Happy Mother’s Day. It’s different this year with no family gatherings, no hugs and kisses to share, but that’s okay. Staying away is another way to say I love you these days. I’ll see my own mother through a galls window and speak to her over a speaker phone, and while that is hard, all I can do is pray she stays safe.
So, with another week of Coronavirus isolation behind us, we need to look forward to better times, knowing they’ll be a long time in coming. For that reason, it’s easier to look back–way back to 1734! This is the last week to purchase Twist of Fate, on pre-order now, for only 99 cents. After that, the price quadruples!
Can a cursed treasure unite two lonely outcasts?
Overton Stafford, shunned by his family because of a birthmark on his face, made a life for himself as Second Mate on The Golden Fleece. In a battle with pirates, Overton loses his left arm, ending his career. Knowing he will be a wealthy man makes the pain easier to bear, especially when he discovers he can repay a moral debt and help an old friend. When he meets Anna, Overton realizes he wants more from her than a financial partnership.
Anneliese Van Stubel lost her sight at nine as a result of Smallpox. Now eighteen, a ward of the crown because of the Danish Age of Majority law, she lives in limbo, uncertain what will happen to her. When Overton approaches her with the proposition to help her rebuild the plantation, she’s excited with the idea of returning to her home. But her joy fades when her caregiver makes it plain that he has a different future in mind for her, one that will profit him.
Set in a time when brutality against women and slaves was the norm, Overton seeks to change things as he falls in love with the girl who has lost so much.
Today, I thought I would share the Prologue with you to tease you.
Aardse Paradijs, Van Stubel Plantation,
St. Jan Island, Danish West Indies.
November 23rd, 1733
Tossing and turning in bed, Anneliese Van Stubel tried to settle for the night, but her jumbled thoughts wouldn’t let her. Mama, Papa, Joost, and Gerrit had gone to dinner with the Larsens in Coral Bay, where Papa hoped to strike a deal that would benefit not only her but the entire family—her hand in marriage for her share of the plantation and better prices at Larsen’s rum processing plant on St. Thomas. She’d dreamed of being a wife, a mother, but would her dowry be enough to seal the bargain?
This past growing season, with its drought and infestation of insects, followed by a vicious hurricane, had been a bad one for many of the estates. Thanks to Papa’s progressive thinking, Aardse Paradijs had done better than most, but would that be enough to convince Larsen’s youngest son to tie himself to a burden like her?
She wasn’t deaf. She’d heard them talking, the conversations that ended abruptly when she entered a room, only to resume once she’d left. Her family loved her, but … Why would any able-bodied man want to tie himself to someone like her? Someone who couldn’t even see to her own personal needs? A woman who lived in a world full of unseen hazards where one misstep could be fatal? How could such a woman be trusted to see to the care and welfare of her own children?
The soothing, familiar scent of Liana, Plumeria, and Bougainvillea drifted in through the bedroom window. Vaguely, like a memory just out of reach, Anna tried to recall the vivid pink and stately white blossoms of her early years before Smallpox had stolen her vision. So many memories lost and more vanishing each day. Mama implored her not to complain … to be grateful the Lord had spared her, but there were times when Anna didn’t feel grateful, when she felt angry, cheated of the life that should’ve been hers.
With danger dogging her every step, she spent her solitary days either in her room or in the gardens on the other side of the house where she could sit on the swing Papa had hung for her and sway in the shade. From there, when the winds were favorable, she could smell the salty sea air and listen to the birds chattering in the trees. Raymonde, her pet African Green Vervet Monkey, a gift from her father last year, loved to sit by her side, her tail wrapped around the solid ropes. The tiny ape would yammer with the birds, almost as if she could understand what they were saying.
Papa described her as having a black face surrounded by a white fringe of hair, the rest of her body coat a yellowish gray. She was small, less than a foot long—not counting her agile tail—and weighed no more than two pounds. Her mother had been taken from Africa and had given birth to the animal aboard ship, dying shortly after her arrival in port. With her trained hands, Anna had examined every inch of the small creature, amazed at how similar in form the primate’s body was to her own—minus the tail, of course.
She sighed and turned onto her side, kicking off the sheets. The night was warm, not as stifling as it had been during the summer months, but warm enough to be uncomfortable. Anna inhaled deeply, searching for the scent of the sea. Would there be a late fall storm? Another vicious hurricane like the one that had hit the island in September and had forced them into the cellar?
Nothing frightened her more than those hated storms with their booming thunder, vivid lightning that left fearsome images in her gray world, and howling winds. But even more than that, she hated being confined for hours in the tiny room underground where there was scarcely enough air for all of them to breathe. Papa said her fears were unwarranted, but he wasn’t the one forced to deal with a blackness so complete that she felt she’d been buried alive. Tonight, the air was heavy as if Mother Nature waited for something to happen—something terrible. She shuddered.
The scent of beeswax blended with the floral aromas drifting into the room, momentarily distracting her. Asia, her nursemaid, really more of a companion these days, had mentioned that the maids had waxed the furniture today, bringing it up to the high luster her mother expected.
As a child, Anna had been fascinated by the process of placing the wax sheets on the wood and pressing them into the surface with hot irons. She’d watched as the material liquefied and was absorbed. Then, another maid would come with rags and buff it until she could see her own dark face reflected in the sheen. Now, instead of watching and admiring their handiwork, Anna stayed out of the way, lest she blunder onto an iron and burn herself.
Trying to settle under the mosquito netting, she listened to the familiar night sounds, identifying the song of the Pearly-eyed Thrasher as it serenaded the full moon. She frowned. Were those drums in the distance? Papa had mentioned that under the governor’s new rules, the slaves were forbidden to use their traditional musical instruments or participate in pagan ceremonies. Asia had confided that many of the slaves on the island secretly continued to practice Obeah, the African religion they’d brought with them. Not even the grim-faced missionaries with their changes of name and forced conversions to Christianity were able to prevent it.
Grabbing the neck of her nightdress, she sat up suddenly. Was that a scream? Had one of the island’s numerous bats found its way into the slave pens? Those were the only mammals indigenous to the island. All the others had been brought there by either the Dutch or the Danes when they’d settled St. Jan.
She jumped at another unfamiliar sound. Was that a cannon shot? Why would the fort be firing the cannons at this time of night? Was St. Jan under attack? From whom? Not even the fiercest pirate would dare such a thing.
Shifting in the bed, she turned her head, seeking the comfort of the small oil lamp on her dresser. Eight years ago, a Smallpox epidemic had swept the island, killing hundreds, leaving her alive but sightless. Gone were the vibrant shades of her youth replaced by a grayness that refused to solidify into any recognizable shape. But the nights were worse. Only the small light kept the blackness at bay and made the hours tolerable.
The door opened.
“Anna,” Asia whispered loudly. Suddenly the light went out, plunging the room into darkness.
“My lamp,” she cried, only to have the servant’s hand cover her mouth.
“Quiet, child. Listen to me.” Asia’s voice was stern. “I have to get you away from the house before they come here. They’ve all gone crazy.”
Anna pulled the woman’s hand away, her frightened breath coming in gasps.
“You’re scaring me,” she whispered, her voice halting. “Who’s gone crazy?”
“The Akwamu, the new slaves the magistrate sold your father. I told you about them. They were the ones who conquered my people and sold us to the slavers. They’re revolting all over the island,” the woman answered. “They’ve taken the fort in Coral Bay. Lucius barely managed to escape. He says they’re killing all the whites—the bosses and owners, even some of the indentured servants, and any slave who refuses to follow them.”
Anna gasped, her heart leaping into her throat to choke her.
“Those lucky enough to escape to their boats hope to make it to Cruz Bay or St. Thomas,” Asia continued, pulling back the sheets.
“Mama and Papa would never leave me here alone. They must be on their way back to get me.”
Asia grabbed her by the shoulders. “Listen to me, child. Lucius says Coral Bay and all of the plantations surrounding it are ablaze. He doesn’t know if your parents made it to the boats. He only knows we have to get you away and hidden before the rebels arrive. Those of us who’ve been with the master for years know he’s a kind man, unlike some of the Mesterknegte who treat the slaves entrusted to them worse than they do the oxen who toil in the fields. We’ll do what we can to defend the plantation. Get up. There’s no time to dress. I’ll sneak you out the backdoor and lead you to the old abandoned homestead near the sea. You and I are the only ones who ever go there. You should be safe.”
“Raymonde. Where’s Raymonde? I can’t go without her.”
“I’ll get her, but we must hurry. Put on your slippers.”
Within seconds, the warm hairy body, no doubt as frightened as she was, nestled into her, the ape’s tiny arms gripping her around the neck.
Her own heart thumping so loudly that it echoed in her ears, Anna allowed Asia to lead her from the house, out through the open-air kitchen, and past the carriage house. The path through the fruit trees was pitch black, and her fear increased, tremors racking her body. Was that smoke? Surely she shouldn’t be able to smell smoke from fields burning six miles away?
With Asia begging her to move faster, she tried, but every now and then stumbled as a sharp stone cut the sole of her slippers. Soon, she could smell the sea and the blackness became dark gray.
“This way. We’ll go down into the old cellar. You’ll be safest there. I’ll come back for you as soon as I can. I promise.”
The woman’s words filled Anna with horror.
“Don’t leave me,” she begged, tears running down her cheeks.
What lurked in the blackness among the stones? While there might not be any snakes on the island, there were plenty of other creatures to worry about: tarantulas, wolf spiders, and scorpions among them. While their bites might not be fatal, they were incredibly painful—and then there were the iguanas. Papa maintained they were harmless, but her memories dragged up fire breathing dragons who grew exponentially in size.
“I know you’re frightened, child,” Asia said, wrapping her arm around her as she led her down the stone steps. “You’ll be safe here. I promise I’ll be back for you as soon as I can. Here.” She draped her woven shawl over Anna’s shoulders. “This will keep you warm. Whatever you do, don’t leave here until either Lucius or I come for you.”
Too petrified to even speak, Anna nodded and cuddled Raymonde closer, taking strength from the warmth of Asia’s body evident in the shawl and the little ape’s trust in her. She shivered, fighting to find what little courage she possessed.
“If Asia says we’ll be safe here, Raymonde, I have to believe her.” Her low voice echoed in the small chamber. “Papa will come for us. He’ll send the soldiers to end this, and everything will be fine.” But Papa had long bemoaned the fact that six soldiers were hardly enough to maintain the peace and keep more than one thousand slaves in check.
Settling against the stones, she waited for Asia’s return, mumbling every prayer her mother had ever taught her. A loud noise startled her. Raymonde screeched in her arms, the small ape’s heart beating rapidly. Anna loosened her grip to shift her into her other arm, but the small monkey shrieked, clawed at her, and demanded her freedom.
“No, Raymonde,” she cried, but the ape was gone.
Inhaling sharply, she coughed, recognizing the unmistakable odor of burning grass and sugarcane. Anna pulled the shawl up to cover her face, but the smoke grew denser until she could no longer breathe. Panic filled her. Asia had said to stay here, but if she did, she would surely suffocate and die.
Her body shaken by bouts of coughing, Anna clawed around the small cellar, looking for the entrance. When she found it, she scrambled to escape. Ripping her hands open on sharp rocks, she crawled out of her would-be grave. Sugarcane fields burning all around her turned the night into an inferno, the flames lighting up the darkness, creating eerie monstrous shapes in her gray world. Her only hope of escape was to find the path leading down to the beach and the sea, but with the heavy smoke, she couldn’t even smell the briny water. Which way should she go?
Stumbling blindly, heading away from the crackle of the flames, she ran. Fire was everywhere. Here and there it licked at her legs, bit into her arms, caressed her face. Suddenly, the earth beneath her feet vanished, and she tumbled headlong down the hillside, her body smashing against the rocks, scraping against Christmas bushes. The poisonous sap burned and would soon add its vicious rash to her litany of woes.
In pain, she continued her tumble. The sea! She smelled the sea. Would this be her fate? To drown in the aqua blue waters she’d loved? Her head struck yet another rock, this times sending stars flashing through her mind until there was nothing but blackness.
So how does my blind heroine meet her hero? Order your copy today. All will be revealed on May 16th!