Read an Excerpt
Every business has its good days and its bad days, even the business of robbing people. For the crew of the privateer Zephyr, this day was looking very good indeed.
"Feast your eyes on that, Mr. Lopez." Morgan Roberts passed the spyglass to his first mate.
Gabriel Lopez took the glass and put it up to his own eye, then whistled low.
"Is it your birthday, Captain?"
"How the hell should I know? They didn't keep records of such things at the foundling home."
"Then you must have been a good boy this year, because Father Christmas brought you an early gift."
"Maybe so," Roberts said cheerfully. "It is not every day you come across an American merchantman on a reef. And not just any merchantman, but our old friend Jeremiah McGuire's Penelope. Bad joss for him!"
Roberts was still grinning as he took the glass back for another look.
"Mr. Lopez, do you know the difference between a wrecker and a pirate?"
"Why certainly, Captain." Lopez looked up at him and said in mock schoolroom tones, "A pirate fights his way aboard ship and takes everything that is not nailed down. A wrecker saves the crew and passengers, and then takes everything that is not nailed down."
"Just so, Mr. Lopez. It is fortunate for the Penelope we are wreckers today and not pirates. Perhaps if we help McGuire lighten that load, he'll be able to float the ship off. It would only be proper of us to head over there and give him an assist."
"My thinking exactly, my captain."
"Prepare for action, Mr. Lopez, and remember! Wreckers, not pirates! Make sure this scurvy lot knows the difference before they goover there and start stabbing people."
* * *
"Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it," Amanda Stephenson said to herself in an undertone while clinging to the rail, watching the frantic activity around her on the Penelope. She wished she could take back every thought she'd ever had over the last twenty-one years about wanting more excitement in her life. "Dull and boring" translated to "comfortable and safe," and at the moment the Penelope was neither, with its rudder shattered and the ship firmly stuck in the Straits of Florida.
To get so close to America and have disaster strike! Just last night she'd sat at dinner with Captain McGuire while he praised his homeland.
"America is a great land, Mrs. Stephenson, a great land and a growing one! Louisiana, Florida, there's no stopping us now! You won't regret settling in the States!"
Amanda smiled at the earnest sea captain. Jeremiah McGuire was a warm advocate for the young nation, but the Englishwoman didn't need convincing there were opportunities at the end of their journey. She'd set out from Yorkshire eager to see the land she'd read so much about, a land founded on principles of freedom and equality. And best of all for her, there was no soap tax.
"I wouldn't say that around President Monroe and the politicians in Washington," McGuire chuckled when she mentioned the last. "They will surely tax soap, water and even the air itself if they can. After all," he said with a wink, "we have some sharp Yankee traders in the Congress, Mrs. Stephenson. They convinced Spain to trade us Florida for that wasteland Texas. That's how to do business!"
"I admit I am glad to be settling farther up the coast," Amanda said. "The British press carries tales of bloodthirsty pirates in the West Indies and Florida. Knowing how the press can exaggerate, I hope these tales, too, are just puffery."
McGuire exchanged a quick glance with the mate, Mr. Dawkins, a glance Amanda knew she wasn't supposed to see.
"The coastline is long and pirates are always a concern in Florida's waters, ma'am," McGuire said. "When England's war with Napoleon ended, many of the privateers on all sides were left without employment and some of them have taken to outright piracy."
"Captain McGuire here was one of our more able commanders during the war, Mrs. Stephenson. The United States owes him a great debt," added Dawkins.
"Oh, I'm sure Mrs. Stephenson doesn't want to hear old war stories," McGuire huffed. "You mustn't worry your pretty head about such things, ma'am. I expect smooth sailing from now until Charleston."
The ship shuddered again as waves pounded it, mocking McGuire's words and bringing her thoughts back to the current crisis. Black clouds gathered to the west, and she heard McGuire pause in his consultation with the ship's carpenter and order the boats made ready in case they abandoned ship to row for the mainland.
"It looks like we might be spending more time together after all, Mrs. Stephenson."
Copyright © 2006 by Darlene Marshall.