sense something was amiss. “What’s wrong?” Andrea asked nervously.

“Nothing is wrong, daughter,” Ott replied.

“Well, something is obviously amiss,” Andrea replied suspiciously. “Why else would you both be up this early. Is someone sick? Has someone died?”

“Tell her, Ott,” Amanda bluntly told her husband. “There is no point beating around the bush or sugarcoating what you have done.”

“What
I
have done? May I remind you, Mandy, that you had just as large of a part as I, my dear?”

“What is going on?!” Andrea yelled in frustration.

Amanda looked at her daughter. “You know our neighbors, the Petersons.”

“Yes.”

“Do you remember Mr. Peterson’s nephew, Egbert?”

“No,” Andi replied with some stiffness, not liking where this conversation was going.

“Well, he is the Earl of . . . of . . . something-or-other. Anyway, he is looking for a bride, and your father and I have decided that you would fit his needs.”

“No. Next issue,” Andi snapped.

“Daughter, this is not up for discussion. I have already made arrangements with Mr. Peterson. A contract has been signed. You are to wed his nephew,” Ott informed her looking nervously around the room.

Andrea shot to her feet. “How could you?! Do I not have a say in my own life?!”

“Sit down, Andrea,” Amanda sternly commanded, her green eyes darkening with anger.

“No, I will not! I will not have my life dictated for me. I will not marry a complete stranger!”

“Good morning!”

Andrea turned, glaring heatedly at her sister’s happy greeting. “What do you want, Ashton?”

“Why, Andrea, is that a proper greeting for your family?” Ashton cooed, walking over to the seat Andrea had just vacated.

“Good morning, Ashton,” Amanda said as she looked suspiciously at her next-to-youngest daughter. “You are up awfully early this morning.”

“Oh, Mother,” Ashton began attempting to sound concerned. “I just couldn’t sleep. I had a bad dream that something terrible had happened to Andrea.”

Andrea made a very unladylike snort. “Like that would matter to you.” Andrea looked her sister up and down. “Now what is your real reason for being down here?”

“Andrea Lynn, watch your tone,” Amanda scolded.

“What? Ashton and I can’t stand each other. There the
big
secret is out.”

“Andrea!” her father joined in.

“I am not stating something that isn’t known throughout Beaufort County or in all of the low country for that matter.”

Amanda gritted her teeth. She closed her eyes and took several deep, controlling breaths. Her fingers flared outward in frustration. “Fine. Ashton, do you have somewhere else you need to be?”

“No.” Ashton stood up and walked over to the small table by the window, picked up a large strawberry, took a bite and turned towards the group.

“She’s not leaving, Mother. And even if she does, she’ll just press her overly large ears to the door,” Andrea sneered through gritted teeth.

Ashton gasped sharply. “Take that back!”

“What? The truth?”

“Now!” Ashton shouted.

“Girls!” Amanda yelled standing up. She pointed her finger at Ashton. “You stay right there and keep your mouth shut.” She then turned to Andrea. “And as for you, you had better get the concept of marriage to the Earl of Something-or-other into that blond head of yours. Your father has worked for over a year corresponding with Lord Rydover, arranging this contract, and like it or not, you will marry him.”

“What?!” Ashton squawked in disbelief. Her green eyes were wide as she whined, “Why does Andrea get to marry an Earl? She doesn’t even want to get married.”

Amanda turned to Ashton and pointed towards the door. “Out!”

Andrea looked at Ashton, then her mother. “Let Ashton marry him. She’s tried out every man here. Let her try a sample from across the ocean.”

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