Saturday, December 24, 2016
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Lucy Hawley stretched on her tips of her toes and extended her fingers to push an errant can of baking soda back onto the shelf.
The ladder she was on shook beneath her unsteady grip. She grabbed for the shelf to help stabilize her position, but missed. The rest of the baking soda cans spilled to the floor.
“Lucy? What is going on back there?”
She cringed, then scrambled down from the ladder. Clarence Hutson, her employer, wouldn’t be pleased by her accident.
“I knocked a few things over, sir. It won’t take more than a moment to restore them.” She bent and started picking up the cans. “I’m nearly finished with the stocking.”
He rounded the corner of the shelf. “Sweet mercy, Lucy. How did this happen?”
“The ladder isn’t the most stable item in the store, sir.”
Mr. Hutson put his hands on his hips. “But you’re certainly the clumsiest. Get this mess picked up before we close. Hurry up, now.”
“Of course, sir.” She moved up the ladder again with an armload of cans.
The tap of his soles moving away gave her some relief. Mr. Hutson wasn’t mean on purpose. He liked things done neatly and efficiently. Although she’d been certain she could do a good job when he hired her, she hadn’t reached his standards. Yet.
Four months did seemed like an excessive amount of time to learn proper stocking techniques. Although it often felt like he made her rearrange the items just to keep her busy and amuse himself.
“Four rows by four, Lucy,” he called from the front of the store. “Labels forward. All at the same angle.”
“Yes, sir.” She gritted her teeth.
“Perfect little soldiers.”
She mouthed the words as he called them out.
Mr. Hutson took his shelving and stocking seriously. She didn’t really need the money, but hard work was supposed to be good for one’s character. Hers ought to be glistening with a good sweat by the time she was laid to rest. The work didn’t make her happy, but the customers were good people and it was nice to see their faces every day. That made a great deal of difference.
What she wanted—long for—was a home of her own. Not the rented house where she lived with her father. And she wanted a dedicated, hardworking husband. A garden. No, two. One with flowers and one for vegetables. A place where she could work for herself and her family. At present, the house where they lived barely had a postage stamp sized yard.
Saving her money wouldn’t buy her a husband, but it would put her closer to the dream of her own home and the gardens. Fate would have to show her some kindness in regards to a husband.
She organized the shelf, managing to keep everything tidy and get down the ladder without knocking anything else askew. Lucy dusted off her hands, then lifted the ladder to take to the front.
She pushed the long end of the ladder around the corner. It wobbled in her grip and the front rose up as she struggled to control it.
Something clattered to the floor.
“Oh, no.” She set the ladder aside. “Mr. Hutson, I’m so—”
The man rubbing his temple wasn’t her employer.
He looked startled as their gazes met, then his went to the floor.
A gleaming Colt Peacemaker lay there.
“Oh goodness. I’m sorry. Are you all right, sir?” If she’d damaged his weapon, in addition to his head, it was likely an apology wouldn’t fix the situation.
“I’m fine. This is supposed to be—it’s a…” He gave up whatever he was trying to say. “I’m leaving.” His words were as stiff as his back.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you. Please don’t go on my account. I can help you find anything you need. Or Mr. Hutson could help if I’ve offended you too much.” She didn’t see the owner, but he couldn’t have gone far. He’d be appalled when he learned she’d nearly knocked out one of his customers.
“Thank you, but I don’t need—”
She retrieved his pistol. “Assistance?”
His face was scruffy. He hadn’t shaved in a few days, but his hair was growing in patchy. He wasn’t quite handsome—too gawky for her taste. His nose was sharp and straight, his cheekbones sharper and his lower jaw jutting. His clothing was wrinkled and a bit dusty. No jacket or vest, only his once-white shirt and dark braces with black trousers. Unmistakable dirty stains on the knees, as though he’d kneeled in the dirt. A faded red handkerchief looped around his neck. Most of all, he looked tired. A bit out of sorts. Also, familiar. He’d been in once or twice. Mr. Hutson had helped him previously.
The pistol felt ten times heavier in her hand.
“Are you planning to rob us?” Like the men who’d burst into the Beltane bank days ago. She pulled the gun closer to her body.
His eyes widened. They were almost tobacco brown. Strikingly bright, intelligent eyes. They hardened.
“Give me the gun.” He lunged for it.
Lucy stepped back. “No.” If he was a robber, he was doing a poor job of it.
“Don’t make me hurt you.” He balled his hands into fists.
Tall, though on the thin side, he could easily overpower her. Nevertheless, she didn’t worry.
“I don’t think you’re sure of your task here, sir. Was your intention to rob us?”
He sneered. “I fully intend to. Now give me the gun.”
Pity for his failure assaulted her. Whatever this man was, he wasn’t a thief. At least not a good one. He seemed desperately in need of help. If she alerted Mr. Hutson, he’d run for a deputy. The last thing the poor man in front of her needed was trouble with the law. “You don’t need a weapon. I can’t give you the store money. Mr. Hutson will fire me for certain if I do, but suppose I gave you a little of my own? To get you on your way?”
He scowled. “I’m not asking for a handout. I want the money in the cash register, lady.”
“I could shoot you, you know. You might die suffering.” Her hands shook, but if he turned violent, she could do it.
“You don’t have the nerve.” He squared his shoulders and lifted his chin. “Give me the gun and fetch the money. In one of those flour sacks.”
“My employer will return any moment.”
“Then you had best hurry.” He seemed to gather his courage as though he’d forgotten who held the gun.
She moved toward the counter. “Don’t fuss. You’ll get the money. There’s no need to cause trouble for me.” She laid the gun next to the register, the barrel pointed at the would-be robber. “I’ll give you whatever I have in my pocket. That sounds fair, don’t you think?”
“That’s not my intent here,” he snapped.
“I’m offering you a little money in order to keep you from making a big mistake.”
A loud thud came from the back room—no doubt Mr. Hutson dragging up more crates so she could restock another shelf.
He turned toward the sound. A sheen of sweat stood out on his forehead—over the growing knot where she’d hit him. “Fine. Give it to me. Make it quick.”
Mr. Hutson had paid her that morning. She fished a five dollar gold piece out of her pocket. It had taken her three weeks to earn it, but she’d gladly give it up if it meant she didn’t have to tell Mr. Hutson he’d been robbed. “Here. Now you’d best go. When you leave, I’m going to scream as though you’ve murdered me.”
He leaned forward, then yanked it from her hand. “You have every right.” He pocketed the money, then grabbed his Peacemaker.
Before he reached the doorway, she let out a screech sure to bring Mr. Hutson running.
“Good luck,” she whispered as the door shut behind the thief.
The moment Mr. Hutson burst into the front, she pretended to swoon and dropped onto the stool behind the counter.
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Proven fact: You can never have too much pirate in your life. Unless, maybe, you're like trapped by Somali pirates or something. Don't do that. Have some fictional, hot pirates instead, 'k?
Here's a snippet from Sin and the Sea, my contribution to the Treasured Love box set.
Warm wind coaxed Sinda Pound’s hair from the knot at her neck. The silvery moon cast light on the dark waves slapping the hull of the Blackest Sin. Now and then, the salt spray burned her eyes. She licked her lips, savoring the taste. At her right hip, the weight of her cutlass tapped her calf as the wind picked up again. She traced the engravings on the hilt while she leaned on the deck rail.
Blackest Sin pulled against the anchor mooring it in the harbor like an anxious horse awaiting a long run. Tension pulled Sinda’s shoulders up toward her ears. Patience had never been her strong suit, though she’d had years to hone it.
She rested her hand against the railing. In the darkness, it was nigh impossible to make out anything happening at the river’s mouth. The crew had purposely anchored at the edge of the harbor to make their presence less noticeable.
A bitter smile curled her lips. As though anyone will attempt to rescue Reginald King.
More likely they’d throw a parade in her honor for the treachery he committed daily. She’d done New Orleans a favor by executing the fat bastard’s adduction. It had taken hours to pull him from the city down river to the sea. She feared her men would be caught before the kidnapping was complete. Nevertheless, she had to take the risk.
A spec of light too orange to be the moon’s heavenly glare beamed toward the ship.
She whistled at one of the men—the signal to haul the anchor in so they could get moving the moment the longboat reached the port side. He shouted at the others. After a moment, the grinding chain drowned out the splash of water.
The lantern light drew closer. It swayed as the longboat strained against the swells that would pull it back to shore if not for the dedicated rowers.
She’d waited for this night. Dreamed about it, planned her dialogue, the efforts it would take to bring Reginald to her ship. He couldn’t know how often she’d thought of him. First with terror that he’d find her, but as the years passed, she’d longed to drag him through hell.
Revenge lay just beyond her fingertips.
She paced as the six men who’d gone to capture King boarded her ship, then helped haul the longboat from the water.
The last person to spill onto her deck was a man wearing a hessian fabric bag over his face. His hands were bound and his damp clothes clung to his frame. He stumbled into Sarkozi as the ship lurched on a swell.
Sinda clutched the hilt of her cutlass hard enough to make her hand ache. She glared at the men sent to retrieve her foe. “This isn’t King.” Her voice barely rose above the rush of water at the ship’s sides.
Poe, Radford, Ezekiel, James, Baudin, and Sarkozi were among her most trusted. Her father’s most loyal. The bravest, the most capable. Yet they’d failed her. No way this broad shouldered man was her fat, stinking, stealing enemy.
Rage so strong it gripped her chest like a fist filled her. “What the hell did you bring me a man who isn’t King for?”
Baudin ripped the sack off the man’s head.
“What is this?” Sinda braced her hands on her hips. “What do you think I want him for?” She was about to murder every fool one of them and Baudin was playing games. She despised the Frenchman for it.
Baudin kicked the man behind the knee. The stranger’s legs buckled and he dropped to the wet deck. “Tell her who you are, mon ami.”
The man lifted his gaze. Beneath wet, oil tar black hair falling free of the tie at his neck, his dark eyes bore into her. He had a split lip and a black eye. A scrape marred his square jaw. Her boys hadn’t hurt him much, but the effect of the wounds ruined his handsome visage. “Henry King.”
For a moment, the image of him towering above her, sneer on his face, made her blood run cold. But she wasn’t a helpless little girl anymore. Her anger fought the muzzle of surprise. “I didn’t want him. It’s his father I’m after, you idiots.”
Poe fidgeted with his hat. “Sorry, Cap’n.”
She glared at him and he dropped his gaze. It wasn’t that Henry didn’t deserve his fair share of her wrath, but her bloodlust wouldn’t be slaked by him.
“He’s dead.” Henry’s voice betrayed no emotion.
She reeled from the news. “What? How?” Her revenge, stolen from her in a second. A howl of frustration built in her throat. She clenched her teeth to hold it back.
Baudin kicked Henry in the thigh. “Tell her.”
“He was murdered on the street about two months ago. A knife through his throat. Left to drown in his own blood.” No sorrow clouded Henry’s story, only bare fact laid at Sinda’s feet. “Let me go.”
The men standing on deck laughed. It was a fool’s request. They were well outside La Balize, the last township before the Mississippi spilled out into the Gulf. He’d drown if she tossed him overboard. Although, he’d stolen her joy, so perhaps he did deserve a watery grave.
Still, it wasn’t his fault Reginald was dead.
“You know who I am, Henry King?”
He lifted his big shoulders in a fluid shrug. “This is Blackest Sin. They say she’s captained by a woman.”
“Indeed.” She lifted her chin, widened her stance. “Allow me to welcome you aboard, Mr. King. I’m Sinda Pound. Captain of this vessel.”
Doubtful he would recognize her after all this time. She’d been so small and frightened then. Not so now. She had nothing to fear these days. Even the sight of him had only rattled her for a moment.
Henry shook his head. Droplets of water dripped from his hair. “If I had bothered to think of you, it would have been to imagine you dead. Captain of a pirate ship. The world has gone mad.”
“Perhaps it has.” She smirked. “Do you remember the last thing you said to me?”
He dropped his head to his chest.
Sinda drew her cutlass. She used the tip to lift his face. “I take it you recall.”
“I said, ‘you’re less than worthless, and the devil take you’.” He met her gaze. “It seems he did just that.”
If he only knew. “Why did you say it?”
The crew stared at them soundlessly. Waiting to hear why a man would condemn a little girl with such a hard curse.
“I don’t remember, Sinda—”
Poe kicked Henry’s back. “Captain Pound.”
Henry flinched. “I can’t say I remember, Captain.”
She gritted her teeth. He didn’t remember? He’d raged for an eternity over her actions. Screamed that it should have been her who’d been trampled beneath the wheels of the carriage instead of his dog. He’d blamed her for luring it into the street. After his yelling ceased, he’d shoved her into the road, into the path of a carriage not unlike the one that ended the dog’s life. She’d stumbled out of the way just in time to avoid the same fate, but his words, cruel and sharp, stuck in her mind like knives.
Reginald King’s blood surged through her captive’s veins. The man she hated with such passion was beyond her reach. Her crew hadn’t let her down. They’d given her a gift.
“Then my duty is to remind you of our past. To help you relive what a remarkable time I had living beneath your father’s roof. At his mercy. I only hope my hospitality would satisfy him.”
“You planned to kill him.” For the first time, Henry appeared worried. “But in his stead, I will suffice.”
“Indeed.” She licked her teeth as she smiled at him. “Poe, Sarkozi, take our guest to his new quarters. Leave him bound. I’ll see to him shortly.”
She sheathed her cutlass and grinned as her men dragged Henry below the deck. He didn’t fight, but neither did he cooperate with their progress.
The night had taken an unforeseen turn, but it had worked to her advantage in the end. What more could she ask for? It had taken years for her protests to reach her foster father’s ears. For him to understand she truly wanted Reginald’s blood. Years longer to plot his demise. Perhaps Henry wasn’t quite as good, but his death would suffice.
Sinda strolled to her quarters. Though she’d promised him she’d be along she planned to let his fear play with his mind.
Edit: Surprise! It's available exclusively on Amazon. Get for 99 cents or free on KU!