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Good Groom Hunting
By Shana Galen
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Shana Galen
All right reserved.
Eight-year-old Josephine Hale let out a whoosh of air, then stuck her head and shoulders back out the window she'd just climbed through. As usual, looking down made her feel dizzy. She had the sensation that she was falling: tumbling head over toe, rushing at the hard earth below.
She closed her eyes and dug her fingers into the window casement. Don't be a ninny, she chided herself, remembering what her grandfather always told her. Be brave.
When she opened her eyes again, the night air bit her skinny arms and slapped at her thin face. She ignored the swipes and held out a hand to her cousin Madeleine Fullbright. Madeleine's blue eyes were wide and fearful, and her waist-length chestnut brown hair whipped in the breeze.
"Come on, Maddie. Grab my hand."
Madeleine looked at Josie, then at the ground three stories below. "If I let go, I'll fall."
Josie checked Madeleine's position. She had a firm foothold on one of the town house's outcroppings, and her hands were wound securely about the bed sheets the girls had tied together and lowered to the ground earlier that night. "You won't fall, Maddie," Josie said with a reassuring smile. "I won't let you."
"That's what you always say," Madeleine grumbled.
"And you haven't fallen yet," Josie countered.
"Maddie, hurry up!"Ashley Brittany whisper-hissed from below. She and her cousin Catherine Fullbright were holding the other end of the sheet. Standing beside one another, they looked like night and day.
Ashley was pale and blond with sea green eyes. She stood straight and tall, and she was always laughing. Catherine was dark in looks and mood. She didn't like to look grown-ups in the eye, and she rarely smiled.
Madeleine and Catherine resembled each other, but Josie and Ashley stood out--Ashley for her blond hair and porcelain skin and Josie for her bright red hair and dark green eyes. She was also taller and skinnier than the other girls.
"Hurry, Maddie. I'm cold," Catie called too loudly through chattering teeth. Josie hissed at her and turned to glance over her shoulder. The girls had been sneaking out of this window for two years now, but they were not generally known for their stealth. In particular, Ashley and Maddie found it difficult to grasp the concept of whispering.
Josie listened intently for the sound of grown-up voices or footfalls, then she turned back to Maddie. Once again, she offered her hand, and this time, with tightly closed eyes, Maddie took it. Josie helped Maddie and the other girls climb the sheet and clamber inside.
As soon as the window was closed, Josie yanked off her pirate's eye patch and flopped on Maddie's bed. "I'm exhausted."
Ashley joined her. "Me too."
"It's a good exhaustion." Josie leaned on an elbow and looked at Catie. "I can't wait to grow up. Pirates do this sort of thing all the time."
Catie frowned, two little lines forming between her eyebrows. "No, they don't. Pirates steal from His Majesty's ships and from law-abiding citizens. They start drunken brawls and that's why they lose their eyes and have to wear eye patches." She gestured to Josie's makeshift eye patch, now laying on the bed.
"Ha! Shows what you know," Josie countered. "My grandfather was the best pirate ever to sail the seas, and he never--"
Ashley groaned. "Not another story about your grandfather."
"You're jealous. My grandfather taught me to sword fight and to tie all kinds of knots. He says girls have just as much right to adventure as boys."
"Josie, you think if you want something bad enough, you can make it true," Catie said. "But the truth is that once we grow up and marry, we won't be able to have adventures. If we did, our husbands would beat us."
Josie didn't know if this was correct or not, but the sudden and familiar need to make everything that was wrong right again filled her like a huge bubble. If held inside, the bubble would pop. She had to let it out. "When I become a pirate," Josie interrupted, "I won't need a husband. I'll have loads of treasure all for myself." She looked at Catie. "And I won't steal it either."
She wouldn't need to, not when she found the map.
"And I'm going to have lots of adventures," Ashley said. "I won't have time for a husband, especially a mean one."
"Well, I don't care how poor I am. I'm not going to ever marry," Catie said.
Josie nodded, agreeing with the statement. Her grandfather was always telling her to live life to the fullest and rely on no man. Josie figured that included husbands.
"I propose that we make a pledge," Catie was saying. "We should promise never to marry. I'm the oldest, so I go first." She held up her hand. "I, Catherine Anne Fullbright, swear never, ever, ever to marry so long as I live."
Josie opened her mouth, filled with excitement at making her own pledge, but Catie said, "Now your turn Maddie."
Josie frowned and bit her lip impatiently.
"I, Madeleine Richael Fullbright, swear never, ever to marry so long as I live. Now your turn, Josie," Maddie said.
Finally! "I, Josephine Linet Hale, swear never, ever, ever, ever to marry so long as I live." She jumped up and put a hand on her heart. "I promise to be a pirate!"
Catie shook her head. "Now you, Ashley," she said before Josie could say more about her plans.
"I, Ashley Gweneira Brittany, swear not to marry for as long as I live. But you know what this means, don't you?" She didn't wait for an answer. "We're going to be spinsters."
Josie hadn't considered that. Spinster was such an ugly word, but then some people thought pirate was an ugly word, too.
Catie said, "I'd rather be a spinster than beaten and locked in a closet."
Excerpted from Good Groom Hunting by Shana Galen Copyright © 2007 by Shana Galen. Excerpted by permission.
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