Forced into an arranged marriage, Lady Carolene Montross's only salvation is the one thing she fears the most, sailing away on a pirate ship with Captain Donlan MacGarrow. Lan MacGarrow has given fifteen years of his life to fulfill a broken promise, that of keeping Carolene Montross safe. When he finally finds her, he has to contend with a hurricane and Carolene, herself, who sees the scruffy vagabond as nothing more than the pirate scalawag she's been warned about. Can he convince her of his integrity...and his love?
October, 1703 — Beaufort County
Colony of North Carolina
“Yield ta my demands, or walk the plank. Nae one dares defy Captain Lan.”
“I dare.” The brave, childish answer was accompanied by the lift of a small but defiant chin and the planting of tiny hands on nearly nonexistent hips.
The wind chose that moment to ruffle the little girl’s dark blonde curls, and so fascinated was Donlan MacGarrow, he nearly forgot to act the enraged pirate. But when six-year-old Carolene Montross, garbed in pink satin and lace, stomped on his bare foot and stuck out her tongue, he became the fearsome brigand.
“Aye, ye’re a brazen lass. I’ll hae none o’ that talk from a wee one such as yerself. Prepare ta meet the sharks.” Lan shoved his treasured spyglass, a gift from Cara’s father for his last birthday, into the band of his trousers and removed his sword, the weapon crudely fashioned from an old fence slat with a smaller piece tied on crosswise to serve as the hilt. Waving it menacingly, he anticipated Cara’s surrender.
Instead, she lunged with arms outstretched.
Lan stumbled, falling flat on his back. Wrested of his sword, the blunt tip grazed his throat while Cara planted her tiny, slipper-shod foot on his chest.
“Now you’ll walk the plank and meet the sharks.” Cara’s glare rivaled that of the fiercest pirate that ever sailed the seven seas. Then she burst out laughing. She removed her foot and hopped up and down. “I got you. I got you.” Sing-songing the words over and over, she danced around and clapped her hands. “I’m the bestest pirate, ever.”
“Not for long.” Lan sprang to his feet with a growl.
Squealing, Cara lifted her skirt and petticoats high, running with all her energy towards the kitchen and the protection of his grandmother, the Montross cook.
Of course, his duty was to protect the motherless child—a pledge he’d made to Master Montross. But at the moment, his sole aim was to recapture his prisoner and give no quarter. Cara would soon learn how fierce a pirate he really was.
Gaining on his prey, attack was imminent.
As he neared, Cara turned. Giggling and screeching louder than the gulls, she leapt over a broken section of fence, the very same from which Lan had found the perfect pieces for his sword.
He raced after her and jumped, but his bare foot snagged on a slat. Arms flailing, he struggled to keep his balance. Even so, he fell forward. A searing pain radiated from his nose, and with a loud groan, he rolled over. Reaching up, he touched the injured member, his fingers coming into contact with something warm and wet. The warm, wet stuff was blood. What was wrong with his nose?
Lan looked up through a haze of pain until his eyes focused on Cara, who knelt beside him.
“I’m so sorry. You’re hurt.” Her tears splashed his face. “I didn’t mean for you to be hurted. I just wanted to prove I could be a pirate, too. I’ll bring Gran.”
Before he could stop her, she was on her feet and flying towards the kitchen, a small structure fashioned of gray stone and chinked with an oyster shell mixture. He groaned again; he was in real trouble.
In no time, his gran, head of silver-red hair, eyes of sky-blue, and a no-nonsense Scottish manner, helped him to his feet, while pressing a cold, wet cloth to his nose. “Ye hae broken it fer sure and certain, Donlan MacGarrow.” Her pronouncement was dire. “Ye’ll probably hae a crook there e’re after. Let’s get ye to the kitchen and hae a good look.”
Cara, still crying, clutched his gran’s skirt.
“I told ye both nae an hour ago nae to be playin’ pirate. Bloodthirsty cutthroats from the pits of fire they be. Good, God-fearing bairns hae nae business imitatin’ them, even in play. Now look at ye, Lan. Yer fine, handsome nose is broken.”
“It’s m-m-my fault.” Cara spoke between sobs. “I m-made him chase me.”
“Ye did no such thing. It was his own foolhardiness tha placed him in this mess. And the master depends on him to keep ye out o’ mischief. Lan, is this how ye repay Master Montross’s kindness fer lettin’ me bring ye here to live when ye not quite five and without mither or fither? The least ye can do is stay out o’ trouble.” Suddenly, she softened, her words gentler. “Come along, lad. I’ll fix ye up best I can, nae tha ye deserve such, disobeyin’ me as ye did.”
Lan obediently went with his gran. Cara trailed, still sniffling. When Lan entered the warm kitchen, the smell of the baking gingerbread, usually tempting, turned his stomach.
Gran pushed him into a chair with spokes that poked his bony back. ”Hold this to yer nose.” A cloth was thrust into his hands, and he complied.
While the woman bustled about gathering up this and that, Cara squatted beside him, her sweet brown eyes huge and fearful. His pain was lessening, but it was kind of fun to see Cara carry on so.
“I’ll make sure you’re never hurted again.” Tears trickled down her soft cheeks. “You’re my bestest friend, and you always will be.”
“Ah, Cara.” He hoped he appeared as brave and grown as he believed himself to be, for it was only six months until he turned ten and three. “I’m not so badly hurt. Gran was right, I should nae hae been chasin’ ye.”
“But you always chase me. I should have let you catch me. It’s my fault.”
“Hush, lass. It’ll be all right. Ye’ll see.”
Gran rejoined them, and Cara backed away as the woman set to work on his broken nose. When he looked for Cara a few minutes later, she had gone. His heart sank a little until something his gran did to his tender nose made him forget all about Cara as he uttered a loud, “Ouch!”
The sun set early in October, and as it did, a bright, yellow-orange glow surrounded the disappearing ball.
Lan sat on the outside steps of the kitchen while his gran and the scullery maid, April, a bonnie lass three years older than he, put the finishing touches on the supper for the main house. He’d be having his meal not long after, and he’d be glad for it; he’d missed the midday repast thanks to his mishap.
Gingerly, he touched his nose, sore as it could be, but not hurting nearly so much thanks to some smelly stuff his gran had rubbed on it. Red, rust, and orange leaves rustled high above in the maples and oaks, while brown needles separated from the towering pines and drifted earthward.
Just as he’d about decided to go back inside the kitchen where it was warmer, he was surprised to see Cara and several of the black children from the laborers’ quarters headed his way.
“I told them what happened, and they wanted to see your nose,” Cara explained.
Lan became the center of attention as the boys—several of them hunting friends—and girls clamored to see his nose. He recounted his story, exaggerating just a bit and hoping the Lord would forgive him for doing so. Then the children drifted off, bound for the evening meal to be shared with their families in the cabins on the outer fringes of Montross property.
Cara sat beside him on the stone steps. “Your eye has purple-ly rings around it.”
He’d already discovered that by looking into the bucket of water his gran kept near the hearth.
“Are you feeling better?”
“Much better. My nose looks worse than it feels. “See—everything is gaeing ta be all right.” Sometimes the other children made fun of his brogue, but Cara never did. He came by the accent honestly for he, his gran, his mither and fither all hailed from the Highlands of Scotland. If his parents hadn’t died of the fever on the voyage over, he might never have come to live at Montross Glen with his gran. Though he missed his folks, he’d been so young they were now a distant memory, just as he supposed Cara’s mother was, having died of yellow fever when Cara was but three years old. Lan squeezed her hand. “All’s well.”
“I was afraid you might die and leave me.” Cara regarded him seriously. Lan knew she was thinking of her mother.
“It’d take more than a wee bump on me nose ta finish me. I’m not gaeing anywhere. I promised yer fither I’d always keep an eye on ye.”
“And you always keep your promises.” The child had become way too solemn. It was time to tease.
“I only keep promises to tall people.”
“I’m going to grow tall.”
“Not as tall as me.”
The impish spark ignited in her eyes. “You’re not so tall.”
Cara was right. He was a bit on the short side, but Gran assured him he’d be spurting any time now.
“Do nae worry yer pretty head about me growing. I’ll be as big and brawny as your fither. Ye’ll see.”
“So I’m forgiven?” Cara smiled, revealing dimples.
“Forgiven and all forgotten.”
“Here you are, you scamp.” The voice of Carroll Montross drew Lan’s and Cara’s gazes up. Carroll Montross, who hailed from the Cornish coast of England, had sailed to the colonies when not much older than Lan, holding the position of cabin boy. Now he owned his own ships. And his plantation, just a short ride outside the port village of Bath, was one of the largest in the North Carolina colony. But Master Montross didn’t smile much, not since the death of his beloved wife.
Lan overheard his gran telling April the story of how the master had met the beautiful Varolene St. Hilaire on one of his Caribbean voyages. When Varolene’s father forbade her to wed the Englishman, they’d eloped.
Lan remembered the master’s pretty and kind wife. Cara’s hair was the same color as her mother’s, but she had her father’s dark eyes. And now Master Montross’s lit up with a rare smile as he gazed upon his treasured child. Lan knew Cara was the only one who could make the man laugh.
“Papa, I was looking after Lan. I broke his nose.” Contrition and misery tinged her words.
“Well, as I heard it, Master Lan was chasing you, and he tripped.” There was a mischievous glint in the towering man’s eyes. Tall and brawny was an apt description of Carroll Montross. With legs akimbo and bronzed arms folded across his broad chest, he gave the appearance of a man to be reckoned with. He had the look of a pirate. A nice pirate, not the kind that made a soul walk the plank.
“Pirates do nae trip,” Lan informed them indignantly, his male pride wounded. “They take a misstep.”
“I see,” Master Montross said, as though learning something new. “Young lady, you’re needed in the house so Miss Polly can wash your face before Mrs. MacGarrow brings in our dinner.”
Polly Temple was Cara’s companion and governess, and included, per Master Montross’s instructions, Lan in their daily lessons. Miss Polly said he had an excellent mastery of geography and astronomy, two skills he’d need when he became captain of his own ship. Just like Carroll Montross.
“I think I should spend some time with Lan since he’s hurted.”
“Hurt,” Cara’s father gently corrected. “You can visit Lan tomorrow. I’m leaving for Williamsburg at daybreak, and I’ll be gone for three weeks. You’ll have lots of time to spend together. Now, Lan, I’m relying on you to keep an eye on this imp.” Master Montross ruffled Cara’s unruly curls. “You’ll have your work cut out for you.”
“I’m up to the challenge.” Lan grinned, even though it made his nose ache. Being asked to care for Cara was a duty Lan took seriously and considered an honor. The last thing he wanted to do was disappoint Carroll Montross.
“Then I leave Cara in good hands. Now, young lady, come along. There’s a face to be washed.”
Cara pecked Lan’s cheek and, after giving him a shy smile, took her father’s hand.
The two left, Cara skipping alongside her father. Barely discerned, but carried on the brisk air, was Master Montross’s rare laugh.
Question 1: Carroll Montross married Varolene aware that her father was a harsh man, possessor of many secrets. Did Carroll's failure to delve into his father-in-law's character contribute to Carolene's kidnapping?
Answer 1: Carroll chose the easy way - out of sight, out of mind, convincing himself it was the Christian's way. By failing to discover the truth of Compte St. Hilaire's "activities," Carroll and his daughter were prime targets for the nobleman pirate's revenge.
Question 2: When Donlan discovers Carolene and her grandfather in Santo Domingo, should he have simply killed the compte and been done with it?
Answer 2: As a Christian, Donlan couldn't bring himself to commit murder even though it might have made things much easier for both he and Carolene.
Question 3: Was Donlan right to push his crew and sail the ship through a hurricane?
Answer 3: Donlan took a chance, certain the only way to protect Carolene was to remove her from her grandfather. A good man and a good captain, his crew's absolute trust and God's help enabled him to complete the treacherous journey.
Question 4: How does the compte fill Donlan with doubts about his worth and purpose?
Answer 4: The compte never loses an opportunity to insinuate Donlan is far beneath Carolene and unworthy of her.The man also encourages Donlan to abandon his principles and embrace a more lucrative life of piracy.
Question 5: Carolene has held fast to her faith even when living with her grandfather. She prays incessantly for deliverance and it comes in the form of a man she believes to be a pirate. Is she unwise to seek his help?
Answer 5: At that point, Carolene is desperate. She has prayed and her faith enables her to take a risk she would normally not take certain she has God's protection.
Question 6: Carolene's emotions and desires are awakened by this man she now knows was her former playmate. Yet she struggles with the attaction. Why?
Answer 6: She is certain Donlan is quite "experienced" and still thinks of her as a child. And treats her like a chid earning her ire. She wants him to recognize her as the woman she has become.
Question 7: Is Donlan right to hide his mission from Carolene and her father? Is Carolene wrong to withhold the fact from her father she is hiding Blackbeard's abused wife on her father's property?
Answer 7: Yes. Donlan not only endangers himself, but risks losing the trust and respect of Carroll and the love of Carolene. Carolene fails to recognize the danger in which her actions have placed her and the residents of the plantation.
Question 8: Throughout the story, the reader believes the compte to be beyond redemption. Yet at the end he suffers a change of heart and loses his life saving his granddaughter and her beloved. What changed his mind?
Answer 8: Circumstances convinced the compte at a young age that wealth was worth any price. Until he witnessed the love between Carolene and Donlan. With that revelation, he realized he'd spent his entire life seeking the wrong things.