It occurred to me that I talk a lot about writing on this blog, but I rarely share any of my own. In fact, aside from posting the query letter that led me to signing with my agent, Carrie, I have only posted one other snippet, and it was extremely short.
So, here is an excerpt from one of my recent projects. I’m still in the editing phase of this, so I can’t say that this version is set in stone, but I think the plot point is unlikely to change. Like most of my work, this is historical fiction. The working title is FIRELOCK but I have learned that titles are among the most flexible parts of a book, so this may change.
Very Brief Background: In the pirate haven of Nassau in 1719, Anne Bonny and her lover Jack Rackham have decided to steal a ship from the harbour and take to the sea. Disguised as one of the women from a prominent local brothel, Anne goes aboard on a reconnaissance mission, while her tomboy friend Mary Read and Jack watch from the shore.
Jack’s eyes gleam with amusement. “You have a skill for deception, love, and that’s just what I need you for now. I rather think you will enjoy this task. I need you to go aboard the sloop and find out how many men stay aboard as guards during the night.”
“Is it anchored close by?” Though intrigued by this undertaking, my mind skims over ideas of how I can gather the information while not seeming obvious, rejecting each one I think of.
“It is today. They unloaded some cargo earlier and the ramp is still set up. I imagine they’ll take it down before nightfall. Why do you frown, Anne?”
“I’m wondering how I shall go about it. If I pretend to be interested in ships, the men aboard may mistake it as a flimsy excuse to approach them. I’d have my pistol, hidden, but still, I’m not sure if that is safe.”
“What about as a whore?” suggests Mary.
Jack and I turn to her in surprise, both of us, I think, having momentarily forgotten her presence.
“It gives her a reason to be brazen, and she can pretend to be drumming up business. That’s her reason for approaching the ship. Pretend to work for Madame Felicia – she always has new girls at her brothel. If the men are a little too forward in their interest, it also lets Anne be a little rough about reminding them all transactions must go through the Madame. Jack can watch from the shore, as planned, where no one will see his face, and you must indicate that he’s your guard, Anne. Madame Felicia has a few who work for her, to keep her girls safe.”
“Won’t my face be recognised?” I ask. “I’m always with Jack.”
“Not if we paint your cheeks and lips with rouge,” says Mary.
“And tug your bodice low,” suggests Jack. “They won’t look at your face much, then, in spite of its prettiness.” Growing more serious, he adds, “Are you all right with this, Anne? I do think it’s safer, odd as that sounds. Madame Felicia’s establishment is very well known here, and her guards are all tough bastards. Christ, I’d swear one of them is half-bear.”
“Stay as close as you can,” I say to Jack. “Mary, I think you ought to put on a dress and stand with him. I don’t expect trouble from this, but that way you’re both close if I need help, and you’ll look like another one of Madame Felicia’s ladies.”
An hour later, we stand in the house and survey each other, both scowling. For me, it’s due to the sticky feel of the rouge, and Mary plucks distastefully at the skirt of her dress, the only one she owns. It’s actually quite pretty, being a pale lavender shade with lacy sleeves. She looks like another person wearing it, with her hair tousled around her face instead of severely pulled back.
“I almost wouldn’t recognise either of you. Cheer up,” chides Jack. “It’s a good thing that you don’t look like yourselves.”
I apply a small amount of rouge to Mary’s face, just to improve the charade but honestly, I don’t believe anyone would recognise her now that she’s wearing a dress.
“I think we’re ready.” I turn to Jack. “How do we look?”
He glances quickly over Mary, then he surveys me all over, eyes lingering. “Sorry, love, but I think the bodice has to be lower. Most of Madame Felicia’s women are half-falling out of their gowns.” He loosens the lacing of my dress enough to tug the neckline at least an inch lower.
My cheeks warm under the copious rouge, which probably hides my reaction. I like seeing Jack’s gaze protracted over the pale curves of my exposed skin, but knowing that I need the crewmen of the sloop to look at me in a similar way makes me squirm.
I know which ship is our target even before Jack points her out to me. Called the William, the single-masted sloop looks almost dainty next to the larger brigantine anchored beside her, but proud and fast. The mainsail and single jibbed foresail both show clean and white against the blue sky, a good sign. They seem to be in good condition, not too battered by the wind.
As I wander up the ramp, taking care to sway my hips more than usual, my throat parches with nervousness. In attempt not to show it, I fix a coquettish little smile to my lips. It doesn’t matter if it looks fake, as long as it’s there.
“Excuse me, ma’am, you should not be here.” One of the crewmen standing on the deck wastes no time in approaching me. His eyes flick over my low neckline, back to my face, and then down again.
“Oh, I won’t be long,” I say in a coy tone. “I was just coming to see if any of you here are looking for some company later.” My fingers grope at the side of my skirt, twirling the hemline a little. Secretly, the gesture is also to reassure me that my pistol is safely concealed in the deep pocket of the skirt.
The man licks his lips nervously, and his two companions join him.
“It looks dull, hanging about this ship all day,” I say. “Especially in this heat.” I trail my finger suggestively along my collarbone. “Come ashore tonight, and go to Madame Felicia’s for some company.” Debating whether I should wink, I settle for a saucy grin, turning my face upward and arching my shoulders back a little.
The first man, whose face has gone quite crimson, wets his lips again, stammering. “M-Ma’am, you really must leave.”
“I won’t get you in trouble,” I say. “Your captain isn’t even here now, is he?”
“No,” says one of the bolder men. “You could stay for a few minutes.” He leers suggestively.
I take a small step back, making sure to keep the smile on my face. “See, your companion here knows how to make a girl feel welcome,” I say to the blushing one. Poor man, he’s probably the most decent one of the lot, but he’s an easy target right now. “Come ashore tonight, I know that will make you feel better. My friend will be able to make you relax. She has long black hair and very clever fingers.” The lies trip off my tongue now. It’s rather diverting to see how easily I can make them react. The bold one is practically slavering – I edge slightly away from him, taking care not to turn my back.
“I like red hair better,” he says, coming forward again.
This is not a dance I enjoy. I don’t move back again, but shift my feet slightly, readying myself. “So flattering,” I murmur. “Make sure you ask for me, then.”
“Stay now,” he says. “I’ve got coins.”
I shake my head quickly, not needing to feign nervousness. “Oh no. Everything must go through Madame Felicia. She would be most angry.”
“She won’t find out,” he says persuasively.
“No, no, she will. I am watched, you see?” I gesture vaguely to the shore, where Jack stands with his feet apart and his shoulders back, a rather threatening stance. Beside him, Mary has one hand resting on her cocked hip, a surprisingly feminine pose from her.
The sailor practically pouts. “I cannot come ashore tonight. I’m assigned to night guard duty.”
At last, someone has mentioned the night duties. I’ve been wondering how on earth to bring it up. I click my tongue sympathetically. “Such a shame, honey. I would have liked to see you tonight.” The faint disgust I feel at saying the false words morphs into amusement at the way he straightens, preening. “Tell you what, maybe I can arrange something. How many of you are on night duty? Perhaps I can bring a friend or two, and of course the guard. Madame Felicia can be quite accommodating… she is not one to deny a man his desires, or she wouldn’t be in this business, would she?”
“There will two of us tonight.” He edges closer again, eyeing me hopefully. “Maybe you can bring two friends?”
Behind him, the blushing one turns even redder, and the third, who has been silent up till now, suddenly grins.
“Wish I was on night duty, like you two,” he says, nudging the embarrassed one. “Pity my shift ends in an hour.”
“A man of appetites,” I say to the bold one. It’s harder to force the smile now that his gaze grows increasingly lascivious. “I will see you tonight, my fine man. I am looking forward to it.” At last, I speak true words. It shall be most gratifying to see his surprise when I return in the company of Jack, Mary, and half a dozen armed men.
If anyone else has posted some of their writing and would like to share, let me know! I would love to read it.