“Something’s in the air tonight. Change is coming,” I said, staring at the lights that shone from out over the water. “I can feel it. It seems like everything comforting around us is hidden in darkness, and the only things we can see clearly are the glowing eyes of that creature that wants to eat us for its dinner.”
Beside me on the walkway atop the fort wall, my ever-practical cousin Honoria gave a derisive snort. “Have you been reading novels again, Evelyn? You know how Father feels about that. Or perhaps this is some hidden flair for the dramatic! No doubt Mr. Boone will greatly approve of you taking him for your template.”
How ridiculous! I huffed and folded my arms across my chest, glaring at her, not that she could see it.
Mr. Boone, the odious little man that Uncle Richard employed to tutor Honoria and me in music and French, did indeed have a flair for the dramatic. And not one iota of good sense or useful skill in his entire body. I didn’t appreciate the comparison.
“Boone doesn’t even know how to use a sword,” I reminded her. The pompous ass did insist on strapping one to his waist, but I doubted he even knew how to remove it from its scabbard. “I could have him disarmed in a trice!”
“And it would be better for you if you couldn’t,” she retorted, a not-so-subtle reminder that my unconventional education was not something to boast about, or even to mention, if it could be avoided.
I sighed and ran my palms against my thighs, feeling the true weight of my skirts as they settled themselves around my ankles, and the tightness of my corset as I struggled to take a deep breath.
In the distance, the lantern lights that so reminded me of sinister eyes flickered and flared with the roll of the waves, warning every soul glancing eastward that the Knave’s Cutlass lay anchored there.
The frigate was large and impressive, even in the night, even with her sails furled. She was turned broadside to the fort, so her three tall masts stood against the darkness of the horizon, blacker than the night, while hidden below was her battery of powerful guns, at least thirteen on each side. Anchored as she was just between Senhora and the aptly named shoals of Black Rock Pointe, she blocked all entry and egress to Tartaruga Harbor. In short, the Cutlass had severed our connection to the world.
The few men currently stationed at my uncle’s fort had mounted a valiant defense, but the Cutlass remained steadfastly out of range of our cannons. Meanwhile, the blackguard who called himself the Knave had all but destroyed the cargo vessels that had been docked in the harbor. No one on the island had the means to send for help, even if we could hold out long enough for it to arrive. My aunt and the other ladies were twittering and sighing and taking to their beds with nervous complaints. My uncle and the other gentlemen looked grim and wary. Honoria, who had never broken a rule in her life, had been the one to suggest our pre-dawn stroll on the wall to assess the situation, regardless of the punishment Uncle Richard would exact if he caught us. The whole world, my world, had been rocked to its foundations. And I, gentle lady that I was, was allowed to do naught but stand by and wring my hands. I could almost scream from the frustration.
Salty wind pulled fine brown hair from my braid to whip across my cheeks, and as we watched in silence, the rising sun colored the sky’s underbelly to red and orange flames. Though it was never cold this far south—and after four years on Tartaruga, I could hardly remember what cold felt like—something in the air made me shiver.
“Red sky at morning, sailor take warning,” I said in a low voice.
“Oh, bosh! That’s the sort of superstitious claptrap your father used to spout,” Honoria scoffed. “And look where it got him.”
Though the comment stung, I replied lightly. “Lost at sea, you mean? Lying somewhere at the bottom of the ocean?”
“What? No! Of course I didn’t mean it like that, Ev,” she said quickly, horrified. “I just meant…”
“Yes, I know what you meant, dear,” I told her, reaching out to pat her arm, my eyes still on the Cutlass as she bobbed and drifted. Honoria hadn’t meant to recall my father’s death, no, but rather his life and slippery slope down which he’d slid. Deceitful dealings with merchants had led to his fleeing arrest, abandoning his family to scandal, shame, and exile on this tiny Caribbean island, and, if the whispered rumors were to be believed, piracy. Honoria had learned from my father’s example that a single deviation from the righteous path could end in ruin.
But to me, her words were a reminder that Papa wasn’t the only one who paid the price for his crimes. That, because of him, I would always be held to a higher standard. That even at the advanced age of twenty-one, even in a corner of the earth where the number of available men far exceeded the number of marriageable women, I was still unmarried.
I sighed, feeling heartily sorry for myself for a single moment… then I rolled my eyes. Any more sighing and I’d become my aunt Beatrice. Unendurable thought.
“I just wish we knew what the Knave wanted,” Honoria said.
Little known, much feared, oft discussed, the Knave’s legend passed from island to island much the way gossip traveled a London ballroom… just as swiftly, and just as unreliably. Fully seven feet tall, he was said to be. Stocky. Slender. Cultured. Handsome. Merciless. Jovial.
But all the legends agreed. He was unstoppable.
“It doesn’t matter,” I consoled her, wrapping an arm around her waist and placing a kiss atop her white-blond head. “It doesn’t! No matter what that blackguard does, we’ll rebuild! Your father has done it before. We arrived in Tartaruga four years ago poor as church mice, yet somehow he was able to find the capital to start a shipping company and keep us in finery, and curry the power to restore the Hollywell name! Of course he’ll be able to extricate us from this predicament and rebuild. Never doubt it!”
Once he made the Knave leave.
“He meets with Father this morning,” Honoria told me in a low, flat voice.
“What?” I pulled away to stare at her. Had she not thought to mention it before now?
“I heard Father telling Mother last evening. Father sent John in the rowboat under a white flag to request parley, to learn his terms.” Honoria spoke quickly. “But…”
“But Father’s afraid the Knave will demand a ransom. He’s afraid he won’t be able to pay it.”
I gripped the wall beside me for support.
“As it is,” she continued, “he’ll have to use all of the money he’s put aside to dower us.”
She gave a halfhearted shrug, as though this didn’t matter, but I knew otherwise. That dowry meant the opportunity for Honoria to return home. To take up the life she should have had. To escape the Mr. Boones of the world, and live among the civilized again. To reclaim the life she would have had… if not for my father.
“It won’t come to that,” I told her. “It won’t.”
She shook her head sadly. “Father can’t stop it.”
“Then I will.”
I could tell she didn’t believe me, but I meant the words I spoke. By crook or by knife point, I would make sure Honoria got back to England.