Here’s a portion of Chapter 1 from my newest paranormal historical romance, The Pirate.
Governor’s Mansion, Kingston Jamaica, 1717
Grace lost track of how many men she had danced with. Five, six perhaps? They all blurred together in a mass of boldly colored coats and dark wigs, covered in a thick smog of cologne and bad breath. Through the mass of moving bodies as they danced another slow, boring reel, she only knew one thing. She wanted to be anywhere else but there.
The party was for her, but no matter how much she begged her father and mother to leave her be, they insisted that she needed to celebrate her birthday in the proper fashion. What they didn’t know, was that she knew all along this had nothing to do with her birthday.
Grace was of marrying age and she couldn’t stay under her father’s roof for much longer. The governor’s mansion in Kingston served as a finer home than the crowded streets of London, but it was her father’s hope that her future husband would take even better care of her.
The greater question was if she could even find a man whom she could tolerate – and who would tolerate her. So far, all of the potential suitors her father had thrown her way proved to be nothing but useless dandies with no sense of humor and their noses had taken permanent residence high in the air. None of them were appealing in the least.
This ball was just another ploy to get her to pick a man and Grace wouldn’t waste her precious time hoping for much. The elegant dresses, the powdered wigs, polished shoes, and feathered hats served as reminders of everything she hated about being the governor’s daughter and part of the upper-class society of Kingston.
Things were so much easier when they weren’t so wealthy and important. She could run around and beat up the boys who called her names, all without fear of breaking some cardinal socialite sin. Grace rued the day when her father found favor in the king’s court and he was appointed the governor of the new port city in Jamaica. The only enjoyable part of the transition might have been the long journey across the Atlantic. As soon as she stepped foot onto the docks, her entire life changed for the worse. Now, she could only gaze out over an endless sea of corsets, lace, satin, and dainty things that she thought were silly.
The reel ended. She curtsied to the man, whose name she had already forgotten, and turned to walk back toward the wall where men and women congregated in their segregated groups to gossip and talk politics. Grace didn’t belong here and for the millionth time, she tugged at the rigid bodice, willing it to settle comfortably over her frame.
“Well?” a faint voice asked from behind her. “What do you think of Monsieur Chastain?”
Grace turned to meet her only friend, a petite girl a year or so younger than her. The daughter of a noted cobbler in Kingston, Lydia was the first person Grace invited to her party. She made this gathering bearable.
Grace let out a sigh. “Was that his name?” she questioned with a roll of her eyes. “He’s no different than the man I first danced with.”
Lydia’s blonde brows furrowed. “You mean Mr. Rochester? Surely Monsieur Chastain was more handsome and agreeable than Mr. Rochester. That man looks as if he has a hot iron up his – “
“They are all disagreeable to my eyes,” Grace interrupted, though she would have loved to see the faces of her father’s wealthy merchant friends in reaction to Lydia’s colorful metaphor.
Lydia’s gaze flickered upward for a moment before she reached up to pinch a bit of Grace’s bright red hair that must have slipped out of place. She quickly swatted her friend’s hand away. “Oh, leave it,” she whined. “I’ve been waiting for this tower to fall down all evening. Mother’s servants were fussing with it for hours.”
Lydia shot her a look. “If I were you, I wouldn’t complain so much. You are incredibly lucky to have such opportunities. I’d do anything short of piracy to have what you have.”
Grace let her gaze wander across the ballroom as dancers lined up for another set. “If only you were a bit taller, then we could dye your hair and switch places.”
“I’m sure I can have my father fit me with a pair of tall shoes.”
The girls giggled, knowing they could never get away with such a plan. Even if Grace and Lydia could somehow exchange lives, just for a day, it wouldn’t satisfy her. Even the life of a cobbler’s daughter wouldn’t suit Grace. Her heart longed for the open air, freedom, and things a woman should never want. It was scandalous to think that she could break free from her stays and go where she willed, without husband or family to tell her what she could or couldn’t do. Yet, Grace dreamed of it anyway.
The two people in her life who wanted to crush that dream were far too busy in their own circles to even notice that she was sitting out a dance for the first time all evening. Her feet, aching and throbbing, needed a rest after executing the complicated steps that had been drilled into her head.
As the small threesome band tuned their instruments in the balcony that overlooked the ballroom, Grace’s eyes fell upon a man who was just entering the hall. He neither wore a wig, nor an obnoxious hat like the others. Instead, his thick, slightly wavy ebony hair was tied behind him with a plain black ribbon, much like she had seen on the young soldiers and sailors. His coat and everything beneath was moderate in terms of style, but nothing about the man himself could ever be considered average.
His broad shoulders and thick chest told her that he must have been a laborer of some kind, but he carried himself like a dignitary. He held his chin up, his stare intense and presence commanding. He held his hands behind his back and only gave the slightest of bows when addressing the men who greeted him. He neither spoke, nor made conversation as he slowly ambled across the ballroom. There was a confidence in his stride that captured her attention. He walked as if he owned the mansion. Perhaps he was a captain or lieutenant in the army. He had the looks of a great leader.
His face was tanned, as if he had spent years in the hot, unforgiving sun but it was a compliment to his handsome features rather than a detriment. His eyes, above all, an arresting shade that was a strange mix of brown and green, made Grace’s attention linger a little longer than she should have.
When the stranger met her gaze, he came to a full stop. Bodies moved between them, but his focus never wavered. Grace felt her heart beat faster within her chest the longer their eyes were fixed upon one another and the room seemed as if it would tilt out from under her feet at any moment.
A few seconds ticked by like hours, and then he smiled to her. There wasn’t a more charming smile in all of the Caribbean. No, in all the world. Even if Grace met every man who ever lived, they could never give her such a blessing as this stranger did with a simple smile.
For once in her life, she felt as if she would faint. Grace always thought those women who fainted at the slightest inconvenience were nonsensical.
Lydia grabbed hold of her arm. “Are you all right?” she asked.
There wasn’t an accurate reply to such a question. She wasn’t sure whether she was floating on a cloud, or on her way to falling to a merciless fate at the hands of this stranger who was now walking toward her.
Grace broke eye contact with the man long enough to give Lydia an errand to fetch her a glass of brandy. The blonde, still oblivious to what could be the matter with her friend, hurried away and left Grace alone to receive the stranger.
He stopped in front of her and the world slowed to a halt. She could have easily extended her hand and touched the rough fabric of his black coat to make sure he was real, and not some phantom sent to make her world spin off kilter.
“You’ll have to forgive me,” he said, his voice so deep and mesmerizing that all other noises in the room were mute to her. “I can’t recall what would be appropriate here. Do I introduce myself first, or should you?”
It took a moment for Grace to fully register that this was no fantasy, and he really was speaking to her. This man, of lower class than her, judging by the utter lack of refinery in his attire, was addressing her and neither of her parents or close associate was there to do the formal thing and introduce them.
“Does it matter?” she asked, wondering if her words were loud enough for him to hear. She certainly couldn’t hear herself. The stranger had stolen her voice with just one look.
He must have understood her because his smile widened and he took a step closer. “I suppose not.” The man bowed at the waist, a little deeper than she had seen him do before. “My name is Edward Corbet.”
Grace’s heart skittered. This was one of the men her father had spoken of, but this was not what she had been expecting. According to her father, Edward Corbet was the epitome of nobility in London. He was wealthier than the governor, that was for sure, but this man before her didn’t dress like other men of his class. A man of his stature would have never forgotten the rules of introduction either. Could there be another Edward Corbet?
After a pause, she pushed aside the thought and curtsied for the stranger who had unwittingly wooed her without ever speaking a word. “Grace Norrie. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Corbet.”
“The pleasure is all mine,” he replied.
The world slowly came back into focus and the lighthearted cords of the violin in the balcony reminded Grace exactly where she was. Her eyes darted to the spot where her father had been moments ago and she was grateful to find he was still talking with the other men he had invited to the ball.
“My father mentioned you,” she said, feeling as if she needed to fill the silence between them. “He said you sailed all the way from England to be here.”
Edward nodded, his eyes dancing with delight. “I did, and you were certainly worth the journey.”
Grace’s cheeks felt warm and she wondered if he could see her blush through the powder that had been applied to her face before the party. “I should tell you that flattery will do you no good, Mr. Corbet.”
He took a daring step closer and she could almost feel his breath on her face. “Then tell me what will get me within your good graces and I will surely do it.”
The challenge in his gaze sparked a fire within her, where a want for adventure had once been. Perhaps, despite his prominent reputation and high class, Edward Corbet could be that adventure for her.
She flashed him a simpering smile and jerked her chin toward the dance floor where the others were still assembling for the next set. “Dance with me.”
The list of rules they had broken within such a short time was growing longer and longer. No woman was to ask a man to dance. What right did she have to demand or request his consideration? It was his honor to dance with her, not the other way around.
Yet, Edward didn’t seem to care for the rules either. He nodded his consent and they walked side by side to join the other guests as they took places across from their partners.
When the band struck up the first tunes, Grace forgot all about her aching feet. She spun with Edward, their arms intertwining as they stepped close and pulled apart again in time with the music. His touch was like wildfire across her skin, warm and enticing. She longed for each moment they drew nearer, and felt her heart squeeze each time they were separated in the dance.
The sentiment seemed to be mutual in Edward and each time she came to face him, she could see the smoldering, ravenous look in his eyes. Though each step was carefully placed, Grace could feel her body tremble with a need for him that she never imagined she could feel.
“You dance well,” he said when they came to circle one another, their hands firmly clasped as if a hurricane were ready to blow them apart again.
“As do you,” she replied breathlessly.
They stepped away and weaved through the other dancers until they came together again. “Something tells me that you aren’t fond of it, though.”
Grace smiled. “And what makes you think that?” He was completely right, but she wasn’t about to admit so. Dancing with him was still more enjoyable than dancing with the other men there that night. They entwined their arms and she let out a slow, airy breath as his hand brushed against the rigid fabric of her bodice. Even through the layers of clothes, his touch was exhilarating.
Edward leaned in, much closer than any man should have, until his lips nearly grazed the outside of her ear. “Your heart is miles away, isn’t it? Away from this house, away from this town and everyone you know.”
Grace swallowed hard and tried to catch her breath, though he was stealing it from her very chest. “So, what if it was?”
They broke away and came to stand in their respective rows. His absence was keenly felt, though his eyes roamed over her like a forbidden caress. Now, Grace couldn’t tell if her face was flushed from embarrassment or the exertion of the dance.
He wasn’t able to answer her question until they rejoined in the middle again. “I could help you,” he promised. “I can take you there, where you long to go.”
Was he serious? Could he take her away from this place? Would he, if she asked? One look into his eyes, rimmed in a dark golden hue that encircled the rich hazel, she knew he wasn’t lying. How could he know her most secret longing to escape? How much did he know about the black nights spent lying awake and wishing that she were someone else? Could he really change all of that for her?
Whatever feelings were betrayed through her own sapphire gaze, he must have known what she would say next.
“Take me,” she whispered.
But when they stepped away, the dance was cut short. On the other side of the hall, she heard her father raise his voice in anger toward one of their servants.
“What are you talking about?” he demanded, drawing the attention of half the assembly. Even the band’s melody came to an awkward, out of tune stop.
Grace was too far away to hear what their head servant, Mr. Stevens, was saying. Yet, from his pinched and troubled expression, it couldn’t have been good. She turned to tell Mr. Corbet that she would be right back after attending to her father, but he was gone. A quick search through the crowd left her frantic. It was as if Edward had vanished like the phantom she had suspected him to be.
“Gone?” her father bellowed, summoning her back from her own crisis. She weaved her way through the guests to come to his side just as her mother did.
“What’s wrong, Mr. Norrie?” her mother asked, probably more troubled by the fact that he was causing a scene at their daughter’s birthday party.
The governor, his mouth set in a vicious scowl, did his best to control his temper. “We’ve been robbed,” he grumbled to his wife. “Mr. Stevens found our private bedroom doors open. Your jewelry is gone.”
Grace watched as the color drained from her mother’s face, but the woman didn’t gasp or shriek as she might have expected. Instead, she calmly nodded in understanding. “And the money boxes?”
Her father didn’t have to confirm it. He only looked to the ceiling and then grabbed Mr. Stevens by the arm to pull him aside, away from the party guests who were watching the commotion. Grace, totally unconcerned about the money or jewels that were stolen, rushed to her mother’s side and took her cold hands.
“Do you want me to fetch your smelling salts?” she asked, knowing that her mother was given to fainting spells at the slightest trauma.
Mrs. Norrie gripped Grace’s hand and shook her head. “No, I’ll be fine… Who was that man you were dancing with? I didn’t recognize him.”
Grace looked around the room one more time, searching for Edward in vain. “That was Edward Corbet, mother. Father spoke about him, remember?”
Her mother donned a look of puzzlement. “Mr. Corbet of London? That wasn’t Mr. Corbet,” she said. “He looked nothing like the man. Besides, the Mr. Corbet I met would never have been seen at a formal party like this without his wig.”
Grace’s lips parted in confusion. “If that wasn’t Mr. Corbet, then who was he?”
Her mother had no answer for her, and Grace was sure that no one else would either. If they did know the man, he would have been stopped several times before coming to address her.
Even if the stranger she danced with wasn’t Edward Corbet, there was no denying that he had awakened something inside Grace and it would not be contained. He had been completely right when he said her heart was far away from Kingston and Jamaica. Neither was it in England. It was hidden in that unnamable place between the unknown and undiscovered, waiting for her to find and reclaim it.
She was without husband, without any means of supporting herself, but Grace knew she could stay under her father’s roof no longer. A plan began to form, growing and maturing so quickly like that raging fire the stranger had started in her soul. And it would only consume her if she stayed locked away in this world of etiquette and impractical rules.
Grace would make her escape. Perhaps not tonight while her father continued to fume about his stolen property, but soon. Very soon.