Always A Pirate
by Paula Reed
January 29, 2014
"Life is like that, Grace. Sometimes you sail with nothing to trust but the stars... It all works out if you plot your course carefully."
Giles Courtney may be the captain of his own ship, but he's not yet certain he's the master of his destiny. His reckless privateering days behind him, Giles is determined to make a respectable name for himself, yet where to begin is the question at hand—especially when he must inform his first patron that his convictions forbid him to traffic in slaves. But while wealthy sugar planter Edmund Welbourne is astounded by Giles' refusal, his beautiful daughter Grace is quite obviously intrigued—and Giles is instantly attracted. As intelligent and spirited as she is lovely, Grace is everything Giles wants in a wife—but their hasty marriage soon proves to be a challenge that will test everything both of them believe about the nature of freedom and the overwhelming power of love...
Mosquitoes whined faintly in the overly warm room, despite the strong odor of incense that Matu always kept burning at night. Grace had told her silent, ebony-skinned nursemaid that it did no good, but the woman had only shaken her nappy head and continued to light it anyway. With elaborate gestures and pantomimes, Matu had explained that mosquitoes could not breathe such perfumed air.
Unfortunately, neither could Grace.
Then again, she could not have taken a comfortable breath, even if the air had been laced with nothing more than the light scent of the Jamaican breeze and the flowers from the garden below her window. If she breathed, she would miss the stealthy sounds of Uncle Jacques's cautious footfalls just outside of her bedroom door. If she failed to hear the sound, he would suddenly be in her room and startle her, as he had the first time, five nights past. Hence, Grace set her small lungs to the task of breathing as little as possible. Her arms and legs were held utterly motionless, so as not to rustle the sheets. If only he might think she was asleep and go away.
When Grace was very small, she was afraid of the dark, and Matu had slept by her bed on a little mat. Grace had quailed even at that. "What if the monster under my bed eats Matu because she is closest?" she had asked her father.
"Then it will not be the first sacrifice Matu has made to keep you safe, little one," Edmund Welbourne had replied.
At the age of eight, she declared that she no longer needed Matu's protection. She was a big girl and did not believe in monsters. So Matu had been given a small closet in the hall to sleep in. She was the only servant allowed to sleep in the house. Two years had come and gone since then, and Grace knew that she had been wrong. Now, more than ever, she believed in monsters. But she could not call for Matu. The first thing the monster had told her was that if she ever spoke of his visits, he would kill her beloved nursemaid, and it would be all her fault.
Grace had noticed each night that he was getting better. He was learning which floorboards creaked and managed to avoid most of them. However, he carried but a single candle, so it was impossible to see them all. Tonight, he rested his weight on only one, and Grace, barely breathing, heard its protest. The door clicked softly open and he slipped in, the candle casting eerie shadows around the room. Clutching the sheet in her clammy hands, she looked away, while he closed the door as quietly as he had opened it. He set his candle down on the little table next to her bed.
"Were you waiting up for me, Grace?" he asked. His French accent made the words fluid, like oil, dripping thickly through his lips.
She dared to look at him, but couldn't answer. Slick, dark hair fell to his shoulders, and he wore a linen nightshirt. His eyes were in shadow, looking like empty, gaping sockets. Grace wanted to cry out, but only a tiny whimper crawled from her throat.
"I must eat your tongue, ma petite, just as you ate your nursie's."
He said that each time that he came to her, and it confused and terrified her. Matu had but half a tongue; that was true. No one before would ever tell her why.
Her uncle had come to visit only a little over a week ago. On the third night, he had slipped into her room and told her that Matu knew a secret about Grace, a secret so terrible, so dirty and vile, that her father had had the woman's tongue cut from her mouth so that she could never tell.
"She lost her tongue because of you, ma petite," he had said, "and you must be punished. You may keep your tongue during the day, but at night, it belongs to me."
He had put his mouth on hers, choking her with his own tongue, devouring her cries. He'd held her hands tightly at her sides and crushed the breath from her ten–year–old body. When she could struggle no more and thought she would faint, he had pulled away.
"If you ever tell anyone that I come to you, Matu will die."
Uncle Jacques was white, and Matu was black. If he wanted Matu dead, then she would be dead. As the daughter of a Jamaican planter and the granddaughter of a Saint–Dominguen slave trader, well Grace knew the bitter reality of the situation.
Jacques sat on the bed, his knee pressing against Grace's leg. He sighed regretfully. "It is a shame that the breaking can only be done once," he said, almost conversationally. "I have put it off, savoring the anticipation, but I have never been a patient man."
He drove his hands through the golden brown, tight ringlets that covered her head, pulling cruelly. "I have never broken a girl as fair and pretty as you. Always I have had to content myself with slave children. But you, ma petite, you are almost one of us."
In his thick, too silky voice, he told her of places where women submitted to many men, every night, for money. "That is where you should be, ma chère, a little girl made of honey, like you." He ran one finger over the golden skin of her arm, making her flesh crawl. "You would fetch the highest price." Taking her hand in his, he placed it under his nightshirt, between his naked legs, holding it fast when she tried to yank away.
Grace had seen little slave boys. Her father had said that they were too small to work and so could not earn clothes. She had seen their little, dark boy parts. The thing under her uncle's nightshirt was not like those. It was monstrously swollen.
With his free hand, Jacques reached under the covers and violated her with the tip of his finger. "What you hold in your hand, little Grace, this is where it goes." Leaning down, he whispered in her ear, "Alas, this will hurt, hurt terribly, but you must be brave and quiet, ma chère, for Matu's sake."
But Grace didn't think that she could ever be that brave. She choked on a sob. Poor Matu!
She screamed when the door flew open, slamming back on its hinges. Her father stood there, holding a candle aloft and further illuminating the scene. Grace cringed in fear and shame. Jacques released her hand, and she pulled it away as though burned.
"Damn you to hell, Jacques Renault! Take your filthy, child–defiling hands off of my daughter!" Edmund Welbourne shouted. He was fully clothed, his yellow hair still tied back, as if he had known what would happen and, like Grace, was waiting for Jacques to make his appearance. "Stand up! Stand up and at least pretend you are a man while I kill you!"
Iolanthe, Grace's mother, flew around the doorframe and pulled violently at her husband's shirt. In the candlelight, her pale skin seemed paler still, corpselike against her long, dark hair. A voluminous nightdress hid her small form.
"You will not harm a hair upon my brother's head!" Iolanthe shrieked.
"Do you not see?" Edmund snapped back. "Do you not see what he is doing?"
Iolanthe swept Grace's huddled form with a contemptuous glance. "What are you saving her for, Edmund? Marriage?" She laughed harshly.
Edmund tuned to his wife, his face a mask of horrified revulsion in the candlelight. "She is a child, Iolanthe. My child."
Jacques stood in a relaxed, liquid movement, obviously certain that Iolanthe would not permit Edmund to hurt him.
"Really, Edmund, all this fuss over nothing. My sister has indulged your little fantasy long enough. You are sitting on a gold mine here. Let me train the girl. Then I can take her to Europe or even Asia and sell her for a fortune."
Edmund thrust his candle into Iolanthe's hand, crossed the room, and with his fist, split Jacques's thin, perfect lips. "You disgusting animal! Get out of my house!"
Jacques fell back, his hand to his mouth.
"Stop it, stop it at once!" Iolanthe shouted.
Matu appeared in the doorway, her shift rumpled, her eyes wild. She skirted the trio of white adults and sank down onto Grace's bed, scooping the child into her thin arms and rocking her silently. Grace twisted her head around so that she could see what was happening.
"Get him out of my house, Iolanthe," Edmund growled.
"This is not your house!" Iolanthe hissed back, her accent as heavy as Jacques's. "You would have lost this house and your entire plantation if it had not been for my dowry and my father's slaves."
"The law says it is mine!"
"And my father is the legal owner of nearly every slave you have. Where will you be without slaves, Edmund? Right back where you were! You will be utterly penniless, and I will leave you. Mon père might even buy this lovely plantation for me to live on in my older years."
"You are my wife. My subject!"
"Ha! In the end, Edmund, you will do as Father tells you, just as you did when he told you to sell that wretched little beast's mother!"
Iolanthe spewed this last sentence with a violent gesture toward Grace. Matu made a strange, gargling sound in her throat, shaking her head vehemently. Jacques, still wiping blood from his chin, smiled malevolently at Grace through his cracked lips.
"Shut up, Iolanthe!" Edmund bellowed.
Grace fought Matu's arms that enfolded her. "What do you mean?" she asked. "You are my mother."
"Do not be insulting!" Iolanthe snapped. "I am surrounded by men with a weakness for black whores. First, my father begot a filthy little half-caste bitch with some slave wench. Then he sent his abomination here with ninety-nine other slaves and the gold for my dowry." She turned and sneered at her husband. "One hundred slaves. One hundred! And you chose her to rut with and make this, this thing!" She gestured again to Grace.
"If you weren't a frigid, barren bitch yourself, you would have given me a child of both our flesh," Edmund retorted.
Matu tried to cover Grace's ears, but Grace fended her off.
"My mother was a slave?" Grace whispered, and Matu made that anguished, guttural sound again. "And you knew," Grace added, looking up at her cherished nurse. She tenderly placed her child's hands on Matu's face. Tears welled in the woman's eyes. "You knew, and that's why they cut out your tongue."
"Your father," Iolanthe interrupted. "Your father had her tongue cut out. That is how shamed he is by your polluted blood!"
Edmund's face went deathly white. "Nay. Nay, Gracie. 'Twasn't shame. I just couldn't let anyone find out. 'Twould have ruined your life."
Ruined her life? She was black. African. Like Matu. She should be a slave. If she were a slave, no one would have stopped Jacques. Her uncle's words came back, full force.
I have never broken a girl as fair and pretty as you. Always I have had to content myself with slave children. But you, ma petite, you are almost one of us.
Her whole world was spinning brutally out of control.
"Naaay," the little girl wailed softly.
"God damn it! This is the last that will ever be spoken of this!" Edmund shouted, and Grace flinched. Her father beat slaves when they made him angry. He whipped them. He had cut out Matu's tongue! "This is my plantation, and it will go to my descendants. Grace will marry a White, as will her children. In time, this will all be a meaningless splotch somewhere in family history."
A meaningless splotch, Grace thought. I am a meaningless splotch. A meaningless, black splotch.
"Jacques," Edmund said tightly, "you will leave on the morrow or so help me God, I will kill you."
Jacques looked at his sister, who rolled her eyes and gestured to the door. "Go for now," she said. "We will talk again when my husband regains his senses."
Grace's uncle shot Edmund a murderous look, but he complied.
No wait, Grace thought, Jacques was not her uncle after all. Somehow, there was some comfort in that. He was no family of hers. Or was he? Were Iolanthe and her mother sisters if they shared the same father? Could a white woman and a black woman be sisters? Nothing made sense any more.
Edmund turned to his wife, taking back the candle he had handed to her earlier. "Your brother will go back to Saint-Domingue, and things will return to normal. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, Grace is our child. I have never asked you to love or care for her, Iolanthe, and I have never placed her needs or desires before yours. Unless you can tolerate my presence back in your bed long enough to give me another heir, you will abide by this."
Iolanthe gave him a haughty look. "I will write to my father on the morrow," she said.
"You do that. He will undoubtedly insist that I sell Grace, but he will just as undoubtedly insist that you resume your wifely duties. He understands the need for heirs as much as I."
Iolanthe drew her hand back and let it fly with all her might against Edmund's cheek. He hardly flinched. "That, my darling," he said, his voice laced with irony, "is the only mark you've hit tonight."
The enraged woman stormed out, and Edmund turned to his child. Matu was frantically petting her, as if trying to smooth the tight curls that hinted at the girl's heritage.
"She's so light, isn't she Matu?" he said, reaching down to pat her rich, golden brown hair himself. "My little golden girl."
A little girl made of honey, like you. You would fetch the highest price.
"If Iolanthe gave you a baby, would you sell me, Father?" Grace asked, her voice small and fragile.
Edmund smiled at her. "There's little chance of her doing that, poppet. No one's going to sell you."
Poppet. Grace had a poppet. A soft rag doll that Matu had made for her when she was tiny. A plaything.
His face sobered again. "What-what has he done to you? You must tell me all."
Grace hid her face against Matu's nearly flat chest. "I cannot."
Edmund sighed. "Did he put anything between your legs?"
Grace's answer was muffled against her nurse.
"What?" her father pressed. Matu waved her fingers in the air. "His fingers?" Edmund asked. Grace nodded. "Examine her," Edmund commanded Matu. "So help me, if he's breached her, he's a dead man."
Once Edmund left, Matu soothed Grace, calmed her wordlessly. Then she performed the required examination and gave the child a reassuring smile.
"Is it all right?" Grace asked, not entirely sure what she was asking. She didn't know what Matu was looking for. Perhaps to see that she was not torn in some way. Jacques had spoken of "breaking her."
Matu nodded and pulled Grace back into her own small lap, rocking her for an hour or more until Grace could fall asleep. Once again, Matu was there to ward off the monsters, to sacrifice herself, if need be, for Grace's safety.
"The characters will grab your soul and not let go until you learn the fate of them all." - Fallen Angel Reviews
Once again, Paula Reed will take readers on an emotional and heart-warming journey. - Fallen Angel Reviews
"Always A Pirate is a moving story, rich in adventure, emotion, and idealism." - Romance Junkies
"...a thought provoking, intriguing read." - Romantic Times
"Once again (Paula Reed) delivers a heartwarming romance with substance, causing the reader to come away thoroughly satisfied."
- Romance Reviews Today
"4 STARS! ...truly moving and unforgettable..." -- Romance Reader At Heart