Saturday, July 25, 2009

Salting The Wound (excerpt)

Kate reminded me that I hadn't posted an excerpt from my October 1st release, "Salting The Wound" so here it is. I hope you enjoy it.

Salting The Wound by Janet Woods
Severn House - Oct. 1st  £19.99
ISBN; 978-0727868299

Poole, Dorset 1850

Nicholas Thornton stepped ashore and took a deep breath of his native English air. His hand closed around the pistol under his coat, his glance sought out any danger that might be lying in wait in the shadows. Under his arm was a length of rare exotic silk safely packaged in a satchel made from sail cloth. The silk was a gift for Charlotte Honeyman, from which she could fashion herself a wedding gown.
It was a fairly quiet night for the quayside town of Poole, except for the faint hum of voices coming from the taverns, the occasional spill of light and noise when a door opened and spat out a drunk or two. A pair of cats exchanged insults in an alley.
The summer air was as cool and soft as a whisper of satin against his face, the dewed stillness of it broken only by the impatient slap of the rigging against the masts, the creak and squeak of timber against timber and the lap and splash of water against the hull of the Samarand.
Square rigged, and with a sharp rake to her stern Samarand averaged sixteen knots in the right conditions. She'd been built eight years previously but would be lucky if she lasted till she was fifteen, when she was due to be sold for scrap. Already she was full of worm. Nick hoped he wasn't on board when the bottom dropped out of her.
He jumped when the cats' argument became a full-blooded skirmish and the pair exploded out of an ally into the circle of light left by a gas lamp. Ears flattened, they spit and slashed at each other with ferocious cries and shrill growls. He chuckled when one broke off and ran back into the ally, the other one in hot pursuit.
Much as he liked life at sea, and much as his uncle wanted him to, Nick had no intention of sailing the world's oceans forever. There were easier, less dangerous ways of earning a living. He'd also like a bed that didn't pitch and toss, unless he happened to have a woman under him and the pitching and tossing was of his own creation. If he stayed in the career he'd grown up with he'd end up like his great uncle. No woman wanted a husband who was rarely home.
In vain he'd argued with his uncle some three months ago, which had been the last time he'd tied up at the company berth in Poole.
'We could warehouse the goods we import, open a shop and sell them ourselves.'
Erasmus Thornton had scoffed with some disgust at his suggestion. 'You want to become a shopkeeper? I suppose you intend to settle down with the eldest Honeyman girl, as well? After a few weeks with her you'll be glad to get to sea again. You're thinking with your balls.'
He grinned. Didn't most men? 'Being a shopkeeper is nothing to sneer at; I know some damned wealthy ones. Neither is having a wife and children. If Charlotte will have me, and there's no reason why she shouldn't, I'll marry her. I've known her all my life.'
'You'll come to regret it if you do. She hasn't shown any inclination to wed you so far, though she's good at keeping you on the hook. You'll be damned if she agrees, and she'll be cursed if she doesn't. Still, if you want to marry and produce a family I'm not against that. God knows, the Thornton family is thin on the ground now and you might as well choose a woman with some looks and backbone to her. But Charlotte Honeyman is as bad-tempered and as stubborn as they come. It will take a special kind of man to handle her. She'll probably need a stick around her backside now and again to point out to her who's the boss. But mark my words - it damned well won't be you!'
Nick had roared with laughter at the thought of Charlotte marrying anyone else but himself.
Erasmus smiled at him. 'The younger one is more your style. She has the looks and softness of her mother.'
'More your style, Uncle, since it was your liaison with their mother that caused the split between the families.'
Nick couldn't recall the younger girl's name, or even what she looked like come to that. She'd usually been out on the heath when he'd visited, or helping the maid around the house. Besides, when set against Charlotte, everyone else paled into insignificance for Nick. He'd wanted Charlotte ever since he'd been old enough to introduce lust into his life. Her refusal to cooperate had only added fuel to his fire.
Erasmus had sighed and passed a hand across his forehead then. 'It's a great pity that their mother died. Take my advice, lad. Never fall in love with a married woman, like I did. I'll be taking possession of the Daisy Jane soon, so you won't get me working in a warehouse or shop. We'll work both clippers for a while, and you can have command of the Samarand. She's still got some life in her. I daresay you'll enjoy life better without having me breathing down your neck.'
That fact had improved both his life and his temper. Nick had now completed his first voyage with Samarand under his command. His uncle has been right. He'd enjoyed being out from under his critical gaze, and was proud that his seamanship skills had brought his ship safely back to harbour.
He took another perfunctory look around. The shadows were still, except for a seaman rolling back to his ship. He respectfully touched his cap as he passed, grunting, 'Evenin' Cap'n. She's a fair one.'
'Indeed she is.' Nick gazed around. There had been no sight of the Daisy Jane as he'd entered harbour and docked, though his uncle was due in at any time now. Erasmus had named the ship after his sister, who kept house for them.
'It might sweeten her up a bit,' he'd said. 'Though anyone who looks less like a daisy I've yet to meet.'
Looking over her glasses at her brother, Daisy had then snorted.
Nick had been raised by his uncle and aunt from the age of three. He couldn't remember his parents, but his father had been Dickon Thornton, who'd been an adventurer. His mother was a Greek woman. According to Erasmus, she'd been encouraged by her new husband’s stepsons to lose interest in her bastard child.
It had been a strict upbringing. Blood was thicker than water with both of them. Aunt Daisy had been fond of using the stick to keep him under control when he misbehaved, but he loved her. Erasmus had always treated him as though he was his own son, instead of the son of his much older half-brother, whom he'd never got along with. Nick had been left in no doubt that Erasmus was proud of him, though. As expected of him, he'd set sail with Erasmus at the age of twelve to learn his trade.
'I imagine the Honeyman girl will have you eventually. She has nobody else to turn to and no money with which to attract a man,' his uncle had pointed out the last time they'd been in port together, and after Charlotte had turned Nick down once again. 'I'll give her an ultimatum. If she doesn't stop prevaricating I'll have her out of that house on the next tide. I don't want the upkeep of it any longer. I'm a seafarer not a builder, and the place is falling down.'
Nick smiled to himself as he stepped confidently forward. It had been a long time between ports and there was time to find a willing woman for himself before the morning. And he'd visit Charlotte in the morning and propose marriage. If Erasmus had delivered his ultimatum to her, this time she'd agree.
His smile faded as he remembered the last time he'd proposed to her. She'd been in a fine fizz of a temper and had stamped her foot. 'I've told you that I don't love you and I'll never marry you. Don't you listen?'
'My uncle has promised to give us the house if you wed me,' he'd said, then in a fit of generosity, 'I intend to put it in your name so you don't have to worry about not having a roof over your head any more.'
'I loath Erasmus Thornton. I'd rather die than take anything from him, even the house I grew up in. He ruined my mother and impoverished my father.'
'Your mother loved him. As for your father, he was a drunken gambler. Nobody made him wager the house. It was his own idea. Erasmus doesn't want the upkeep of Harbour House. At the moment he's of a mind to sell it out from under you. Agree to marry me and it will always be yours.'
'If he attempts to turn me out I'll burn the place down. As for becoming your wife, you'd make a terrible husband. You're always away . . . though that would prove to be a plus rather than a minus. You have no manners and you probably have a girl in every port.'
He'd grinned at the truth in that. 'I can learn some manners, and I intend to remain ashore in a year or so and open my own emporium.'
'Hah!' she'd thrown at him. 'You're too arrogant to learn any manners now. I want to love and respect the man I marry. And I want him to love and respect me. You're incapable of either.'
Anger had risen in him then, because he'd done both and for several years now. 'You don't know me if you think I've got no feelings, Charlotte. But if you want pretty words and gifts to prove that I care for you, then you won't get them. To my mind, love is a damned fool notion that weakens a man. But I'll be faithful to the woman I marry. I'll be back, and I won't take no for an answer. Make up your mind to it.'
She heaved a sigh and told him again, talking slowly, as though he was an idiot. 'It won't make any difference, Nick. I won't marry you.'
'Charlotte, you promised yourself to me in childhood and I'm going to hold you to that.'
'That was before I discovered who caused the death of my mother.'
He sighed then. 'You can't blame me for what somebody else did. Besides, it was only a rumour.
He watched her eyes begin to despise him when she quietly said, 'One you believe yourself. I don't want you and I won't marry you. Come here again and I'll shoot you dead.'
He'd retreated to lick his wounds, confident she'd come round eventually. Two days later he'd taken the Samarand to Shanghai, but now he was back with a cargo of tea and exotic silk, which he intended to sell at a huge profit. Despite his vow that he wouldn't prove his regard for her with gifts, he'd set a length of the precious silk aside for Charlotte's wedding gown and intended to take it to her as a peace offering. By now she would have come to her senses.
It was the middle of the night. Even if his Aunt Daisy had seen the ship coming into harbour, Nick decided not to rouse her from her bed by going home and letting himself in. Instead, he paid a professional woman for the night, for he had a raging need on him.
As it turned out, if he'd gone straight home he might have saved himself from a wasted journey.

No comments: