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The Sea Monster's Mermaid

The Sea Monster's Mermaid

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The Sea Monster's Mermaid

valutazioni:
5/5 (2 valutazioni)
Lunghezza:
379 pagine
8 ore
Editore:
Pubblicato:
Jan 24, 2020
ISBN:
9781393320715
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

Recently orphaned Caprice Devonshire journeys from England to the Caribbean to live with her uncle in accord with her father's will.  When a terrifying storm puts her ship in peril, Caprice becomes the sole survivor of the ill-fated journey.  During her struggle for survival, she escapes a massive monster of unimaginal size about to devour her. 

She is rescued by Captain Paladin Renard and his crew.  The captain and his men masquerade as pirates in order to discover the identity of the elusive Pirate King who is suspected of sinking ships in the Caribbean.

Caprice is drawn to the rough and handsome Naval officer who escorts her to her uncle's home in a puritanical enclave on the small island of Isla Paradisa.  The repressive atmosphere grows increasingly dangerous for Caprice when her ideas put her in conflict with the fanatical inhabitants of the island.  

She soon discovers that the infamous sea monster might not be a legend after all.

Editore:
Pubblicato:
Jan 24, 2020
ISBN:
9781393320715
Formato:
Libro

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The Sea Monster's Mermaid - Hayley Holt

monsters.

Chapter One

What had she glimpsed ?  A massive shadow slashed through the water at incredible speed.  Peering into the fierce, blinding rain which pounded against her face, she wasn't sure if the leviathan was real or imagined. The monstrous silhouette could not belong to any creature on earth. It was too large for this planet. A sonorous growl of fury rumbled behind her. She turned her body and scanned the horizon as the noise grew louder and closer. The explosive reverberation overwhelmed the clamor of the storm. What had made the deafening sound?

Caprice was going to die and she knew it.  Only her will to survive forced her to struggle for a few more moments of life.  Waves slammed against her face with ferocious power and hurled salty water into her mouth and nose. She couldn't endure much longer. Soon she would sink like a stone dragged down by the petticoat and corset she wore.  She braced herself and counted the number of seconds between each powerful attack against her battered body.  She held her breath in anticipation of the next onslaught.  Yet the waves refused to follow any set schedule or pattern.  The merciless gale whipped and flung them at her according to its own capricious whims.  All the while, the curtain of stinging rain lashed her face with needle-like intensity.

She tore at her clothing, determined to remove the hateful corset and free herself from the added weight which threatened to submerge her.  In the torrential rain, in the middle of an angry ocean, she saw the lights of the Duchess of York fade away as the ship sank into the murky darkness.

A towering wall of water slammed into her face. How much longer could she survive this? There was no one to rescue her and she had seen no other survivors.  She was alone.  Storm clouds obscured the full moon.  The ocean tugged at her heavy clothing with a determined effort to drag her to the bottom of the sea.  Invisible hands reached up from the cold depths to grab her and claim her as a spoil of war.

What direction was she moving?  She imagined the waves carrying her lifeless body to South America.  There was no way of knowing where she was because in the middle of the vast Atlantic, time and direction lost all meaning.  Caprice floated like a piece of flotsam in a cauldron of salty broth. 

Her thoughts drifted to what she had seen in that brief instant when a monstrous creature crossed her field of vision.  It seemed as large as a ship or even larger.  She pushed the frightening thought away from her mind.

Another huge wave battered her and drove her body beneath the surface.  In a bid to stay alive, she managed to remove her outer garments and struggled with the corset and pantaloons.  She kicked at the churning, briny sea and after a long moment, her head reached the surface.  She screamed for help.  Panic assailed her and she screamed again and again.  Her ears filled with the echo of her own cries.  The last time she had seen another human being was the moment Smitty dragged her along the deck attempting to locate the nearest lifeboat.

Smitty.

Was he dead now?  He must have drowned along with the rest of the passengers and crew aboard the vessel which had been her home since leaving England.

Yesterday (had it only been yesterday?) Smitty informed her that the Duchess of York was nearing the spot where the Atlantic Ocean transformed itself into the Caribbean Sea. The heat of the day intensified as they sailed farther south.  Caprice considered cutting her thick auburn hair, yet she knew her parents would be scandalized if she did such a thing.  Then she remembered with a fresh stab of pain that they were both dead.  That was the reason she was on this voyage across the sea.

She turned to Smitty as they sat playing chess in the passenger lounge.  I hate borders, don't you?

Borders?  Elias Smith, christened 'Smitty' by one and all, furrowed his wrinkled brow as he concentrated on his next move.  Why do you hate them, my lady?

Because they're ridiculous.  Her eyes narrowed as she plotted the next maneuver in her strategy.  For example, you mentioned we are nearing the spot where the Atlantic Ocean becomes the Caribbean Sea.  Yet there are no lines to mark the distinction.  Just as there are no visible lines to mark the border of any country.  Men decide to construct imaginary borders which divide people and turn them against each other.  Don't you feel people should have the freedom to go anywhere they please?

Smitty sucked on his pipe and the scent of rich, aromatic tobacco filled the air.  Are you something of an anarchist, my lady?

Of course not.  She laughed at the thought.  The world shouldn't be fragmented by man-made boundaries which seek to keep people apart from each other.

It was his turn to laugh.  You're the strangest gentlewoman I've ever met, not that I’ve met many of them.  But you do have a kind heart and a sharp mind which is a rarity among your social class.

She shook her head.  I'm simply a school teacher who has money.  She softened her expression.  Even so, I thank you for the compliment.

A moment later, he conceded the game to her when he saw no escape from her well-thought-out plan of attack. 

That will be checkmate, he said with with a sigh before she could announce her victory.  She nodded agreement and accepted the fact there was no viable move for him to make. 

Smitty shook his head.  As much as I enjoy our chess games Miss Devonshire, I must get back to my duties.  He lifted a brow and gave her an appraising look.  I'm beginning to wonder why the captain hasn't tarred my hide for playing chess with you whenever I have a free moment.  Instead, he encourages me to keep you company.

Her smile was mischievous.  Perhaps because I bribe him.

His eyes widened.  You bribed him? What are you saying?

She nodded.  I give him money as long as he allows you to teach me to play chess.  I do enjoy your company and it's lonely on board ship.  It works out for everyone involved.

Smitty's rough cackle filled the empty room.  He slapped his thigh in amusement.  Soon they were both laughing with abandon.

He wiped his eyes with a handkerchief.  The Good Lord knew what he was doing when he created you...for you are not only beautiful, but crafty as well.

She batted her eyes at him.  Me crafty?  Surely you are joking sir. 

He crossed his arms over his chest.  And before the end of this voyage, I intend to best you at chess at least once.  I believe it unseemly for a woman to be so good at a man's game.

Caprice’s lips twitched.  If chess is a man's game, then I was born the wrong sex.

He laughed again and then left the lounge.  Caprice and the old sailor had forged a strong friendship during the journey from London.  Smitty now saw himself as a kindly uncle assigned to protect her.  For her part, Caprice viewed him as a surrogate father and relied on his advice and companionship. 

As she strolled to her cabin from the passenger lounge, Caprice remembered the last time she had seen her own parents.  She closed her eyes and leaned against the weathered bulwark.  A wave of sorrow slammed into her. 

Her father’s strong, confident voice filled her mind.  The determined voice which belonged to a man who had amassed a fortune in the shipping trade.  She remembered how furious he had been with her on the last day she had seen him alive. 

How could a daughter of mine behave in such an unconventional manner? Lawrence Devonshire gave his wife a narrow, suspicious glance before turning his dark green gaze on Caprice.  I could almost believe you are not of my blood because of the shocking way you conduct yourself.

Caprice’s mother, Beatrice Devonshire, glared at her husband.  Her voice, though always soft, betrayed a core of iron.  How can you doubt her bloodline when she has your own emerald eyes and auburn hair?

Her father's temper softened as he gazed at his beautiful wife and daughter.  Aye, one only has to look at her to know she is the daughter of my blood, although she did receive her best qualities from you.  He shook his head in resignation.  My daughter, one of the richest women in England, working as a lowly school teacher.  Not a governess teaching the children of our social class.  Though that would be bad enough.  But working with poor children which is a hopeless cause.  Where have I failed as a father?

Caprice held out a hesitant hand to him and was grateful when he clasped it in his large palm.  His temper, quick to flare, was also quick to abate once he had vented his anger. 

Don't worry, dear father.  Her voice was quiet so as not to fan the flames of his fury once again.  One day I'll marry a handsome gentleman and give you and mama all the grandchildren you desire.  But for now, I wish to help others and not live as a pampered aristocrat.

Lawrence Devonshire studied his only child as if she were a stranger and not of this world.  When he spoke again his voice was calm and resigned.  How can I deny you anything, my dear?  I blame myself for your behavior because I've spoiled you since you were a wee child.  He gave her a speculative look.  How can I expect you to change your personality at this late date?

Caprice looked at him in surprise.  You believe me spoiled?

Yes I do.  In many ways you are spoiled.  Yet I admire the way you champion the cause of the less fortunate, even though it is hopeless.  I respect the effort you make.

She threw herself into his arms and kissed him on the cheek.  I believe that is the nicest thing you've ever said to me.

Embarrassed, her father pulled away but managed to give her a tolerant smile.  We'll talk more about this when your mother and I return from Paris.

But they had never returned. 

While crossing the English Channel, the ship which carried her parents home from their Parisian holiday had sank in a storm. 

As another wave slammed into her face and salty brine burned her throat, Caprice prayed their deaths had been quick and merciful.  She prayed to God that they had not suffered the way she was suffering at this moment.

Her strength drained away bit by bit like sand crystals slipping through an hourglass.  Soon the hourglass would be empty, and she would fall into an exhausted sleep, never again to awaken.

She wondered if being eaten by sharks might be a more merciful death as opposed to a slow, torturous end.  Would she live long enough to starve to death?  No, she decided; she would probably die of thirst before that happened.  The human body could survive without food for quite a long time ... but not without water.  Thinking of water brought an old sea chantey to her thoughts:

Water, water everywhere

And not a drop to drink

The next morning, the storm's fury abated and then passed into memory.  Caprice opened her eyes and wondered if she had fallen asleep while her body was buffeted by waves and wind.  Was that even possible?  She turned her gaze to the heavens and realized she was still alive.  A golden dawn burst through the scant clouds on the horizon.  The sea, now as calm as a milk pond, gave the illusion that the previous night's squall had been nothing but a dream conjured by a restless sleeper. 

Chapter Two

Caprice smiled at the mild weather and the lovely morning breeze.  A strip of gold touched the horizon as the sun approached and the night fled from view.  Whispering a prayer of thanksgiving to God for sparing her life, she floated on a calm sea.  But after a time, the fleeting respite of cooling breezes gave way to oppressive heat.  As the sun climbed higher in the sky, a blistering, baking haze filled her vision.  Why couldn't the sun hide behind the clouds, if only for a moment?  The sun was not listening.  As the hours passed, she begged the Good Lord for the strength to stop thinking about her all-consuming thirst. 

But this time her prayers were not answered.  Her thirst intensified to the point that she contemplated drinking water from the ocean.  The desire to drink the salty water was almost impossible to resist.  She felt her tongue had been dragged across the desert, drained of moisture like a dead leaf, and was now ready to crumple and blow away.  She was a sun-bloodied survivor who could not endure much longer. 

As the sun disappeared on the horizon, Caprice realized it had been twenty-four hours since the ship sank beneath her.  Thoughts of the journey which had brought her to this frightening struggle for survival filled her mind.  She let the memories flood across her mind.  She would do annything to divert herself from thinking about a drink of blessed water.

The wording of her father’s will captured her attention when the icy-voiced solicitor read it to her after the funeral service.  Caprice sat in a mahogany paneled office with thick curtains covering the windows.  The velvet curtains blocked sunlight from entering the room which gave  the office an aura of otherworldly gloom.

Her father's will had been explicit and unbreakable and his wishes from beyond the grave altered her life forever.  A piece of paper has changed my life, she thought, a flimsy piece of paper.

Her father had written:

My dearest daughter, during my lifetime you were adept at getting your own way.  Not that I minded spoiling you and indulging your every whim because from the moment you were born, you had me wrapped around your finger.  But in death I will have the final say.

After hearing the stipulations, she turned to the solicitor.  Surely, I don't have to honor this request!

Mr. Andrews shook his balding head.  If you don't abide by the terms of the will, you will receive a small inheritance and your father's estate will pass to his distant cousins.  You will have enough money to live for the rest of your life, but no more than that.  Had your parents died after your twenty-first birthday, then you would inherit the estate free and clear.  But as it is...

I want to be independent and live my own life! Caprice vented the anguish which filled her heart.  I don't care about the estate! 

The solicitor raised a questioning brow.  You don't care about an estate which has been in your family for three hundred years?  You would lose everything and be forced to make your own way in the world.

I don't care, she reiterated.  I won't abide by the dictates of this will.

But do you care about the people who work for the estate? the solicitor’s cold voice turned frigid.  And what of the various charities which depend on your family's money to sustain them?  The hospitals and orphanages which are beholden to the Devonshire fortune?  Would you see them lose their funding due to your selfishness?  There is no guarantee your relatives will continue to sponsor these charities.  His gruff voice softened.  I cannot tell you what you should do about this situation, but I have heard of your generosity and kindness to the less fortunate.  This is the time to think before making a rash decision.

Caprice chewed on her lower lip, all the while feeling like an unfortunate animal caught in a trap.  But he is asking too much of me!

Please consider that it is only three years of your life.  The solicitor's tone turned conciliatory.  "You must join your Uncle Matthew in New Salem on the Caribbean Island of Isla Paradisa.  If I may quote your father's words...He lowered his head and began to read:

"Although my brother Matthew has always been eccentric, even for an archaeologist, he has raised an obedient and loving daughter.  I wish you to learn to be more ladylike in your ways, less headstrong, less spoiled.  Association with your cousin Fiona who is your same age, will yield valuable lessons for you.  When you reach the milestone of twenty-one years, your personality will be set in stone and unchangeable.  Thus, if I pass on after this time, my will is no longer valid.  You may live your life as you please, and you will inherit everything I have without stipulation.  But if you have not yet reached the age of twenty-one at the time of my death, then you must abide by my wishes.  At the time you do reach this magical age, you are free to do as you wish and the family fortune will pass on to you."

Caprice balled her hands into fists.  What choice did she have?  If her mother had not died in the same mishap, they could have found some way to break the will.  As it was, if she chose to ignore her father's last wishes, then the estate would pass to his distant cousins.  She imagined them swooping in and taking possession of her ancestral home.  These people were strangers to her.  Yet she knew they did not share her concern for the less fortunate. 

The thought of the many motherless children dependent on the Devonshire Orphanage brought a tear to her eyes.  They depended on her to sustain their life and provide their next meal.  After much consideration, she decided to set sail for the tropical island which would be her home for the next two years.

On the morning she said goodbye to an English coast shrouded in fog, Caprice met Smitty on the deck of the ship.  Leaning over the railing, she sniffled into her handkerchief.  He came to stand beside her.

You be missing your family, my lady? he asked kindly.

I have no family.  She wiped at her eyes.  That is, I am journeying to meet members of my extended family who I have I never met.

And where do they live?

When she mentioned her destination, the older man stiffened.  She sensed he had no liking for her new island home.  Why was that? 

This tantalizing mystery niggled at her brain.  Soon after the ship left port, Caprice maneuvered circumstances so that the captain allowed Smitty to teach her to play chess.  In reality, Caprice played at an expert level and rarely lost a game to anyone, not even her father.  She didn’t reveal her talents to the older man because she wanted time to question him about her new home.  She knew this would be the perfect venue to pursue her inquiry. 

As their friendship grew, Caprice's affection for the older man blossomed like a well-tended flower.  What began as a ruse to gain information about Isla Paradisa and the settlement of New Salem changed into something different.  As time passed, Caprice knew she had been blessed with the most loyal friend she had ever known.  For his part, Smitty listened to her ply him with questions while rarely rising to the bait and answering them.

Smooth seas marked the beginning of their voyage to the Caribbean.  But this state of tranquility didn't last longer than a fortnight.  As the first tropical storms battered the Duchess of York, the vessel became a slipping and sliding wooden box.  Caprice discovered she was a good sailor.  The swaying motion of the ship didn't bother her.  She often found herself alone in the dining room while the other passengers stayed in their cabins with bouts of sea sickness.

As the days passed and the weather grew hotter, Caprice continued to inquire about the community of New Salem.  As always, she found Smitty closed-mouthed on the subject.  Yet on one occasion when he had consumed a great deal of Jamaican rum, Caprice's persistence was finally rewarded.   

As they sat huddled over their favorite table in the empty dining room, Smitty took a swig of rum from the flask he kept hidden in his boot.  He rubbed his whiskers clean with the sleeve of his shirt.

Now mind you, he said, this is not firsthand knowledge but loose talk from another sailor I once knew.

Caprice held her breath and struggled to conceal her excitement behind an impassive mask. 

He continued.  It seems there be strange people in this so-called New Salem.  Did you ever hear tell of the Puritans in Salem, Massachusetts?  The ones who lost their minds and killed all them poor women they thought was witches?

You are speaking of the Salem Witch Trials?  Most people have heard of that atrocity.  Caprice shivered despite the humid evening which did not favor them with even a scant breeze. 

Smitty resembled a wise old wizard as he nodded his silvery mane of hair.  The people in New Salem make them Puritans of Old Salem seem like normal folk.  They got strange ways on that island.  Strange, strange ways.

He moved his bishop to put her king in check.  She had already anticipated that move and lain a trap for him.  Using her knight, she captured the bishop.

Now why didn't I see that coming?  He gave a short laugh.  My lady, you have no need of a teacher.  Still, I am happy to learn from you, rather than the other way around.

Caprice smiled.  So tell me, what else did your sailor friend share about the people of New Salem?

Only that they be strange people.  He cleared his throat.  They claim to be Christian, but ain't nothing Christ-like about their worship.  I've heard they're not recognized by any decent religion.

Why would my uncle live among this unorthodox group?  She frowned with concentration.  He journeyed to the Caribbean years ago in search of the lost city of Atlantis.  He told my father he believed the city lay sunken under the sea near Isla Paradisa.  As time went on, he mentioned his search for Atlantis less and less in his letters until he ceased writing about it at all.

Maybe he has become one of them fanatics, said Smitty.

Caprice felt an icy draft creep up her spine.  What makes you say that?

They have a way of luring people into their way of worship.  Them people in Old Salem were raving lunatics or else they wouldn't have killed those poor women.  From what I've heard, these in New Salem are worse.  Of course, being so isolated how would anyone know what they did in secret? 

As she listened to his words, Caprice discovered she had lost her curiosity and enthusiasm for her new home.

Chapter Three

The day of the shipwreck dawned hot and muggy.  A blood-red sun engulfed the cloudless sky like an evil omen.

Smitty seemed preoccupied.  He couldn't focus his concentration on the game as they played chess on the deck.  They had agreed it was too hot to sit in the lounge due to the oppressive heat and cloying humidity.  Caprice fanned herself with her hand.  She found herself growing irritated because of the heat or because of Smitty's lack of focus. 

What's wrong? she said after watching him make another clumsy move on the chessboard.  Your mind seems to be wandering.

Smitty glanced up at the clear, pastel blue sky.  "Have you ever heard the saying:

Red sky at night, sailor's delight.  Red sky at morning, sailors take warning?"

Even as he spoke the words she knew. 

You know what it means, she thought, you know what it means.

But she asked the question.  What does it mean?

He took a puff on his pipe and squinted at the sun.  Judging from the blood red sky at dawn, I'd say we're in for a powerful storm,  Could even be a hurricane.

Smitty had confirmed her darkest fear because she had seen the red sky at dawn.  Have you ever experienced a hurricane?

He inclined his head.  Aye, and I have no desire to experience another one.

His prediction about the weather came to pass at sunset.  Rain pelted the ship with fierce  bursts of energy.  The wind which had been nonexistent the entire day now intensified.  As  evening approached, the storm gathered strength.  It turned its destructive force against everything in its path.

The ship canted sharply and Caprice gripped the edge of her mattress.  She sat on her bunk because it was impossible to sleep.  As the storm battered the vessel, the ship bucked and pitched.  She struggled to stay on the mattress and keep herself from sliding to the floor.  A moment

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